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 overwhelming 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.
I want to start out by saying: at almost every wedding we have shot and helped with the timeline (maybe 90%), we have been ahead of schedule. This is because we account for about 15-20 extra minutes during each portion of the day.
For example, let’s say the ceremony starts at 4:00 PM, and you want to take formal family photos before it begins. A good time to start the photos would be 2:00 PM. In the timeline, we’ll have the photo time carved out between 2:00 – 3:15 PM, giving you 45 minutes to wind down pre-ceremony, even if we use the full amount of time. In reality, that segment of the day will probably only take about 30-45 minutes, ESPECIALLY if everyone is on time!
Another thing to account for is the sunset. We all love golden hour portraits, as this type of light provides super dynamic shadows and flattering tones. Each time of day presents its own set of unique lighting challenges, and we welcome them all.
Below are some of our tips to create a seamless timeline (with our help, of course).
The most important part of your day is the ceremony. A seemingly obvious fact, but a good place to start. If you’re planning on doing a first look, hair and makeup should be done no later than three hours before the ceremony start time. Without a first look, there will be less photos to take before the ceremony. Although that means you will need to utilize your cocktail hour for couples portraits, but we’ll get to that.
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:
Getting ready 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 wedding party is 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 candids.
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: you get to enjoy your full cocktail hour later on, instead of dedicating that time for portraits you didn’t take earlier.
If you decide to have a first look, make sure to block out at least 30 minutes for a quick little entrance and reveal, 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. 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.
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.
Cocktail hour is 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 will probably 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.
When you book us as your wedding photographer, we provide you with some helpful planning resources. Usually a month before your wedding day, we like to schedule a time to go over your projected timeline. We as photographers have a say in the timeline flow because we know how long photos are going to take. For instance, the timeline your caterer provides may not account for the proper amount of time to take family photos. Your timeline will change depending on if you have an 8, 10, or 12 hour day with your photographer.
In conclusion 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!
If you want some more timeline help, consult this page on our website: https://savaweddings.com/timeline-help
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.
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