The Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

Planning the timeline of your wedding day can be a daunting task as you consider trying to fit in all the important events of your day, make sure you have time to visit with all your guests and still have a little downtime for yourself to actually enjoy your day. This can be overwhelming because, well… you’ve never done this before! Now let me tell you, in all my experience as a wedding photographer, I’ve seen timelines run wonderfully smooth and I’ve seen timelines run… well… not so smoothly. And I’ve learned that one of my main jobs pre-wedding is to help my customers build a solid yet flexible timeline for their day. Before we jump into timeline details, lets hit a couple of tips that have been very helpful for my couples to know and implement into their timelines. 

Tip #1 –Build in extra time to serve as buffers throughout your day. You can have your day planned perfectly but more often than not, unexpected things will crop up and cut into your time causing you to have to shorten certain aspects of your day. The best way to prevent losing out is to plan for these events by building buffers into your schedule. If you think it’ll only take you 10 minutes to travel from Point A to Point B, then plan 15 or 20. One thing that brides classically almost always underestimate is the time it’s going to take her to get into her wedding dress. Plan extra time to do up those laces in the back and adjust the slip!

Tip #2 – Communicate clearly and ahead of time with your bridal party and your family when you want them ready and where you want them to be for pictures. If you need them by 1:30, tell them to be there at 1:15 and then you’ll know no one will be late. When it comes time to do pictures with the bridal party, the last thing you want is your bridesmaids scurrying away to clean out the room they got ready in because they didn’t know they had to be out by 2pm! Or trying to track down Uncle Bob who went off to cocktail hour because he didn’t know you wanted him for Family Formal pictures after the ceremony!

The First Look

Now, let me mention something that often couples are have an opinion on either one way or another… should the groom to see the bride before the wedding ceremony? Is it bad luck if he catches a glimpse of her? There are many traditions that surround a wedding and this one is no exception. This practice actually originated back when marriages were arranged by a bride’s parents as a business transaction (romantic, right?!). The couple arranged to be married were not even allowed to meet at all before the day of the wedding in case the groom were to change his mind, call off the transaction and cast shame on the bride and her parents. In fact, that is the very reason that brides wore heavy veils over their faces as they walked down the aisle was to keep the groom from finding out what she looked like until the very last minute possible when it was too late to change his mind! I know, crazy! Still today, some couples prefer not to see each other before the ceremony as they feel it’ll add excitement and make the day more memorable, and I totally get that. On the other hand, there are a number of reasons why I believe that having a First Look is the best option for your day.

It Creates an Atmosphere of Intimacy - Being able to see each other for the first time in a private setting where you can truly express all the emotions you’re feeling and say all the things you want to say adds much more intimacy than in a setting where you’ll be standing in front of everyone that you know when you likely will be much more guarded in your reactions.

It Gives you a Chance to Connect One on One - Having a First Look also gives you an opportunity to connect with each other before the craziness of the day takes over. If you don’t have a chance to talk with the most important person of your day before the wedding, you’ll see each other during the ceremony but then you’ll be swept away by the celebration and joy of your friends and family for the rest of the day.

It Dissolves Pre-Wedding Anxiety - In all my experience, every couple experiences some level of anxiety the day of the wedding. After all, your dreaming, planning and preparation have led to this day. Taking a few quiet moments with your best friend, to talk, hug and connect will help dissolve your anxiety so that by the time you walk down the aisle, you’ll be relaxed and feel free to be yourself.

It Allows for More Creative, Relaxed Pictures - Once you've seen each other for the first time and you’ve had a few moments alone, that’s when we’ll do the pictures of the two of you while your hair and makeup is still fresh. This will give you even more time to be with each other, to really take one other in. It will also give us more time to get more creative, natural, relaxed pictures.

Sample Timelines

Now this is only a suggested timeline to start with as I don’t know the specific events or cultural traditions that you may have planned for the day. The other thing to keep in mind when planning your timeline is light (what time the sun sets) and travel time between venues (if any). Now let’s say you’re getting married in August, the sun sets about 8pm and you only have one venue so there’s no need to include travel time.

Timeline #1

1:30 – First Look and Bride and Groom Portraits
2:15 – Bridal Party
2:45 – Family Formals
3:15 – Down time and chance to freshen up
4 - Ceremony
4:30-5:30 – Cocktail Hour
5:45 - Announcements, First Dance and Toasts
6 – Dinner
7:30 – Parent Dances (and other special dances) open dancing
8 – Sunset Pictures

For this timeline, you’ll see that we’ve gotten ALL your portrait pictures out of the way before the ceremony! When you do this, the only thing left to do after the ceremony is head to cocktail hour and enjoy the rest of your party! I will say though that most couples do choose to escape for a few more moments during the sunset hour to get a few more creative pictures to add to their album. This timeline is a great option for those who have their wedding and reception at the same venue and don’t want their guests to have to wait a long time before the reception starts.

Timeline #2

A second option for those who want to include their large extended families in their Family Formals but who may not be able to arrive before the ceremony starts, looks similar to the first timeline:

1:30 – First Look and Bride and Groom Portraits
2:15 – Bridal Party
2:45 – Down time and chance to freshen up
3:30 - Ceremony
4:15-5 – Family Formals (Immediately Following Ceremony)
(4:15-5:15) – Cocktail Hour
5:30 – Announcements, First Dance and Toasts
6 – Dinner
7 – Parent Dances (and other special dances) open dancing
8 – Sunset Pictures

Timeline #3

A third option if you have your heart set on not seeing each other before the ceremony could look like this:

1:30 Portraits of Bride and Bridesmaids and Portraits of Groom and Groomsmen Separately
2:30 – Ceremony
3:15 – Family Formals (Immediately Following Ceremony)
4:00 – Bridal Party Pictures
4:30 Bride and Groom Portraits
5:15 – Lined up ready for announcements
5:30 – Announcements, First Dance and Toasts
6 – Dinner
7 – Parent Dances (and other special dances) open dancing
8 – Sunset Pictures

As you can see, your pictures are split up all throughout your wedding day with this third timeline option. It’s much more busy and full and you're not really able to attend cocktail hour. If I could have my wish for you, it’d be that you were able to do your photos all in one shot and then have the rest of your day feel like an actual wedding as opposed to a day of pictures.

Now all that to say, this is your wedding day and you can certainly choose whatever timeline you’re most comfortable with. I just want you to be aware of all your options and their implications on your day. Hopefully this blog will give you some tools with which to build your timeline! As always, if you have specific questions, please feel free to shoot me an email!

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