If you’re anything like me, planning things ahead is your pride and joy. If you’re the opposite and you’re more of a fly by the seat of your pants type person, let me take you under my wing. I want your wedding day to be stress free and running like a well-oiled machine. How can you accomplish this, you ask? A wedding day timeline.
It could be a tiny bit daunting at first, but making a wedding day timeline is the best way to ensure everything runs smoothly when you tie the knot. Starting it might be difficult, but by the end of it I promise you’ll feel more organized & confident about who goes where & when on your wedding day.
Want some tips? We got em. Here we go.
(Pre-tip tip: Google docs is also your friend in this process, so get that sucker open and make yourself a chart/table)
Got a google doc or microsoft word page open? Perfect – time to make a basic structural layout of your day with a table, labeled appropriately.
Start by writing down all of your vendors at the top of the page, ensuring that if an emergency should arise (or if you need to contact them for general info/questions), you will know exactly who to call and how to contact them.
Make a few columns and label them according to when something will occur, what exactly will occur & who is involved. See the example below!
A seemingly obvious tip, but important to remember when beginning to plan your day. Give yourself some wiggle room to make sure everyone is standing on their marks on time. If your ceremony starts at 5:30, plan to be there for any portraits and last minute checks at 3:15 the latest. This will, of course, be made easier if your prep, ceremony and reception are all on the same grounds, but transporting everyone from one place to the other will definitely require some extra time. Take that into account!
Write down everything you can think of, even if it seems silly. This will help you establish a structure and weed out what you definitely need/don’t need to do. The more you include, the more fine tuned & accurate your timeline will be. Make sure you include the following:
Prep will take a large chunk out of the day, and that can definitely seem overwhelming. Break it down to prevent any prep-related panic attacks. It also usually takes at least 30 minutes longer than planned — account for that.
Bridesmaid’s hair: 30 minutes per person
Bridesmaid’s makeup: 30-45 minutes per person
Bride’s hair: One hour
Bride’s makeup: 45-60 minutes
All of these time restraints depend on the complexity of each style; you may find that it takes way less time, or you may need to give yourself a 30-minute cushion of extra time.
When your hair stylist arrives, have them begin working on your bridesmaids’ hair. With makeup, however, the bride goes first (much of the prep can then be spent relaxing while waiting for your turn with hair).
You’re just about done with your hair, your bridesmaids are all hangin out, you’re all enjoying some light snacks, the day is going great. This is about time for the photographer to arrive to catch those last few getting ready moments – hair & makeup touch ups, attire/stationary details, and some general friendship happenings.
It’s best for the photographer to arrive about one hour before prep is done, this is typically between 12pm and 2pm.
If you have a second photographer – it is highly recommended to catch every important moment & explore every angle – they will be photographing your lovely almost-spouse during their prep. Depending on how much prep is required for them, their start time could be earlier or later, but it will still allow for an hour of time to photograph details, touch ups, portraits, etc.
It used to be “bad luck” to see your future spouse before the wedding. Now, it’s encouraged! You and your partner can decide for yourselves if you’d like to schedule time in your day for a first look, but may I present one very important pro of having one:
If you decide to have a first look, make sure to block out at least 30 minutes for a quick little “look how beautiful I am/you’re so lucky” entrance, some sweet words, a smooch or two, and some portraits. The photographer can be as involved in the action as you want. For instance, if you’d rather the moment be more quiet, we’re happy to make ourselves cozy behind a tree off in the distance with our zoom lens. Just let us know.
This is notoriously the most chaotic portion of the day. For some reason, family members see the camera and flee — don’t do that. It may be helpful to encourage VIP family members & friends to arrive extra early for family portraits before the ceremony and to STAY TOGETHER. Depending on how large the groups are, this could take up to an hour (especially if not everyone is on time). Create a shot list for your photographer with each group/combination and make sure everyone on the list is present for photos. If everyone is there at the selected time, it should be easy peasy. We’re able to (normally) get this done in under 35 minutes.
It’s that time! Don’t be nervous, you got this. Planning wise? We got this for you.
Your guests should be invited to take their seats about 15 minutes before the ceremony start time.
Make sure you’re out of sight of your guests, though, no sneak peeks! Ensure all portraits at the ceremony venue are finished 30 minutes to an hour before guests arrive.
If there are any traditions you are including in your ceremony, run times may vary, but the average time is about 30 minutes. This allows enough time for any meaningful readings, speeches, music & of course the vows and ring exchange.
Ah, yes, cocktail hour. The best hour. If at this point you’ve already covered your photo session with your spouse and group family portraits, this hour is reserved for relaxing, eating, and some catching up with friends and family before the reception.
It may be golden hour at this time, so you may want to take advantage of a few minutes to get some more portraits, but you are by no means obligated to. Just alert your photographer and I’m sure they’ll (we’ll) be willing to put down the plate of charcuterie to get some stunning images.
People may have different traditions at wedding ceremonies, but there is some consistency in the reception: dancing & eating – a lot. The flow may vary, but the order of events normally goes like this:
Of course it’s not going to be exactly like that, but that’s pretty close. Three to four hours is a good amount of reception time, and it ensures all the important stuff gets done.
One last thing: definitely make sure you get to enjoy your food and all of your guests! This is your day, and aside from making sure it runs smoothly, you have to remember to pause and take it all in once in a while. Assign the task of keeping everyone on track to someone else for a bit, everyone will be more than happy to help you out – including us!
One more time, with feeling, the complete wedding timeline (based around a 5:30 ceremony start time)
Download & customize here
Planning is fun, isn’t it?! If you don’t think so, I’d be happy to help you out. I’ll make you a google doc table believer.
We're Sava, a small studio of photographers who bonded over our similar educational background, love of art, & general affinity for timeless wedding photos. Based in NYC, will travel, will pick up your coffee order on the way.