Planning the Ideal Wedding Timeline

“You must know exactly what your wedding day will be like, right?!”

It’s a question I hear pretty often when folks first find out what I do. A perfectly logical assumption, I get to see SO many wedding ideas on a weekly basis, I can just pick and choose the best ones and use them for myself!

Or wait, was that Pinterest?

Either way, is it weird that I really have no idea what my wedding will be like? Well, not that weird, since I’m not dating anyone and there is no sign of a stranger proposal on the horizon, but truly, if my wedding were tomorrow, I couldn’t tell you what my dream colors or theme or dress or ring or flowers or song would be. I think it’s a little bit like when soon-to-be parents start to think of names for their new baby, and every idea just keeps reminding them of people they’ve known—I associate certain wedding elements with the couples that I get to work with before I ever associate them with myself! (Maybe that’s the deal with weird celebrity baby names. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow just knows TOO MANY PEOPLE so she chose the first inanimate object she saw that reminded her of no one: Apple, it is! But I digress…)

So, no, I can’t tell you the details of my picture perfect wedding day just yet. What I can tell you is exactly how the day will be structured, timeline speaking. I know for a fact that my reception will be decorated in plenty of time for my photographer to document it all before guests arrive. (Don’t you put your coats on those chairs just yet.) I know that I will block off a silly amount of time to get my dress on. (The dress is ALWAYS trickier than you think.) I know that I will account for the timing of sunset. (Golden hour, you are my BFF.) I know that I will see my husband before I walk down the aisle. (Goodbye, butterflies and hello, cocktail hour!) And I know that it’ll all be laid out in a detailed timeline and that all of my vendors will love me so much. And we’ll live happily ever after. The end!

Nope, I’m not a crazy person. Mostly. It’s just that as a wedding photographer, I know how a well-structured timeline can make an inherently stressful day a little calmer, a little smoother, and a lot more enjoyable. I also know that a thrown-together timeline can cause some serious riffs in the few hours that precede “I Do,” and that’s really not something I want for myself. Also, because of my profession, I know that certain timelines lend themselves to more photos for the client, which—when investing a huge chunk of your budget into your photography—seems to me like one of the best ways to make your investment worth while.

Below are the timelines that I recommend as ideal to all of my clients. They’re ideal—not mandatory—because of course there are differences in every wedding day, be it traveling from one location to another or leaving more time for a longer, more traditional ceremony, but I work with my couples to create a day that follows this structure as closely as possible, because in my experience, it’s what I’ve found to work best! One set-up is ideal for a First Look day, while the other makes sure that a bride and groom don’t see each other until the ceremony. Of course there is plenty to be said about the difference between those two, but that, friends, is a can of worms for a different blog post.


First Look Timelines:

  • First Looks help create a timeline that is a little more relaxed than your average wedding day. By moving all or most of your photos to before the ceremony, the time between your ceremony and reception becomes much more flexible! A bride and groom can actually enjoy cocktail hour with their guests—it’s revolutionary!
  • An important detail for these days is to make sure to schedule hair and makeup a little earlier than you might think, since pictures are happening earlier in the day, everything should be shifted up by about 1.5 hours.
  • This style of timeline also makes sure that your photographer will be able to document all of your reception details before guests get to them! Brides and grooms spend months and months choosing colors, flowers and planning decorations for their tables, and that hard work should be documented! By moving photos to before the ceremony, I’m free to book it to the reception venue to capture those details while guests are still en route. It also allows me to candidly photograph your guests at the cocktail hour, something a traditional timeline doesn’t really allow for.

Traditional Timelines:

  • First Looks aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay! You can still build a great timeline even if you don’t plan to see your bride or groom before the ceremony. You should know, however, that you will need to leave at least an hour and a half between the end of your ceremony to the start of your reception in order to fit everything in. There’s a good chance that your photography was a big piece of your wedding budget, and your photos are all that you get to take with you after your wedding day is over, so I want to make sure that I protect your investment by protecting this time!
  • Since I’m with the Bride and Groom after the ceremony, I can’t document those awesome reception details during this time. There are two solutions to this: 1) carve out a chunk of time before your ceremony that I can shoot reception details! For this, you’ll want to make sure that your centerpieces are already in place, name cards set out, and cake is displayed. Sometimes, because of multiple locations, this isn’t so much of an option, which is when I recommend, 2) make sure that your cocktail hour is in a separate location from your main reception, and don’t let guests enter until the room has been photographed!
  • In both timelines, I make sure that you are ready and waiting to go at least 30 minutes before you walk down the aisle. This prevents rushing from photos to the altar, gives you a chance to relax and catch your breath, and ensures that you’ll be tucked away while guests are arriving.

One other thing I know for sure about my wedding day? The timeline will not go exactly as I plan it. No matter how hard we try, there is always something that will go a little askew. The florist will be late, the dress is missing a button, a bridesmaid forgot her shoes or the best man is arriving from his delayed flight an hour before the ceremony. You can’t plan for these kinds of kinks, but you can be sure to create a timeline than can absorb their impact! This means adding an extra five minutes to each task for padding, planning and accounting for plenty of time for travel from one location to another, and so on. That way, when inevitably, something knocks the day slightly off course, that time can be made up elsewhere!

Whether you’re planning to see your groom for the first time as you walk down the aisle or during an intimate First Look moment, a well-planned timeline is essential. Take the time to consider all the little details, and find what works best for you! In the mean time, I will be scouring Pinterest for wedding colors that no one has ever used. You guys are going to love my chartreuse and safety orange wedding!


  • May 13, 2014 - 1:13 pm

    Christine - I refuse to wear chartreuse or safety orange for a bridesmaid dress… just so you know :)ReplyCancel

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