Planning Your Wedding Timeline

When you're just beginning your wedding planning journey, you may be a little uncertain about how to best plan your timeline. You may even wonder, "Do I really need one?"

I hope to answer that question with a resounding YES, my friends...and also give you some tips that will help it to make more sense to you. Also remember, if you're one of my brides, you can reach out to me any time if you have any burning questions about this process, or need advice. Trust me, as a photographer, we would so much rather be asked about our opinion than for it to be assumed we don't have one.

The wedding day timeline can truly make or break your wedding photography, so it is very important to consider the photos you want to see when you're planning. We wedding day photographers may be mythical unicorns on many occasions, taking less than ideal situations and making magic from them. However, we aren't *actually* magical...and there are some wedding day planning mistakes that even we cannot remedy. As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

A wedding timeline enables everyone who is helping with your wedding (from the DJ to Aunt Ruth) to be on the same page. You don't have to repeat yourself 100 times, or wonder if you forgot to tell someone important about something that should be happening at a certain time. You can simply send out the schedule to everyone who needs to know. It enables your day to run MUCH more smoothly, because everyone will know exactly what is going on at each point in the day. This is especially valuable for us photographers, as we desire to capture as much as possible, to give a complete picture into everything that went on throughout your special day. A timeline will also enable us to make wise choices (do we take one more set of photos in an alternate location, or do we head in for introductions?) as we go, and remain true to the schedule. Without a schedule, there are SO MANY points in the day where things can get de-railed, and opportunities can be missed because everyone wasn't on the same page.

I will be discussing things from a photographer's point of view, but keep in mind that you'll want to add in all the details to flesh out the sample timeline, such as when the hair and makeup artist are arriving, when you'll eat lunch (don't skip eating!!), and what sort of things you'll be doing during the reception, and when those will take place (dances, games, cake cutting, etc.).

To Look or Not to Look?

Before you begin really fleshing out your timeline, you need to seriously consider whether or not you plan to do a "first look", as this will dramatically change the way you'll need to lay out your timeline, based off of what you choose. Some brides prefer to do things the traditional way of not allowing the groom to see her until she walks down the aisle. However, there are many advantages to having a first look, which I will outline below:

  1. It provides a quiet, private moment for the couple to get away from the chaos of the day and just breathe deeply for a few moments, and really enjoy each other alone. The groom gets to see the bride for the first time without all the pressure of everyone looking, and it is many times even sweeter than waiting for the aisle, because he can really soak it all in. He can hardly even see the bride for half of your aisle walk, but with a first look, he can truly enjoy every detail. Also, spoiler alert, if he's a crier, he'll still probably cry when you come down the aisle.
  2. It's an awesome way to let the tension of being in the spotlight go...and just hold each other close. Even if you have a perfectly planned day, the tension that builds is still undeniable. And that first look is a welcome break for many couples, and helps them to re-focus their priorities and take a moment to appreciate everything. It may be your only "alone time" in the day.
  3. You have more time for portraits, and they are not rushed or pushed aside after the ceremony. You can take your time to both soak in the moment while you're together, AND move leisurely into portraits of just the two of you because of the time already being blocked off for this very purpose. Dinner isn't waiting, and the planner (or your mom) isn't reminding you that everyone is waiting every 2 minutes.
  4. It makes the whole day, including after the ceremony more relaxed and smooth. Because we can take photos with the entire bridal party before the ceremony now as well, afterwards we don't have to try to fit family photos of every combination, wedding party photos, AND portraits of just the two of you into a small window of time before dinner. It lets us slip some more of those in "just because" if we want to, or just transition seamlessly into the reception after family photos are finished.
  5. You're going to end up with MORE portraits - and lets face it, even though I love all the candid shots that capture the excitement of the day, the portraits are most likely what you're going to cover your walls in. You're making wise use of your photography time, by getting the most out of it possible, AND you're going to be able to relax and enjoy the time after the ceremony so much more as well!!

However, I want you to both be informed, but also make the choice that FEELS most right to you. I'm not trying to force you into a first look if you don't want one. You also need to keep in mind that all men have different ways of expressing emotion. If your groom is normally very reserved, he may not express a huge amount of emotion during a first look...and that's ok. You also should keep in mind that he is dealing with all the stress and responsibilities of your big day as well. This is a good opportunity to extend grace, and to just be there to hold him. You deserve to feel beautiful and enjoy this time no matter what his reaction is like. My suggestion is to not make your choice based on reactions you're hoping for, but what this moment means for both of you - and the desire to just be close, and enjoy this moment of your day.

Another alternative is to do a daddy-daughter first look, either instead of or in addition to a bride and groom first look. I've witnessed many beautiful daddy-daughter first looks, and if you're a daddy's girl, this may also be something you want to consider.

Timing is Everything.

Chances are, your timing may be based around the hours your venue sets, or influenced by the time of year. But keep in mind that during the summer months, the sun sets much later than the winter months, and if you happen to be having a wedding at a time of year when the sun sets on the earlier side, you may want to plan your wedding to be on the earlier side so that you have time to get those beautiful outdoor photos with natural lighting.

Here is a sample timeline which includes a first look and is based around a 6pm ceremony time:

  • Bridal Details: 2:30-3:15

-This is me taking photos of all of those little details you worked so hard on, from invitations, to bouquets, shoes, dress, that special jewelry, etc. During this time I also hop back and forth between details and capturing pictures of the bridal party getting ready together.

  • Bridal Prep: 3:15-3:45

-This is when the bride gets in her dress. The bridesmaids and her mother should be fully dressed and ready to help her as she gets in the dress and puts on her veil, jewelry, etc. This is the time when I also would grab some quick bridal portraits of her alone.

  • First Look: 4:00

-I scope out the best location, and will guide you through the process. You just get to relax and enjoy each other.

  • Couple Portraits: 4:15-4:45

-I usually scope out the location for these portraits earlier in the day, so we can make a smooth transition into these portraits. But the LIGHT plays a large role in the location, and it is difficult to choose spots before the actual day of the wedding for this reason. We will roam and capture some sweet romantic photos of just the two of you before rejoining the rest of the bridal party.

  • Bridal Party Portraits: 4:50-5:20

-This is where we rejoin the rest of the bridal party and get some fun group shots of everyone together! We will also get shots of just the guys, and just the girls...and then finish up in time to get everyone out of sight.

  • Bride in Hiding: 5:30-6:00

-Don't want those guests to see the bride yet!

  • Reception Details: 5:30-5:50

-If the reception is in the same location as the ceremony, I will use this time to grab some photos of your reception details un-touched (if I haven't already). If not, it may serve you well to have a cocktail hour before the reception so I can grab some reception detail shots before things get disturbed.

  • Ceremony: 6:00-6:30

-It's here! The moment you've been waiting for. This will go by so quickly - make sure you soak it all in and savor every detail you can. Most ceremonies are 30 minutes or less, but if yours is going to be extra long, you will want to plan in some extra time here.

  • Family Portraits: 6:40-7:10

-If you can get me an organized shot list of all the family combinations you want photos of before the wedding day (and maybe lend me someone in your bridal party with a loud voice), we can get these all done as smoothly and quickly as possible, so everyone can go enjoy the reception. Outdoors will be the most flattering location for these photos, and this is a good time to do these portraits, because all the family members will still be around. Especially if you have someone announce the family portraits are immediately following the ceremony afterwards.

  • A Few "Just Married" Portraits: 7:15-7:30

-Many couples want to rush to the reception after the ceremony ends...but this time just before sunset, when the sun is nice and glowy can yield some of the most lovely portraits of the day. It's worth taking just a few extra moments.

  • Reception Begins: 7:30

-The fun begins! At this point, I have my flashes set up and ready to go, and I just roam around getting shots of all the different activities and dances as they happen.

  • The Exit: 10:30

-Depending on the hours of wedding coverage your package includes, you may or may not be planning to leave your reception at the time that my coverage ends. If you're still planning to party the night away, you can always plan a faux exit with just your bridal party, and then head back in for the fun. Or if this sounds like a good time frame for you to head out, we can do a full real exit. I'm up for whatever ideas you have! If you need suggestions or opinions, don't hesitate to ask.

Approximate Times:






If the sun was setting at 5pm, obviously the timeline would have to be bumped back quite a bit, and you would want your ceremony to be on the earlier side.

Hopefully you've found this to be enlightening and helpful! If you have hired me to be your photographer, again, just remember that I'm here for you, and you have my ear if you need to talk through anything.

I can't wait for your special day, and all of those amazing memories you'll be making!

~Tai Sophia