How to Create a Wedding Timeline – and Stick to it!
What makes some weddings better than others? Is it the food, the open bar, the adorable little favours the newlyweds gave out to everyone? You might not be able to accurately define what makes a wedding stand out in your mind as fantastic, but in my experience as a wedding photographer, there is one detail that helps to make your special day an experience your guests won’t forget: planning.
In some cases couples hire a wedding planner to take care of all the planning details as their experience in the industry will help make their wedding special and memorable. For other weddings, the couple was very organized and did all of the planning themselves. Either way – whatever works for you – the more planning that goes into a wedding the more details are thought of. Part of the details is the logistics of the day.
Every wedding is unique, so the details and planning for each couple are going to be different but the common factor is that they thought out their wedding day in terms of everything they wanted to happen, what was a priority and how each activity fits into the day. As your photographer, I want to make sure that we capture all the moments of your day that you want to have. Based on my experience, I have found a photography timeline similar to this one that allows for all the big moments to be captured. Additionally, if there are some elements you aren’t including we can tweak them to fit in what’s important to you.
The article is focused on how to figure out how many hours of photography coverage you need. Your getting ready will start way earlier than I’m coming in, and the dances will last hours after I left your reception.
Most couples prepare two timelines: photography timeline and the extended timeline for themselves, all vendors and your closest ones.
The Bride Getting Ready
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
The getting ready portion of the day is one of the most relaxed and intimate times to capture pictures. The bride is laughing and talking with her closest friends and family. This is where we get some of the most candid shots.
Most of the time, brides are getting ready at the home of a close family member so they feel comfortable in the environment. The pictures of getting their hair, makeup and nails done with their bridesmaids are moments showcasing years and years of friendship. While the focus of the day is the bride and groom – of course – but these pictures are also some of my favourite shots.
I recommend having us 15-30 minutes before your hair and make-up are ready.
We will start by taking pictures of your dress, jewelry, shoes, rings, and any other important details that showcase your day, as long as the last touch-ups of your hair and make-up. Collect all the details you want us to photograph in one place, and hang your dress on a nice hanger.
After that, it will be time for everyone to switch from robes to dresses. Depending on your comfort level and wants for your pictures I can take pictures of your bridesmaids helping you to put the dress and jewelry on (they need to change first), you alone or even just you with your maid of honour or your mom. These pictures can be done in any configuration you want.
If your dad is going to be involved in your big day, I will also capture the moment your dad sees you for the first time in your dress. This moment can be with anyone who is special in your life – these are your pictures so I want to make sure they capture your special memories.
When you’re ready to go, we will take a couple of solo shots and a few of you with your bridesmaids, your parents, those who are with you getting ready. This part of the day will take about 90 minutes but could be longer if you want to.
Do you have special pictures you want to see? Here are a number of requests I have done in the past and how much extra time should be allowed for it.
Add extra time for:
Champagne toast with robes with your bridesmaids (10 minutes)
First look with your bridesmaids and dad (15 minutes)
Extra solo portraits (15 minutes)
Extra pictures with your friends and family members (15 minutes)
A dress with a lot of buttons or complicated to get into (10-20 minutes)
If your family has specific cultural traditions you want to incorporate into your getting ready pictures, perhaps like the Chinese Tea Ceremony, you will want to make sure you know how much time to allow for that.
Make sure everyone is on the same page. I say this because at about 90% of weddings I photograph, hair and/or makeup is running late, or one of the bridesmaids is late, and if your timeline is tight for when you need to leave to get to the ceremony location, this could impact the timeline for the rest of the day. Don’t feel bad for asking your family for help – they likely want to help but just don’t know what you need from them: it’s a new experience for all of you! Communication is the key. Share the wedding day agenda with your bridal party and key family members.
The Groom Getting Ready
Time: 45 – 90 minutes
Most couples choose to have both the bride and the groom getting ready photographed, and if that is what you want we can easily add a second shooter to your package, or I can take the groom’s getting ready photos before the bride.
When we get there, we ask that the groom and the groomsmen be dressed in their shirts and pans. When we come in, we will photograph the suits/tuxedoes, shoes, jewelry and any other small items that are important to your big day.
After this, we will hang around and take some candid shots of the groom with his friends and family getting fully ready. They may want to have a couple of drinks, so we can photograph them opening the bottle and pouring some drinks.
When it comes to the groom and his groomsmen if you can have the boutonnieres delivered while we are there that would be perfect. It always makes cute photos of groomsmen pinning them into tuxes.
We are finishing with a couple of solo shots and ones with the groomsmen. This part of the day will take about 45-60 minutes but could be longer if you want to.
Add extra time for:
Extra solo portraits (10 minutes)
Extra pictures with your friends and family members (10-15 minutes)
As mentioned with the bride getting ready, if your family has any cultural traditions that you want to incorporate into the groom getting ready just let me know what it is and how much time it takes so that I can make sure I allow enough time.
The First Look
Time: 15 – 60 minutes
Some couples decide to do a first look before the ceremony, and other couples wait until the bride is walking down the aisle for the groom to see her. The decision about whether to do this is completely up to you as a couple, but if this is something you want to do we need to make sure we have enough time before the ceremony starts to do a first look and capture all the shots you want with just your fiancé.
The location of the first look can be where ever you want it to be: bride’s getting ready location, the ceremony venue or hotel. The spot that this takes place can be difficult to decide on so if you want to discuss this and want suggestions on where to do this I am happy to discuss it with you.
The first look shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes. Some couples decide to group it with a photoshoot, than we need around an hour for the photos of just two of you.
Time: 20 – 60 minutes
The length of this part of the day is really up to the kind of ceremony you have decided to have. You and your fiancé may be opting for a traditional, religious ceremony or you may be having a short, civil ceremony.
My videographer and I need to be at the venue at least 30 minutes before the ceremony starts. For just the photography, I need 20 minutes to set up. We use this time to set up cameras and sound and to chat with the priest/officiant and other vendors that may be at the ceremony.
You will get the ceremony information from the officiant prior to the wedding, so we will be able to discuss timing prior to the day. Additionally, if you plan to do a receiving line after the ceremony you will have to allow extra time for that, too.
Family & Friends Formal Pictures
Time: 15 – 60 minutes
I recommend taking family pictures just after the ceremony, as everyone is already there. Taking family pictures after a day, at the reception usually involves a lot of extra time to gather everyone at one spot, as your family is busy mingling with guests and spreads around the venue.
Depending on how many combinations you want and how many guests you want pictures with, it usually takes about 10-15 minutes per 10 combinations.
This part of the day may be either quick and easy or chaotic and frustrating. Let your family and bridal party members know in advance where exactly and at what time we take their photos.
Time: 60 – 120 minutes
The timing of this part of the day can be part of the first look – before the ceremony – or after if you opted not to do a first look. If you decide to do this after the ceremony it means you will likely be missing out on most of your cocktail hour with your guests, so might something to take into consideration.
If you want to get pictures of your reception venue and decorations without any guests in it, we will need about 15 – 30 minutes before guests arrive there to make sure we get a good variety of shots.
If you want to spend a cocktail hour with your guests then I would strongly suggest you do the photoshoot before the ceremony.
The photoshoot is usually comprised of the bride, groom and the bridal party (estimating 4 on each side) and it takes about 90 minutes. If you want extra solo shots with the bride and each of her bridesmaids, or the groom and each of his groomsman, we will need to add extra time on for those shots. There will also be extra time needed if you have a large bridal party. We will definitely discuss this part of the day before your wedding day to make sure we get all of the pictures you want as we may be tight on time and I don’t want to miss anything that’s important to you.
Plan about 15-30 minutes after the wedding ceremony for a break: to use the washroom, touch up your hair and makeup and eat a little something. During the ceremony, your emotions will be ramped up so I always suggest the bride and groom take a little time afterwards to calm down, let the nerves settle and get ready for the next part of the day. If you are far from the reception venue, you can plan a stop at a Starbucks/gas station or rest stop for your bridal party. Many people don’t think to do this, but it can really help to give you fantastic pictures as things will go much smoother if you aren’t hungry and have had a few minutes to calm down.
Time: 3-4 hours
The time for the reception is dependent on what you have set up for your wedding, but most couples plan 3 hours of reception before the dancing starts. Most couples do the grand entrance, the first dance and speeches fairly early in the evening before the dancing starts. Some weddings have cultural elements incorporated and other activities planned between courses. After dinner, it’s usually the cake cutting. Many guests love to be entertained and have activities to partake in during the wedding. From our experience, dancing usually starts 30-45 minutes later than scheduled.
If you want to get pictures of your reception venue and decorations without any guests in it, we will need about 15 – 30 minutes before the reception venue opens for guests to make sure we get a good variety of shots.
Time: 2 – 6 hours
After the speeches, the toasts and the first dance your guests will probably start dancing and enjoying their evening. This can last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, depending on the venue and the timing of your wedding.
I recommend that the photographer and videographer stay for about the first 1/2 hour of dancing. This allows me to capture some of the very best candid shots of your guests truly enjoying your big day and having fun.
Wedding timeline/agenda examples:
First example with multiple locations
10:00-11:00 groom getting ready at groom’s house
11:00-11:30 driving to bride’s house
11:30-1:15 bride’s getting ready
1:15-2:00 Driving to the ceremony location and setting up
2:00-3:00 ceremony and family photos
3:00-3:30 washroom break + driving to the photo shoot location
5:30-6:00 driving to the reception
6:30 grand entrance, reception starts
9:30 dance floor opens
10:00 photographers are leaving
Second example with 2 locations
11:00-1:30 groom & bride getting ready at the same hotel
1:30-1:45 driving to the ceremony & reception location
1:45-2:00 first look
4:00-5:00 ceremony and family photos after
5:00-6:00 cocktail hour
6:00 grand entrance, reception starts
8:00-8:15 sunset photoshoot of the bride & groom
9:30 dance floor opens
10:00 photographers are leaving
Add extra time throughout the day for breaks & delays. I promise it will help make your day relaxed and stress-free. Delays are usually caused by traffic, late vendors or bridal party/family members and attire adjustments.
Enjoy your wedding day!
This timeline is really just a suggestion based on my wedding photography experience, and it doesn’t have to be the same for you. There are some areas that couples don’t consider how much time will be needed (or maybe didn’t even think they wanted pictures of) so that’s why it’s important to discuss the expectations of your wedding day ahead of time. There will always be some parts of your wedding you can’t control, but if you have a plan in mind then it’s easier to stay on track. The good news is that guests won’t know if things are early or late, so they will still be enjoying the day, but you can make sure you don’t forget about something important to you!
If you feel stuck preparing your timeline, it’s best to just give me or your wedding planner a quick call. Weddings, especially in multicultural Canada differ so much, that there is no same timeline for two weddings.