The Ultimate Wedding Timeline Guide

Your wedding day is probably one of the most important days of your life, and possibly, one of the more hectic days of your life. Whether your wedding consists of 50 guests or 300 – a wedding day consists of a lot of moving parts working to make the day as smooth as possible. If you don’t already have a wedding planner or a day-of coordinator (If not, I highly recommend one. I swear, they think of everything even before you even ask), then the timeline will my preview of what the wedding day will look like. This is why I’ve put together The Ultimate Wedding Timeline Guide for you.

Here’s a little walk-through of a typical 8-hour wedding day: what to expect, what to avoid, and what to remember.

DETAILS (30 mins)

Prior to the wedding day, make sure to create a checklist of items to bring for the big day, including small details that you’d like photographed. 

For the ladies, these items can include wedding dress, party dress, wedding dress hanger (wood not plastic), shoes, jewelry (engagement ring, wedding band, special jewelry), perfume, garter, written vows, stationery suite (save the dates, invitations, place cards), bouquet, champagne, champagne glasses, and gifts. For the gentlemen, it would be boutonnieres, wedding bands, socks, pocket squares, tie/bowtie, cufflinks, cologne, cigars, gifts, and watch.  

Pro Tip: Make sure to keep all of these items in one handy little bag so that you can just grab and go on the day of and whenever you leave for the venue

GETTING READY (60-90 mins)

As you’re getting ready, your photographer will likely be there to capture the last 15-30 mins of your hair and makeup being done. If you don’t already have a second photographer, consider getting one for this reason! Not only will you have a lot more coverage of moments during your wedding, but having a second photographer also frees up space for the lead photographer to focus on the bride and for the second photographer to focus on the groom. 

Pro Tip: As you’re finishing hair and makeup, I would highly suggest that you have a bridesmaid or a friend help tidy up the surrounding areas (dresses and shoes flung about, food and trash on tables, etc.) to prepare for getting ready photos. This is so that we have a nice clean space to work with once we capture the bride getting into her dress and it also frees up some time so that we’re not panicking as we gather up everything to leave the getting ready location. 

If you’re not getting ready onsite at the venue, it is crucial to keep an eye on time, especially if you have to drive to the venue.

Pro Tip: Make sure that the clock in the getting ready room is visible, and designate a bridesmaid to give 5-10-15-20  minute warnings to ensure everyone wraps up in a timely manner. 

FIRST LOOK (15 mins)

Once you arrive at the venue, you will likely be diving straight into the first look or portrait session time. If you didn’t already know, a first look is when the bride and groom see each other on the wedding day for the first time, before the ceremony. For those that don’t want a first look, the first time the bride and groom will see each other will likely be during the ceremony when the bride walks down the aisle. A frequently asked question I get is whether or not I recommend a first look and the answer is, I do! I LOVE the intimate feeling of a first look and how quiet and special the moment is between the bride and the groom.

Pro Tip: A first look is a great way for the bride and groom to spend some alone time together before they greet all their guests! Another added bonus to having a first look, is that couple portraits, family portraits, and bridal party portraits can all be done before the ceremony. Since the surprise element isn’t an issue anymore, that means all portrait photos can be done before the ceremony, so that the bride and groom can dive straight into the cocktail hour after the ceremony! YAY drinks!

But of course, this is just a suggestion. The choice is completely up to you! There’s truly no feeling like the emotional impact of seeing each other as you walk down the aisle for the first time. Pure magic. 

COUPLE PORTRAITS (30 mins)

Whether it’s before or after the ceremony, couple portraits are my favorite! These are photos that you show your grandkids. Trust your photographer to take care of you at this point and just have some fun with it. It’s your wedding day! Try your best to take in the moment and enjoy this time.

BRIDAL PARTY PORTRAITS (30 mins)

If you don’t have a first look, you will likely be getting some bridal party photos in before the ceremony. These are some of the most fun photos you’ll have with your best friends in the world.

Pro Tip: Feel free to bring some props to add more fun to the photos such as a bottle of champagne, wine, beers, or sunglasses for added fun to the photos!

FAMILY PORTRAITS (30 mins)

If you have a big family on either or both sides, wrangling family is one of the key parts of the day. This again, is where having a wedding planner/day-of coordinator is a HUGE help. 

Pro Tip: Once you’ve designated the time/location for family photos, make sure to provide your photographer with a predetermined list of family groupings, so that your photographer can easily call out the names of the family members and get everyone in place. 

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CEREMONY (30-45 mins)

Sticking to the timeline is most critical for this moment. About 15-20 minutes before the ceremony, you’ll likely want to take this time to hang out with your bridal party and get ready. The nerves and excitement is bubbling up and you’ll want to spend that time relaxed and not rushed. 

Pro Tip: Remember to grab a few spare tissues and hold them with your bouquet. There’s a chance you’ll need those during the ceremony!

COCKTAIL HOUR (1 hour)

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YAY! You’re officially married! Before you head out to greet your guests, head back for a few quick touch-ups. Again, this is where having a second photographer comes in handy. While the lead photographer grabs photos of the cocktail hour and reception details, your second photographer will likely be capturing photos of the bride and groom with the guests.

RECEPTION (3 hours)

By this time, it is up to you how you want to allocate your time during the reception. However, keep in mind that if you want sunset photos, you’ll want to plan the dances, speeches, cake cutting, and garter/bouquet toss around it, because those are photos you won’t want to miss!

Pro Tip: A recommendation would be that following your grand entrance, you can either go straight into your first dance as husband and wife or plan to have 1-2 toasts to welcome all the guests before dinner is served. 

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Once dinner is served, that will be your time to EAT! Eat and enjoy some time with your newly minted husband and bask in the bliss of being husband and wife for the first time. A lot of brides forget to eat the day of their wedding, especially as people keep walking up to you asking for photos. During this time, your vendor team will be eating as well. 

Pro Tip: Make sure to communicate to the catering team ahead of time to set aside vendor meals so that you don’t have to mention it on the day of.

SUNSET PHOTOS (15-20 mins)

At some point, your photographer will likely pull you outside for sunset photos. Of course, you’ll have taken your couple portrait photos earlier in the day, but there’s nothing like the “We just got married” golden hour sunset shots. You’ll feel so relaxed by this point (and possibly tipsy), that these will just be more fun and laid back. 

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OPEN FLOOR (15-20 mins)

PARTY TIME!!! Whether you have 6-hour coverage or 8-hour coverage, typically, we’ll push the timeline forward so that we’re able to prioritize portrait photography in natural light. This is mostly because we’ll want as much natural light as possible (especially during the fall/winter months when the sun sets early). Also, as fun as dancing photos are, most dancing photos end up looking the same after a while, let’s face it. If you want more dancing photos covered, then we can always stay longer, but natural light will only last so long!

And there you have it! And that’s it for The Ultimate Wedding Timeline Guide. For more wedding planning tips, check out my interview with my friend and wedding planner, Haley Brantley!

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