10 Wedding Day Timeline Tips From a Professional Photographer

When you are a wedding photographer you go to many, many, many weddings a year. Because of that experience, you soon start to see commonalities between the weddings. You learn what helps everything go right, and more often than not, you see what causes stress and frustration. Most people planning weddings have never been married before, so they don't necessarily know what to expect or how to plan for it. That is why I like to give my brides and grooms advice and tips so that they can avoid common pitfalls. Here are some tips you might not know about the wedding day timeline, or schedule. 

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Tip #1: Decide from the beginning if you want to do a first look

The biggest question I get asked by every bride is "Should I do a first look or no?". For the most part, that is up to the couple and their personal preference, but if your priority is having a seamless day that flows effortlessly from activity to activity, there are some pros for having a first look. First, it provides the bride and groom a chance to see each other earlier in the day and get rid of any wedding day jitters. Seeing one another tends to calm them down and allows them to relax. Second, you get to get all the formal photos done earlier in the day. The earlier it is, the cooler it is outside (usually), the more relaxed everyone is, the more compliant everyone is, and it's less likely you will have super drunk bridesmaids or groomsmen. (real life experience talking here!) Last of all, it is the most efficient way to get all the photos done, and then you can go straight from ceremony to reception. Most couples want to party after they have officially tied the knot, and they should! Having hours of photos after the ceremony can be a bit of a downer, and with a first look you get to flow straight into the party.

Whatever you decide, make sure you know early on which type of day you want, first look or hide the bride. Both of them have very different timelines and will effect what time everything can start.

Tip #2: If you do a first look, do it somewhere private

A first look is supposed to be in place of the moment where you first see each other going down the aisle. It is usually emotional, and having an audience can detract from that emotion. Pick somewhere away from most people where you can be alone. Have your photographer keep everyone from a distance, and when you see each other, take in the moment. Don't feel rushed or let anyone rush you into the next thing. This is YOUR day and it's important to take a moment for the two of you. 

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Tip #3: However long you think makeup will take, add an hour

The number one cause of a wedding day schedule being derailed: hair and makeup ran over. I am in no way blaming hair and makeup artists for this- they are amazing and usually very timely. But it's simply something that can't be rushed and if you don't schedule enough time for it, there's very little that can be done to speed it up. My biggest tip is to talk with your hair or make up artist about realistic times to get everything done. If it is just the bride getting done, it will take less time than an entire bridal party, and they will be able to give you a sense of how long that will take. While waking up at 8am on the day of your wedding stinks, trust me when I say that you would much rather get up and going then have to rush around and not get to experience your wedding day. 

Tip #4: Receiving lines take forever

Most bride and grooms don't realize how long receiving lines can take. Most people assume that they will say hi real quick and 10 minutes later be ready for the next thing. That's not always the case. Many people want to have a short chat with the couple and will take a while to congratulate them. I've seen receiving lines take upwards of 45 minutes before. I'm not necessarily saying don't have a receiving line, because it is natural to want to greet your guests and thank them for coming. However, just be aware that it will take a while and you will be standing the whole time. Be sure to schedule at least a half hour if you are planning on doing a receiving line immediately following the ceremony.

Some alternatives to receiving lines are to go around during cocktail hour and greet everyone, or after you have eaten at the reception to go around and talk to each table. It's up to you to decide when you would like to do it, but just make sure to account for the time. 

Tip #5: Don't forget to account for travel time

What I mean by this is if you have a wedding day that has multiple venues or if you want to travel around to take pictures, don't forget how long it takes to travel all these places. For instance, I had a bride that was getting married in a downtown Indianapolis and wanted to go around to take pictures at 3 different spots to take pictures and estimated that it would take an hour in total. The problem with this plan is that in a downtown urban setting, getting to each of these relatively close locations would take at least 10-15 minutes each. So, mathematically, that allows us 5 minutes for photos at each location, which is a problem. So if there is any traveling involved in your wedding day, look up realistically how long it would take to get from place to place at the TIME OF DAY the wedding takes place. Don't look up the estimated time at night, look up how long the commute takes during the middle of the day whenever you will actually be traveling.

Bonus tip (Tip 5.2)  

If you are getting married in a busy location, be sure to check for any concerts, events, etc. during your wedding weekend ahead of time so there are no unpleasant surprises. Once, a mini marathon was taking place and divided the city in half when I was trying to get to the bride. Talk about a frustrating situation!

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Tip #6: Family portraits can take forever if everyone isn't organized

Family. We love them to pieces- until they are more concerned about hitting up the open bar than they are standing for your family photos. This can cause stress and cause family photos to drag out far longer than they need to. The biggest thing you can do is to get everyone clear on the fact that they are to remain in the photo location and not wander off. If everyone is there and ready to go, most photographers should be able to get the pictures done in about a half hour. I personally boast a 20 minute record for family photos, but that family was extremely organized and on top of it. Just make sure your photographer is prepared and that your family is prepared. 

Tip #7: Bridal party should be hidden at LEAST a half hour before the ceremony

Nothing ruins the "A-HAH" moment of the bride walking down the aisle than everyone having seen her before the ceremony. Some guests like to arrive as early as a half hour in advance, so it's important that all photos are concluded by a half hour before the ceremony. At that point, everyone should be tucked away and just waiting for the big moment!

Tip #8: Schedule everything you need to do that day, including EAT LUNCH

I am a Type A person. I make lists and schedules have everything organized. I am definitely not saying that everyone should be that way. However, even if you are the most laid back person in the world, you do not want to "wing it" on your wedding day. That is a recipe for stress, things falling apart, and frustration- either from you or from relatives. If you are type A or detailed, type up a timeline and give it to everyone so that they know what's going on. Schedule in things that seem ridiculous to schedule, like eating lunch. It's amazing how many people just forget about meals on their wedding day. Yes you are going to have a huge dinner, but you need to think in advance what you going to eat for lunch and breakfast and who is going to get it. (Hint: bridesmaids and moms need to get ready and probably can't go get it.)

If you are not a Type A and the idea of schedule making seems awful, you have a few options. You can delegate it to a friend, preferably someone who has planned a wedding before and knows how long everything takes. They can run everything by you and help type it up. OR ask your wedding photographer or planner for help. I meet with every couple in person a few weeks before their wedding and type up a schedule for them if they don't have one. I'm pretty good at it so feel free to reach out to me if you need help.

Tip #9: Talk with your photographer about how long formal photos will last

Every photographer is a little bit different. Some are quick, some are more methodical and take a while to do photos. You need to talk with your photographer and get a sense of how long to realistically plan for formal photos. Here's a list of types of photos I do on a wedding day, and how long I schedule them for my brides:

  • Getting ready photos- The last half hour of getting ready

  • The Bride putting on her dress- 30 minutes (yes you read that right!)

  • Bridesmaid pictures and Groomsmen pictures- 20 minutes EACH

  • Full Bridal party photos- 30 minutes

  • Bride and Groom photos- 30- 60 minutes (depending on B+G preference)

  • Family photos- 30-45 minutes depending on how large the family is

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Tip #10: Planning the reception

Receptions can differ based on the venue and couple preferences. Most couples plan their reception in the following order:

  • Bridal party is announced and enters

  • Greeting or welcome, usually by the pastor or the father of the bride

  • Dinner is served. After dinner, the Bride and Groom mingles

  • Speeches/Toasts

  • The Bride and Groom cut the cake

  • First Dance

  • Daddy/Daughter Dance

  • Mother/Son Dance

  • Any special dances

  • Dance floor opens

  • Bouquet toss

  • Garter toss

  • Open Dance

With that being said, many of these events can be done in a different order if you wish, as long as the DJ leads and lets everyone know what the plan is. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to eat and try to keep the speeches on the shorter end, as most people will want to start dancing at that point.

 

My biggest advice I can give is to reach out to wedding professionals- your photographer, wedding planner, DJ, venue coordinator, and have them check your timeline to make sure you haven't forgotten anything or planned too much time or not enough time for something. A wedding day can feel a little bit like a train, going from station to station until it arrives at the party. The best thing you can do is really think through the timeline for the day so that the train moves continuously and doesn't have to come to a stop. Follow these tips and hopefully you will be ahead of the curve and be able to have a smooth and stress-free wedding.

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