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How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline

For so many couples, creating a wedding day timeline is the most stressful part of planning, but it doesn’t have to be! This guide was created to help you work together as a couple to take the stress out of wedding day scheduling. Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to enjoy a worry-free day together knowing that everything will fall into place as it should. You’ll also find sample wedding photography timelines from real weddings.

I like to create wedding timelines based off of six key events throughout the day. I schedule out each little section of the day, then I fit them all together to create the master timeline (and don’t forget to add travel time between events if they’re happening in different places).

I plan the events out in the order below based on how each event will impact the other events around it. If you have certain parts of the day that are already set in stone (for example, if your ceremony is already scheduled to start at a certain time), start with the least flexible day parts and work out from there:

  • Key Event #1: Golden Hour Portraits; 15-20 Minutes
  • Key Event #2: Bridal Party and Couple Portraits; 1.5-2 Hours
  • Key Event #3: Family Photos; 25-60 Minutes
  • Key Event #4: Pre-Ceremony, Ceremony & Marriage License; 1-2.5 Hours
  • Key Event #5: Getting Ready Photos; 1-1.5 Hours, plus time for hair + makeup before photos start
  • Key Event #6: Reception Room Details; 20-30 minutes
  • Key Event #7: The Reception; through 30-90 Minutes of Dancing

 

Key Event #1: 

Golden Hour Portraits (15-20 minutes)

I always take the bride and groom out for at least 15 minutes of “golden hour” photos in the final hour before the sun sets. This is when you’ll have the most amazing light for photographs, and it also gives you a chance to have a small quiet moment together during your wedding day. 

Many couples will schedule their events around the golden hour. If possible, it’s ideal to schedule your day so that the golden hour falls:

  • Just before your reception begins (during regularly scheduled portrait time).
  • 30 minutes into dinner (this way, you’ll have plenty of time to eat your own dinner, then you can sneak away for photos while your guests finish eating)

Key Event #2: 

Bridal Party and Couple Portraits (1-2 Hours)

There are eight basic combinations that I aim for with bridal party and couple portraits:

  1. The bride alone (5-15 minutes)
  2. The bride and groom (20-60 minutes)
  3. The full wedding party (10-15 minutes)
  4. The groom with all groomsmen (10 minutes)
  5. The groom with each groomsman (5-15 minutes)
  6. The groom alone (5-15 minutes)
  7. The bride with all bridesmaids (10 minutes)
  8. The bride with each bridesmaid (5-15 minutes)

You’ll want to discuss your top one or two must-have locations for these photos, along with nice to have locations if you can get to them. Factor in travel time, and consider back-up locations in case of rain. I recommend only one location per major grouping above. The exception, of course, is bride and groom portraits, which can be in each location.

Add travel time plus 5-10 minutes for loading and unloading at each location.

There are three basic ways to break out when bridal party and couple portraits will happen. Make a note of which option you like the best to keep track:

  1. Before the Ceremony: If you plan to see each other before the ceremony, plan for about 10-15 minutes to coordinate your first look (seeing each other for the first time) plus another five minutes if you’ll read private vows before you begin portraits If the sun will be high in the sky, we’ll make sure that the locations we choose have good open shade.
  2. After the Ceremony (No first look): If you don’t see each other before the ceremony, the most common time to take these photos is just after family photos following the ceremony. If you don’t want to do a first look, you might still consider adding 10-15 minutes to your schedule for a “first touch” before the ceremony where you’ll hold hands and/or exchange letters around a door or back-to-back without seeing each other.
  3. Split Photos Before and After the Ceremony: Many couples will get the first six group combinations listed above done before the ceremony and then get the full wedding party and bride/groom photos after the ceremony and family photos.

If you’re feeling pressed for time, a second photographer can be a huge help during portraits. This makes it possible to take separate photos with the women and men at the same time.

Key Event #3: 

Family Photos (25-60 Minutes)

Family photos are an important category of their own. They can either happen before the ceremony (if you’ll see each other) or just after. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. You’ll want to carefully plan out exactly which groupings you want before your wedding date. Assume that it will take about five minutes per major grouping to get everyone in and out and about three minutes per smaller group (2-4 people).
  2. Once the list is created, share it with a key person who knows most of the family members and can help call out names from the list to get everyone in place. I usually have someone read this list while I get everyone placed. It helps if they can be loud.
  3. Make sure that everyone who will be in these photos is aware of it ahead of time. Let them know that they should be a part of the exit immediately after the ceremony, and then they’ll head to whichever photo location you’ve set. Note that it’s less common to do a formal exit during outdoor ceremonies; in this case, just let family know that they should stay close to start photos as soon as guests have cleared out. For church photos, also let family members know to avoid sitting in the first few rows during photos, since this can interfere with photos.
  4. If you have more groupings than you can get to before your end time at the church, prioritize which photos you want in the church and which photos can be in another location. Here are two other options to get the rest of the groups:
    • Have the groups gather just outside of the reception site before the reception begins and/or
    • Work with the DJ or band to have these groups get together just after dinner during the reception.

Key Event #4: 

Pre-Ceremony, Ceremony & Marriage License (1-2.5 Hours)

Assume that you won’t want to schedule any specific photos in the half hour before the ceremony begins—this should be your buffer time to breathe, relax and tuck away as guests begin to arrive. This is also a good time for candid photos and for me to make sure everything is set for ceremony photos.

As soon as the ceremony ends, plan for a few extra minutes for everyone to clear out—especially if you’re having a receiving line, which can take as long as half an hour. 

For church weddings, some couples choose to take exit photos where guests will see them off from the church. Here’s the trick: you’ll do your exit, but you’ll actually loop back to enter the church again through another door to sign your marriage license and take family photos while guests head on to the next event. Or, if family photos are happening somewhere else, simply head on over to that location. Plan around 15 minutes for a formal exit to give your guests time to leave their seats and line up (this type of exit works best for ceremonies with less than 150 guests).

Key Event #5: 

Getting Ready Photos (1-1.5 Hours)

Once you’ve worked out your ceremony time, you’ll be able to work backward to figure out your schedule for getting ready. I try to arrive at least 30 minutes before the bride is ready to put her dress on. This usually ensures that hair and makeup are almost finished (I don’t want you running away from the camera because you don’t feel ready), but it also leaves time to get the final details—that final blush, lipstick, etc.

Have the maid of honor or a trusted friend or relative in charge of the “details box” while you’re getting ready. This can be the shoe box that your bridal shoes came in or another pretty box. Fill it with all of the important small details that you want photographed—rings, invitations, shoes, any special jewelry or perfume, your something borrowed, something old, something blue, etc. 

Here’s how getting ready timing typically breaks out:

  • Details and general candids: 30 minutes
  • Bridesmaids together in robes: 5-10 minutes
  • Bride getting dressed and finishing touches: 25 minutes (wait to put on earrings, jewelry and shoes until after you’re dressed)
  • First look with dad: 5-15 minutes (this will go faster if it’s in the getting ready room and take closer to 15 minutes if you coordinate it in a separate place)

If you have two photographers, the men will be photographed at the same time. If you’re both getting ready within a close proximity (e.g. in the same hotel), I recommend adding at least 15-20 minutes to photograph the men getting ready. This is usually as simple as putting on jackets, pocket squares and boutonnieres. If you have one photographer and the men are getting ready elsewhere, have them wait to put boutonnieres on until the buffer time before the ceremony begins.

Working backward from details and dressing, make sure that you’re accounting for the number of people who will have hair and makeup done, along with any travel time in between locations. If you’re going to a salon, work with them to figure out how much time will be needed. I recommend adding in at least 30-60 minutes of buffer time, since it’s common for hair and makeup to run late. 

Decide whether you will have someone come to the hotel or house where you’re getting ready to do hair and makeup, or whether you’ll all go to a salon. Will you meet ahead of time for breakfast? Consider having a few stylists come to you and ordering in food to make things easier to manage. Many brides who get ready at home will have a family member pick up bagels or sandwiches and set out the food while everyone gets ready together

Key Event #6: 

Reception Room Details (20-30 Minutes)

If you know that you want photos of the reception room before guests enter, plan around 20-30 minutes for these photos (the more details, the more time you’ll want to allow).

There are four main ways to accomplish these photos. Make note of the option you like the best to keep track:

  1. Before Getting Ready Photos: If your room will be photo ready early in the day and you’re getting ready close by, you might be able to have these photos done at the very beginning of the day. It’s likely that the cake won’t be out yet, so you may still want to set aside a few extra minutes before the cake cutting.
  2. Before the Ceremony: If your ceremony and reception are in the same place, consider adding extra time for room photos leading up into the 30 minute buffer time before the ceremony.
  3. During Cocktail Hour: If cocktail hour will take place in a separate space and portraits are done, cocktail hour can be a good time to get these photos. At this point, the room should be completely ready.
  4. Have a Second Photographer: If logistics just aren’t working out to schedule in room detail photos, a second photographer can photograph the room.

Key Event #7: 

The Reception (Through 30-90 Minutes of Dancing)

As your photographer, I know that I play a big role in keeping things running on time from the moment I arrive until the reception starts. 

Once the reception begins, you’ll work with your DJ or band to plan out the rest of the schedule. I always meet up with this point person as soon as I arrive at the reception to make sure that we’re working closely together throughout the evening just in case anything needs to change. It’s fairly common for things to move around a bit during the reception, but it’s not a big deal if your DJ or band and photographer are working together. 

At this point, I take candid photos of the evening, but I also make a point to have the bride, groom and parents tell me if there are any other casual group photographs of friends who they would like to get together. If you want a large group photo (all of your high school or college friends, for example), I recommend having the DJ or band leader call everyone over to the dance floor for the photo at the end of dinner. Once the group is there and paying attention, it’s the perfect time to segue into the first dances and general dancing.

Once dancing gets going, I usually recommend about 30-90 minutes of dancing and reception photos. The larger your guest list, the more time you might allow here, but in general, make sure that you’ve scheduled enough time to capture the major events and traditions of the evening.

There you have it! I hope that you find this helpful. I love working with couples to make sure that everything is ready to go before the wedding day begins so that it’s a fun, relaxing experience for everyone. This is a celebration, after all.


Sample Photography Timelines From Real Weddings


You’ll find eight sample wedding photography timelines below:

  1. One photographer, all events in one location; first look
  2. Two photographers, all events in one location; first look
  3. One photographer, all events in one location; no first look
  4. Two photographers, all events in one location; no first look
  5. One photographer, all in different locations; first look
  6. Two Photographers, all events in different locations; first look
  7. One Photographer, all events in different locations; no first look
  8. Two Photographers, all events in different locations; no first look

#1: One Photographer, All Events in One Location; First Look (8 Hours)

  • 1:30 PM: Start photos with women (details/candids/bridesmaids in robes)
  • 2:10 PM: Bride gets dressed
  • 2:40 PM: Father/daughter first look
  • 2:55 PM: Groom getting ready photos (mom in the room to pin boutonnieres)
  • 3:20 PM: Photographer heads to reception room for room photos
  • 3:45 PM: First look, followed by initial bride/groom portraits
  • 4:15 PM: Wedding party photos
  • 5:00 PM: Buffer time/guests begin to arrive
  • 5:30 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 6:20 PM: Family photos during cocktail hour
  • 6:50 PM: Bride/groom golden hour photos
  • 7:15 PM: Guests enter reception
  • 7:25 PM: Wedding party enters reception (cut cake, toasts, dinner)
  • 7:45 PM: Sunset
  • 8:50 PM: Dances, general dancing begins
  • 9:30 PM: Wrap up photos

#2: Two Photographer, All Events in One Location; First Look (7 hours)

  • 2:30 PM:
    • Lead Photographer starts photos with women (details/candids/bridesmaids in robes)
    • Second Photographer starts photos with men (details/candids)
  • 3:10 PM: 
    • Bride gets dressed
    • Second Photographer takes men outside for portraits
      • Groom solo portraits
      • Groom with each groomsman
      • Groom with all groomsmen
  • 3:40 PM: Men head back inside
  • 3:45 PM: Father/daughter first look outside (confirm all clear with groomsmen)
  • 4:00 PM: First look, followed by initial bride/groom portraits
  • 4:30 PM: Wedding party photo
      • Bride solo portraits
      • Bride with each bridesmaid
      • Bride with all bridesmaids
      • Full wedding party
  • 4:45 PM: Second Photographer heads to reception for room photos
  • 5:00 PM: Buffer time/guests begin to arrive
  • 5:15 PM: Second Photographer gets set behind the scenes for father/daughter reactions before walking down the aisle
  • 5:30 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 6:00 PM: Guests head immediately into cocktail hour (Second Photographer)
  • 6:20 PM: Family photos during cocktail hour 
  • 6:50 PM: Bride/groom golden hour photos
  • 7:15 PM: Guests enter reception
  • 7:25 PM: Wedding party enters reception (cut cake, toasts, dinner)
  • 7:45 PM: Sunset
  • 8:50 PM: Dances, general dancing begins
  • 9:30 PM: Wrap up photos

#3: One Photographer, All Events in One Location; No First Look (8.5 Hours)

  • 12:45 PM: Start photos with women (details/candids)
  • 1:15 PM: Bride gets dressed
  • 1:40 PM: Head out for photos with bride/bridesmaids (open shade)
    • Bride solo portraits
    • Bride with each bridesmaid
    • Bride with all bridesmaids
  • 2:00 PM: Letter exchange—bride/groom quiet moment before ceremony (back to back without seeing each other
  • 2:15 PM: Head back to respective rooms/men pin on boutonnieres
  • 2:30 PM: Buffer time/guests begin to arrive
  • 3:00 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 3:30 PM: Guests head immediately into cocktail hour (outside)
  • 3:50 PM: Family photos
  • 4:25 PM: Bride/groom portraits
  • 5:00 PM: Photographer heads to reception room for room photos
  • 5:30 PM: Guests enter reception 
  • 5:40 PM: Wedding party enters reception (toasts, dinner)
  • 6:50 PM: Cut cake, dances, general dancing begins
  • 7:55 PM: Golden hour photos as guests are dancing
  • 8:15 PM: Wrap up photos
  • 8:30 PM: Sunset

#4: Two Photographers, All Events in One Location; No First Look (8.25 Hours)

  • 1:00 PM: 
    • Second Photographer starts photos with men (details/candids)
    • Lead Photographer starts photos with women (details/candids)
  • 1:30 PM: 
    • Bride gets dressed
    • Second Photographer takes men outside for portraits 
      • Groom solo portraits
      • Groom with each groomsman
      • Groom with all groomsmen
  • 1:55 PM: 
    • Head out for photos with bride/bridesmaids (open shade; confirm men are inside)
      • Bride solo portraits
      • Bride with each bridesmaid
      • Bride with all bridesmaids
    • Second Photographer heads to reception for room photos
  • 2:15 PM: Letter exchange—bride/groom quiet moment before ceremony (back to back without seeing each other
  • 2:30 PM: Buffer time/guests begin to arrive
  • 2:45 PM: Second Photographer gets set behind the scenes for father/daughter reactions before walking down the aisle
  • 3:00 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 3:30 PM: Guests head immediately into cocktail hour (outside; Second Photographer)
  • 3:50 PM: Family photos
  • 4:25 PM: Bride/groom portraits
    • Bride and groom return to cocktail hour when portraits are finished
  • 5:30 PM: Guests enter reception 
  • 5:40 PM: Wedding party enters reception (toasts, dinner)
  • 6:50 PM: Cut cake, dances, general dancing begins
  • 7:55 PM: Golden hour photos as guests are dancing
  • 8:15 PM: Wrap up photos
  • 8:30 PM: Sunset

#5: One Photographer, All Events in Different Locations; First Look (8 Hours)

  • 2:15 PM: Start photos with women (details/candids)
    • Bride/Groom will text room numbers as soon as they have them
  • 2:45 PM: Bride gets dressed
  • 3:10 PM: Photos of men getting ready in (same hotel)
  • 3:30 PM: Groom departs for gardens (portrait location)
  • 3:35 PM: After all clear is given, bride departs for gardens
  • 3:45 PM: Groom arrives at gardens for first look, gets in place
  • 3:50 PM: Bride arrives at gardens for first look
  • 4:00 PM: Bride/groom portraits
    • Bride and groom together
    • Bride solo portraits
    • Groom solo portraits
  • 4:30 PM: Bridal party arrives at gardens
    • Bride with each bridesmaid
    • Bride with all bridesmaids
    • Full wedding party
    • Groom with each groomsman
    • Groom with all groomsmen
  • 5:10 PM: Depart gardens, drive to chapel
  • 5:30 PM: Buffer time at chapel/guests begin to arrive
  • 6:00 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 6:50 PM: Photo of bride/groom in the chapel
  • 7:00 PM: Depart for reception (cocktails start at 7:00 PM in separate room)
  • 7:15 PM: Family meets out back for family photos during cocktail hour
  • 7:45 PM: Photographer heads to reception room for room photos
  • 8:10 PM: Guests enter reception
  • 8:20 PM: Wedding party enters reception(cut cake, toasts, dinner)
  • 8:50 PM: Golden hour photos as guests finish eating
  • 9:12 PM: Sunset

#6: Two Photographers, All Events in Different Locations; First Look (7.5 Hours)

  • 2:45 PM (Bride/Groom will text room numbers as soon as they have them):
    • Lead Photographer starts photos with women (details/candids)
    • Second Photographer starts photos with men (details/candids)
  • 3:15 PM: 
    • Bride gets dressed
    • Men and Second Photographer depart for gardens
  • 3:30 PM: Second Photographer takes portraits with men at gardens
      • Groom solo portraits
      • Groom with each groomsman
      • Groom with all groomsmen
  • 3:45 PM: Bride departs for gardens
  • 4:00 PM: Bride arrives at gardens for first look
  • 4:10 PM: Bride/groom portraits 
    • Bride and groom together
    • Bride solo portraits
  • 4:40 PM: Bridesmaids arrive at gardens
    • Bride with each bridesmaid
    • Bride with all bridesmaids
    • Full wedding party
  • 5:10 PM: Depart gardens, drive to chapel
  • 5:30 PM: Buffer time at chapel/guests begin to arrive
  • 5:45 PM: Second Photographer gets set behind the scenes for father/daughter reactions before walking down the aisle
  • 6:00 PM: Ceremony (30 minutes), guests exit and sign marriage license 
    • Second Photographer departs immediately following the ceremony for reception room details
  • 6:50 PM: Photo of bride/groom in the chapel 
  • 7:00 PM: Depart for reception (cocktails start at 7:00 PM in separate room with Second Photographer)
  • 7:15 PM: Family meets out back for family photos during cocktail hour
  • 7:45 PM: Bride and groom head to cocktail hour to mingle with guests
  • 8:10 PM: Guests enter reception
  • 8:20 PM: Wedding party enters reception(cut cake, toasts, dinner)
  • 8:50 PM: Golden hour photos as guests finish eating
  • 9:12 PM: Sunset
  • 9:30 PM: Dances, general dancing begins
  • 10:15 PM: Wrap up photos

#7: One Photographer, All Events in Different Locations; No First Look (8.75 Hours)

  • 12:00 PM: Start photos with women (details/candids)
  • 12:30 PM: Bride gets dressed
  • 12:45 PM: Men depart for the church
  • 1:00 PM: Women depart for the church
  • 1:15 PM: Men pin on boutonnieres at the church
  • 1:30 PM: Buffer time at the church/guests begin to arrive
  • 2:00 PM: Ceremony (one hour), guests exit and sign marriage license
  • 3:20 PM: Family photos at the church
  • 4:00 PM: Bridal party departs for portrait location (one location)
  • 4:15 PM: Bridal party arrives at portrait location
  • 5:00 PM: Cocktail hour begins at reception venue
  • 5:25 PM: Bridal party and photographer depart for reception
  • 5:35 PM: 
    • Bridal party arrives at reception
    • Photographer heads to reception room for room photos
  • 6:00 PM: Guests seated
  • 6:05 PM: Enter reception (cut cake, toasts, dinner)
  • 7:00 PM: Dances, general dancing begins
  • 8:20 PM: Golden hour photos as guests are dancing
  • 8:45 PM: Wrap up photos
  • 9:00 PM: Sunset

#8: Two Photographers, All Events in Different Locations; No First Look (8.5 Hours)

  • 12:15 PM: 
    • Lead Photographer starts photos with women (details/candids)
    • Second Photographer starts photos with men (details/candids) 
  • 12:45 PM: 
    • Bride gets dressed
  • 1:00 PM: Men depart for the church
    • 1:15 PM: Women depart for the church
    • 1:30 PM: Buffer time at the church/guests begin to arrive
    • 1:45 PM: Second Photographer gets set behind the scenes for father/daughter reactions before walking down the aisle
    • 2:00 PM: Ceremony (one hour), guests exit and sign marriage license
    • 3:20 PM: Family photos at the church
    • 4:00 PM: 
      • Second Photographer departs for the reception for room photos and cocktail hour candids
      • Bridal party departs for portrait location #1
    • 4:15 PM: Bridal party arrives at portrait location #1
    • 4:45 PM: Bridal party departs for portrait location #2
    • 5:00 PM:
      • Bridal party arrives at portrait location #2
      • Cocktail hour begins at reception venue (covered by Second Photographer)
    • 5:40 PM: Bridal party departs for reception
    • 5:50 PM: Bridal party arrives at reception, lines up for entrance
    • 6:00 PM: Guests seated
    • 6:05 PM: Enter reception (cut cake, toasts, dinner)
    • 7:00 PM: Dances, general dancing begins
    • 8:20 PM: Golden hour photos as guests are dancing
    • 8:45 PM: Wrap up photos
    • 9:00 PM: Sunset

Happy Planning

-Jaime