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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re not into spreadsheets, The Knot has a handy wedding budget calculator that does most of the work for you.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Plan any updates or major housework (landscaping the backyard, etc.) well in advance of your wedding date so you can focus your energy elsewhere.
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!
Some wedding venues have their own in-house caterer. If yours does not, this is a great time to start looking for one.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
A few popular spots to register at are:
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.
Chairs, tents, tables, etc. should be officially reserved by this point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
By now you’ll have most of the main wedding details figured out. It’s time to start thinking about accessories!
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).
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.
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)!
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.
Ordering any last-minute wedding decorations now gives you plenty of time, in case you need to make returns or exchanges.
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.
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:
Have fun with it and choose the best fit for the vibe of your wedding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!
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!
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!
Hopefully your invitations are completed and ready to go—now’s the time to send them out.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Separate rehearsal dinner invitations are a nice touch. (If you sent out digital invitations, you can always include this info there.)
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.
Make sure your menu is finalized and that your caterer has given you a timeline for the details of the day.
Check in with your officiant to make sure they have all the necessary details and information to create an amazing ceremony.
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.
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.
Any last minute changes to you or your bridesmaids’ dresses should be done at this time.
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.
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.
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.
Touch base with any of your guests that haven’t responded to your invitation to make sure they’re coming.
Take your time to try them on and make sure they fit when you pick them up.
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.
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.
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:
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!)
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Planning on having customized socks, bow ties or suspenders? If you’re doling them out to the groomsmen, make sure you do that now.
Talk to your coordinator to make sure your ushers know where your closest family and friends will be sitting during your ceremony.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using our cameras, we get to record your love story for you and your family to share with future generations. How cool is that?
As a wedding photographer based in both New York City & San Diego, Tom has captured over 100 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.