Being engaged is such an exciting time in your life—and it can feel like it’s whizzing by once you start wedding planning.

There’s research to do, emails to send, decisions to make… it’s a full-time job!

We’ve been shooting weddings for over six years and through meeting different couples, hearing about their planning experiences (and through our own wedding planning as a couple), we’ve learned a lot about how to make things more stress-free.

These six tips will help to simplify the process so you get the most joy out of every moment leading up to the wedding.

1. Start your wedding planning by finding a checklist

When Heather and I got engaged, we realized pretty quickly that we needed an amazing wedding planning checklist.

I’m a pretty visual person, so if you’re anything like me, having a guide to reference is priceless for my sanity.

With that need in mind, Heather and I put together this Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist. It breaks down everything you’ll need to know and do, month by month.

There are plenty of great checklists out there, so whichever one you choose, be sure it resonates with you so you can follow it step-by-step leading up to the big day.

—Tom

Wedding Planning Brian Shannon

2. Hire a wedding planner (or at least a day-of coordinator)

Real talk: Planning a wedding by yourself is a monumental undertaking.

With our busy day-to-day lives, you’re probably spending a huge bulk of time planning. (Hence the full-time job reference above!)

A wedding planner will majorly help alleviate that stress.

Even though they might be a significant part of your budget, (this article by Brides magazine says a wedding planner typically ends up costing about 10% of your wedding budget) a good wedding planner could actually end up saving you money in the long run—not to mention saving you time! 

If you want to enjoy the process of planning your wedding as much as possible, yet you don’t want to get too caught up in the details or overwhelmed with decisions, a wedding planner makes total sense.

Having an expert there to take some of the pressure off of you and be a guide throughout your planning can totally change the vibe of the whole process.

They’ll help you stay organized and work with you to bring your unique wedding vision to life.

Merrily & Eugene

Not sure about a wedding planner?

Maybe you want total control and really love the planning process or you’d rather splurge on other parts of your wedding. Many venues can connect you with a day-of coordinator who can help to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Without a day-of coordinator, there’s a really good chance the responsibility of solving any dilemmas will automatically fall on your maid of honor, your mom, the photographer or you!

When a photographer is in charge of all of the coordination, it tends to pull us away from our main focus of capturing your day. Many of the most stressful wedding situations we’ve seen could have been avoided if there was a wedding planner or day-of coordinator present.

It’s your day and you deserve the space to be able to focus on your special love and commitment to each other, rather than worrying about details of the day!

—Heather

Wedding Planning Kate and Ryan

3. Find a photographer with a calming presence

A great wedding photographer does so much more than take gorgeous wedding pictures.

If you’re not super comfortable in front of the camera (few of us are!), it’s your photographer’s job to make sure you feel and look relaxed—so you look like you.

The right photographer will work with you beforehand to go over things like family combinations and the general flow of events for the day so you can focus on enjoying the moment.

It helps to find someone who gets your wedding vision, and that you might not want overly posed or traditional photographs, for example, but rather a more candid and natural feel.

Your photographer will also be frequently interacting with the people closest to you, and their personality and style will have a big impact on the overall energy and mood of your wedding day.

You’ll be spending the whole day with your photographer, too, so choose someone you easily vibe with. Their calming presence throughout the day will mean a lot.

Check out this article to learn more about the character traits I believe you should look for in your wedding photographer.

—Tom

Wedding Planning NYC

4. Work with your photographer & wedding planner to create a realistic timeline

Crafting a well thought out wedding timeline is the best way to avoid stress on your wedding day. A good one is like a forecast of how the day will unfold.

It’s hard to know how much time you’ll need to allocate when planning though—that’s why it’s great to lean on your wedding photographer and/or wedding planner.

They really get how wedding timelines work (and often don’t work!). A great photographer will give you guidance and possibly even craft the timeline for you.

As a wedding photographer, one of the ways I make sure I do this is by providing you with a questionnaire.

I ask for the locations and times for the major events surrounding your wedding.

That way we can craft a wedding timeline that allows us to take great photographs and anticipate any areas that may need extra time built in.

Adirondacks

As the wedding date gets closer, we’ll plan a FaceTime call to catch up and go over these timeline details to ensure everything flows smoothly.

Here are a few general wedding timeline tips:

Pad your timeline

The number one reason wedding schedules end up running late? It’s usually because hair and makeup take longer than expected. Our tip is to double the time you think you’ll need for hair, makeup and travel.

This will assure you have plenty of time for all the portraits you want to take before the wedding.

Wedding Planning Hudson Valley

Plan to take the majority of your wedding photos during sunset

The best time to get those dreamy, beautiful, soft-lit portraits you see all over wedding blogs is an hour or two before sunset.

Pictures taken in mid-day sun will often have a very different look and feel. If it’s not possible to dedicate that time to photography, try to schedule in at least 15 minutes so you can get the best pictures possible!

If you’d like to learn more about how to craft a stress-free wedding timeline, check out this post here.

Write a detailed list of the family photos you want to take

Only take photos of family combinations that are important to you during the formal family pictures.

If you have a large family and you’re worried about squeezing in the additional combinations during the day, try taking larger group or extended family photographs during dinner or the reception.

This ensures everyone will be in one place and your MC can help gather them for a quick picture.

—Tom

Erin Michael Walk Down Aisle

5. Consider seeing each other before the ceremony

A wedding first look is a set time for you to see each other before the wedding day takes off.

If you decide to do a first look, you can arrange to have many of your formal photographs taken before the ceremony.

Getting this done early frees up time later to spend with your guests and enjoy your wedding.

There are many other advantages of doing a first look, and not all of them are photography related.

If you’re on the fence or just not sure if that’s something you’d like to do, be sure to check out this article.

—Heather

Wedding First Look Dane Carolyn

6. Plan to do an engagement session before your wedding

An engagement session is a great way to capture casual photographs of you and your fiancé. There’s also a hidden perk:

It’s a great way to get more comfortable in front of the camera.

Your photographer will share tips for posing in a way that looks candid, so you feel like a pro by the wedding.

These sessions are also a great way for you to get to know your photographer better.

That way they’ll arrive on your wedding day already knowing how you and your fiancé interact, and how to photograph you in the most genuine way.

I always recommend doing an engagement session, if possible.

Wedding Planning Brooklyn Bridge

Oh, and if you’re worried about your photographs looking cheesy or aren’t into taking pretty pictures at a park or beach, don’t be!

To me, an engagement session should reflect the uniqueness of each couple and be more than just a way to get save-the-date photos.

I like to plan the sessions with the couples I work with around activities or interests that they really love.

Here are a few examples:

—Tom

Nicole and Joe

6. Don’t forget to be present and make the most of the planning process!

Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, so there’s a good deal of pressure for everything to be well-planned and look a certain way.

That also means that a time that is meant to be the happiest can also be incredibly stressful.

One of the best things you can do is focus on things that ground you, keep you calm and bring you major joy—whether that’s going snowboarding or playing board games with family or curling up with a book.

—Heather

We hope these tips are helpful to you. This is such an exciting time, soak up every minute you can!

You may also like…

I recently had the privilege of photographing Breeann and Brandon’s beautiful wedding in New York. After the wedding, I sat down with Breeann to get her thoughts on  wedding planning and her favorite moments of the day.

How can you be prepared for one of the most exciting days of your life? Here, Breeann shares:

Top 10 Photos of 2018

The best wedding planning advice for a bride:

“This is a difficult question; I have so many pieces of advice I would love to give!

My two best would be to first, focus on what you and your fiancé want while planning the wedding. It can become very stressful and overwhelming listening to the opinions of everyone around you.

It doesn’t matter if Aunt Sue hates outdoor ceremonies, or if your cousin thinks your color scheme is ugly. This day is about the two of you, and no one else. Most importantly your wedding day is meant to celebrate the love between you two.

Don’t stress the small stuff when there are such greater and happier things to focus on.

Secondly, embrace every single second of your big day. The rumors are true; the day is over before you know it!”

Wedding Planning

The biggest wedding planning surprise about HER wedding day:

“There weren’t really any shocking surprises that we experienced on the day of our wedding. A pleasant surprise was seeing how perfectly the day fell together, whether we had planned for things to be that way or not.

When things strayed off course a bit (and let me tell you, they will–there’s no avoiding it) it didn’t bring us down at all. We planned for over a year and hoped for a picture–perfect wedding just like any other couple does, but on our wedding day we honestly didn’t care about the centerpieces or the flowers or the cake. What we enjoyed the most was looking around the room and seeing all of our family and friends enjoying themselves.

All of the little details might not have been perfect, but we wanted an unforgettable party and we certainly got one!”

Wedding Planning Ceremony

How to tame those wedding day nerves:

“To be honest, I wasn’t nervous at all. Leading up to my wedding and on the day of, I received a lot of comments about how I was the calmest bride anyone had ever seen.

I knew that I was making one of the best decisions of my life, marrying Brandon, and I was more eager and excited than anything.

Even if there was an ounce of nervousness in me on my wedding day, I’m sure all of the getting ready mimosas would have washed those worries away very quickly!”

wedding planning hands

Her favorite photo moment:

“It was pouring outside and Tom had asked us if we wanted to get out in the rain with our umbrellas for some cool group shots, or if we wanted to play it safe and stay dry. Brandon and I turned to our bridal party and left the decision up to them.

Without question, each of them picked up an umbrella and marched out into the rain. Not one of them complained for even a second about being wet or cold.

Everyone laughed and enjoyed themselves, and when Tom asked for a few more minutes of pictures, no one hesitated.

It was such a great feeling knowing that we asked such amazing people to be by our side that day who would do anything to keep the day fun and happy. ”

Kiss

Which one moment will always stand out to her?

“Our vows. Brandon and I decided to write our own vows, and I’m so happy we did.

We didn’t ramble off the cliché “in sickness and in health” bit. Our words were unique, from the heart, and so incredibly emotional. Everyone listening truly felt and understood our love for each other.

During those few minutes, no one else in the world existed but the two of us. It was so surreal knowing that in a few short moments the man standing before me, my soulmate, would be my husband forever. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Hug

What she loved about working with Tom Schelling Photography:

“Tom didn’t have to work hard to impress my husband and I. From our first meeting all the way to our wedding day, he maintained an incredible level of professionalism and expertise.

He made our entire wedding planning process so smooth and simple, giving tips and advice not only on wedding photography, but also on vendors, our wedding day timeline, and so much more. He went above and beyond for us!”

 

You may also like…

 

Are you looking for some wedding inspiration? Check out these boards on Pinterest!

Planning your wedding can be a mix of exhilarating, exciting, exhausting and overwhelming—that’s why a wedding planning checklist is essential.

Think of it as a general guide that’ll help you stay organized, avoid unnecessary stress and find more joy in each part of the planning process.

This wedding planning checklist is a combination of what I’ve learned photographing weddings for over five years—and planning my own wedding with Heather, my fiancée.

There’s a lot of information in this post, so try bookmarking it to easily access it over the next few months.


Wedding planning checklist table of contents


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

9-12 months before your wedding


1. Announce your engagement

Hooray! Soak in every moment as a newly engaged couple.

I hope you have so much fun celebrating with family and friends, and, of course, sharing on social media.

2. Pick a wedding date

Figuring out when you’d like to get married can be challenging.

Each season has unique characteristics that’ll affect not only your pictures , but also the best times and locations for your wedding to take place.

Spring and fall are the most popular seasons, so dates for your favorite vendors could book up over a year in advance (which is why you’ll want to start thinking about dates early).

For a deep dive into the pros and cons of each season (and day of the week: Friday, Saturday or Sunday), I put together this article on choosing the best wedding date for you.

3. Look into hiring a wedding planner or coordinator

Working with a full event planner or a day-of coordinator to ensure your wedding vision comes to life is so important.

More than just providing options and inspiration, having a wedding planner means less of the problem-solving falls on your shoulders throughout the planning process.

That’s especially important on your wedding day. You’ll realize very quickly that if you don’t have a coordinator, any issues that pop up will likely fall on the mother of the bride, the maid of honor, the photographer or you.

When a photographer is in charge of the coordination, it tends to pull him or her away from their main focus of capturing your day. Many of the most stressful wedding situations I’ve seen would have been resolved quickly if a wedding planner or day-of coordinator had been there.

I definitely recommend making at least a day-of coordinator a priority to give yourself extra space and time to enjoy every moment of your day.

4. Create an inspo board that reflects your wedding vision

Sit down with your fiancé one night (wine in hand, of course) to discuss your vision for the day.

Make a date night out of it and imagine what the ultimate wedding day would look like to both of you.

Where do you see your wedding happening? Maybe you like the idea of having it on a rooftop in a big city or in a rustic barn with twinkly lights or by the ocean with your toes a few feet away from the water’s edge.

What colors are you drawn to?

Do you want a huge guest list or a small, intimate affair?

How formal will it be?

What time of day would be ideal for the ceremony?

Creating a mood board together on Pinterest is a great way to start visualizing elements of the day—and it makes finding the perfect venue much easier.

5. Determine your budget & how you’ll share expenses

If you’re not into spreadsheets, The Knot has a handy wedding budget calculator that does most of the work for you.

6. Keep vendor details & your wedding planning checklist in one place

Staying organized is important, it can be easier said than done though!

Whether you like working with physical printouts or digital versions of important info, keep it all in one place so you can easily access it.

Try using a binder to keep track of contracts and other paperwork from your vendors.

Then print out a physical copy of your wedding planning checklist and add it to the binder. So organized!

7. Develop a record-keeping system for payments

You’ll want to make sure to keep track of which vendors you’ve already paid and for what amount.

Here are a few options that may be helpful to you: You could get a credit card or open a new bank account and use it just for wedding purchases. You could also keep track of your spending in a good, ‘ole spreadsheet!

8. Choose an approximate number for your guest list

At this point in planning, don’t worry about knowing the exact number. It helps to have a general idea for when you look at venues.

9. Decide if you’ll be inviting children or not

Children can add a different dynamic to your wedding (though I love them, I’ve seen my fair share of crying babies during the ceremony), so don’t feel obligated to have them if you’re on the fence about it. Your guests will understand. Either way, it’s important that you make the decision that feels right for you and your partner.

10. Begin looking for a venue for your ceremony & reception

Having your ceremony at the same location as your reception is ideal, especially if your guests are traveling quite a bit to get to you.

Either way, less traveling around equals less wedding day time pressure and stress for you and your guests.

And, at the risk of sounding very wedding photographer-y, an added bonus is your photographs will look more cohesive (i.e. an off-site ceremony location might have a different color pallet and different lighting, which could add contrasting elements and less consistency when your photographer crafts the story of your day with photographs).

11. Book a photographer

This is a big one (haha)!

There are so many things (other than beautiful pictures) to consider when searching for the perfect wedding photographer.

Your photographer will be frequently interacting with the people closest to you, and their personality and style will have a big impact on the overall energy and mood of your wedding day.

I talk more the impact your photographer can have on the day in this post: the essential skills you should be looking for in your wedding photographer.

12. Set a date for your engagement session

Once you’ve picked a date, a photographer and your venue, it’s time to celebrate!

Those are some of the toughest decisions in wedding planning and you can cross them off your list­—woo-hoo!!

It’s time for the fun stuff, like your engagement session.

There’s a hidden perk to booking this session: It’s a great way to ease into being in front of the camera.

Your photographer will share a few tips for posing in a way that looks candid, so you’ll feel like a pro by the day of your wedding.

These sessions are also a great way for you to get to know your photographer a bit more. That way they’ll arrive on your wedding day already knowing how you and your fiancé interact, and how to photograph you in the most genuine way.

I always recommend doing an engagement session, if possible.

13. Find the perfect wedding dress

Set up appointments to try on dresses (or check out options online). Then choose a few trusted loved ones to be with you when you try them on.

Looking for inspo? Make a mood board on Pinterest to figure out what you’re looking for in a dream dress.

14. Choose a color scheme

If you’re not sure where to start, begin with a base color and use your wedding season as inspiration.

You can also consider the colors associated with your ceremony location and/or venue. Choosing colors that compliment that pallet will ensure beautiful wedding photos!

15. Arrange for any home improvements if your wedding takes place at your home

Plan any updates or major housework (landscaping the backyard, etc.) well in advance of your wedding date so you can focus your energy elsewhere.

16. Order passports or visas & gather any documents needed for travel and/or marriage licenses

If you’re having a destination wedding or plan on traveling internationally for your honeymoon, make sure your passport is up to date.

During the busy season it can sometimes take a few months to renew your passport!

Santorini


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

6-9 months before your wedding


1. Book a caterer, if needed

Some wedding venues have their own in-house caterer. If yours does not, this is a great time to start looking for one.

2. Find an officiant

Finding the right officiant is so important to ensure you have a true-to-you wedding ceremony.

I recommend hiring an officiant you connect with who also has a sense of humor. A few jokes here and there can help you relax and really be present.

An added benefit of this are pictures where you and your guests look happy.

Although everyone may feel over the moon, without a few smiles and laughs here and there it can be hard to convey those emotions in your wedding pictures.

3. Choose your wedding party

Although it can be tempting to ask all of your friends and family to join your bridal party, sometimes less is more. Choose only people who you really want to be there.

Try not to choose out of obligation (for instance, you were in their wedding party and want to return the favor).

One other thing to consider—in my experience, larger bridal parties (six or more on each side) tend to be a bit more wild and frenetic.

If you’re looking for a laid-back, relaxed wedding day, I highly recommend limiting the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen to 5 or less on each side, if possible.

4. Ask your wedding party to help with planning

Get your wedding party together and go over their roles—i.e. are you hoping your bridesmaids will plan the bachelorette or bridal shower or are you happy being more involved?

What kind of support will you need along the way and on the day of—will you need their help with decorations, favors, etc?

You’ve carefully chosen these wonderful people to be there with you on one of the most exciting days of your life, so being transparent about how they can help with allow them to truly be there for you.

5. Chat about dresses with your bridesmaids

This is also a great time to look for flower girl dresses.

If you have a young flower girl, try to select a dress that isn’t too long. That way you don’t have to worry about her tripping and falling while walking down the aisle!

6. Encourage your parents to pick out their looks

This is a chance to focus a bit on the moms and what they’re wearing—you could even go with them to shop for dresses.

7. Book a live band or DJ for the reception

This is often a tough decision—should you hire a DJ or a live band?

Generally speaking, a live band is going to cost more money than a DJ, since five or more musicians are necessary to cover all of the different instruments.

There is also a space issue. If you’re considering a live band, make sure your venue has an area for the musicians to set up.

If you’re planning on hosting your reception at a smaller location, a live band may not be the best option.

In my opinion, nothing beats a good live band when it comes to getting people up and dancing, not to mention there’s the added bonus of a MC (usually the lead singer) to do announcements and keep the energy level up.

Live music is infectious and a group of solid musicians will wow and dazzle your guests.

A DJ, however, can often play more variety, from all different genres of music.

It’s usually not hard for a DJ to find the songs you’re looking for, where a live band will often need to learn them if they’re not in their repertoire.

A solid DJ/MC combination can read the crowd and keep the party moving well throughout the night.

Both are great choices with different appeals. Weigh the pros and cons and choose the best one for you!

8. Book musicians for your ceremony (if needed)

If you do opt for a DJ instead of a live band, consider hiring live musicians for your ceremony instead.

Though I may be biased (I am a musician myself), I feel nothing beats a talented harpist, string quartet or pianist playing live music as you walk down the aisle.

9. Find a videographer

You might not be sure about adding video coverage on top of photography during your wedding.

Maybe you’ve seen your fair share of cheesy wedding videos or maybe you’ve been told by friends and family you’ll never watch the video anyway, so what’s the point?

While your wedding photographs will certainly be some of your most treasured heirlooms, (especially your wedding album) there’s nothing quite like a short wedding film to tell your story.

Here are three big things that separate video from photography:

Movement

While photography captures individual moments, video captures movement.

Movement immerses you in the full memory, rather than showing you a snapshot of it.

I often find that video can capture the energy of a wedding day much better than photography.

Audio

This is huge! A good song adds depth and emotion to your film.

The swell of music helps to take you back to that day, so you’re instantly reliving a moment during your vows, from the speeches or when you saw each other for the first time.

Storytelling

While photographs certainly tell a story, the images are often viewed individually.

A wedding video, on the other hand (especially the cinematic kind), is a short film that makes you feel all the feels all over again.

A good film won’t be cheesy, it will be so enticing that even a complete stranger will find it compelling.

Here’s a short film I created featuring Mary & Ken on their wedding day. You’ll see how those three elements I mentioned above (movement, audio and storytelling) come together:

10. Book a florist

Flowers are a focal point to any wedding, and some of my favorite details to capture as a wedding photographer.

A great florist will work with you to bring your wedding vision to life.

Here’s a little tip that can save 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.

They can use it to spruce up bridal details, reception details and bride and groom portraits.

The bridal bouquet will be a focal point when it comes to your photography. I highly recommend getting your dream bouquet and investing less on the bridesmaids’ bouquets since they won’t be photographed nearly as much.

11. Register for gifts (this can be done sooner)

A few popular spots to register at are:

  • Zola
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Macy’s
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Williams Sonoma
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Target

Flowers


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

4-6 months before your wedding


1. Schedule fittings for custom-made bridesmaids gowns (if necessary)

It typically takes 4-6 weeks to make a dress alternation.

You’ll want to start with plenty of time beforehand in case multiple alternations are needed.

2. Reserve any rental items

Chairs, tents, tables, etc. should be officially reserved by this point.

3. Book a decorator

If you plan on hiring an external decorator to help with your wedding details, it’s a good idea to have them booked by this point.

Double exposure

4. Finalize an A & B list of guests

In a perfect world, all of the people who have touched your life would be able to attend your wedding.

Of course, you’re probably going to be limited by the size of your venue as well as your budget.

Creating two guest lists can help you solve this dilemma.

The A list includes your must-have guests, your close family and friends.

The B list, on the other hand, is for people that you’d love to have there, yet they aren’t as high of a priority.

At this point in the planning process, figure out exactly who you’ll be inviting and create one master list to use for your invitations.

5. Order invitations & other wedding stationery

If you’re sending out paper invitations (and especially if you’re working with a calligrapher or invitation designer), you’ll want to order them early.

This way you’ll receive them with plenty of time to send them out about 6-8 weeks before the wedding.

6. Arrange accommodations for out-of-town guests

Many hotels offer discounts for booking room blocks instead of individual rooms.

A room block is a reservation for multiple rooms (usually more than 10). This ensures your out-of-town guests have a place to sleep close by the night of the wedding.

If you’re planning a destination wedding, this is, of course, a necessity.

You’ll want to start looking well in advance to make sure the hotel doesn’t book up.

7. Set a date, time & location for the rehearsal dinner

Since the ceremony and the venue location are set, it’s time to plan the rehearsal dinner.

If you can, try to plan it at a location relatively close to the hotel that your guests will be staying at.

8. Start planning your honeymoon

For choosing the ideal destination(s), Pinterest is going to be your BFF.

If you’re not sure where you’d like to travel after your wedding, use Pinterest to help you dream up some possibilities!

Some of my personal recommendations:

  • Hawaii (Kauai, Maui or the Big Island… or all three!)
  • Greece (Mykonos or Santorini)
  • Galapagos Islands
  • Turks & Caicos
  • Tavarua, Fiji (Anywhere in Fiji, honestly)
  • Tuscany and the Italian Rivera (Florence, Cinque Terre, Lake Cuomo, Portofino)
  • France (Paris, Cannes, Saint Tropez)

Wedding Planning Checklist Taft Point

9. Shop for wedding gifts for each other

Though not a necessity, some couples choose to give each other gifts with a heartfelt card on their wedding day.

Decide with your fiancé if this is a tradition you would like to take part in. If so, now’s the time to start looking for a gift.

10. Shop for gifts for your wedding party

Same as above: Though this is not a necessity, some couples opt to give their wedding party a small gift for being a part of their big day.

11. Consider a parent album as a post-wedding or holiday gift

In our digital world, it’s pretty rare to have printed photographs of our loved ones.

So having a physical reminder of your special day—with your family all together, dressed up and looking fabulous—is an especially meaningful gift for your parents.

Album

12. Buy your shoes & accessories

By now you’ll have most of the main wedding details figured out. It’s time to start thinking about accessories!

13. Chat through shoes & accessories picks with the bridesmaids (as needed)

If you’re creating a gift bag for your bridesmaids, including some of these accessories inside makes it easy for them to wear the pieces that day—and for years to come.

Heather (my fiancée) got a delicate necklace with a tiny pinecone on it when she was in her friend Maggie’s winter wedding.

She still wears it now (and it reminds her of celebrating her good friend’s special day).

14. Order wedding bands

Once again Pinterest will be a great resource (can you tell I love Pinterest?).

Spend some time scrolling through wedding band inspo before heading to the jeweler or ordering a style you like online.


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

2-4 months before your wedding


1. Order your wedding cake

Depending on your guest count, the size of your wedding cake will vary.

A three-tiered cake is usually fine for 50-100 guests, while a five-tiered wedding cake is recommended for a guest count of over 200.

Ok, and the best part: Make sure you go in for a wedding cake tasting before you make your selection.

This gives you time to meet the bakers and make sure your cake fits in with your aesthetic for the day. Have fun taste-testing all of the different options!

Keep in mind you don’t have to have a traditional wedding cake—many of the couples I’ve worked with have opted for different desserts, such as a cheesecake or pie bar, a doughnut wall, or even a Wafels & Dinges truck (a personal favorite)!

2. Order party favors

Including a small gift (especially one that has meaning to both of you as a couple) at each place setting (or at a table by the entrance or exit) is a nice way to give your guests a special memento from your day.

Etsy is a great resource with a variety of unique gift ideas.

Anna & Frank gave each of their guests a custom seashell ornament from Etsy at their destination wedding in Turks & Caicos.

3. Order decorations & decorative details (as needed)

Ordering any last-minute wedding decorations now gives you plenty of time, in case you need to make returns or exchanges.

4. Take a break from planning to think about your honeymoon

If you’re leaving for your honeymoon right after your wedding, make sure to order any clothing or gear you’ll need for the trip.

5. Book wedding day transportation for you & your bridal party (if needed)

This may not be necessary if you’re planning on doing everything at one location (another benefit of having your ceremony and reception at the same spot).

If you do need transportation on your wedding day, you have quite a few ways to get creative with it. Though a traditional limo is always in style, you could also opt for:

  • an antique car
  • a trolly bus
  • a party bus
  • a helicopter (seriously, how cool would this be?)
  • a vintage truck

Have fun with it and choose the best fit for the vibe of your wedding.

6. Start addressing your invitations

Traditionally, wedding invitations go out about 6-8 weeks before the wedding.

Make sure to give yourself enough time to ensure they’re completed and ready to go by then.

7. Plan activities for out-of-town guests (optional)

If you have family coming in from out of town and things aren’t too crazy, why not set up a few group activities?

This gives you a chance to see everyone in a more personal environment (on your wedding day, you’ll be so busy running around that it will be tough to say more than just “hello, thank you for coming!”).

This is especially fun if you’re doing a destination wedding.

Have everyone meet up and go on an excursion (like a catamaran ride), or a fun hike or adventure together.

8. Book your wedding day hair & makeup

Pro tip: The day of your engagement session is a great time to plan a wedding hair and makeup trial.

You can give the look a test drive, plus it may give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera.

If you’ve decided against an engagement session, then now is a great time to schedule your trial to make sure you love your hair and makeup artists.

9. Select readers (and readings) for your ceremony

If you have close friends or family members who aren’t in your bridal party, consider having them read during your ceremony. (Make sure they’re comfortable with public speaking though!)

You could choose readings that are especially meaningful to you two or let your readers pick them out. Here’s a Brides article that lists 30 unique readings for inspiration.

10. Select ushers to seat your guests (if necessary)

Like ceremony readers, consider close friends or family members that aren’t already involved in your wedding.

You’ll want your ushers to be personable and friendly, since they’ll be the ones helping guests to their seats.

Also, make sure you select people who you know are prompt and will arrive on time (you don’t want your ushers being late!).

11. Select your MC

An MC (master of ceremonies) will be the official host of your wedding.

Different than a DJ, an MC’s job is to announce all of the formalities and ensure your guests are up and about on the dance floor, having a great time.

If you decided on a live band, often the lead singer will act as an MC as well.

A DJ, however, does not always include an MC.

Some DJs may offer to do it themselves, but, in my experience, it’s never as good as having a dedicated person. Your DJ is often too busy focusing on the dance floor and what music should be played next.

If that’s the case, consider hiring a separate MC or talk to your DJ about possible options.

A great MC is so valuable in keeping the energy flowing!

12. Mail invitations to your shower

The ideal time to have a bridal shower (if you’re having one) is usually two months to two weeks before your wedding, so now is a great time to send out the invitations.

Of course, you can always have your bridal shower earlier in the wedding-planning process!

13. Get a photography permit, if needed

Depending on where you’ll be taking your wedding photographs, it’s possible you may need a permit.

Talk to your photographer and make sure you have all of the necessary paperwork around this time.

You want to make sure you don’t get stopped on your wedding day because you forgot to get any necessary permits!


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

6-8 weeks before your wedding


1. Send out the wedding invitations

Hopefully your invitations are completed and ready to go—now’s the time to send them out.

2. Record RSVPs & early wedding gifts

Some guests may choose to send you a gift before the wedding.

Make sure to keep track of them (a spreadsheet works!) so you’ll be able to write your thank you letters later.

3. Record shower gifts & send thank-you letters

Ask a few of your bridesmaids or close friends to help keep track of gifts if you’re having a bridal shower.

As for the thank-you letters, getting these sent and off your to-do list as soon as possible is key!

4. Purchase ceremony & reception accessories: a guest book, vow books, ring pillow, etc.

Now is a great time to look into purchasing your ceremony and reception accessories.

A fun way to get more use out of your engagement session: Order a guest book from your photographer featuring those photographs.

Guests can sign the white space around your photographs, creating a unique heirloom item that you both will treasure.

If you plan on exchanging vows, make sure to order special vow books.

It looks much more polished in photographs, rather than reading from your phone.

Etsy has lots of cool options that’ll look great in your wedding photos.

5. Ask the groomsmen to reserve their wedding attire

If your groomsmen are renting tuxes, you’ll want to ask them to reserve them now.

If you plan on having them purchase their tuxes, shirts, etc., encourage them to do so a month or two before this time.

Beach Adventure

6. Mail invitations to the rehearsal dinner, if necessary

Separate rehearsal dinner invitations are a nice touch. (If you sent out digital invitations, you can always include this info there.)

7. Plan a meet-up with your bridesmaids (optional)

If time and location allows for it, this is a great way for everyone to meet up a few weeks before the wedding to reconnect.

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The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

2-6 weeks before your wedding


1. Finalize all food & beverages for the wedding

Make sure your menu is finalized and that your caterer has given you a timeline for the details of the day.

2. Finalize the ceremony details with the officiant

Check in with your officiant to make sure they have all the necessary details and information to create an amazing ceremony.

3. Finalize the rehearsal arrangements

The wedding rehearsal will usually takes about 30 minutes or so.

If you’re planning on doing your rehearsal the day of the wedding, make sure you let your photographer know so you can plan accordingly.

You want to make sure you have enough time to take pictures and not feel any unnecessary time pressure.

4. Finalize the floral arrangements

Touch base with your florist to make sure they have all of the information they need, like the details of your wedding day timeline.

Florists will often show up hours in advance to begin constructing your ceremony/reception space.

Make sure you have your bouquet delivered to your getting-ready location before your photographer arrives.

5. Go for the final fittings for you & your bridesmaids (as needed)

Any last minute changes to you or your bridesmaids’ dresses should be done at this time.

6. Make a wedding day timeline & give a copy to your wedding party & vendors

If you don’t know where to start, your photographer is a great resources to help you plan the flow of your day and make sure everything goes smoothly.

Need some timeline inspiration? Check out this article here.

If you’re working with a wedding planner, they can take care of this step for you.

7. Finalize all details with your vendors

Touch base with any vendors you haven’t spoken to in a while to make sure they have everything they need.

I like to schedule a short video call during this time to catch up, go over the timeline of the day and get ready to create amazing images together.

8. Decide the receiving line order & head table setting (as needed)

A receiving line is a way for you and your parents to greet your guests and thank them for coming right after your ceremony.

If you’re planning on doing a receiving line, here’s a tip—make sure your parents are standing behind you, rather than in front of you to greet guests.

Parents love to chat, so by positioning them behind you, you’ll be able to make sure the line moves quickly.

9. Contact guests who haven’t replied

Touch base with any of your guests that haven’t responded to your invitation to make sure they’re coming.

10. Pick up the wedding rings

Take your time to try them on and make sure they fit when you pick them up.

11. Create the seating plan (and visit the reception site to see the floor plan, if necessary)

If you have a wedding planner, they’ll most likely take care of this for you.

If you’re planning your wedding yourself, use this time to take a final tour of the venue and map out where your guests will sit.

12. Give musicians a list of your music selections

With a live band, you’ll want to give them your music selections at least a few weeks in advance so they can prepare.

If you have any songs you don’t want played at your wedding, don’t forget to include a “do not play” list.

13. Print out seating cards

Plan to have your seating cards (the cards guests will use to know where they are sitting) ready to go in this time period.

While standard cards always work, I’ve seen all different fun alternatives:

  • seashells
  • tropical leaves
  • miniature clothespins
  • fruit
  • sea glass


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

1 week before your wedding


1. Give the caterer/reception venue a final tally of guests

Pro tip: If you have guests that drop out at the last minute, you can still give their plate to another person. (Perhaps someone on your B list!)

2. Pack for your honeymoon

Going away right after your wedding?

Make sure everything is packed and ready to go so there’s no added stress when you head off on your trip.

3. Wrap reception favors

Make sure your reception favors are packaged and ready to be set up on your wedding day (this is a great time to enlist close friends or family members to help!).


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

The Rehearsal Dinner


1. Drop off all wedding accessories & decor at the ceremony & reception locations

Most venues will allow you to drop off any decorations or items the evening before your wedding (as long as you’re the only wedding they have that day).

This takes a bit of pressure off of you to remember these details the next day.

2. Bring any gifts you’re handing out at the rehearsal dinner

3. Organize final payments into envelopes for the wedding day

Many vendors will require payment in full before the actual wedding date.

For those that do not, make sure you’ve prepared their final payments.

If you have a wedding planner, they can take care of distributing the money for you to your vendors.

4. Pack an overnight bag for the honeymoon suite

5. Send an itinerary to the wedding party

Email or text out the itinerary to the bridesmaids, groomsmen and important family members so they know what time to meet and where.

If even one person is late, it could impact the time you have later to take pictures, so you might want to have them show up a few minutes early, just in case.

6. Make sure the groomsmen have their accessories (if applicable)

Planning on having customized socks, bow ties or suspenders? If you’re doling them out to the groomsmen, make sure you do that now.

7. Review VIP seating with ushers at the ceremony location

Talk to your coordinator to make sure your ushers know where your closest family and friends will be sitting during your ceremony.


The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist:

The Wedding Day


1. Eat breakfast

Don’t forget to eat breakfast and drink water on your wedding day (seriously, it sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens too often)!

You’re going to be very busy, going from here to there (plus, there might be a few nerves), so it’s essential to take some “you time” early in the day to make sure you’re energized and ready to go.

2. Make sure you have the rings

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been to a wedding once where the bride and groom left their rings at home!

Though everything turned out fine (they ended up using the groom’s brother and his wife’s rings for the ceremony. They still laugh about it to this day!), make sure you double-check that you have them before you leave to avoid unnecessary stress.

I often photograph the wedding rings at the beginning of the day when I’m capturing the bride’s details, so make sure your photographer doesn’t need them before you hand them over to the best man and maid of honor for the day.

3. Pack your marriage license and photo permit, if needed

4. Put your engagement ring on your right hand

Do this right before the ceremony, if you’d like, that way the wedding band goes on your left ring finger first, closest to your heart. And the engagement ring can go back on your left hand afterward.

5. Take a deep breath—your wedding day is finally here!

Remember to look around and take in the details of the day you planned so long and hard for.

I can tell you from my experiences of capturing over 100 weddings, the day is going to fly by so fast.

Not everything will go according to plan (it’s inevitable, and it’s ok), but everything ends up working out.

I always try to take a few minutes here and there to remind the couples I work with to breathe and really soak in the magic of the day.

P.S. I hope you enjoyed this wedding planning checklist. Here are more free tips and resources on all things wedding planning, from whether to have a first look to how to create the perfect wedding timeline for you and more.

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Destination Wedding Photographer based in NYC & Southern California