No matter what kind of wedding you are having, you need a wedding day timeline. Big or small, budget or luxury, full-day or a few hours… A wedding day timeline is the one tool that can either make or break your special day. Creating the ultimate wedding day timeline for your specific event is simple, especially when you enlist the right help!
A wedding day timeline, also known to some in the industry as a day-of timeline or run-of-show, is a list of events to take place on your wedding day from start to finish. It includes what time every event starts (and ends), often from the time the bride and groom must start getting ready (hair and makeup start times) all the way to the end of the night with a grand exit or sparkler send off.
Often a document, print or digital, wedding day timelines are prepared ahead of the wedding day and passed along to the involved parties. These include the bride and groom, members of the bridal party (maid of honor and best man at minimum), key family members (parents, siblings, etc.), the officiant, and all wedding vendors (venue coordinator, planner, DJ, photographers/videographers, etc.)
As a wedding photographer, I create custom timelines for all my couples based on photographed events. This timeline can serve as your primary (or only) timeline if needed! Especially if you have a smaller event or no wedding planner. However, wedding planners and day-of coordinators will often provide you a timeline of their own.
Planner timelines are much more extensive in detail. They often include rehearsal dinner events for the night before, arrival times for each vendor and involved party, set-up and tear-down times, and other logistics many couples forget about.
The ultimate wedding day timeline is one that your planner and photographer collaborate on together! Here’s why.
The planning is usually up to wedding planners and day-of coordinators (not to be confused with venue coordinators). They often know the ins and outs of set-up and tear-down. And they’ve likely been in contact with every wedding vendor to understand their time needs in order to provide their services to you.
Photographers, however, are the only vendor that actually spend the most time with the bride and groom on the wedding day. Often, it is my job as a wedding photographer to know how long it typically takes to get in the dress, have a First Look with your dad and/or groom, take family photos after the ceremony, and so on.
Ultimately, both vendors need to agree on start times for each event that will be photographed. But you as the bride and groom need to equip both vendors with enough information about your wedding day plans and honored traditions to craft the perfect wedding day timeline, unique to you! I help brides do this by sending them a comprehensive Bridal Questionnaire when they book with me.
And if you’re looking for a planner in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area, I highly recommend Juli Valentine of Completely Coordinated Events! She’s freaking awesome. If you need other referrals, be sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to share the love to all my vendor friends (frien-dors!)
When crafting the ultimate wedding day timeline, the most important information for me to know as a wedding photographer are as follows:
As your wedding photographer, I can help you determine the best start time for a ceremony based on the sunset, but if you already chose a ceremony start time then I will use that information to craft a timeline that allows for enough portrait time before we lose all natural light.
This can depend on the time of year as well.
These weddings will depend highly on the time of year or proximity to Daylight Savings events. If you are getting married in the months of early March to mid-May, be sure to check with me on when to start your ceremony in order to have enough natural light for portraits after. First Looks can be optional (though still highly encouraged) if you plan to have an early enough ceremony to have plenty of sunlight before your reception starts. Ceremonies are best to start around 4:00 or 5:00 pm depending on date.
These weddings have the most flexibility! Long days mean lots of sunlight. First Looks are still a great option, though, because heat can often affect the appearance of hair and make-up. The First Look allows you to get portraits while you still look your best. These weddings are also great for Golden Hour portraits, which means more chances for stunning, glowy images of you as newlyweds. 5:00 or 5:30 pm ceremonies are most common for summer weddings in my experience.
These weddings can be tough, logistically speaking. With very little daylight to work with, I advise winter brides to opt for early ceremonies (late morning or early afternoon). Sunset often happens as early as 4:00pm, which means we have limited time for natural light portraits. For my winter brides, I require a First Look in most cases. This helps ensure I give you the quantity of portraits together that you deserve. Without a First Look, most of your gallery will be of photos without the two of you together. I highly recommend considering a brunch wedding, or a ceremony between 1:00 and 2:30 pm, especially if you are adamant against having a First Look.
Winter Wedding Tip: If you have an earlier ceremony and don’t want guests to have to attend more than an hour cocktail hour, consider splitting your wedding day in half! Invite guests to the ceremony earlier in the afternoon. Then allow them a break to go home and change into more comfortable dancing shoes and snack before dinner is provided at the reception later in the evening. I’ve seen this done and it gives SO MUCH freedom to everyone. I get to take lots more photos of you and your new spouse. And guests get to shed off their heels, freshen up, and get drinks and appetizers at home or nearby the venue before partying with you at the reception.
Once you know your ceremony start time, sunset time, and venue start and end times, you are almost there! Your photographer and wedding planner will likely want you to gather estimated time requirements from various vendors. Get started using this brief checklist:
All of this information and more is used to craft a custom timeline for you.
As a wedding photographer, I have crafted dozens of wedding day timelines for my couples! I now have a template that does it all for me, leaving only needs for small tweaks here and there. The good news is I want to share this customizable template with you! Completely FREE!
If you need a wedding day timeline template that is editable to adjust to your perfect day, CLICK HERE! From there, you’ll send me your email and I’ll send you the FREE download!
Or, if you’re looking to hire a wedding photographer who can craft a custom timeline for your wedding day), inquire with me!
Otherwise, see below for my top tips for each part of the wedding day timeline. The below guide will help you create the ultimate wedding day timeline. The big moments aren’t missed when organization is prioritized.
Did you love this post? Looking for more wedding planning tips? Then you’ll love these other blog posts of mine:
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Wedding days can be stressful, but they don't have to be. One of the number one causes of wedding day stress is a disorganized, tight timeline. In this guide, I'm sharing a sample wedding day timeline I use to craft all my brides' wedding day timelines, as well as diving into some pro tips only a photographer might know.