After helping dozens of couples with their wedding day timelines, I figured it's time to write out all of the tips into a blog post. These are only guidelines - I’ve simply found that this is what works for many couples, and might work for you as well. Every wedding is different, so take what you will and customize it as much as you'd like.
There are typically two main types of wedding day timelines. Here’s a rough outline of how the big events pan out for each of them:
1) Traditional Timeline (this is when there isn't a first look)
Ceremony -> family photos -> wedding party photos -> couple photos -> reception
2) First Look Timeline (this is when there is a first look)
First look -> couple photos -> wedding party photos -> ceremony -> family photos -> reception
While there are other layouts for wedding days (i.e. morning weddings), I’m going to focus on these two types, as they’re the most popular. The central thing that makes these two timelines different is whether you do a first look or not. A first look is when you decide to see and hangout with each other before walking down the aisle. Here are the pros and cons to doing a first look, so you can decide whether or not you should do one.
1. First looks break "tradition". Seeing each other before walking down the aisle is something that’s only recently become popular. S lot of people dream of their wedding day since they’re super young and a part of that dream might be seeing their wife/hubby-to-be for the first time while walking down the aisle. If seeing each other at the altar for the first time is super important to you, then a first look isn’t for you.
3. Your guests aren’t a part of the special moment. Having a first look means your guests won’t get to watch you see each other for the first time. This is a super special moment filled with such anticipation, and it can be a joy to share it with your family & friends.
1. The privacy. Rather than having many eyes stare at you as you walk down the aisle, doing a first look means it’ll just be the two of you when you see each other for the first time.
2. Having a first look means you get to spend more time with your guests, since it means you get to take the majority of your photos before the ceremony.
3. Your guests won’t get bored waiting around, while you are away taking photos. By having a first look, you can get your photos out of the way before your ceremony, meaning there won’t be as long of a gap between ceremony and reception.
Anytime between 2-4pm is a typical ceremony start time. If you’re having an outdoor wedding, lighting is typically the worst from 11:00am until 2:00pm, so avoid having your outdoor ceremony during this time. Having your ceremony start after this time will help avoid harsh shadows on your faces, since this is when the sun is directly above you.
Family Photos - No matter which timeline you go with, plan for your family photos to be right after your ceremony. This is when everyone will be in one place at the same time, which means less time will be spent chasing family members. To stay organized and efficient, I’ll have you fill out a family photos list one month before your wedding, so that we’ll know the exact combinations you'd like of family members for these photos beforehand.
Wedding Party Photos - If you’re following the Traditional Timeline, plan your wedding party photos for right after your family photos. If you’re following the First Look Timeline, have them right after your couple photos.
Couple Photos - If you’re following the Traditional Timeline, plan for your couple photos to be right after your wedding party photos. If you’re following the First Look Timeline, have them right after your first look.
Once you calculate the amount of time it’ll take for photos, you’ll have a good idea for when your reception can be. I suggest somewhere from 5:30-6:30pm.
Look at the sample timelines for an idea of what couples typically do for the order of events at their reception. But I encourage you to switch it up and make it unique to you.
You’ll want to work backwards from the ceremony time to setup your morning. For instance, say you’re following the First Look Timeline and decide to have your ceremony at 4pm. Since you want to arrive at the location at 4pm, plan to leave at 3:30pm, meaning you’ll begin your wedding party photos at 2:30pm, meaning you’ll have your first look at 2pm, and so on. Plan backwards to account for all the time you’ll need for each event.
Start at the beginning of your day and check for mistakes in time calculations, things you may have forgotten about, etc. Run through the day in your mind and make sure it all makes sense logistically. Send a copy of your timeline to your wedding planner and photographer to see if they have any further suggestions to make it even better. And voila - you’ll be done!!
PENCIL IN LOADS OF BUFFER TIME
As you plan your timeline, intentionally schedule in tons of buffer time. Things are bound to run late no matter what you do, so add ~10 minutes for each part of your timeline so that your day will go much smoother. You’ll feel much less rushed, meaning you’ll be less stressed! Which is huge.
PLAN OUT TRAVEL TIME BEFOREHAND
Be super intentional about calculating travel time beforehand. If you’re unable to physically practice driving from location to location, hop on Google and calculate the time it’ll take to and from each location. Then, add on 10 extra minutes for each, since you’ll likely get stuck in traffic, take a few wrong turns, find parking, etc. It’s always better to overestimate than underestimate the amount of time things will take.
There you go! If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email and I'm happy to help you with your timeline.