tips for creating your stress-free wedding day timeline
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!
- Are you wanting bridal details photographed? I like to arrive with about one hour (at a minimum) before the bride gets dressed in order to shoot styled details, and get some final getting ready photos. If you’re wanting more getting ready photos, I suggest having around 1.5 hours of time before you get into your dress.
- How long does it take you to get into your dress? Are there a ton of buttons or is it just a zipper or a few buttons? Time yourself at your last fitting, especially since you’ll be putting on any undergarments you’ll be wearing on the day of too (these add in time!). I schedule out 30 minutes for the bride and everyone else to get dressed. I know what you’re thinking, “that’s soooo much time!!” But remember the wedding day has a lot of moving parts. Trust me, you’ll want to schedule 30 minutes for this, especially if you have both a photographer and videographer (and need to do actions a couple times for photo and video).
- Are you wanting to do a first look? If so, which one(s)? I like to plan out about 10 minutes for each first look in order to make sure we’ve rounded everyone up, moved them to the desired location, and so on. If you’re doing a first look with your bride or groom, then I plan out 20-30 minutes, that way you can do the first look and some additional portraits pre-ceremony!
- Do you have a large wedding party? I plan out 10-20 minutes per side of the wedding party depending on the size, and then about 10 minutes for full wedding party photos.
- And are you wanting to do some family photos pre-ceremony? If you’re having a first look, I suggest scheduling your immediate family members to arrive around the time you’re doing wedding party photos. Any siblings in the wedding party can stay behind once you’re wrapped up the wedding party photos, and you can add in the rest of their immediate family! If you’re not doing a first look, I still suggest doing separate immediate family photos since most couples want individuals with their immediate family post-ceremony anyway.
- Most wedding days run behind during the pre-ceremony photos. It’s key to make sure your planner and vendors are all in communication and agreement on the wedding day timeline, that way you’re all working on the same team!
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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