Creating A Wedding Day Timeline
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Well I started writing this blog post on creating your timeline 2 weeks ago, I wrote a damn 3 page essay and the kicker is, I wasn’t even half way done (oops). I realized that I was basically just word vomiting and it wasn’t going to help anyone, so here’s me trying again.
Creating a timeline is one of the most important things you should do.
I mean that. This one spreadsheet/pdf/word doc you’ve created runs your entire wedding day. Let that sink in for a minute. I’m sure you’re already telling yourself “she’s so dramatic, it can’t be that important” ohhhhh but it is. Your timeline tells each of your many vendors where they need to be, what time they need to be there, what’s happening at that time, and any extra tidbits they should know from you. Your timeline tells all your vendors the information they need to know without bothering you. Unless of course you wanted to be bombarded with phone calls and texts the morning of your wedding from all your vendors asking you where they need to be and at what time.
Didn’t think so.
So here’s the thing, I’m just the wedding photographer. I can’t tell you how long a DJ needs to set up for the ceremony nor can I tell you how long a florist needs to build out your ceremony florals. But you know who can give you the answers? Your florist and DJ. This blog post is all about how to utilize your photographers time efficiently and hopefully lay out the foundation for planning the rest of your vendors.
First things first, how much time do I need a wedding photographer for? Eight hours. Eight hours will cover everything you want from getting ready to the reception. The timeline will be much more spread out, and there will be wiggle room throughout the day in case things run late (which they almost always do). Six or seven hours is of course doable, but your timeline will be tight and a little more stressful, especially if multiple locations are involved.
Do I need a second shooter too? If you can work it into your budget, yes! Second shooters provide a second prospective so you will get so much more variety in your images. They are also a great way to make sure your timeline stays on schedule
The getting ready portion of your day! I always tell my brides to utilize me the most on the front end of their wedding day. Having your photographer for an extra hour at the beginning of the day, rather than the end, will fill your gallery with so many more intimate moments with your loved ones. As opposed to 100 sloppy drunk dancing pictures. True story.
If the getting ready portion of your day is at a different location than your ceremony and reception, don't forget to give yourself adequate time within your timeline to leave and arrive at the destination. If google maps says it will take 10 minutes to get there, block off 15. Better to be early to your ceremony than late! Same idea if your ceremony and reception are at different locations.
Your ceremony timing is pretty straight forward. Your venue usually will tell you your start time (sometimes you get to pick), you decide how long your ceremony will be and that's that. Easy peasy.
Here are the key things that happen after your ceremony:
Family formals: Usually take place immediately after your ceremony. Count on those taking at least 30 mins at minimum. I alwayssss ask my brides for a shot list with a max of 10 combinations of family members they want photographed. Such as: Bride, groom, grooms parents. Bride, groom, brides parents. Bride, groom, all siblings, etc.. 9 times out of 10 your aunts and uncles, and any lingering friends will come up to me to tell me they need a picture with you, tacking on another 15 minutes. It's of course hard to say no, but if everyone not included in this part of your day is shuffled somewhere far far away during cocktail hour and only those included in your shot list are present, things will run much smoother.
Full bridal party portraits: If you didn't do a first look you'll need at minimum 30 minutes to cover all of this. This includes you and your ladies, the groom and his boys and everyone combined. You may think this will go quick but I promise you, everyone is so pumped their best friends are married (and a little buzzed) and things can get rowdy!
Bride & Groom portraits: Again, if you didn't do a first look you'll definitely want at minimum 45 minutes for just the two of you. This will probably be the only time in the day you two can be alone. I think its sooo important to work enough time into your timeline for this part of your day. Not only for pictures sake but for you both to take a step back from the chaos and breathe for a minute as newlyweds!
Cocktail hour: You'll most likely be taking pictures but its good to state when this happens. Sometimes cocktail hours are longer than an hour! (weird I know) But this means more picture time :D
Now of course if you opt to do a first look (which I highly recommend), most of these formal pictures will be done prior to your ceremony. WHICH IS AMAZING. I will write a blog post later about why I regret not doing one at my own wedding and why you should definitely consider it. But for the purpose of this blog we will assume no first look.
Once the formal pictures are taken, it's time to start the party! The base of timing your reception starts with, you guessed it, your reception start time. Again, usually your venue will guide you on this one. Next thing to consider is when dinner will be served, but the rest of the events that go on at the reception really just fall into place.
Events to consider, or drop, for your reception:
Grand entrance: this includes your full bridal party, sometimes parents and of course the two of you!
Your first dance
Dinner: please don't drop this!! And always feed your photographer!
Toasts: usually the parents, best man and maid of honor. I'm speaking for practically every photographer in the industry, don't let anyone come up and talk. Give the people speaking a 2-3 minute limit and that's that. You have no idea how many drunk, rambling, 20 minute toasts I've heard. Keep it short and sweet!
Mother/son and father/ daughter dances. Or if you're like me, you add a mother/daughter dance in there. There's also anniversary dances, grandparents dances, any loved one you cherish can fit right on in here. There is right or wrong way to do this part!
Money dance (or the honeymoon dance): if you decide to do a money dance, put a time limit on it. I've seen these go for an hour, its exhausting for everyone.
Open dance floor
Grand exit: not everyone does these, but I've had brides do sparkler, ribbon and glow stick exits before! Always check with your venue prior to bringing sparklers on site.
I hope I haven't rambled to much, and possibly made planning your timeline out a little less scary. And if this is just all too overwhelming, hire a coordinator! Don't just stick with the one your venue gives you but an actual day of coordinator that will handle all this and more.
In the hopes of making your lives that much easier, I've included 2 timeline examples that I send my brides! One includes a first look and the other does not. You will notice the timeline that doesn't include a first look is super cramped and rushed, just another reason why I'm pro first look.
Also keep in mind you'll need to still add in other items such as:
DJ arrival time
Officiant arrival time
Florist arrival time
Time the cake/dessert will be dropped off
Photobooth or other entertainment arrival time
The time your vendors and guests must be out of the venue
Any help you have to set up both your ceremony and reception if your venue doesn't coordinate it for you
Essentially any vendor that isn't a photographer
These timelines should at least get you on the right path to successfully planning your full wedding day timeline!