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Creating The Perfect Wedding Timeline!


A couple of years ago we wrote a blog that quickly became one of our most popular! It was titled “How many hours of wedding photography do I need?”. As we mentioned in that article, it’s one of of the most popular questions we receive from prospective couples looking for a wedding photographer. One of the most common questions we receive from couples who book us for their special day is “Can you help me create a timeline?”. Creating a blanket wedding timeline that is one size fits all is nearly impossible, but there are consistencies from couple to couple and venue to venue that tend to hold true no matter where and when! Below we will go over some generic timeline options as well as special considerations/scenarios and how to adjust as needed to fit your big day!

For the purposes of starting somewhere it’s always easier to start with the end in mind. Most venues have a contracted time that time that their guests have to be out and cleaned up by and we almost always suggest starting there and working backwards (and yes….we will likely jump around). So let’s say that time is 11pm. Let’s also say that you’re going to have a first look, your wedding day is going to be at one venue in it’s entirety (bridal and groom’s suite on site) and let’s say it’s summer time so your sunset is 8:30pm. Let’s also say you’ve booked your photographer for 8 hours (pretty common). Your timeline may look something like this (from a photography standpoint):

Generic Timeline A) (First look; 8:30pm sunset; Exit by 11pm)

3:00pm - Photographers arrive and start detail shots/getting ready shots

3:30pm - Hair and make up finished; Cute shots with bridesmaids in robes and then put on dresses & simultaneously why this is going on the second photographer can be working on getting groom’s party photos completed

4:00pm - Bride finishes putting on dress

4:10pm - First look with groom/bride on sight

4:25pm - Bridal party photos all together and bride with bridesmaids

4:50pm - Bride tucked away before guests arrive

5:00pm - Guests start arriving: during this time is usually a good window for your photographer(s) to get reception details and ceremony details if they haven’t already as well as candids

5:30pm - Ceremony

6:00pm - End of ceremony; start of cocktail hour; start of family photos

6:30pm - Finished with family photos, couple joins cocktail hour with guests

6:55pm - Guests invited in for dinner

7:00pm - bridal party intros

7:05pm - First dance

7:10pm - Welcome speech by couple & blessing of the meal

7:15pm - Dinner

7:45pm - Speeches, father/daughter & mother son dance, cake cutting

8:05pm - Anniversary dance transition into dance floor opening

8:05pm - Sunset photos (couple slips outside once dance floor opens)

8:30pm - Sunset

9:00pm - Shoe game

9:45pm - Bouquet and/or garter toss

10:45pm - Last song

10:55pm - Sparkler exit

11:00pm - Exit vehicle to pick up couple!

Now let’s take a look at an alternative timeline that could be a better fit and one that we commonly see. Maybe you’re a bit more traditional or you would rather share that big moment down the aisle, so you decide not to do a first look.

Generic Timeline B) (No first look, 8:30pm sunset; Exit by 11pm)

3:00pm - Photographers arrive and start details/getting ready shots

3:30pm - Hair and make up finished; Cute shots with bridesmaids in robes and then put on dresses & simultaneously why this is going on the second photographer can be working on getting groom’s party photos completed

4:00pm - Bride finishes putting on dress; While this is going on, groom starts family photos with his immediate family

4:10pm - Bride and bridesmaid photos

4:35pm - Bride starts family photos with her immediate family

4:50pm - Bride tucked away before guests arrive

5:00pm - Guests start arriving: during this time is usually a good window for your photographer(s) to get reception details and ceremony details if they haven’t already as well as candids

5:30pm - Ceremony

6:00pm - End of ceremony; start of cocktail hour; start of family photos (together) and bridal party photos all together

6:45pm - Finished with family photos, and bridal party photos; couple joins the end of cocktail hour

6:55pm - Guests invited in for dinner

7:00pm - Bridal party intros

7:05pm - First dance

7:10pm - Welcome speech by couple & blessing of the meal

7:15pm - Dinner

7:45pm - Speeches, father/daughter & mother son dance, cake cutting

8:05pm - Anniversary dance transition into dance floor opening

8:05pm - Sunset photos (couple slips outside once dance floor opens)

8:30pm - Sunset

9:00pm - Shoe game

9:45pm - Bouquet and/or garter toss

10:45pm - Last song

10:55pm - Sparkler exit

11:00pm - Exit vehicle to pick up couple!

As you can see by not having a first look, there are some photos you will have to wait until after the ceremony to get like your families all together and the bridal party all together, which just leaves you as the couple with a little less time to join cocktail hour and relax. We see both of the above scenarios quite often so there isn't right or wrong option here, just figure out which one fits your day best!

Some of you may be saying, “But guys, we’re getting married in November, the sun sets at 5:30pm! What should we do?” Not to worry, let’s just adjust your time and see what it could potentially look like below!

Generic Timeline C (First look, 5:30pm sunset time, Exit by 10pm)

2:00pm - Photographers arrive and start details/getting ready shots

2:30pm - Hair and make up finished; Cute shots with bridesmaids in robes and then put on dresses & simultaneously why this is going on the second photographer can be working on getting groom’s party photos completed

3:00pm - Bride finishes putting on dress

3:10pm - First look with groom/bride on sight

3:20pm - Entire bridal party photos and bride with bridesmaids

3:45pm - Family photos

4:15pm - Guests start arriving: during this time is usually a good window for your photographer(s) to get reception details and ceremony details if they haven’t already as well as candids

4:40pm - Ceremony

5:00pm - End of ceremony; Start of cocktail hour; start of sunset photos for bride and groom

5:30pm - Sunset, finished with bride and groom photos, join end of cocktail hour

5:55pm - Guests invited in for dinner

6:00pm - Bridal party intros

6:05pm - First dance

6:10pm - Welcome speech by couple & blessing of the meal

6:15pm - Dinner

7:00pm - Speeches, father/daughter & mother son dance, cake cutting

7:20pm - Anniversary Dance; Dance floor opens

8:00pm - Bouquet and/or garter toss

9:45pm - Last song

9:55pm - Sparkler Exit

10:00pm - Exit vehicle to pick up couple!

Now, you’ll notice above in order to keep things flowing and make sure we get everything in before the sun sets, we trimmed some time (5 minutes here and there) this helps to ensure you still get everything and still have some day light after your ceremony!

If you’re not wanting to do a first look and you also have an early sunset time, the following could be a potential timeline.

Generic Timeline D (No first look, 5:30pm sunset time, Exit by 10pm)

2:00pm - Photographers arrive and start details/the tail end of getting ready shots

2:15pm - Hair and make up finished; Cute shots with bridesmaids in robes and then put on dresses & simultaneously why this is going on the second photographer can be working on getting groom’s party photos completed

2:30pm - Groom and his immediate family photos

2:45pm - Bride finishes putting on dress;

3:00pm - Bride and bridesmaid photos

3:15pm - Bride and her immediate family photos

3:30pm - Bride tucked away before guests arrive

3:45pm - Guests start arriving; during this time is usually a good window for your photographer(s) to get reception details and ceremony details if they haven’t already as well as candids

4:15pm - Ceremony

4:40pm - End of Ceremony; Start cocktail hour; Family photos all together, bridal party photos all together, and finish up with couples photos into sunset.

5:30pm - Sunset, finished with bride and groom photos, join end of cocktail hour

5:35pm - Guests invited in/to be seated for dinner

5:45pm - Bridal party intros

5:50pm - First dance

5:55pm - Welcome speech by couple & blessing of the meal

6:00pm - Dinner

6:45pm - Speeches, father/daughter & mother son dance, cake cutting

7:05pm - Shoe game

7:10pm - Anniversary dance; dance floor open

8:10pm - Bouquet and/or garter toss

9:45pm - Last song

9:55pm - Sparkler Exit

10:00pm - Exit vehicle to pick up couple!

“Sweet I have a timeline, am I good to go?” Almost! There are a few more things to consider before finalizing everything!

Things to consider and simple adjustments to make:

  • If you are planning on having a wedding planner or day of coordinator, always run any and every schedule/timeline idea, suggestion, or change by them. Often times there are many moving parts behind the scenes of a wedding day that aren’t considered on the surface level and an experienced planner/day of coordinator will help you prepare for by building it into your timeline and adjusting as needed. Like working with your caterer on meal timing, when and where the florals should arrive, where to store the cake so it doesn’t melt, etc!

  • If you’re getting ready off site, just factor in time for transportation from one place to another. We always suggest mapping it beforehand on google maps and seeing what the estimated time is. For Saturday weddings in popular areas, it’s also a good idea to factor in an extra 5-15 minutes for traffic depending on how long the trip will be and where it goes through (rural vs downtown).

  • If you have a different ceremony and reception venue, no problem, just like above, make sure to factor in transport time from one to another.

  • Some venues we've been to have a 90 minute cocktail hour as their norm, make sure to check before finalizing your timeline.

  • Some churches only allow you to remain onsite after your ceremony for up to 30 minutes, make sure to consider this before finalizing your timeline as it could cut you short on family photos if you planned to do them at the church after the ceremony.

  • Certain cultures and religious ceremonies take 2-3x as long as an average ceremony. It’s not uncommon for a catholic ceremony to last 90 minutes. Make sure to factor this into your wedding day timeline if you know your ceremony will be longer than average.

  • Most wedding days run anywhere from 10-15 minutes behind, and then some how get 10-15 minutes ahead of schedule, and then 5 behind, and then….well you get the picture. The point is, build in some flex time, and don’t stress, it’s very normal.

  • If you miss something earlier in the day, like let’s say groom and groomsmen photos, fear not, you can always add something after the ceremony.

The above timelines, tips, recommendations, etc. are based on the experience of having shot 70+ weddings a year for the past 4 years, 8 years of total experience, and having worked with hundreds of awesome couples from Asheville to the Bahamas, not to mention dozens of AMAZING planners/coordinators! While we wouldn’t say anything above is the end all be all, it’s a good place to start and can help you remove some of the guess work! Our suggestion for using the above timeline(s) is to make them work for you! By that we mean, we designed the above to be sort of an average glimpse of what we see week in and week out (most of the time). If you desire more couples portraits during golden hour, build in time for that by subtracting time from somewhere else. If you desire less bridal party photos, shave off time for those. If you already know a half hour ceremony would be an eternity for you to stand in front of everyone, don’t hesitate to shorten it up (we’ve seen them as short as 5 minutes!). To help with those exact details of how long everything takes, be sure to check out our previous blog (here) but for a quick reference guide, we’ve listed the most common chapters of a wedding day below and their approximate average times. While this will be a great reference, always review it with your photographer to make sure you get all of your wants and needs. I.E. As an example, most of our brides express the desire that they want just a few getting ready photos and detail shots, but there are some that would prefer a more extensive period of coverage for that part of their wedding day. For us we would say the average is usually 30-60 minutes, but on an all day wedding or destination wedding, we’re documenting everything from beginning to end so it can obviously vary. Again, the below are averages based on our personal experience.

*Getting Ready Photos (Bride and Bride’s party) - (30-90 minutes)

*Getting Ready photos (Groom and Groom’s party) - (15-45 minutes)

*Ceremony - (20-30 minutes)

*Religious Ceremony - (60-90 minutes)

*Groom and groomsmen photos - (15-30 minutes)

*Bride and bridesmaid photos - (20-40 minutes)

*Family photos - (15-30 minutes)

*Couples portraits - (10-30 minutes)

*First Look - (5-10 minutes)

Thanks as always for following along you guys and happy planning! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need help planning your wedding as we work with some pretty amazing planners and we'd love to get you connected!

Joe and Jenny

#weddingtimeline #buildingtheperfectweddingtimeline #weddingphotography

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@2019 by JCM Photography.

All Photographs are property of JCM Photography.

Jennifer and Joe Mackey

828-367-7159

Asheville, NC 

info@yourjcmphotography.com