(Images by Torey Rohde Photography at Little Lights on the Lane)
Setting up the timeline for your wedding day is a big deal! After all that time, money, and energy spent planning and preparing for your big day, you’ll want to make sure the day flows smoothly and that you have time for everything you want to do. It can seem like a lot at first, but I’m here to help you break it down.
First Things First – Your Ceremony Time
Let’s start by centering your day around your ceremony time. To figure out the best time for your ceremony, ask yourself these questions:
- Is my wedding outside or inside?
- If my wedding is outside, what time of year is it? Where will the sun be?Will there be shade, or will myself and my guests be in full sun? While it’s not the end of the world if your ceremony takes place in full sun, it is a harsher light and can get pretty hot and sweaty in the summer months.
- If my wedding is inside, what time do I have access at my church or venue for a ceremony? What time does my venue or church recommend based on past weddings successes?
- Remember, there is no right or wrong time for your ceremony compared to what everyone else is doing. This is about what works for you!
Next Up – First Look
Now that you know your ceremony time, you can decide how much time you need to get ready. Whether or not you have planned to have a first look or see each other for the first time at the aisle is a big indication of how the rest of your timeline will go.
- If you want to have a first look, that’s usually done 2-3 hours before your ceremony, right after you’re all done up!
- After the first look, the next 2-3 hours will be spent capturing all the fun wedding party photos before your ceremony. That includes some couples portraits, wedding party, and maybe even some family photos. The more we can do before the ceremony, the better!
- Why “the more, the better”, you ask? Well, after the ceremony we have limited time and natural light. Being able to get some photos done before the ceremony means that we don’t have to rush around trying to squeeze everything in. You may even want to get to your reception sooner, or enjoy your guests and a drink at cocktail hour.
- If you want to see each other down the aisle for the first time, this is absolutely not a problem! While it does mean that you may be under more of a crunch time after the ceremony, you will still be able to capture some amazing photos and get everything you want or need.
- For the traditional route of seeing each other at the aisle, it’s a good idea schedule individual portraits and individual sides of the wedding party before the ceremony. After the ceremony is a good time to schedule family photos, and then typically two hours or less (your guests’ cocktail/appetizer hour) will be spent doing those fun wedding-party-all-together photos and together couples portraits!
Now that we know when your ceremony is and whether you or not you’re having a first look, we can block in the other important parts of the day.
- What time can you start getting ready at your venue, ceremony site, hotel, or wherever you find yourself on the morning of your wedding?
- How much time do you need to get ready?
- A lot of times grooms and groomsmen need less time to get ready, but sometimes will golf or do something else the morning of. Be sure to include transportation time, and whether or not the guys need a shower after a morning of golf.
- Do you want getting ready candids, and/or do you have matching robes, etc., with your girls/guys that you want captured?
- Do you want to have a first look with a parent or other significant person?
- Is there anything special that you want to make time for before day takes off? (Exchanging letters are a great idea, even if you’re not having a first look! There are so many creative ways to be together without seeing each other!)
- Do you want your details captured? (Flat lays or individual ring shots, dress by itself, suit by itself, shoes, perfume, flowers, cufflinks, jewelry, etc. I personally LOVE doing these and will usually do it if there’s time!)
Family photos are so important! It can get a little hectic, so preparing ahead of time is key.
- The best time to do family photos is right after the ceremony. Your family is all right there, and there’s usually steps at a church (really helpful for big groups!).
- Make a list of each individual person and shot that you want included for both sides of the family. This will make family photos a breeze! (For example: Bride & parents, add sister, add Groom & add sister’s family, add grandparents, just the parents, just the grandparents, Bride + Groom with grandparents, just the grandparents, Bride + Groom with niece and nephew, just Bride with niece + nephew, etc.)
- Appoint a friend or family member who isn’t afraid to shout and knows each family member’s name and face who can call for relatives and make sure everyone is nearby.
- Tell your family members before the wedding day to be prepared for family photos right after the ceremony. Trust me, it’s so much easier than shouting for Uncle Jack who found his way to the bar or everyone wondering where the heck Dad went. You don’t want to be herding cats on your special day!
- If the family is all around before the ceremony with enough time before guests arrive, this is another great time to get these done.
Cocktail Hour & Reception
- Cocktail hour usually takes place right after the ceremony, for up to two hours. Do you have appetizers and an open bar planned? Let your guests know on their invitation.
- Are you planning a grand entrance? Plan a time to have guests take their seats (DJ directed) and then 15 minutes later, schedule your grand entrance.
- Now, you have choices. Some couples go right to their tables to get dinner. Some couples cut their cake first. Ask yourself, what time are your photographer and videographer scheduled to end their night? If it’s earlier, schedule the important moments before you sit down to dinner.
- Dinner usually begins right after your grand entrance and any other special moments.
- Plan enough time for the wedding party and immediate family to eat their dinner, and then while guests are still eating, start speeches!
- Depending on how many speeches you have, these could take up to 30 minutes. Ask your special peeps to keep their speeches under 5 minutes. It sounds counterintuitive, but it really does make a better speech.
- Now the fun starts! Pencil in about 30 minutes for the first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, and wedding party dancing.
Sunset Photos & Grand Exit
Don’t forget! Your photographer and videographer are probably really looking forward to this, and trust me, you’ll be so grateful you did them. Take 10 minutes to run out and catch that sunset.
GRAND EXIT?! Sparklers, eco-friendly confetti, bubbles… Do you want a grand exit? Think about what time do you want to leave your reception or what time your venue requires you to. Do you want to be the last to leave your reception?
9 (More) Tips for Planning Your Timeline:
- Don’t forget to plan for travel time. (Between ceremony site, reception venue, and to a photo location are big ones.)
- Think about and talk to your vendors and their time needs!
- Will you have a shuttle? Add in their schedule, and let your guests know ahead of time to plan to ride the shuttle.
- Pencil in meal times (and water, too). It’s so easy to forget to eat on your wedding day!
- Start earlier than you think you need to.
- If the bridal party will have a hair & makeup team doing everyone’s hair and makeup, schedule who will go when. This will save time and everyone will be ready to go when it’s their turn! This is the number one delay in the morning, so plan ahead to avoid it!
- Add some buffers into your day. A wedding day timeline is rarely perfectly followed, and that’s okay! Adding an extra 5-10 minutes more than you need for each section will help ease any anxiety about this.
- Send a copy of your timeline to all of your vendors (DJ, caterer, band, photographer, videographer, stylists) as well as your family and wedding party.
- Consider having a friend or relative be your “personal attendant” if you don’t have a wedding coordinator. They will be so happy to help make sure the timeline is followed throughout the day, and are helpful to have in situations like running to get forgotten items, or make sure everyone is lined up when and where they’re supposed to be.
Lastly, guys, be flexible and trust that everything is going to work out, exactly as its meant to, because you are marrying your best friend and starting a brand new beginning together.
Do you have any extra tips? Leave them in the comments below!
resources for planning your wedding day
How to Choose a Wedding Venue
How to Plan a Wedding Day Timeline
What is a First Look?