How to Make a Wedding Timeline That Won’t Make You Want to Pull Your Hair Out

So earlier this week I asked my Facebook fanpage what information posts they’d like to see up in the blog, and we surprisingly got a tie between this and my previous decor post. However, most of the people who wanted to know about the timeline were other photographers. So welcome, photographers! If this can help you organize the day a bit better for your brides, good! I think the general public would very much benefit from people having a more firm grasp and realization of realistic wedding timelines. :)

There are just about a MILLION different ways to organize a wedding timeline. I think just about every wedding we do is slightly different, but two rules consistently apply:

1. You must prepare for a buffer of time for just about every activity on the timeline.

Really. Trust me. One of the first things I ask when helping my brides prepare their timeline is “How generally on time are you?” For instance, I am always notoriously early, and my sister has always been notoriously late (sorry, Laura). But even when brides tell me that they’re always early and on time, their wedding is almost never on time. Why? Because of your wedding party and family. :D Because everyone has that one family member or wedding party member who is always late… and there’s just no getting around it.

Or, you can be ALWAYS on time (like me) and accidentally forget your car keys on the 13th floor of the hotel (like me) and have someone have to run up and get them and suddenly what was on time has turned into twenty minutes late (horray!).

I think we’ve only had two weddings that had a timeline and were actually able to stick to it and be on time. Two. And that’s completely fine… IF you have a buffer of time scheduled around each activity. So that if things do start running behind (and they will), you can end up actually on time instead of late. Or you can use that time to take a breather and relax, or start things early.

2.  Try to take into account the time of day and how it will affect your pictures.

This is not always possible, but I try to make it possible whenever I can. When you have your wedding indoors, this applies less as your photographer can pretty much always find a shady spot to take pictures outside. However, keep in mind that if you want pictures in a large open area that takes in a lot of the background, you might want to wait to take those pictures until the sun goes down a bit.

When you have your wedding outside, time of day REALLY applies because you do NOT want an outdoor wedding at high noon in the middle of an open-area with no shade. How the light falls and when/where it falls it important to pictures. If you must get married in a very bright time of day, it’s important to get married in an area covered in shade for the comfort of you and your guests, and for well-exposed pictures with no high-noon shadows under your eyes. If you have the option to choose when you get married and you’re getting married in a large open area with no shade, it’s going to be best to do it in the early evening.

Also, make sure that you don’t assume evening is 5pm. ;) In June and July, sunset doesn’t come until 9pm, so getting married in a bright, open space still isn’t a good idea and you’ll still need shade. Ask your photographer if you aren’t sure what time the sun sets (or Google for sunset times and look up your city and state) and they’ll be able to guide you into what they think is best depending on the light.

There are also several variances which will affect how you organize your timeline:

1. First look vs. no first look

2. Traveling to venues vs. staying in one place

3. Time of ceremony (coupled with time of day)

4. Whether or not you want bridal party and family pictures beforehand

All of this stuff plays in big time with how you set everything up… and there are so many variables that it’s not possible to list them all out here, but here are a few examples of a typical timeline that we’ve set up.

THE NO-FIRST LOOK // TRADITIONAL BRIDE // TIMELINE OF AWESOME: (**Note: This timeline isn’t revolving around a specific time of day and assumes that the ceremony and reception venues are the same place)

1:00pm – Hair finishes up on the last bridesmaid and photographer arrives

1:20pm – Hair starts on the bride

2:30pm – Bride’s hair appointment wraps up and start of makeup (**Please check with your hair and makeup people for more accurate times)

3:20pm – Bride makeup wrap up // Bride puts on dress // Guys finally throw on their suits and walk out the door

3:30pm – Bride is now completely ready // Bridesmaids and family members find bouquets, gather purses, get their stuff together (**Note: This is usually the time when people start running late because for some reason everyone misplaces their lipstick)

3:45pm – Drive from hotel to ceremony location and stash everything you brought with you somewhere (put away purses, etc) // Guys typically have already arrived

4:00pm – Start pre-ceremony pictures of Bride+Bridesmaids

4:20pm – Pre-ceremony pictures of Groom+Groomsmen (**Now, you may be thinking… “Why would this take twenty minutes?” It takes twenty minutes because you have to bring out the bride who is wearing a giant gown and typically accompanied by 6 girls who keep losing their lipstick and other stuff. You get them out there, take the pictures, then you have to take them all back downstairs until the bride is safely hidden. Then you bring the guys up… take pictures… bring them back down. The pictures themselves never actually take that long, but it’s the wrangling and herding that take for-e-ver and is completely based on how fast your people move and how often they misplace their lipstick).

4:40pm – Ushering begins // Groomsmen usher or hang out // Brides and bridesmaids hang out

5:00pm – Ceremony starts

5:30pm – Ceremony ends and bridal party and family begin walking to picture location

5:45pm – Family pictures start (**This is the second part of the day that invariably leads to epic lateness because family members see other family members that they haven’t seen in a long time and start to talk to them. It’s pretty chaotic. Try to keep your family members focused or put blinders on them if possible. We gave them 15 minutes to get into position because typically someone gets lost or distracted. Once everyone is in place, we tend to do a 15 minute session with immediate family only – parents, grandparents, siblings, bride and groom. If other family members want pictures, we encourage them to wait until the reception when we can do a lot of informal pictures and group pictures). // Cocktail hour starts

6:00pm – Bridal party pictures of everyone together (**Takes about 20 minutes depending on how large your bridal party is and what locations we need to get to)

6:20pm – Newlywed pictures start

6:50pm – Bridal party lines up to enter the reception

7:00pm – Reception starts

11:00pm – Reception ends (**DJ, band, or planner will typically handle the reception timeline)

Now… if you’ll notice, that’s a pretty tight timeline. There’s no room for downtime. We’ve built in a couple of 10-15 minute buffers, but if you’ll notice, we’re assuming that the ceremony and the reception are being held in the same location for this timeline. That’s starting to be the case more often than not because it’s logistically easier. If you play out this scenario minute by minute, you’ll also notice that the cocktail hour is one hour and fifteen minutes long, which is slightly longer than normal… but sometimes that’s required depending on how easily distracted your family is and/or how large of a bridal party you have.

Our biggest intention with this timeline is to leave at least 20-30 minutes for newlywed pictures. We do that because they’re the most important pictures of the day, and that’s the amount of time required to get a variety of locations and quality shots.

THE FIRST LOOK // MODERN BRIDE // TIMELINE OF AWESOME: (**Note: This timeline isn’t revolving around a specific time of day and assumes that the ceremony and reception venues are the same place)

1:00pm – Hair finishes up on the last bridesmaid and photographer arrives

1:20pm – Hair starts on the bride

2:30pm – Bride’s hair appointment wraps up and start of makeup (**Please check with your hair and makeup people for more accurate times)

3:20pm – Bride makeup wrap up // Bride puts on dress // Guys finally throw on their suits and walk out the door

3:35pm – Bride is now completely ready // Bridesmaids and family members find bouquets, gather purses, get their stuff together (**Note: This is usually the time when people start running late because for some reason everyone misplaces their lipstick)

4:o0pm – Wedding party drive and arrive separately to the venue

4:20pm – Bride and groom arrive for first look

4:35pm – Bridal party arrives for bridal party pictures (everyone together + separate portraits of bride+bridesmaids, etc).

5:00pm – Family starts

5:15pm – Bride and groom “newlywed” pictures

5:45pm – Guys start ushering

6:00pm – Ceremony Starts

6:30pm – Ceremony Ends // Reception Starts

11:00pm – Reception ends (**DJ, band, or planner will typically handle the reception timeline)

Notice that this timeline saves much more time than the traditional timeline in a variety of ways:

1. The bridal party takes less time because you’re not having to photograph girls and guys separately because the groom has already seen the bride

2. The bride and groom have more time for pictures alone

3.  There’s more buffer time for lateness

4. There’s a longer reception

5. The fact that there’s a longer reception allow for you to more easily have your wedding at two separate locations (separate ceremony and separate reception)

6. It saves money if you don’t want to have a cocktail hour OR you can actually enjoy your cocktail hour – either way is great.

VARIABLE VARIABLES OF AWESOME THAT EARN YOU SUPER COOL BONUS POINTS WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER:

These are things that you can do that will save you a LOT of time and will also help you get better pictures and less stress for everyone involved. They’re not required to have stellar pictures, but it’ll make things easier on yourself.

1. Having your ceremony and reception in one place (Don’t start throwing a pity party for yourself if your stuff is all over the world. You can still organize it so that it’s logistically sane, it just might take a little more effort and planning…i.e. calculating in the driving and parking time and loading stuff into car time).

2. Getting ready with your future spouse (This is my favorite. No stress. No arriving-at-different-times-through-different-entrances-walkie-talkie-spy-style. Just getting ready with your best friend and therefore having adorable pictures).

3. Having a first look (Seriously, that timeline is soooo much less stressful. But again – don’t throw a pity party for yourself if you choose not to do it).

4. Occupy family members and friends that aren’t in the formal pictures (Make sure that family and friends who aren’t listed to be in the formal pictures are somewhere else. If not, they will make suggestions on posing and they will tell you who should be added to the picture… thus adding on a bajillion minutes and forcing you to have your pictures taken with people you haven’t seen in 20+ years).

As you can see, timeline planning is not easy. :) It’s best to work with and contact your photographer to see how they can help you set it up. It typically takes me a few hours to sort out the knots and kinks that are typically in a timeline that someone hands me to set it up in a way that’s workable and allows for a little extra buffer. Despite this buffer, we have had approximately two weddings who have been on time and stuck to the original timeline. :) Sometimes things end up being on time, but certain portions had to be cut short (bride and groom pictures are unfortunately on most couple’s chopping block first because they don’t want to anger or upset family members or friends).

For those photographers out there wondering why it’s set up in 10 hour increments, Geoff and I do ten hour day weddings. I know some of you do unlimited hours, and some of you do 5 hours, others 8. We decided on ten hours because we feel like that’s a long day with plenty of time to get everything done, but also that’s the max amount that I can physically do a day (carrying around pounds and pounds of equipment and being on your feet all day is pretty hard on your back when you’re small statured). When we did unlimited hours, we had a few people request 16 hour days… and that I just can’t do physically. :)

Thoughts? Questions? Discussions?

Comments

    Wayfaring Wanderer

    Just had meetings with two couples who I will be doing wedding photos for this year. It’ll be my first time shooting weddings, so this outline will help me a great deal!

    Thank you so much for sharing this insight :D

    WW

    Reply
      carolyn

      Awesome!! I am so glad I can help! It really does help to have a good, organized day laid out. It took me a year or two to learn how to take the reigns and set up timelines for couples who didn’t have a planner. I learned the hard way that if you don’t have a good time line, you’re at the mercy for whatever happens… and that means you won’t get good, quality time for pictures. If you have this knowledge from the get go, hopefully I saved you some grief! :D

      Reply

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