Fun fact: when getting engaged, the “Big Question” is actually just the first of many when it comes to planning your wedding. What time should we start hair and makeup? Should we have a cocktail hour, and what do we serve at one? How much time do we need for photos? To make sure you are able to soak in all the amazing moments of wedding day, planning ahead is key.

With a little bit of work up front with the right team, creating a wedding timeline isn’t as tough as you think.

Reverse Engineer from “Non-Negotiables”

Some venues you plan to use during your day may only have certain windows of availability. For example, your ceremony location may only be available at 1:00pm, so times for everything else will be based on that. If you are fortunate enough to not have any non-negotiables, find one or two things you would prefer to have at a certain time, like the reception start or end time. For your non-negotiables or preferred times, put them into your timeline and build out from there.

Choose a First Look or Traditional Timeline

Though a lot of things in the planning process are preferential, some things are a given. Unless you want to get married in a messy bun and your pajamas (and hey, we don’t judge!), the day has to start with getting ready, and end with the reception.

The rest of wedding day, in most cases, will adhere to either a first look or traditional timeline. Both come fully equipped with their own pros and cons (all of which are discussed in detail in our First Look vs Aisle Reveal post).

First Look Timeline

  • Getting ready
  • First look between bride and groom
  • Offsite Creative Session with the wedding party
  • Ceremony
  • Cocktail hour (while family photos are taken)
  • Reception

Traditional Timeline

  • Getting Ready
  • Ceremony
  • Family Photos
  • Offsite creative session with the wedding party
  • Cocktail hour
  • Reception

Schedule Enough Time for Each Part of the Day

Regardless of which timeline format you choose, timing is everything. Scheduling enough time to comfortably navigate each part of the day is paramount in making wedding day the best it can be. Though exact timing will differ from wedding to wedding, below are some general timeframes to consider when putting your timeline together.

Rings, Dress, and Details

Ideal time: 30 minutes

Having time allotted to photographing the rings, dress, shoes, flowers, and any other small details gives us the opportunity to capture those perfect shots of all the small things that mean so much.

Depending on where you get ready, we may opt to photograph those items in the same room as you or bring them outside or nearby to take advantage of textures, better lighting, or architecture.

Bridal Prep

Ideal time: 60 minutes

After the details are photographed, we like to spend some time documenting the getting ready process. This includes the final touches of hair & makeup, hanging out with your bridesmaids, and the big moment where you step into your dress.

Your hair stylist and makeup artist can give you an estimated time needed to get everyone ready for wedding day. We always suggest tacking on an extra 15 minutes as a cushion just in case it runs over to prevent starting the day off late.

Groom Prep

Ideal time: 60 minutes

Beyond the getting ready process, when you put a group of best friends and family under the same roof, unforgettable moments are bound to happen.

Along with preserving those moments in photos, it also gives the guys an opportunity to get comfortable in front of the camera before taking more formal photos the rest of the day.

Formal Individual Portraits

Ideal time: 20 minutes

After the process of getting ready wraps up, it’s time to capture the end product. Having a quick 20 minutes gives us the opportunity to showcase how amazing you look!

With fresh makeup and perfectly pressed collars, this is the best time to grab a few photos before the day gets going.

First Look

Ideal time: 20 minutes

If you decide to go with a first look timeline, allow yourself a few minutes to soak in the moment and talk about how the day has gone so far.

Because we will have a separate time set aside for the creative photos for you and the wedding party, this time is exclusively for you two to take a deep breath together before jumping into wedding day.

Creative Session

Ideal time: 90 minutes

This is the time we use to capture all the photos of you as a couple and with the wedding party. Keep in mind that if we have multiple locations, we will also need to factor in travel time.

Pro tip: Ladies – keep a pair of sandals or flats handy during this part of the day. Heels and grass don’t play well together, so having a comfortable option to slip on between photo spots is a great idea.

Family Formals

Ideal time: 30-45 minutes

Typically done after the ceremony, family formals give you an opportunity to grab a photo with Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, and the rest of your close family.

Heading into wedding day, we will help you create a family photo list to ensure no one is forgotten. That list also gives us the opportunity to efficiently utilize our time.

Before wedding day, make sure to notify everyone on that list to stick around after the ceremony so they’re ready to jump in and smile big as soon as we’re ready for them.

Reception Prep

Ideal time: 30 minutes

You spent a ton of time, money, and effort to create an amazing atmosphere for your guests. Before giving your guests free-reign, we like to get the room photographed in its perfectly decorated, untouched state.

After capturing photos of the centerpieces, cake, table settings, seating chart, and other details, we’ll take any extra time to prep for your grand entrance.

Nightcap Photo

Ideal time: 15 minutes

As much as our couples like to party, at some point during your reception, you will want to grab a drink and take a quick break to refuel. As that time presents itself, we like to head out and grab a quick night photo to cap our time spent with you.

We typically like to do these after the last formality of the night is over and the night shifts into “auto pilot”. This typically aligns with the ending of our time at the reception and gives us the opportunity to ask if you need anything else before we high five and part ways.

Create Time Buffers

Timelines look great on paper but rarely work down to the exact minute. Whether it’s hair and makeup taking longer than expected or traffic during travel, expect your schedule to evolve as the day pans out. Adding extra time into your timeline plan will ensure that minor setbacks don’t turn into major timing problems later in the day. Should everything go to plan, it is always better to find things to do with extra time than to cram things into a timeframe that doesn’t work.

Trust Your Vendors

In the months leading up to wedding day, you searched high and low for the perfect venue, photographer, caterer, and entertainment. Whether it be their product, process, or just a gut feeling, you chose each of those vendors for a reason. Think of them as specialists, carrying years of experience, and understand how their input can contribute to the day as a whole.

While planning, should you run into timeline questions, be sure to reach out to your vendors to ensure everything works within the given timeframes. It’s always much better to have those conversations months out from wedding day as opposed to the week-of, when there is rarely time to remedy a broken timeline. Your vendors have a vested interest in things going well for you, and if your day is easier, their day becomes easier as well.