How To Plan Your Wedding Timeline

For most brides, this is their first time getting married. Is that you? No worries, I’m here for you!

I have worked both as the main wedding photographer as well as the second shooter/assistant at weddings for other photographers. Having a great deal of experience working at weddings means that I have seen the pros and cons of all the different ways to arrange a wedding timeline. Do you know what is always the most important part of planning?

HAVING a wedding timeline in the first place.

While it’s true that you have attended plenty of weddings in the past, maybe even while you have been planning your own, you likely didn’t give much consideration to the wedding timeline.

Sure, you knew they did family formals after the ceremony while everyone else headed over to cocktail hour, that toasts came before dancing, that cutting the cake comes after the first dances – but did you think about what time everyone started getting ready that morning? Did you know by what time the bride needed to be fully dressed? Of course not! You’re just there to celebrate the big day.


Now, you may be saying – Veronica, a schedule? That sounds really stressful – I just want to enjoy our wedding day!

No worries – I’m here for you! Having a wedding timeline in place doesn’t need to be a big stressful experience. It doesn’t mean someone is going to barge in with a megaphone and start barking out orders. It doesn’t mean you will feel like you’re on a treadmill, running through the day without a chance to stop and catch your breath – there is still plenty of time for spontaneity and FUN!

chamberlin's ole forest inn wedding

A timeline will help you know what is happening next. It will keep you on track, knowing what time your hair should be done by, what time you need to be in your dress. It will be a helpful bit of information to forward to your bridal party so everyone can coordinate together. Most importantly – it will make the day feel less hectic because you won’t be left to wonder what time your photographer is arriving, when your flowers will be delivered, and a million other little details!

If you have a wedding planner this is something she will create, coordinating with your photographer. If you don’t have a wedding planner, communicate with your photographer in advance as they will likely have the most experience in planning this piece of your wedding! The rest of this blog post will be written assuming you don’t have a designated wedding planner.

Planning Your Wedding Timeline

It’s important to communicate with your photographer on how you envision your day going. While we all know things never go exactly as planned, having an idea ahead of time helps me to build a custom timeline that works for the two of you.

Here’s an example of a perfect email I received from a bride inquiring about photography:

“Our wedding is __ at 4 pm and we are, as of right now, having __ people there. We are having it at _____ in __, Michigan.
I figured I’d include an idea of what I was thinking. We are interested in doing a first look with each other and my dad before the ceremony and then some of the couple photos and bridal party photos. Detail photos of our rings, flowers, invites, and the decorations along with getting ready pictures.
We would like ceremony photos and reception photos including later night photos and formal family photos. We’re doing sparklers later at night so we thought maybe some with that would be really cool as well. We really love candid photos, so any of those would be amazing!”

First of all, let me just say – this is the type of specific email wedding photographers LOVE to get because there’s enough information to start with – not just “Are you available July 31st?”

Let’s look at why this is such a great example. Things that I need to build a timeline for you include:

  • Do you want getting ready pictures?
  • Are you having a first look with your groom and/or father?
  • Where are you getting ready?
  • Where is your ceremony and where is your reception? (If they are in different locations we will need to plan extra travel time)
  • Are you planning a special exit or other late night pictures? (You will want these after the sun goes down, of course!)

I have a number of other blog posts covering some of these topics including what time to have your ceremony and deciding whether you want to do a first look to help you make these decisions!

Creating Your Wedding Timeline

After I know the basics surrounding your day I will design and send over a draft timeline for you. This is not set in stone. We all know that things may change as your wedding date approaches. In addition, you may choose to spend more or less time on different parts of your wedding depending on what is important to you – for example, a total of 10 people in family formals versus 40 people will make a big time difference! It’s a busy time for you, but a quick email or text is always much appreciated so we can tweak BEFORE your wedding day!

groomsmen wedding portraits

Sharing Your Wedding Timeline

After you sign off on the wedding timeline, make sure to send it to all the important people in your wedding, including your bridal party, parents – oh yeah, and your groom! Weddings go most smoothly when everyone knows where they are expected to be, and at what time. The more eyes that have seen the timeline, the lower the chance for error!

Bonus: Sample Timelines

Below I have included a few real life wedding timelines I have designed with brides, one with a first look, one without a first look, and an intimate wedding of only three hours. I hope these help you understand what a difference just a few tweaks will make on your day!

Noon ceremony, no first look

Afternoon ceremony with first look

Intimate wedding, three hours of photography coverage

As you can see, each wedding day is vastly different from the others! I hope you found this helpful as you prepare for your wedding day.

Do you want more help in planning your wedding?

Click here to download our free wedding guide!

Click here to read about planning your family formals!

wedding timeline

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