When it comes to wedding days, one of the biggest details of importance (if not the biggest detail!) is the wedding day timeline. The wedding day timeline serves as your guide for the entire day and controls how everything will flow. Now I’ll just say it from the start, wedding day timelines hardly ever go exactly as planned. That’s normal. You’re planning a live event, with anywhere from 100-300 (or more?!) people. So throughout this post, you’ll find some guidelines on how much time to set aside for each part of the day, what areas of the day to base your timeline off of, tips for staying on track, and of course, ways to get back on track when the inevitable “oops” happens!
When creating a timeline, I start with my preferred deciding factor: sunset. The reason I say this is my “preferred” deciding factor is because I love when I’m able to give my couples portraits with the best natural lighting, so that’s what I work the entire day around! Now I could go on for paragraphs about how to pick a ceremony time that works best with your sunset and location (I literally have an entire blog post-length email I send to my couples!), but I’ll save that for now.
On average, you want your ceremony to take place 1.5-2 hours before the sun sets. If the sun is setting (not completely down) by 7 PM, having a 30 minute ceremony at 5:30 PM puts your couple’s photos taking place from 6:30-7 PM, giving you the best lighting! You can download the App, Golden Hour, to get these numbers for your day and location.
Ideal ceremony start times by season: Spring (Mid March) 5 PM, Summer (July) 6:30 or 7 PM, Fall (early October) 5:30 PM, Winter (Early December) 4 PM
I’ve found that most ceremonies last 30 minutes or less, with certain religious ceremonies lasting usually 45-60 minutes. Even if you plan to have a short ceremony, I always allot at least 30 minutes to factor in for late starts.
p.s., make sure to look around the ceremony space for external factors that might cause the sun to “set” earlier than normal. This could be tall trees or buildings blocking the sun, in which case you’ll want to be ahead of sunset.
The next timeframe I like to set is the reception exit time. I’ve found that most receptions last anywhere from 3-4.5 hours, depending on what events you’re wanting to take place. Or if the venue has a certain exit time, that helps pick that time pretty easily. Planning the wedding day timeline with your “set in stone” factors like the ceremony start and reception exit helps create the framework for the rest of the day pretty easily. Most receptions end between 9:30 and 11 PM usually depending on the kind of wedding (brunch or evening) and time of year.
Now, we’ll move backwards from the ceremony start time to create the pre-ceremony portion of the wedding day timeline! To figure out how much time you’ll need, there’s a few questions that need answering first!
Now that you have those answered, work backwards from your ceremony time to find your coverage start time. While doing that, add little pockets of 5-10 minutes throughout the day adds for some extra wiggle room. Also, go ahead and buffer out 30 minutes pre-ceremony. I like to have my couples back in their getting ready rooms no later than 30 minutes pre-ceremony. This allows time to photograph your ceremony + reception details before guests arrive. Guests arrive around 30 minutes early, so you’ll want to be back in your room by that time anyway!
I’ve found that most wedding day timelines need 3 to 4 hours pre-ceremony depending on if there’s a first look. If you’re wanting more getting ready photos, or there’s multiple locations involved, you can add time for that.
After the ceremony, I schedule out 30 minutes for family formals. Even if we do some family photos pre-ceremony, I like to work 30 minutes into the wedding day timeline in case things run behind. I work with my couples to create the best family formals list in order to use their time efficiently, annnnd so that no one gets stressed out! haha.
After family photos, if you’re not doing a first look, this is when you’d do the full wedding party photos (usually takes 10 minutes or less). And then after that, couples portraits! If you didn’t have a first look, keep in mind this might be your only time slot for the day for portraits. Typically, the time between the ceremony’s end and the reception’s start is an hour, which likely leaves you with about 10-15 minutes of portrait time when you take into account needing to bustle the dress or get into place for reception entrances.
I help each of my couples plan out a photo-friendly wedding day timeline to insure they have a relaxed and fun day, while also giving them the portraits they value! If you’re wanting to get an idea of what your timeline should look like, feel free to check out my freebies below!
I hope this blog post serves as a great resource as you plan out your stress-free wedding day timeline!
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