How to Plan The Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

Creating a wedding-day timeline might not be the most exciting part of your planning, but it’ll have a huge impact on the amount of stress you feel that day.

As wedding photographers (Tom has captured weddings & love stories for over six years now!), we love helping each couple we work with to create their perfect timeline.

This timeline example is based on a wedding day with a 5 p.m. ceremony time frame that includes a first look. (On the fence about seeing each other before the ceremony? Check out this article to see if a first look is for you.)

If you’d rather not see each other before the ceremony, the group portraits part of this example timeline could be done during your cocktail hour instead.

Of course, all weddings are different and your timeline may differ due to travel times and unique situations. I would recommend using this as a guide and making tweaks to personalize it to fit your day.

Happy planning! 😃 

Wedding timeline quick links

Use these links to jump to a specific part of the wedding timeline.

Bridal details: 11:45AM–12:45 p.m. (One hour)

Your details are a fun part of your wedding story (and make a great spread in your wedding album). I personally love having some time to shoot the dress, shoes, jewelry, invitations, etc., before the day gets going, as it gives me a chance to warm up and get creative.

The amount of time needed can vary, but I would recommend typically allocating at least 45 minutes to an hour for bridal details.

Your photographer can also use this time to take some more candid images of you and your bridesmaids getting ready.

The star of the bridal details is… the bridal bouquet!

Here’s a little tip that can save you money and make a huge impact on the way your images turn out: Make your bridal bouquet a big priority!

If you have a gorgeous bouquet, your photographer can make it look like beautiful florals are everywhere.

He or she can use it to spruce up bridal details, reception details and bride & groom portraits.

I highly recommend getting your dream bouquet and investing less on the bridesmaids’ bouquets since they won’t be photographed nearly as much.

Groom getting-ready images come next

If the groom is getting ready nearby, your photographer can jump back and forth to capture images of the groomsmen while you’re getting dressed.

If you’d like extensive groom getting-ready coverage, or your groom is getting ready at a different location, I would recommend hiring a second photographer.

Getting ready: 12:45–1:45 p.m. (one hour)

After the details have been photographed, it’s time for you to get into your dress.

This is when the day starts to feel real!

This is a good time for the mother-of-the-bride and your bridesmaids to get dressed, too. After you’re in your gown, you can put on your jewelry, veil, shoes, etc.

This is also when your photographer would capture candid moments with your bridesmaids, mom and other loved ones as the day begins.

Thinking about getting ready at a hotel?

Here’s a simple way to get Pinterest-like getting-ready photographs: If you’re not getting ready at your venue, I always recommend getting ready at an Airbnb instead of a hotel.

Here’s why:

  • Airbnbs are often much cheaper than a hotel room. A quality Airbnb can sometimes cost less than half that of a fancy hotel and it’ll have better elements for taking getting-ready photographs.
  • With an Airbnb, you can rent out an entire home, which gives you access to many rooms. This will give you the space your family and friends need to get ready while still being together.

No one wants to be on top of each other while getting dressed!

First look: 2:00 p.m.

This is one of my personal favorite parts of the wedding day!

Your photographer will find a beautiful location, build the suspense and, of course, capture that special moment when you face each other for the first time that day.

There are many great reasons to consider doing a first look:

  • It’ll calm any nerves
  • You’ll get precious time to interact & feel the feels together
  • You’ll have more time with family & friends throughout the day
  • It might be your only alone time together
  • You’ll have more images of the two of you

If you’re on the fence about seeing each other before the ceremony, and want to learn more about each of the points above, check out this article!

Portraits: 2:15–3:00 p.m. (45 minutes)

After you enjoy a quiet moment together during your first look, you can use the time afterward to take a few romantic portraits.

While all of the wedding-day images are important, the ones that resonate most with the couples I work with are usually from this session.

These images are my favorite not only because of their beauty, but because this is such a fun portion of the day. For this brief moment in time, you’ll be pretty much alone together on your wedding day (believe it or not, that’s rarer than you think!).

You’ll have a chance to really connect and get lost in the moment together.

For a few minutes, the whirlwind of the day will fade into the background.

While that’s happening, the wedding party can start making their way over to you for wedding party portraits.   

Wedding party & family portraits: 3:15 p.m.–4:15 p.m. (one hour)

After your first look is a great time for the wedding party portraits.

During this time, you can take some great images of the bridesmaids and groomsmen separately and together.

Here’s a tip to make things go smoothly: One way to make sure you stay on schedule is to ask someone to put the boutonnieres on the guys before they arrive for portraits and ensure the bridesmaids have their flowers.

This time can also be used to capture formal portraits with your immediate families, so you don’t have to spend much time taking pictures during your cocktail hour.

This part of the day should be fun and light, and shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Taking these photos earlier in the day ensures your friends and family will be free to relax and enjoy the cocktail hour.

Bride & groom prep for ceremony: 4:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m. (30 minutes)

At this point, it’s a good idea to  separate and begin to prepare for your ceremony.

Some time away from each other before your ceremony helps re-build the anticipation—it will begin to feel like you’ve yet to see each other again.

Reception details: 4:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m. (30 minutes)

If the reception is in the same location as the ceremony, this is a great time for your photographer to shoot the reception decor untouched.

If the ceremony and reception are in different locations, I recommend having a cocktail hour outside of the main reception area.

This ensures you’ll have great images of your reception before the night begins and guests start laying down purses and coats on their seats.

Ceremony: 5:00 p.m–5:30 p.m. (30 minutes)

Here it is—the moment everyone’s been waiting for!

The music is playing and the guests have been seated.

The coordinator is lining up the bridesmaids and queueing the musicians.

You’re about to walk down the aisle and see the love of your life.

You’ve probably dreamed about this moment for a long time!

Vows will be shared and promises will be made—this is what it’s all about.

In a world full of wedding blogs, Pinterest and bridal magazines, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and consumed by the “prettiness” of the event.

While details do matter and planning is necessary, it’s important to never lose sight of the real purpose of this amazing day—the connection and love you and your fiancé share.

Ceremony length

Most ceremonies are about 30 minutes long. If your ceremony is longer than 30 minutes, or you plan on having a receiving line, you’ll want to add some extra padding to the timeline.

Cherish these moments—your ceremony will pass by so quickly!

(Here are some of my top tips to make sure your ceremony looks great in your wedding pictures.)

Extended family portraits: 5:45–6:15 p.m. (15–45 minutes)

If you plan on capturing a lot of extended family, you’ll want to do this immediately following the ceremony, since all family members will be present at that time.

You should typically allocate about 15-45 minutes for your family pictures, depending on how many groupings you’re looking for.

To make this process as smooth as possible, I like to send a questionnaire before the wedding so you can list out the family combinations that you’d like, and to make sure we don’t miss any important family pictures.

Wedding Party walking for The Central Park Boathouse Wedding.

A few just-married portraits: 6:15 p.m.–6:30 p.m. (15–30 minutes)

The time these photos will be taken changes depending on the time of year.

The best time for these photographs is during the hour before sunset. This is when the sun is glowy and golden, and the light is at its best.

These photographs are often some of the favorite images from the day, so don’t skip out on them!

The reception begins: 7:00 p.m.

The fun has begun! It’s time to relax, dance and celebrate.

Your coordinator and DJ should take care of making sure that everything stays on schedule so that you can enjoy your night.

At this point in your wedding day, the timeline will become a bit more relaxed.

Your photographer’s approach will most likely become more photojournalistic—they’ll be capturing things as they happen, as opposed to giving you direction.

Reception coverage

Unless you have something specific planned at the end of the night, you also most likely don’t need photography coverage of your entire reception.

I typically include enough coverage so that I can be present for the main events of the reception (cake cutting, dances and speeches) and about an hour or two of dancing.

I find this is more than enough time to capture plenty of variety to tell the story of your wedding day.

Final thoughts

A solid wedding-day timeline helps to ensure amazing photographs *and* reduce stress in a major way.

I hope these tips help your day to flow more smoothly, so you can focus on soaking in every moment.

P.S. Here are more free tips and resources on all things wedding planning, from 3 skills to look for in your wedding photographer to how to get gorgeous engagement photos & more! 

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We're wedding photographers who believe how you feel on your wedding day is just as important as taking incredible pictures.

As a wedding photographer & filmmaker based in both New York City & Southern California, Tom has captured close to 200 weddings. Together, we love to celebrate with you and your friends on one of the most exciting days of your lives. It brings us such joy to capture your wedding in an artistic way, not only telling your wedding story, but also making sure to bring warmth and friendliness (and a few laughs!) to the day.