best wedding day timeline

The Best Wedding Timeline Template

Trying to figure out the perfect schedule for your wedding day? This wedding timeline template will be perfect for you. I’m sure your wedding day seems like a long ways away, but the earlier you can figure out what your day looks like, the better. After reading this article you will no longer be overthinking all the crazy scenarios of what your day could look like. We are going to help keep you from waiting until the last minute and really guide you in tackling the itinerary of your wedding day. After shooting tons of weddings we have a really good grasp on what clients love and what clients hate. This article will provide you with a comprehensive look at every angle possible to figure out what’s truly best for you and your guests. More importantly, keeping your schedule in line with the most optimal times for wedding photography. Let’s dive in and tackle this together.

We encourage you to read this entire article but if you’re too busy then just “Pin It” for now and come back later. After that, scroll to the bottom of this post and download our free pdf bundle. For those of you who have a few minutes, continue reading below…

Too Busy? Pin This Image & Read Later!

wedding day timeline

The Ideal Wedding Timeline Template

With the nerves and excitement of your wedding day, stress should be as far off your mind as possible. A timeline that outlines all the events of the day helps ease those pre-wedding jitters. But there are a few things to consider before putting anything together. We’ve shot a ton of weddings and have worked with some of the best and worst timelines known to man. Time and time again we’ve come back to a common wedding day timeline template that seems to work really well for all clients and vendors in the wedding planning process – not just the photographers. Since every photographer approaches the wedding day very differently, make sure to consult with them and your coordinator to determine what would work best for your wedding day. The following information was gathered from our own experience and from the experience of other like-minded photographers. This by no means is a perfect timeline for ALL weddings. It is simply a suggested timeline to use as a foundation to build upon.

 

Things to Consider First:

Consider how important it is for you to enjoy your wedding day?

Before you get carried away with all the details and planning your wedding, remember to keep in mind the importance of enjoying your wedding day. It only happens once and it goes by very fast. We like to optimize our time in the most efficient way possible so the bride and groom can enjoy every minute of their day. The last thing we want is for you to feel bored from taking photos all day or being out in the hot sun away from all your friends and family. Consider your day and make sure to enjoy yourself.

best wedding day timeline

Consider how important it is for your guests to enjoy your wedding day?

Do you want your guests talking about how amazing your wedding was for years to come? Well, don’t forget about them. Remember to keep them in mind as you plan out your day. Having a good flow to your day will allow the guests to have a good time and enjoy the celebration. If they are waiting around for long periods of time before the show can go on, then it can be an overwhelming process. Consider the amount of venue locations, how far people need to walk, how late the party goes, how long the ceremony lasts and how long speeches or traditions take. All of these details add to the overall experience of your wedding day.

breakers wedding reception

Consider how important wedding photography is to you?

We ask every client what is the most important element to their wedding day. Photography is the answer, 9 times out of 10. It’s the most important thing from your wedding day that you can keep with you forever. Having the correct timeline will provide you with more opportunities for better photos and a better wedding day experience overall.

wedding day schedule

Consider seeking your wedding planner’s input

Potentially, there are many more details about your wedding day that are unknown to the photographer. It is very important to consult with your planner on the timeline. Most planners will do this automatically for you during the final weeks leading up to your event. This photography timeline we’re providing is just a rough outline for what has worked really well for our clients. It might not work for all planners. Usually the planner will consult with all the other vendors you hired to determine if the timeline is appropriate. However, if you’re not working with a planner then the schedules below may be of help to you.

Consider seeking input from your venue or day of coordinator

Some venues have coordinators or catering managers that have lots of experience managing the wedding day flow. If your wedding includes something like this than we highly recommend bringing them into the loop on the flow of your day. They will be very experienced with knowing the best times to start and end things.

Remember that your vendors most likely have never worked together before

Most of the vendors you hire have yet to work with one another. Although, each vendor brings a unique skill to your wedding day, it is possible that each has their own unique needs. This is why the timeline is so helpful. It puts all the vendors in check for when things are happening. That way, if there are any disputes they can be fine tuned with a solid timeline. It will help all parties to do what they do best at the appropriate times without overlap or interference. So please don’t just assume that your wedding day will work itself out. Put a solid schedule together and your wedding day will go smoothly. Questions to ask yourself: What time does the sun set on your wedding day? Why is this important when it comes to photography? We primarily shoot with natural light, so we want to get most of our photos done while there is enough daylight. And we want to use some time during the final hour of the day for what photographers like to call the Golden Hour. This is the time during the day that occurs one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Since most weddings are during the day, we like to use the evening sunset as our Golden Hour opportunity. Here we’re able to get a ton of amazing looking photos of the bride and groom in a very little amount of time. We plan for 20 minutes but if we only end up getting 5 minutes it would still be worthwhile. We use this handy SunriseSunset website all the time to determine exactly when and where the sun is setting for our wedding locations. Once you know what time the sun is setting then you’ll have an idea on how to fit everything in your schedule around it.

wedding timeline template

Does your wedding require more than one photographer?

This is one of those questions you may want to ask after you already have an idea of what the day will look like. It really depends on how the photographer works, how the day is ordered, all that will be occurring throughout the day and of course, what you want or don’t want photos of. Most clients want the extra photographer for the peace of mind in knowing you’re covering two angles especially during those important moments when one person can’t always be in the same place at the same time. I personally enjoy working with a second shooter especially for weddings over 8hrs with multiple locations. Again, don’t just assume on the amount of photographers you’ll need. Every photographer works differently and can assess your wedding appropriately after proper planning.

perfect-wedding-day-schedule

Will you be having a videographer?

This is another question we ask all of our brides. Why? Because it can have an affect on how we operate. Since every videographer works differently they too may have their own set of requirements to get the shots they need to get. Sometimes our approach works really well with videographers who film in a more documentary style just capturing things as they happen. If we connect with a videographer that creates more movie like trailers it could mean more time is needed during the process which could mean more time added within the timeline. It’s best when there is only one director and both photo and video can flow simultaneously as one. Rather than taking turns going back and forth. This is another reason why it helps that your photographer has experience working with the videographer. It’s not essential but it is helpful. Consult with your photographer or videographer on which styles would best compliment the other or if they possibly have some recommendations for who to work with.

Will you be doing a first look?

Alright now we’re finally getting to the good stuff. Every photographer loves this question. They love it because they know after doing so many weddings that the flow of the day goes much more smoothly. They come away with more opportunities to get the shots they need and their clients seems to enjoy the day a whole lot more. Doing a first look allows you to get all your necessary pictures out of the way before the ceremony so you can attend your own cocktail hour, eat those fancy appetizers and focus on spending time with your guests.

perfect-wedding-day-timeline

Let’s face it, breaking tradition can be hard and not always possible, especially when one has grown up with an impression of how their wedding day should be. But don’t worry there is still hope even if you decide to not have a first look. A word of advice from our experience: Should you decide to see your bride walking down the aisle for the first time, yet you want to guarantee you get all the shots you need and still enjoy your day. We like to recommend having an earlier ceremony time so you’re not risking losing natural light. If you have a bridal party than definitely do all of those pictures separately before the wedding. That way all you have to focus on after the ceremony is immediate family portraits and the bride and groom portrait session. You may or may not miss your cocktail party but at least you won’t lose out on the good lighting. Should you decide to give in and do the first look we want you to know that moment when she walks down the aisle will always be an amazing moment regardless if you see her before the ceremony. We’ve seen plenty of guys cry their eyes out during the ceremony even after seeing their bride just before the ceremony.

groom-expressions

There is something special about that moment when all your friends and family members are gathered around awaiting the bride, the music is playing and it’s finally happening. If anything the first look will help remove those butterflies but it definitely won’t remove the emotion and love you have. I can go on and on about this. Either way, its totally possible to have an awesome wedding day! Just remember, this decision plays a role in how you structure your day. Need a little more convincing? Check out our Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Do a First Look on Your Wedding Day.

Do you have a bridal party?

Having bridal parties are awesome! They bring a ton of hype and energy to the wedding day. There’s nothing like hanging out with your best friends before the ceremony. However, the larger your bridal party the more you may want to cushion your time just to be safe. Large bridal parties typically mean more opportunities for potential conflicts in your schedule. Unless you have an insanely cooperative group of friends then plan for the worst by baking in more time. In general, we can usually go through a bridal party in 30min. If you’re not doing a first look, consider doing the bridal party groups separately before the ceremony. Rallying both the groomsmen and bridesmaids for one giant photo can be challenging to handle after the wedding. If you’re doing a first look it’s not as difficult. You just want to have only a few shots left on your list for after the ceremony.

funny-bridal-party-pictures

Family Pictures

If it’s possible to do these before the ceremony then make it happen. If you’re doing a first look this option is much easier to accomplish since the bride and groom are able to be see each other. It will eliminate another thing on your list so you can do all the formal photos prior to the ceremony and be done with it. If you are planning on not doing a first look this option isn’t totally out of the picture for you. We still recommend if it’s not inconvenient to family members try to get all the combinations of family photos you need prior to the ceremony. Yes, each side won’t get those combinations with the bride and groom. But which ever remaining ones are important to have they can be done right after the ceremony. The main thing is that you try to provide at least two opportunities for getting the shots you need. Inevitably someone is running behind and can’t make it into a shot but our backup plan is always to knock it out after the ceremony concludes.

bridal-party-pics

Are you able to sneak away during the reception?

Sometimes receptions happen when the light is looking awesome, whether it’s at the Golden Hour or during a colorful sky at twilight. We like to plan for 20 minutes, if possible, to steal our bride and groom away from their reception when nobody is noticing. Sometimes it only ends up being 5 minutes but it’s totally worth it. Think of it as another back up plan. If you didn’t have enough time during the day (or if it happened to be raining earlier in the day) for your bride and groom session you’ll always have this as reassurance to keep things moving forward.

bride-groom-sneak-away

Also, these are the creative shots…the shots where your photographer has some time to scout out a cool spot and set up a neat lighting scene. This is a time to experiment and get creative. It’s in these moments that you can come away with the best shots of the day. Plus, we notice that it’s during this time that the bride and groom really open up. You’re not thinking about anything else by this point. All the ceremonial stuff is out of the way and now it’s all about just having a good time. This is where the true emotions and reactions come out. Bake time in your itinerary for this. You won’t regret it.

wedding-party

Questions you may have:

When should the photography services begin and end?

We begin our photography services during the final touches of hair and makeup. We want the bride to look her best before taking her pictures. If we are shooting before final touches, it is only far away candid shots and/or details. We end our photography services a bit after the last tradition or once we’ve gotten a good amount of the dancing photos – We find guests appreciate the break from flashing lights in their face all night.

wedding-reception-dancing

For both questions, above you’ll really want to consult your photographer. The work that they do may require them to come earlier or stay later. It really all depends on how they like to approach the day. For us, we’ve found that we work best within the range of shooting 6-8 hours. After that we really start to fade…unless our clients are feeding us like crazy, we’re well hydrated or we pack lots of energy snacks. If the wedding requires over 10 hours or definitely beyond 12 hours we’ll arrange for having our associate photographers take over. We want to have high energy when we’re shooting and not just sitting around filling time because it’s on the contract.

How much time is needed for photography?

For an ideal timeline with us plan for…

  • 30 minutes of details (dress, shoes, letters…)
  • 1 hour of getting ready for the bride and groom
  • 15 minutes for the first look
  • 30 minutes for the bride and groom portraits
  • 30 minutes for bridal party
  • 20-30 minutes for family
  • 30 minutes of no pictures of people prior to the ceremony
  • 20 minutes of bride and groom during the Golden Hour (if possible)
  • 30 minutes during cocktail
  • 30 minutes of reception details (w/ empty room and lit candles).

 

The rest we can go with the flow or give suggestions if needed once we see a timeline. Some portions can be handled at the same time depending on the amount of photographers at the event.

sunset-wedding-ceremony

Should we do the ceremony at sunset?

If your wedding is outdoors and requires that you have the ceremony at sunset then you’ll definitely want to do a first look and get all your pictures done before the ceremony including all the family formals. But to answer this question honestly, if it’s not necessary than don’t do it. Though sunset time is awesome for lighting it’s not always ideal for a ceremony. Mother nature can have a mind its own and things don’t always run perfectly on time. If things run behind schedule, you may find yourself having a dark ceremony outdoors where lighting can become very challenging for your photographers. Natural lighting changes very rapidly after the sun sets below the horizon. The skies can look really cool but it’s a risky time to document a ceremony. When you plan for the ceremony right at sunset you’re taking a big risk to make sure everything runs smoothly and you’re not always guaranteed that dreamy golden light. You may have an overcast day for all you know and the lighting toward the evening will look no different than it does during the day. Always try to plan with a balance between what is safe and what is ideal.

“Always try to plan with a balance between what is safe and what is ideal”

wedding-lantern-send-off

Photographer Tip: Bring a constant light source. If you find yourself outdoors in a position where the ambient lighting is dropping really fast during the ceremony or your outdoors with very little available light, we recommend bringing a constant light source with you. Shine it at a 45 degree angle from where your subject will be. Put your camera on a solid monopod or tripod. Your ISO may need to get cranked up and you’ll want to shoot in a wide open aperture but it beats using flashes and adjusting all your settings as the light keeps fading. Using strobes in these moments can be distracting and really slow you down. The strobes can sometimes even suck the life out of all the existing light sources: candles, LEDs, orange bulbs, chandeliers, etc. With this setup we’ve been able to get some really great looking skies without making the subject appear like their not apart of the environment. It has a much more tasteful and natural look to it. Don’t forget about constant light sources. Their not just good for videographers.

Phew! That was a lot of reading! Hang in there, your almost done. If you haven’t had a chance to download our free wedding day schedule & checklist we put together for this article, take a minute and do that now:

Dedicate one person (possibly the maid of honor) to help the photographer point out names with faces during the family portrait time. We send out a questionnaire prior to the wedding where you can detail for us all the combinations of family members you would like to include during the family portrait time. We print out this list and reference it during the family portraits. Start with the largest groups first and scale down smaller and smaller. Try to get the older people and children done first so they can take off early.

wedding-timeline

Should we go around to tables for photos?

If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically walking around to each table during the reception and getting a formal like shot with the table. This is kind of an old school thing to do but sometimes we still get requests for it. Instead of doing table shots we like to get more candid looking shots of people interacting and enjoying the start to your reception party. We find table shots to be an inconvenience to guests. They usually don’t like getting out of their seats to huddle awkwardly around a round table for a picture. Depending on how many guests you have this can take a lot of time. And there’s always that one guy who just happened to be in the restroom that you’re waiting for to return before getting your shot. Not to mention people are chatty and when you stop by their table it’s not just a quick picture. Multiply 10 minutes by the amount of tables you have and that will give you an idea if it’s worth it.

As a substitute, we really like to encourage our guests to add on a photo booth for their reception. Especially if they have a really large amount of people attending. I’m not talking about those small inclosed photo booths you see at the malls. What I mean is the studio like photo booths where it’s all open and lit professionally with a clean backdrop. One where you don’t always have to include the props. These are really great for grabbing all those distant cousins, fraternity brothers, co-workers, you name it.

rent-a-photo-booth

When should the photographer receive their meals?

For us the best timing for the meals to be served is just as the guests are being served (usually no photos are taken at this time). Most caterers wait until after the guests receive their meals because it’s proper but sometimes we risk the chance of missing important moments. Our goal is to be done eating before the guests finish eating. That way we can be there for everything important.

How to keep the reception from being a drag?

Usually receptions become a drag because of the mixed crowds, lengthiness or the lack of activities. Not every group wants to dance until the morning. So mixing it up throughout the night is very important. Sure dancing may be going on the entire time but make sure to provide other things to make the reception interesting to everyone or you may have some sneaking out on you. This doesn’t mean spreading out all your traditions late into the night. It just means doing things quickly and simply. If you have formal dances, do them all at once. If you have some toasts keep them short and sweet. If you do a cake cut don’t make a huge production out of it. I think weddings that have lots of little things happening in various places at various times allows people to move about freely without feeling forced to follow a strict program.

perfect-wedding-day-timeline

Photo booths are an awesome way to get people loosened up and having a good time. They generally work best once dinner is over. Doing a photo booth at cocktail hour can be like the start of a high school dance with boys on one side and girls on the other. Who’s gonna go first? Another awesome things we’ve seen is mini snacks and drinks even after dinner and cake that may come out later in the night for people to grab. These are fun treats like mini burgers/fries, grill cheese sandwiches, ice cream sandwiches, donut holes, coffee, etc. Even things like glow sticks can really go a long way. Its all about introducing new things and building upon it throughout the night. Let your imagination run wild.

When should I have my wedding timeline finalized?

If possible, try to have your ideal wedding day timeline finalized 1 month before your wedding. You’ll feel a lot less stressed and a lot more organized and confident going into your wedding day. Send your photographer the final wedding timeline template after it is fully reviewed and approved by all vendors.

A Radically Different Twist on Your Wedding Day

Here is something to consider that is totally different and against the norm. Consider doing an earlier wedding with brunch. This may be an option for someone who wants to save money or not necessarily have a drinking/dancing crowd to entertain. Here is the great thing about doing a wedding like this. Since your ceremony is early in the day, you can plan to do all the important pictures after the wedding. Plus, all your guests still have a Saturday to themselves afterward.

raining-wedding-photos

For our wedding, we did it this way and even planned to have a first look. When the time came, it was so windy on the beach that we ended up just making the decision to see each other at the ceremony. It was totally not the original plan we had in mind but it worked out really well. Besides that, my wife was running behind schedule. Regardless, it was a very laid back day.

So where do we go from here?

So that just about sums it up. We hope this article covered as many angles as possible for you to be prepared to enjoy your wedding day experience. I’m sure absorbing all this content can be a bit overwhelming, so I’ve made things even easier for you to digest. Follow these quick steps below to get started:

1. Go ahead and take a minute to download the free pdf bundle we put together. It will include a checklist along with two versions of the wedding day timeline template.

2. Make sure to read over all three pdf’s. Decide whether or not you’re going to do a first look and begin checking off items on the checklist. If anything it will help you to start taking action steps toward planning your wedding rather than putting it off.

3. If you found this article helpful do us a favor and share it with someone you know. Also, we want to hear from you! If we missed anything or if you have ideas to make this even better we would love to hear it! Comment below or send us an email.

And finally as promised… To ensure the best wedding photos download our free wedding day timeline templates below. Included in this download is a sample schedule of your wedding day (with a first look and without) and a smooth wedding day timeline checklist. Enjoy!