Wedding Day Timeline
Your wedding day is going to go by in a whirlwind. You may not believe it now but one thing that always surprises our couples is how fast the day seems to fly by. There are so many things that happen on your big day, your timeline is what is going to keep them all organized. This article goes through a list of the most common events on a wedding day and how to effectively manage them as well as what can derail the timeline altogether.
Include buffer time in everything. I recommend 15-30 minutes between every event included on your timeline.
Have a rain plan. Rain on your wedding day is said to be good luck but it can derail a wedding day if you aren't prepared for it. (I always have umbrellas so if you want rain photos we will get them!)
Make sure everyone knows where to be and when. (You may even want to tell them to be there a little early.)
Here is a list of the most common events we see included in a wedding day timeline:
Don’t forget to include time on your timeline for me to capture your detail photos. This is when we photograph the rings, the dress, the flowers, the shoes, the invitation suite, the groom's socks, cufflinks, any gifts you are giving your spouse of the wedding party, the ceremony site, the reception centerpieces, and any of the details you would like documented to fully tell the story of your wedding day.
If these items are ready when I arrive I can create a flat lay and photograph them immediately, otherwise, I may need to take several time outs to create these photos for you.
Allow approx. 30-45 minutes if you have everything ready.
Bride & Groom Prep
This is the time of day when you are getting ready for the main event, hair, and make-up, and hanging out with your bridesmaids and groomsmen. Sometimes this takes place at the venue, a hotel room, or someone's home. If this portion of the day occurs anywhere other than the venue don't forget to add travel time into your timeline.
If you want photos of you and your bridesmaids toasting, in robes, matching tank tops, or any other awesome form of bride squad gear, this is the time of day when we would capture that. Make additional time for this photo if it's something you want and let the bridesmaids know when to be present and ready for this moment!
Bridal prep rooms can quickly become messy. If the space allows for keeping a few areas off-limits for personal belongings. (i.e. the space you will be putting on the dress or taking the robe photo.) I will do my very best not to capture areas that would not be less appealing in photos.
You do not need photography coverage for the duration of the getting-ready time. For the girls plan for about an hour of prep pictures with the bride getting ready last.
This is the part of the day that most frequently runs behind so definitely add that buffer time in here!
Allow approx. 45-60 minutes
This part of the day is totally optional and completely your preference. There are pros and cons to having or not having a first look, here are a couple as they relate to the timeline :
It gives you more time for photos before the ceremony so that you can enjoy your cocktail hour.
You need to be ready earlier in the day.
*You can also have a first look with your bridesmaids, your dad, or anyone else special to you.
Allow approx. 20-45 minutes
Wedding Party Portraits
Your attendants. The girls. The guys. The girls and guys together.
We can capture these before or after the ceremony. Even if you do not do a first look we can get a majority of these photos complete before the ceremony.
*It is important to be sure your flowers are delivered before this part of the wedding day.
Allow approx. 30-45 minutes
Mom. Dad. Siblings. Your favorite aunt. The best way to get through this is to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when you want them to be there.
Just like the wedding party portraits, we can capture these before or after the ceremony.
I send all my couples a detailed questionnaire asking what family groupings you would like captured before your wedding day in insure that you have time to think about it.
Allow 2-5 minutes for each grouping.
The couple's portraits portion of your wedding day is a time to capture the two of you during your day when you aren't busy getting married or surrounded by your bridal party, family, and friends. If you have chosen to do a first look we will capture some couple's portraits during that time.
Allow approx. 15-30 minutes
Ceremony start time
When I am helping you consider how much photography coverage you will need for your day this is the focal point of the day. We will arrange your hours of coverage surrounding your "I do." Most wedding ceremonies last between 30 and 60 minutes depending on what traditions you include or if you have loved ones singing or reading.
A receiving line occurs immediately following the ceremony. It's a time when your guests line up to individually greet and congratulate you as a newly married couple.
Your guest count determines how long a receiving line will take. I typically recommend 30 seconds per guest. 120 guests = 60 minutes.
This is a vanishing tradition. Many couples choose to instead interact with their guest individually at their tables during cocktail hour or the reception.
You may or may not have one planned. If we did not capture these photos before the ceremony we will use this time to capture family formals as well as your full bridal party photos.
We will also photograph your guests together during this time. We call these photos "grip and grins" and they provide our couples with a record of everyone who was able to celebrate their wedding day with them.
The Grand Entrance
This marks the beginning of the party. Typically set to music provided by your DJ everyone will be introduced beginning with your bridal party and ending with the announcement of you as newlyweds.
These are photos taken with your guests while they are seated at the reception. They can be time-consuming and it can also be difficult to make sure that everyone is at the table as you walk around.
We highly recommend a "table dash" if you would like to capture these pictures. During a table dash, we have the DJ make an announcement to have everyone stay in their seats, during the course of one song we run from table to table capturing a photo with each table. It's quick and fun and you get a photo with all of your guests who are present.
It's not nice to take photos of people while they eat so this is the time of day when there is very little photography happening, however, we will capture table shots (photos of your guests seated at their tables) while they are not actively eating.
*Table shots are photos of guests seated together at their tables.
A really fun way to capture these photos is to tell your DJ to announce that you will and your new spouse will be visiting each table for photos. The fun part is that you do this during the length of just one song.
Toasts and Blessings
You may choose someone special to give a blessing before the meal. This is typically your officiant or the father of the bride or groom.
Choose who you want to give the speeches to toast you on your wedding day, typically the father of the bride, best man, and maid of honor in that order.
You can find more information on wedding day toasts here.
It's a perfect time to capture photos of just the two of you.
This is one part of the day when we have no control over the timeline. Despite my efforts, I have yet to be able to control the time the sun disappears behind the horizon. (If I could choose a superpower that would be it.) If you want to capture images like this I will let you know before your wedding day what time we will need to escape the reception to capture these pictures so that other wedding day events aren't at the same time.
It's the sweetest part of the day. (Terrible pun intended.)
This does not take up very much space in the timeline, there may not be a specific time assigned it may be listed in a sequence of events such as the first dance, parent dances, and/or bouquet and garter toss.
A time-saving tip here can be to cut the cake immediately after the entrance. You already have the attention of everyone in the room and it lets the catering staff cut the cake to be served after dinner.
This is one of the most anticipated moments of the wedding day.
Whether you choose to "stay and sway" or choreograph a show-stopping first dance, this is another event that does not take up much space in the timeline and may not even have a specific time assigned to it.
You can find more information and pro tips about the first dance here.
The mother-son dance. The father-daughter dance.
Most songs last between 3 and 4 minutes, if that feels too long to sway back and forth with your parents your DJ probably has abbreviated versions.
Unless your dad has something like this planned from the most epic father-daughter dance we have ever seen.
Check this out for pro tips and more information about parent dances.
Bouquet and Garter Toss
We are seeing these traditions happening less. You may or may not toss a bouquet or a garter. You may toss one and not the other. If you incorporate these traditions into your wedding day we will be there to capture them.
Order of Events
Traditionally the order of events is the grand entrance followed by dinner, toasts, cake cutting, the first dance, parent dances, and open dance.
Some couples choose to make their grand entrance, cut the cake and go straight into the first dance and parent dances while everyone is seated, present and all eyes are on them.
There is no correct order for your reception events. You should do what feels best for you, it's your wedding day!
Sparklers, glow sticks, bubbles, a getaway car, all are wonderful ways to make your exit from your ceremony and create awesome photo opportunities to document the end of your day. Know that once you have cut the cake, danced, and fed your guests dinner, they will begin to trickle out beginning with the older guests and guests with small children. This could mean that you may not have everyone you would like present for the big moment at the end of the night.
- Let your guests know you have a grand exit planned to encourage them to stick around.
- You may choose to have your grand exit immediately following the ceremony.
- In order to give your guests and event staff enough time to set up for your grand exit, you might want to consider a private last dance.
Private Last Dance
The private last dance is a newer wedding tradition where you and your new spouse have one last dance after all your guests have left the room. This allows you to have one last private moment to take in your wedding day and is the perfect time for your venue and guests to set up for a grand exit if you are planning one.
Open dance is the time of night when all of your family and friends bust a move on the dance floor, trust me, you want some portion of this covered.
If you are not having a grand exit and you have completed all of your reception events allow approx 30-60minutes on your timeline.
Pro Tip: If you want to get everyone onto the dance floor we can use the group photo trick. The DJ makes an announcement for everyone to get on the dance floor for a photo and as soon as I’m finished the music starts. This ”trick” serves two purposes:
- You get a group photo of everyone at your wedding.
- Everyone at your wedding is on the dance floor when open dance starts.
Other Reception Events
Other events and dances you may want to be photographed during the receptions are:
- The shoe game
- The AnniversaryDance
- fraternity /sorority traditions
Ultimately, don't let your timeline be a source of stress. At the end of the day, it won't matter if it runs a little late, you won't even remember that. You will remember how much fun you had getting ready with your tribe, you'll remember seeing your spouse for the first time on that day and saying your vows. You'll remember the moment when you get to seal the day with a kiss. You'll remember your friends and family, your first dance, and it will all be documented for you forever in photographs so that even the little details you might have forgotten will live on forever.