6 Vital Things to Think About When Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline

Building a proper wedding day timeline can SAVE your wedding day. It is a vital part of making your day run smoothly. You probably are hiring a ton of vendors from your photographer and videographer, to the DJ and florist, as well as everyone involved at the venue. But, if everyone has their own timeline and no one knows what is truly happening when on your wedding day, it could become a disaster. You also want to make sure your guests are happy and not waiting around for hours not knowing what is going on.

So, you’re probably wondering “How the heck am I supposed to figure all of this out?? HELP!!” You’ve come to the right place. On this Wedding Wednesday, we are here to help you break down the key pieces of the photography side of your wedding day timeline and how to make everyone happy. Once you have your photography in place, everyone else fills in around that! Creating a custom wedding day timeline is part of our wedding experience for our couples!

Ceremony and Sunset

Wedding Day Timeline Ceremony

The first thing we ask our clients when building their timeline is when the sunset is on their wedding day. If you are looking for those gorgeous photos you see in wedding magazines and on Pinterest, this is a key point to remember! We always suggest starting your ceremony 2 hours before sunset if you are sharing a first look. If you decide against a first look (more on this later), we suggest 3 hours before sunset. Having beautiful lighting at the ceremony will ensure that you are not squinting during your vows or have harsh lighting on your faces. Planning an indoor ceremony? Same rules apply as we want to make sure you have gorgeous photographs afterwards outside!

Family Formals

Wedding Day Timeline Family Formals

Family formals typically take about 30 minutes (or up to 45 if you have a ton of combinations and a ginormous family). These take place immediately after the ceremony so everyone is in the same place! Make sure you send your photographer your formal portrait list so they can get all of your shots in a quick and efficient manner. Family formals are best taken outdoors to give you a natural family portrait feel, and ensure they are not too dark.

The Reception

The reception timeline falls primarily on the DJ, but here are a few tips to help make sure you have everything covered! We always suggested having enough photography coverage for the main events of the wedding reception. This includes the first dances, toasts, garter and bouquet tosses, and the cake cutting. Now you’re probably wondering, “What about the exit??”

If you are not looking to have two hours worth of photos of your friends who have been drinking, we would suggest doing a controlled exit. This means gathering your wedding party and doing a smaller exit so you have the photos of the event. With the controlled exit, we suggest getting all of your main events done within the first two hours of your reception. If you’re all about those drinking photos, hire your photographers to the end of the wedding day! Your DJ can help plan the events out throughout the reception.

First Look

Now that you have the end of your day filled in, you can adjust your wedding day timeline around that and work backwards. The next thing to decide is whether or not you want to do a first look. A first look is when you meet your spouse-to-be before the ceremony. This allows for a more intimate setting when you first see each other, 40% more portraits, and a relaxed setting for the entire wedding day. Most of your photos are complete before the ceremony and you won’t feel rushed on your day!

If you opt not to do a first look, you will need to fit family formals, wedding party portraits, and any bride and groom/groom and groom/bride and bride portraits in whatever remaining time you have before the reception begins. At the end of this blog, we will show you two sample timelines for with and without a first look so you can see the difference! But, we are going to move forward with planning your wedding day timeline as if you were saying yes to your first look.

First looks take place 2 hours before the ceremony is set to begin. We like to give 30-40 minutes just to the first look in order to capture your reactions as well as some formal (and fun!!!) portraits of the two of you. The first 15 minutes are you seeing each other, and the rest goes to portraits. We also schedule 15-20 minutes at sunset for some “Just Married” portraits!

Wedding Party Portraits

Wedding Day Timeline Wedding Party Photos

Okay, so now we have your portrait time, ceremony, and family formals scheduled. What goes in between all of that? Your wonderful wedding party! Wedding party portraits also take between 30-40 minutes (shorter if everyone is ready to get the party started!!). In order to stay on schedule, Jack (or your second photographer) makes sure that the guys have their boutonnières on BEFORE arriving for portraits. We will do a few group shots with the entire party, and then we split off into two parties to cover more ground.

Jack typically takes the men and I take the bridal party. We will both grab the bridesmaids/groomsmen photos at this time and individuals with the bride and groom as well. After the wedding party photos are complete, we send the bride and groom into hiding to rest and retouch before the ceremony. We don’t want the guests to get a sneak peek!!

Getting Ready

The start of your day is here! I know, I know. You would think we’d start here first. But, this is the last thing to plan for your day because you want to make sure you have the proper coverage time purchased for the rest of the day. As of now, you have at least 5-6 hours of your coverage time used just for portraits, ceremony, reception, and family formals. We always suggest to get at least an hour and a half of getting ready time covered by photography. This is the time where we photograph your details, final touches, and getting dressed for the day.

So, when do you need to start getting ready on your wedding day? Well, here’s the hard truth. We adore our hair and makeup teams. We work with some of the best in the business. But, the #1 reason weddings run late is due to hair and makeup running over time. Consider how long your trial takes when planning your final timeline. Brides typically need 2 hours for their hair and makeup and bridesmaids usually need about an hour and a half. If you have a large wedding party and your ceremony starts at 4pm, you are going to have a very early morning.

Other Things to Think of When Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline

There are a few things you may not think about when trying to plan your wedding day timeline. Here are a few bonus tips for your timeline planning:

  • Travel can play a huge factor into the day. We’ve had wedding days where a 20 minute drive turned into an hour because the limo took a wrong turn! Add plenty of buffer time into your timeline to make your day run smoothly. It’s better to have relaxing time than feeling rushed!
  • If you decide against a first look, there is really no time to do family formals, wedding party portraits, and formal portraits while also allowing you to attend cocktail hour. There’s just simply not enough time in the day! If cocktail hour is important to you, strongly consider a first look.
  • Receiving lines aren’t super popular these days, but if you are considering having one after your ceremony, remember this: it takes about 20-30 seconds to greet each person. 100 guests will take anywhere between 30-50 minutes. That’s a whole hour away from all the other important parts of your day! There is plenty of time to greet your guests during the reception.

Sample Wedding Day Timeline

The time is here! Here are two examples of wedding day timelines we typically follow. You can view more about how much coverage time you need here!

First Look with an 8PM Sunset (Hello, Summer weddings!)

  • 1:30 Haleigh begins with details & getting ready (Jack is with the guys!)
  • 2:30 Dress on!
  • 3:15 First Look & Portraits
  • 4:00 Bridal Party Portraits
  • 4:30-4:45ish Have second shooter photograph untouched ceremony before guests arrive
  • 5:00 Bride in hiding (Photograph reception details if at same location)
  • 5:30 Ceremony
  • 6:00 Family Formals
  • 6:30 A few portraits of the newlyweds if the light is pretty! (If not, they can join cocktail hour!)
  • 7:00 Introductions to Reception
  • 7:30 Sunset Portraits (15-20mins) during dinner
  • 9:30 Contracted coverage ends

No First Look with an 8PM Sunset

  • 3:00 Haleigh begins with details & getting ready (Jack is with the guys!)
  • 4:00 Bride in her dress!
  • 4:30 Bridesmaids portraits/Groomsmen Portraits in separate locations if possible
  • 4:30-4:45ish Have second shooter photograph untouched ceremony before guests arrive
  • 5:00 Bride in hiding (Photograph reception details if at same location)
  • 5:30 Ceremony
  • 6:00 Family Formals (Limited amount due to lack of time)
  • 6:20 Quick & efficient Bridal Party Portraits
  • 6:40 As many Bride and Groom Portraits as we can fit into 20mins!
  • 7:00 Introductions
  • 7:30 Sunset Portraits (15-20mins) during dinner
  • 11:00 Contracted coverage ends

Need some more wedding day advice? Check out the weddings category on the blog!

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