February 13, 2020

Tips on creating a comfortable & relaxed wedding day timeline

FILED IN: Tips, weddings

One of the most common stressors I see in couples as they’re planning their wedding is timeline creation. Where the heck do we need to be and when? When should grandma arrive? How much time do we need for x, y & z? I get it— logistics on a wedding day can be overwhelming, but friend— this is why you hire the professionals. We (as in allll of your wedding vendors) are here for a reason. We have been to a gazillion weddings & have a lot of experience in knowing what works best (& what might add unneeded stress to your day). Below is a good place to start as you & your fiancé start chatting through the flow of your day (& remember— every wedding is different, so certain parts of this might not apply to you. It’s just a general jumping off point). Also keep in mind that this is from a photography perspective— there are other parts of the day that won’t involve us photogs, but still need to be added into your timeline. 🙂 Below you will find the recommended time for each portion of the (photography) day.

Details & Getting Ready / Final Touches: 45-75 minutes

This time is used to photograph all of your details (i.e. dress, shoes, stationary, jewelry, etc.), capture candids of you getting ready, letter reading, mimosa cheers-ing, etc. Keep in mind if you’re realllly into detail photos— error on the side of too much time vs. not enough.

*Tip— have alllll of your details ready for you photographer(s) before they arrive. They will much appreciate it.

**Bonus tip— getting ready often takes longer than people anticipate. Do yourself a favor and pad this portion of the day so you don’t get too far behind schedule from the get-go.

Bride gets into dress: 15-20 minutes

Once all of the details & final touches are done, it’s time for the bride to get into her dress! Ideally, we will have the bride get dressed in a clutter-free space with good natural light.

*Tip: if your dress has a complicated back (corset, lots of buttons, etc.), you might want to allow a bit more time. Also if don’t forget a crochet hook if you have teeny tiny buttons.

First Look + Couples Photos: 30-45 minutes

Give or take 10-20 minutes depending on location(s). If everything is in one location— it can be on the shorter end of the spectrum. Keep in mind if you’re not doing a first look— you’ll need to bump this timing to post-ceremony. 🙂

*Tip— make sure you are both wearing your wedding rings for this portion of the day.

*Bonus tip— consider having someone (maybe a personal attendant) tag along with us for an extra set of hands to hold things (the bouquet, jackets if it’s cold, etc).

Wedding Party: 20-45 minutes

The more people that are in your wedding party, the more time that we’ll need. If you have a small bridal party, 20 minutes should be plenty, but it’s always better to plan more time than not enough. Be sure that everyone has their bouquets with & boutonnieres on. Consider travel time if we’re going off-site.

*Tip— tell your bridal party to be ready 10-15 minutes earlier than the actual start time. There’s always one in the group that is running late…  😉

Family Portraits: 20-45 minutes

These can be knocked out pretty quickly if everyone is there & ready. Like for the bridal party, tell your family to arrive 10-15 minutes before the start time. Most couples use this time for immediate families & grandparents only (highly recommended— it keeps things moving & doesn’t add any unneeded stress).

*Tip— Create a family shot list ahead of time, ask someone to help corral all the humans (& help check off the list)— it makes us extra efficient.

*Bonus tip— If your family realllllly wants an extended family portrait, consider doing a casual one at the reception. Corralling extended families can take up a lot of extra time.

Time to relax: 30+++ minutes

Wrap up photos at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony (if not more). During this time- you’ll have the chance to put your feet up, quench your thirst, grab a snack & get ready for the ceremony (and maybe take a few minutes to just breathe and take in what’s happening.

*Tip— Don’t leave this out! It’s so important to have some down-time before the ceremony to mentally & emotionally prep for what’s about to happen!

Ceremony: Time Varies

Ceremony times always differ, so this is a variable. Send your photographer a program or just a simple email with the flow of ceremony ahead of time so they know what’s coming (& can be prepared!).

*Tip— Be sure to factor in post-ceremony time if you are doing a receiving line or ushering your guests out. This can often take a lot longer than you might think (depending on the amount of guests you have), so be generous with time if that’s the case.

Cocktail Hour: 1 hour-ish

This part of the day varies a bit from wedding to wedding, as well. Some couples & wedding parties leave during this time, some use it for more photos & some attend the social hour to hang with guests. Most commonly, social hour lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.

*Tip— make sure your photographer is allowed 15-20 minutes of this time to capture detail shots at your reception venue before guests take over the space.

Reception Events: Time Varies

Dinner length ranges depending on the style of service (buffet vs. plated vs. appetizers vs. food truck) and the size of your wedding. Once you get more info from your venue/caterer/MC, send the flow of the evening (when the toasts are, first dances, any other special events, etc.) to your photog.

*Tip— Don’t forget to eat. 😉

Sunset/Dusk Photos: 15-30 minutes

I know, I know— sometimes this can be hard to squeeze into your evening, but I’ve never had a client regret stepping outside to take advantage of the beautiful light (even in the dead of winter!). They are often couple’s favorite photos from the entire day. It’s also a great time to just slow down & take in the day with your spouse. It’s rare to have time together after the ceremony, so take advantage of it. 

*Tip— Once photos are done, take some time (even if it’s 2 minutes) for just the two of you (without your photog!) before you step back into the reception.

Dancing: 30+ minutes

 30 mins will typically cover the first dances & a couple songs once they fully open the dance floor. If dancing photos are super duper important to you— maybe up it to 45 minutes or even an hour. 

*Tip— Let loose & DANCE!!! Memories happen on the dance floor. 😉

Other things to consider/think about

Travel time: Is everything all at the same site or will there be travel time involved? Consider this & don’t skimp on travel time. You never know when there might be heavy traffic, difficult parking or something else slowing us down. *Tip— keep things to minimal locations if possible. It saves a lot of time & energy.

If you want it to happen, put it on the timeline!! I’ll say it again for the people in the back— if you want something on your wedding day to happen— put it on the timeline! For example, if you’re reading letters or opening gifts- make sure there is time for it on the timeline. If you want to do a first look with dad, put it on the timeline. If you want a food break, pencil it in. 🙂 You get the idea. 

Communication with family/wedding party/other vendors. Always always make sure that everyone is on the same page with your final timeline. I’ve had weddings where the vendors received different timelines & it makes things a bit complicated. Send your family, wedding party & all vendors a final timeline the week leading up to the wedding.

Adding on a second photographer. If you add on a second shooter to your collection, timelines can be adjusted a bit. We can kinda sorta be in two places at once & certain parts of the day can be more efficient with two vs. one (especially during getting ready & wedding party photos).

And lastly, remember this— no wedding goes exactly according to the timeline. So if we’re off a bit— nooooo stress, pal. The end goal is that you get married to your best friend & the rest will fall into place how it should. Hakuna matata, right?? 🙂




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get around—

hey there!







I am a Minneapolis, Minnesota wedding, family & portrait photographer, kindness spreader and storyteller for laid-back, free-spirited souls who are looking for an adventure— no matter how big or small. Browse my site to learn more. I can’t wait to meet you!