The key to a stress-free and chaos-free wedding day is a well-planned wedding day timeline! With a set schedule for the day, you’ll be able to make sure all of your vendors are on the same page while making sure time’s been set aside for the events, people, and things that matter most to you on the wedding day. I always work with my couples to develop their timeline and ensure there’s enough time for photos with plenty of breathing room for you to be present and fully enjoy your day (never rushing around). The average “traditional” wedding (elopements & intimate weddings can be different) requires a minimum of 8 hours of photography, with an average around 9 or 10, but varies depending on your venues, wedding size, locations, and your plans for the day. And to give you a place to start, below, we’ll dive into some sample wedding day timelines, with and without a first-look.
But before we get there, the first question I’ll ask any couple is whether or not you plan to do a first-look as this will determine when the 3 most important portraits of the day: couple portraits, wedding party portraits, and family portraits will take place. From there, we’ll work backward from the ceremony start time to plan an ideal wedding day schedule.
Below are two sample wedding day timelines, with and without a first-look. Each includes 8 hours of photography coverage, a 5 pm ceremony start time for comparison and assumes that the couple is getting ready at the single wedding venue. The first timeline incorporates a first-look while the second does not. Keep in mind that if you’re planning your ceremony and reception at different locations and will each be getting ready somewhere other than the ceremony venue, you’ll need more time for travel. Taking these timelines as a launching point, you can then always add to it. Maybe you want time to swing by a bar with your wedding party before the ceremony, like Shelby and Josh did for their Whiskey Factory wedding in Detroit. Or maybe you want to sneak off for more photos before the reception, make an outfit change, or just have time to yourselves.
In this sample wedding day timeline with a first-look, you’ll notice that we’re able to get through the couple’s photos and wedding party photos all before the ceremony, leaving only family photos for after the ceremony. This allows for a more relaxed and flexible schedule after the ceremony and you could even make it to your own cocktail hour if you choose, or take some time to step away, whatever you want! This also provides a buffer of time after the ceremony should something earlier in the day set the schedule behind. There are now 30 to 60 minutes before the reception starts that can be used for photos (or anything else) if need be! This schedule allows adequate time for all portraits and ceremonies as well as reception decor photos and you’ll have more hours to spend together on your wedding day! If you’re weighing the pros and cons of having a first-look, check out this blog post.
Without a first-look, the day can start a bit later, leaving more time for hair and make-up prior to the photographer’s arrival. In this schedule, I’ve dedicated time for some separate wedding party photos before the ceremony which means less time is needed after the ceremony for wedding party photos since all we’ll need is the full wedding party group together. Following the ceremony, you’ll want to allot more time for photos so an extended cocktail hour can be a great idea so we’re not rushed. This schedule allows adequate time for all portraits and time for ceremony and reception decor photos. And of course, without a first-look, the big reveal is saved for the altar.
Every wedding day is different and no timeline will look the same as the next! Things like venue location, family size, wedding party size, and travel time all play a part. The above sample wedding day timelines work well and allow adequate time for key photos and elements of the day. Of course, as a photographer, I will never say no to having more time for photos at any point in the day!
Both of these sample wedding day timelines are an example of a good balance between ensuring there’s adequate time for photos while not keeping guests waiting longer than necessary and having enough buffer time to not feel rushed or stressed if something doesn’t go according to plan. Whether you’re considering a first-look or not, every wedding schedule can be adjusted to fit your plans! Hopefully, this helps you start to map out your day as you piece together your wedding day timeline. If you ever have questions or don’t know where to start, I’m always here! Just shoot me a message over here or follow along on Instagram.