Tips For Creating Your Wedding Timeline

Tips For Creating Your Wedding Timeline

To be as blunt as possible, having a wedding planner is the BEST way to make sure that your your wedding timeline is accurate, and leaves plenty off time for all of your day's events, as well as contingencies. But what if you don't have a planner, or the budget to hire one? 

Here are some really important considerations to make when creating your wedding timeline: 

Scheduling beauty appointment times

BRIDES! Do NOT go first, and certainly do NOT go last. When scheduling your beauty appointments, plan according to who you will need to be ready on time for photographs, and who is less essential for this time. Can you take photos with them at a later time? Will they need to be in photographs during your getting ready photos? Etc... 

Be sure to give your hair and makeup artists a very strict end time

Beyond the most important aspect off a beauty team (making the bride and lovely ladies look amazing!), I value and depend on makeup artists and hair stylists to make my post production work easier. What almost always happens, however, is while doing an incredible job making sure the ladies look absolutely perfect, they tend to set the entire day's schedule back significantly.

Dear hair and makeup pros, no no no, this isn't ALL of you. And no no no, this isn't a jab. I love you all. This is simply a trend that I'd love to draw awareness to. 

If you're aiming to cut expenses, do not cut the number of beauty team professionals. Just trust me, this is one of the worst things you could trim from your budget. Your beauty team will offer you pretty accurate estimates in time to allow per person (ESPECIALLY the teams that I have listed on my preferred vendors list).

Break tradition, and have a first look

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In more than a decade of photographing weddings, I have never had a bride or groom regret having a first look. I HAVE, however, had plenty of B&G's regret not doing so! 

Having a first look opens up a huge window of time for you to capture all of the fairy tale photographs that you want to create. More importantly, it allows you plenty of time to actually enjoy your day! Think about it, would you rather rush around adhering to a very strict and potentially stressful timeline, or would you like to enjoy being a bride or a groom, enjoy your cocktail hour instead of taking photos during that time, and truly remember many of your day's events instead of them feeling like a blur? 

A first look offers a very special memory of seeing one another, too! And contrary to the worry of a first look taking away from seeing one another for the first time during the processional, you'll now have TWO special moments of seeing one another for the first time. 

Allow Plenty of Time For Taking Photos

The best advice I can give to couples who truly value beautiful portraits is to plan for a total of at least 3 hours of photography. This includes travel time contingencies, portraits for just the bride and groom, portraits with the bridal party, and even family portraits. While photos can be captured in less time, variety, quality, creativity, and quantity will all be sacrificed when you offer less time. If your photographer is particularly technical in their photography approach (i.e. uses additional lighting other than just natural light), this is a MUST.
Factor in travel time

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Be sure to allow plenty of travel time between photo locations, as well as your ceremony location and reception venue. The most important thing to also include is traffic contingency time. Be sure to also look into what major events may be occuring on your wedding day, including concerts and festivals. To research estimated travel times, use the Google maps feature that allows you to set the travel time of day, as well as day of the week! It's a super helpful tool that usually gives a great idea of what to expect!

Consider sunset when planning your timeline

What time of year will your wedding be taking place? And when is sunset scheduled to occur? This is particularly important for your photography. If your wedding is during the late fall through late winter months, it will get dark outside EARLY. If you're hoping to create portraits with your new spouse in the daytime, but your Catholic ceremony isn't until 3pm ... in November ... in Chicago, it simply will not happen after the ceremony (see why you need to have a first look). 

Sample Wedding Day Timeline

(based on what is most common)

7am - Hair and Makeup to begin

10am - Photographer arrives to begin taking photographs of details and getting ready

1015/1030am - Bride, Mom of bride, Maid of honor hair and makeup must be done. Mom and MOH must be in gowns by this time.

1030pm - Bride to get dressed

11am- Second photographer arrives on location with Groom

11am - Bridal portraits to begin

1130am - Groom to get dressed

1145am - Groom portraits begin

12pm - Bride and groom leave for first look location 

1215/1230pm - First look!

1245-130 - Bride and Groom take couples portraits together

130-2pm - Bridal party meets Bride and Groom for portraits at location 1

2pm-245 - Bridal party + B&G travel and take photos in location 2 (optional; or can stay at same location)

245pm - Bridal party depart for ceremony location

3pm/315pm - Arrive at ceremony location

330pm - Ceremony Start

430pm - Ceremony Commence

445pm - Church exit / bubbles

445-515pm - Family photos at church

530/545 - Depart for reception

6pm - Cocktail hour begins, bride bustles gown

645pm - Guests asked to enter reception room

7pm - Introductions to begin, 2nd photographer packs and heads home

715pm - Cake Cutting

720pm - Blessing 

725pm - First course served

745pm - Toasts and Speeches 

8pm - MAKE SURE YOUR VENDORS GET FED AT THIS TIME (nobody likes a hangry vendor)

830pm - Bride and Groom optional greet guests around the room, or even take table shots

9pm - Dessert served; First dances to begin

905pm - Father/Daugther dance

910pm - Mother/Son dance

915pm - Bride and Groom dance (I recommend last so everyone joins you afterward on the dance floor!)


915pm Formalities end, photographer wraps up any missing portraits

930pm - Photographer packs up and heads home

[if your contract offers more coverage, continue here from ...]

920pm - Dance floor open! Primary photographer to capture dancing portraits

940pm - Photographer and assistant set up nighttime lighting

950pm - Couple to take nighttime portraits (ex: sparklers, smoke, simple and lovely nighttime portraits, etc)

1010pm - Couple and photographer to wrap up any missed portraits

1030/1045pm - Photographer heads home (unless otherwise planned/contracted)

Obviously there are lots of variables and customizations that can happen in a wedding day. You can see how 3 hours of time for photographer really isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, ESPECIALLY when you have to factor in so many other elements.

If you are totally stumped on your timeline, and do not have a planner to do this timeline for you, I personally offer a timeline creation add-on fee for my clients to hire me to create for them.