The date is set, the details are in order, now it’s time to make sure everything runs smoothly. Plan the perfect wedding day timeline to keep everything on track.
Before you create your timeline you’ll need to decide if you want to have a first look. If you chose to have a first look you’ll have plenty of flexibility in your timeline. If you chose to not have a first look, that’s ok, but you’ll want to make sure your ceremony is early enough in the day that you’ll have enough time before your reception (and sunset) to take care of all of your photos.
In this blog post I will teach you how to plan the perfect wedding day timeline (with or without a first look). For the sake of this post we will say we are planning a summer wedding in the midwest (sunset beginning at 7, fully set by 8pm)
My biggest tip for creating your timeline is to start with your ceremony time and build off of it. If you choose to have a first look you’ll be able to have your ceremony later in the evening (say around an hour or two before sunset? HELLO GOLDEN HOUR, golden light, and amazing photos!!) For our beautiful imaginary summer wedding we will have our ceremony begin at 5pm.
Once you know when your ceremony will be you’ll plan your timeline backwards for everything that needs to happen before your ceremony.
For example you’ll want to be hidden away at least 30 minutes prior to your ceremony because guests will be arriving and you won’t want to spoil the surprise of your beautiful dress.
Before you hide away you’ll want to be done with all of your wedding party photos (bridesmaids, bridesmen, groomsmen, groomswomen, guests of honor, flower girls, ring bearers, or anyone that is standing up with you during the ceremony- your wedding party/ wedding crew) Depending on the size of your wedding party I suggest having at least 30 minutes to an hour for these photos. If you have a large party and you know you specifically want multiple photos with each of them individually, you might need more time. For a majority of my couples up to an hour is plenty!
You’ll also need 30 minutes to 45 minutes for couples portraits, because you two are what this entire day is about. This can be before or after photos with the rest of your wedding party, but you’ll want a little extra time alone together.
Of course before you can take any photos together you’ll need to have your first look! Such an intimate moment between the two of you, I usually suggest planning for a first look to take 15-ish minutes, but if you know one or both of you will cry… you might want to allow for a little extra time.
Now it’s time for you to make a big decision and be honest with yourself, you know yourself wayyyy better than I do… how long will it realistically take you to get ready? For some it’ll be an hour for others it’s four. It all depends on how much effort and time goes into all aspects of your getting ready process. If you’ve hired a make up artist or a hair stylist I recommend reaching out to them and asking them how much time it normally takes them to complete the look you’re wanting.
Since you’ll be having a first look, you won’t have too much to do after the cermeony, you’ll be able to make it to your cocktail hour or reception earlier and get to spend more time with your guests.
Most likely the only photos you’ll have to complete after your ceremony will be your Family Formal photos, I like to plan for 45 minutes to an hour in order to make sure every grouping on all sides of the family are taken care of. I’d rather add more time into our timeline than have to rush.
After Family Formal photos are finished is a great time to send the family into the reception for cocktail hour while you and your spouse take a few more photos, just the two of you, during sunset (perfect time for you to soak in the moment as a newly married couple!) This typically takes only about 10-20 minutes.
Then it’s time to get you to your party!!! Enjoy your first dances, eat your delicious meal, cut your cake, and celebrate with your closest friends and family.
2:30pm- First Look
3:00pm Couples Portraits
3:30pm- Wedding Party Photos
4:30pm- Hide away while Guests Arrive
6:00pm- Family Formal Photos
7:00pm Sunset couples portraits
7:20pm Reception Time!
Whether you have a first look or not I still suggest starting with your ceremony when you plan the perfect wedding day timeline.
If you are not having a first look you will need to have your ceremony earlier in the day to guarantee you’ll have enough day light for allllllllllll of your photos after the ceremony. Depending on the time of year this is no big deal but for fall/winter weddings it becomes a little more difficult because the sunsets extremely early. For our lovely imaginary summer wedding let’s plan on our ceremony beginning at 3pm.
Without a first look there is less that can be done before the ceremony. You’ll still want to be hidden away no matter what at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony.
Even though you don’t want to have a first look with your soon to be spouse you might be interested in having a different type of first look. Have a special moment with a parent, a grandparent, or anyone that has made a significant impact on your life (even your dog!) I’d plan about 15-30 minutes for each person you’d like to do a first look with.
Without having a ton to do before your ceremony you’ll have plenty of time to get ready- you might even have enough time to sleep in a little! Take this time to bond with your wedding party, relax, and get pampered.
Without a first look after the ceremony will be when all of the wedding party, family, and couples photos will be taken.
I recommend starting your family formal photos right after the ceremony, before any relatives have the chance to wander off (can’t start without dear old aunt sue). Plan for 45 minutes to an hour in order to make sure every grouping on all sides of the family are taken care of. I’d rather add more time into our timeline than have to rush.
Gather up your wedding day crew and all the special guests that stood with you on your special day. Time to take photos with your closest friends! Depending on the size of your group I’d plan for around an hour. A smaller party can get by with less time, but the general rule of thumb is the more people the longer it can take!
FINALLY!!! Time for you two to have a moment for yourselves. Have a minute of peace and quite together as a married couple (OMG!!) Remind each other again just how much you love each other and spend your time sharing your love together and taking some amazing photos to relive these priceless moments.
After your couples photos have wrapped up it’s time to head to your party! Chit chat with guests, grab a bite to eat, hit the dance floor, and make it a night you’ll never forget!
4:00pm- Family Formal Photos
5:00pm- Wedding Party Photos
6:00pm Couples Portraits
7:00pm Reception Time!
Now that you know how to plan the perfect wedding day timeline (with or without a first look) check out my other blog post about the Benefits of Having a first Look -it’s not just the timeline flexibility.
Photos in this post are from Makenzie and Cole’s dreamy wedding in the rolling hills of Omaha, Arkansas. Check out their venue The Barn at Cricket Creek