Wedding day timeline in 30 minutes or less
Updated: Aug 19
The wedding day is coming!! You have drafted your schedule(s) for the big day 200 times but at night when you're trying to fall asleep, you reopen your timeline to switch around one thing and accidentally spend 30 minutes swapping everything around, adding time here, subtracting time there, trying to make it perfect so nothing is missed. You finally start to get frustrated and stop working on it, only to come back to it the next morning and quickly feel frustrated again.
Brides: be careful! Timeline design is a massive waste of your time if you let yourself overthink it. Why? Because people are not going to follow it as closely as you think- and it's better that way because you need breathing room to have fun and enjoy your day! The more scheduled and itinerized the wedding day is, the more overwhelming it is to the people around you. I'm here to share some tips with you about how to prevent anxiety and waste of your valuable time as you design a timeline for your day.
Less. Is. More. If you over-schedule, things are going to get missed.
Before we jump into my tips, I just want to share that I always recommend that a couple invest in a day-of-coordinator. The average bride spends 3 hours a week for the final few months of their engagement working on their wedding timeline. Most brides do not enjoy spending their time that way, but they feel like they have to or that the wedding will be a disaster. A day-of coordinator plans weddings all the time and they will be able to plan your wedding day much more smoothly and thoroughly than you will because they are a professional planner who designs dozens of weddings each year. You should also consider a personal attendant to keep track of people, items, what time it is, and what the next deadline is.
Otherwise, if you choose to plan your wedding timeline on your own, here are some tips from me, a professional photographer. Organization is important to me because if a wedding day is complete mayhem, guess who misses things? Me. Guess who is disappointed when they get their gallery back and there are no pictures of an important part of the wedding day because there was no instruction on what was or was not a priority? The bride and groom. We don't want that. As Hamilton would say, "I am not throwing away my shot." (As in, photo. I am not throwing away my photo...shot. Get it? Photo? Was it better before I explained it??)
Alright, let's jump in to the planning tips!
1- First, let's start with your photo album. You want to remember this day so it makes sense to start with the main way you will be remembering it by: photos. Make half hour brackets of time for the main things that you want reflected in your wedding photo album. Things like "Guys getting ready," "Girls getting ready," "Family Photos," "Sunset pictures with the groom"
2- Order those brackets chronologically if you haven't already. The "Sunset photos with the groom" are going to be after the "Girls getting ready."
3- Look at each category you currently have and add priorities to it. Let's focus on "Girls getting ready" because there are many great moments you'll want to see in your wedding album from the portion of the day when the girls are getting ready.
"Girls getting ready - 30 minutes"
1- Bride putting on shoes
2- Dress hanging up on something
3- Putting on dress
4- Makeup shots
5- Mom putting Bride's veil on
6- Bridesmaids first look
7- First look with dad
8- Prayer with bridesmaids
Go through each category and write down the moments you care most about. A word of caution: Do not schedule each event/priority to a set time. You need breathing room in your timeline- room for spontaneity and troubleshooting. If you want to add more structure, add specific times to the events that require other people but let the other items happen naturally throughout the day. Looking back on "Girls getting ready" the things that require other people are "5- Mom putting Bride's veil on," "6- Bridesmaids first look," "7- first look with dad," and "8- Prayer with bridesmaids."
Those are helpful events to schedule to a set time so other people can be aware of their deadline for that event. But as far as things like "Bride putting on shoes," if you schedule that for something like 9:02am, you're going to spend a lot of time pulling up your timeline, checking your timeline, modifying your timeline when it's not exactly 9:02am, etc. It's going to cause you anxiety especially if you misplace your phone or are running behind.
4- Don't try to include every single thing about the whole day on your timeline. Stick to the things that you want to look back on and remember. If you schedule 30 minute bracket for portraits of desserts, you may regret having tons of photos of what you ate, versus something like candid shots of guests.
5- Hire a professional photographer because that person is going to be with you all day, and they are going to be the one person who sees everything, all day. Don't hire your buddy with a camera for $500. It's not just about the photos here- it's about the experience working in the guts of a large event like a wedding. Hire someone with experience and a good reputation in the wedding field, who knows how weddings work and has seen many weddings of different types come and go, someone who can troubleshoot, is a voice of experience, who makes your wedding look prettier than it actually was (it's going to be gorgeous, but this is the one investment that adds overall beauty to an already beautiful day). A $5,000 photographer can make your $10,000 wedding look like a $50,000 wedding. On the flipside, a $500 photographer will make your $50,000 wedding look like a high school prom.
6- Plan the send-off time before it gets too dark or too late! Check what time sunset is and plan your send-off before it's pitch black outside, even if it's a sparkler send-off. Don't schedule dancing for more than two hours. People will start leaving when they get tired and then you will not have enough people to make the send-off truly feel celebratory.
7- Once you've drafted your schedule, email it to your vendors and ask them if it's realistic. Ask for their suggestions. They don't want to be stressed on your wedding day, I'm sure they will help you out. As a photographer, I want to know what's going on, when, and where, and once I find all that out, I send my clients my schedule for the day. My clients typically abide by my exact schedule with very minor tweaks. I love to help them out with that. Besides, at the end of the day, as their photographer, I need to see everything, so if we schedule everything around me, I don't miss anything.
8- FAMILY PHOTOS. I can't emphasize this enough. There is always at least one family member who goes missing during the family photos. Then suddenly we're on a man-hunt, the clock is ticking, the guests are waiting for you to come back to the party, and uncle Gary is at the bar while forty people wait for him to be found and brought back for twenty minutes.
How do you stop this?
1) Make a list of every single family member who you want in the family photos, and the week before the wedding tell them each individually that they are in the family photos through an email, text, in person, or all of the above. Make sure you mention that the bar will not open until after family photos.
2) Schedule the family photos to be immediately after the ceremony. Tell the family to follow you out of the ceremony and go straight to the family photo location.
3) Right after you are pronounced man and wife, have the officiant announce to the the family members "if you were told you're in the family photos, go to X location now. Follow the bride and groom. You'll see the photographer, she's waiting for you."
4) Have the family photo location be off to the side so that family doesn't intermingle with guests as the two crowds merge and suddenly the family has all trickled off.
9- Make sure the hairstylist and makeup artist know what time they need to be done by so the photographer can start their work. Hairstylists and makeup artists are right at the beginning of the day and if they run late, the rest of the day is spent catching up. Everyone must be prompt or we may miss something important due to rushing to "catch up."
10- Collect your pretty things! Set aside the following items for the photographer in the girls getting-ready suite:
1) Groom and Bride’s wedding and engagement rings and boxes
2) A wedding invitation
3) Groom’s tie, cufflinks, tie clasp, any unique or special items he’s wearing
4) Bride’s shoes, veil, earrings, necklace, any unique or special items she’s wearing
5) Loose blooms from your florist, if available
11- Have a designated “dump zone” for coats, bags, extra shoes, robes, boxes. Put all the mess in the darkest corner of the room. We want a tidy getting-ready space. Put the mirror by the biggest window or source of natural light in the room. Be prepared to turn off all “yellow” lights in the room as needed (Yellow light can contaminate skin tones).
Those are my top tips for timeline planning and I am also going to share my own wedding day template with you. I recommend you copy/paste this then add other details that are important to you in each of these time brackets. You'll notice that a lot of my time brackets are shorter than the thirty minutes I talked about before. That's just because I know what amounts of time I need to do everything well- yet efficiently. It's always better to add extra time than to not have enough time.
WEDDING DAY TIMELINE TEMPLATE
These are the most popular parts of a wedding day and the suggested amounts of time I typically need to photograph each different section as well as have breathing room. Not every wedding has all of these parts, and some weddings have parts I don't mention so this will need to be customized for your individual wedding. But this is a start!
Additionally, this is set to represent a wedding where the groom's prep space, bride's prep space, ceremony space, and reception space are all on the same property. Travel time back and forth from each location was not factored into this timeline.
(My second shooter handles items marked with * and allows for multitasking with photo-taking.)
Details: 20 minutes
Girls prep: 60 minutes
Guys prep: 30 minutes*
Girls group photos: 30 minutes
Guys group photos: 20 minutes* First look & portraits: 30 minutes First prayer, hug, letter reading, etc 15 minutes each Reception space & decor: 20 minutes* Location photos: 20 minutes*
Cushion/contingency time before ceremony: 1 hr
Ceremony: Usually 30-60 minutes
After ceremony: Full wedding party photos: 20 minutes Family photos: 20 minutes Cocktail hour & guest portraits: 30 minutes* Mr & Mrs session: 20 minutes
Activities: (grand entrance, first dances, speeches, games, cake cutting...): 40 minutes
Dancing: Typically 60-90 minutes depending on the crowd
Sunset Mr & Mrs session: 20 minutes
Sendoff: 15 minutes
This timeline brings us up to just over 10 hours of scheduled time slots if we round down and don't count contingency time. In this case, I would suggest to a bride that she take me up on my second shooter option because then we can double up and knock out two things at once, yet also have more bulk in each different scheduled section of the day.
That brings me to this question: Should I add a second shooter to my package to consolidate the timeline? Before we unpack this question- please note that this is an individual discussion with each bride, not a blanket answer!
Well, consider this picture. I took this from outside. So who is inside to photograph the bride and groom, their families, or reactions in the crowd? My second shooter.
Aside from the ability to always be photographing two things at once, which leads to a more diverse album full of different material, perspectives, and angles, it does cut the timeline by at least one third which enables the day to be more efficient. I handle smaller weddings alone often, but only if it's not a jam-packed timeline. If you want to jam-pack a timeline, you'll definitely do your day more justice if you have a second shooter present because each photographer will have more time to dedicate to their specific roles on the wedding day. It's also important to note that I have not yet achieved the ability to teleport or to clone myself, so having a second camera has a lot of perks regardless of how small the wedding is.
Here's another thought on a second shooter: Think about the ceremony. I have one camera and one set of eyes, so while I am able to photograph both the bride and the groom as the come down the aisle in a smaller wedding, each person gets only 50% of my attention at any given point. If the bride hugs her dad, I have to choose if I am photographing the dad's face, the bride's face, or the groom. All three are fantastic choices, and so a second shooter would really come in handy in that situation. So if your wedding is larger, it's going to be important to have that second photographer for all of those reasons.
I will be updating this timeline planning blog as my career and knowledge continue to grow, but for now, that's what I have for you! If you have additional tips to add, I am always all ears! We all have something to learn from others.