Planning the Wedding Day Timeline

Planning the Wedding Day Timeline

One of the most important things to help the wedding day run smoothly is planning the wedding day timeline. Most couples have never been married before, so they don’t know how much time to allot for things within the timeline. I`ve shot enough weddings to know what works and what doesn’t work in the flow of the wedding day. So, I figured that I’d give helpful suggestions to engaged couples of how to plan the flow of their wedding day timeline.

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In planning the wedding day timeline, one thing that most couples don’t understand is now much time is needed for photography. The more time you give for your formal photography time, the higher amount of beautiful photos you’ll receive. I`m not suggesting that you need to give four or five hours for formal portraits. However, I always tell my clients to make sure that there’s at least two hours devoted solely for the formal portaits. This includes family portraits, wedding party portraits and photos of the bride and groom.(If you’re doing a first look, include an additional 15-20 minutes in the formal portrait time.)

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Travel time and buffering

You must also calculate enough travel time between each location and add buffer time on top of that, in case of traffic or stragglers. For example, one couple sent me their timeline (before I revised it) and they gave zero minutes for buffer time. Their timeline had their formal portrait time end at 5:30 pm and their reception entrance (with them walking in as the newly married couple) begin at 5:30 pm. Even though we shot the formal photos at the reception site, how was that timeline even possible?!?!? People just don’t think about buffer and travel time.

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Most couples (including said couple) also don’t account for travel time from the church to the reception site (in their case, it was 20 minutes) as well as buffer time. I told this particular couple that there are always family members who straggle in. Sure enough about 1/3 of their family members were 30 minutes late in getting to the reception site for photos. The moral of this story is: be smart and add buffer time between everything. This also helps your photographer out because they need time to pack up their gear, transport it to the next location, unpack the gear and then get their settings and lighting correct to shoot the next part of the wedding day.

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Ceremony Length: 30 or 60 minutes?

You also need to know how long your ceremony will be. Typically, a religious wedding ceremony is an hour long, while a non-religious ceremony is about a half hour in length. You also need to know that after the ceremony, you’ll spend about 30 minutes with all of your guests congratulating you. If you don’t have time to spend with guests after your ceremony, have your wedding officiant announce near the end of the ceremony that you will be leaving right after the ceremony to get your formal photos taken and that they can congratulate you later at the reception.

Cocktail Hour

It’s also good to leave at least 45-60 minutes of buffer time before guests need to sit down for the reception. This will give you time to freshen up as well as have a drink with your guests and just relax. During this time, your photographer can take detail shots of the reception (decorations, cake, tables) as well as take photos of guests. This is why cocktail hour is a great thing to have in your wedding day timeline.

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Regular Wedding day timeline

My typical timeline (for 8 hours of coverage) would be something like this for a wedding day that has several locations:

  • 12:00-1:00 pm (getting ready photos, etc. I work with the bride/bridesmaids while my 2nd shooter works with the groom/groomsmen.)
  • 1:05-1:30 pm (pack up gear, leave getting ready site and head over to ceremony site)
  • 1:35-2:00 pm (unpack gear, get camera settings ready, photograph guests as they arrive)
  • 2:00-2:30 pm (ceremony) *Note: 2:00-3:00 pm for religious ceremony*
  • 2:30-3:00 pm (friends and family congratulating you)
  • 3:05-3:30 pm (pack up gear and head to park for formal shots)
  • 3:30-5:30 pm (formal portrait time: family portraits, wedding party and couple portraits)
  • 5:35-6:00 (pack up gear and head to reception location)
  • 6:15-6.45 pm (you enjoy cocktail hour/hors d’oeuvres with guests, while my 2nd shooter and myself take detail shots of the reception hall, decorations, cake, as well as photos of guests)
  • 7:00-8:00 pm (dinner and speeches)
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Wedding day timeline (everything at one venue)

For weddings that have everything take place at the same venue (getting ready, ceremony, portraits, reception), the timeline (for 8 hours of coverage) would be something like this:

  • 1:00-2:00 pm (getting ready photos, etc. I work with the bride/bridesmaids while my 2nd shooter works with the groom/groomsmen.)
  • 2:05-2:30 pm (take details of ceremony location, photograph guests as they arrive)
  • 2:30-3:00 pm (ceremony)
  • 3:00-3:25 pm (friends and family congratulating you)
  • 3:30-5:30 pm (formal portrait time: family portraits, wedding party and couple portraits)
  • 5:30-6:15 pm (you enjoy cocktail hour/hors d’oeuvres with guests, while my 2nd shooter and myself take detail shots of the reception hall, decorations, cake, as well as photos of guests)
  • 6:30-8:30 pm (dinner and speeches)
  • 8:30-8:45 pm (first dance, parent dances, beginning of party/dancing
  • 8:45 pm (cake cutting)
  • 9:00 pm (Event coverage finished)

Notice how much more of the timeline is able to be covered when there`s no travel time? I love, love, love wedding venues that can do everything on site. You don’t have to waste time packing and unpacking gear at each location and to drive from one place to another. (Thats why I think wedding venues like Stonefields, Evermore, Strathmere and LeBelvédère are fantastic venues to get married at.)

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Wedding day timeline (First look timeline)

More and more couples are opting to do a first look in order to lessen the amount of time that their guests have to wait between the ceremony and reception. I love shooting the first look. It`s a special time that the couple can see each other privately before the wedding ceremony. They’re always wonderful to photograph. Check out the timeline for doing the first look and portraits before the wedding ceremony.

  • 12:30-12:50 pm (First look photos and a some photos of the couple)
  • 12:55-2:45 pm (formal portrait time: family portraits, wedding party and couple portraits)
  • 2:50-3:25 pm (pack up gear, head to next location, unpack gear, get camera settings ready, photograph guests as they arrive)
  • 3:30-4:00 pm (ceremony) *Note: 3:30-4:30 pm for religious ceremony*
  • 4:00-4:30 pm (friends and family congratulating you)
  • 4:35-5:00 pm (pack up gear and head to reception venue)
  • 5:00-5:45 pm (you enjoy cocktail hour/hors d’oeuvres with guests, while my 2nd shooter and myself take detail shots of the reception hall, decorations, cake, as well as photos of guests)
  • 6:00-8:00 pm (dinner and speeches)
  • 8:10-8:30 pm (first dance, parent dances, beginning of party/dancing
  • 8:30 pm (Event coverage finished)
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Save 30 minutes in your wedding timeline

Finally, in planning the wedding day timeline, you can save 30 minutes by having your wedding officiant announce during the ceremony that the couple will be heading straight to the reception venue and so all guests should head to the reception venue. Then they can congratulate you during the cocktail hour. By doing this, you will be able to either have your one hour reglious ceremony and not have it affect your timeline, or you can have an extra 30 minutes in your timeline to start your reception 30 minutes earlier. Thus, the dinner can begin at 5:30 pm, which will give an extra 30 minutes for reception/dancing photo coverage.

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Contact me for my pricing guide

I love shooting weddings and I’d love to hear from you if you’re looking to book a wedding photographer. Contact me for my wedding photography pricing guide. All of my regular wedding photography packages include two professional photographers, a complimentary engagement photo session and a custom USB of your edited wedding images.

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