Your wedding day timeline can be a tricky thing to tackle, but let me give you my best advice as a wedding industry professional!
Creating a timeline is one of the most essential things to do to keep your wedding stress free and let you live in the moment! As a photographer, I help each of my couples create a customized timeline based on the events of their day. Making sure all of your vendors are on the same page for your timeline is a huge help for all of us to help you have a low-stress day that’s free of questions every 15 minutes.
A General Timeline
A general photography timeline can look pretty similar for each wedding day as each wedding day generally has the same events that need to be photographed.
- Getting ready & details (30+ minutes)
- First look and/or Couple Portraits (60 minutes)
- Wedding Party Formals (30-45 minutes)
- Immediate Family (30-45 minutes)
- Extended Family (15 minutes)
- Ceremony (30-75 minutes)
- Receiving Line (15-45 minutes)
- Social Hour (60 minutes)
- Dinner (60-120 minutes)
- Speeches (15-30 minutes)
- Specialty Dances (15 minutes)
- Sunset Photos (10-20 minutes)
Now, you probably noticed that many of these things have a range of times, and some make perfect sense (like each ceremony will be a different length depending on the officiant and couple’s wants), but many couples don’t realize how long dinner can take, especially if you have upwards of 200 guests. Getting everyone through a buffet line can take some decent time that needs to be accounted for.
Creating a timeline is going to be different for each couple, and really depends on if you are having a first look or not, and what time your ceremony is, how many guests, and even things like travel time between venues. The times listed above also don’t account for any down time such as a time to relax between photos and your ceremony or time between your ceremony and social hour.
Wedding Timeline Tips
- Trust your vendors: a majority of us have been to so many weddings that we have a perfect idea of how long each segment of your day will take, especially if you have an accurate guest count.
- List out your priorities: If you want lots of getting ready photos, you may want to add more time for that in your photo timeline vs. the guest dance. And vice versa, if you want more guest dance photos, you might want to add more time in the evening vs. the morning.
- There should be more than one timeline for your day: if you have a wedding planner, they will most likely have a timeline for you from the start of decorating the night before at your rehearsal dinner up until the cleanup is done at your reception. Your DJ should have a general timeline of the evening events that take place after dinner. Your florist should have a timeline of when flowers need to be delivered and what time to drop off flowers at each part of your day, and when they will be putting any installs in. You can see how each vendor will need to know where to be and when. The more details that are laid out in timelines prior to the wedding day, the less questions you will have to answer on your wedding day.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people to come earlier: if you have a family that is notorious for being late, always tell them they need to be there 15-30 minutes earlier than what your timeline actually says.
- Communicate your timeline: sending out your full timeline to all people who have a role more than just being a guest can help make things move smoothly throughout the day.
- Determine if you need all the sections of photos listed above: If you aren’t having a wedding party, you may not need that time in your day. Same goes for any other parts of the day.
- Don’t forget about lunch: making sure your people are fed lunch on your wedding day is super important if you want everyone to be able to enjoy themselves, but you also need to eat & noone wants pictures of themselves eating. If you are starting your day earlier than about 10am, you might also want to consider having breakfast foods available.
- Use Emerald Lotus Events’ Simple Wedding Planning Course to help plan your timeline along with many other details. This course is meant to help couples plan for their day without a wedding planner and without the stress that planning a wedding by yourself can bring. Find the course here.
Modern First Look vs. Traditional Aisle First Look
While I don’t think that you should decide on doing a more modern first look or a traditional first look as you walk down the aisle just because of time, whatever decision you make will have an impact on your timeline. If you want the first time you see each other to be walking down the aisle, I think that can be such a meaningful moment – but also gives limited time for photos.
My best tip for couples who want a traditional aisle first look would be to have your ceremony as early as you can (I’m talking 2:00 or 3:00pm). That way we have plenty of time between your ceremony and your reception to take your formal wedding party, family, and couples portraits. If possible, a great way to break up photos with a traditional aisle first look is to do the separate wedding parties (groom with groomsmen, bride with bridesmaids) so that after the ceremony the only wedding party photos needed are the full group.
Wedding Timelines are Fluid
If you go into your wedding day thinking that every single thing on your timeline will happen at exactly the time listed, you’re kidding yourself. You deserve to be stress-free on your wedding day. If you have vendors like myself that you can trust, you won’t even need to ask what time it is. We will let you know where to be and when, even if it’s not on time.
I always schedule extra time into a timeline so that if something is running late during your wedding day, it won’t ruin the rest of the day. Letting yourself relax and just be in the presence of your loved ones will help you have the best day ever!
The Bottom Line with Timelines
The lesson of all of this is that having a timeline, or several for all your vendors, can help your day run smoothly, but ultimately, hiring trustworthy vendors that you can rely on for your actual wedding day to do what is best for you is the best tip I can give.
I love that you gave couples a rough draft to use for a timeline! I honestly think the timeline was the hardest part. With never being married before, it was difficult to figure out when to have vendors arrive. This will help so many couples with their planning process!
You’re a rockstar!
Yessss, every time you do something for the first time it can be so difficult. Having a rough idea or some type of expectation can help so much! Glad you found it helpful!
This is SO helpful!!! I’ve been trying to figure out a general idea for my wedding timeline ever since we started planning but had no idea where to start. I will definitely be using this for reference! Eeeek!
So glad this is helping you!!!
This read was incredible and laid out perfectly! I loved all the tips and time frames you suggested. Clearly this is everyone most important day together as they vow to become one and having time to capture all its beauty is important! Definitely will be referring back to this whenever my big day comes along. 🙂
So glad this is so helpful to you!!! Yes, making sure that you aren’t feeling rushed through your day or even through your photos makes for a much less stressful and much more enjoyable day!
This timeline template is awesome! Bailey you were so much help when Gunnar and I were putting our timeline together! Not getting behind on schedule was so important for us and you really helped us create a personalized photography timeline and it was coordinated well with our videographer too! We were right on time with everything and extra time to spare. Thank you again for not only being our photographer but also coordinating our day and making things go so smoothly!
You are the best! 🙂
You are the sweetest!!! It is seriously such an honor to work with such amazing clients like you and Gunnar!
Tip #4 😂 my family is notoriously late to everything. It takes so much stress off the bride and groom when everyone is there and ready on time.