15 Helpful Wedding Day Timeline Tips from a Pro Wedding Photographer

January 14, 2019

Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips!

Before you dive head first in to the planning process, I wanted to take a few minutes and share some tips about wedding day timelines with you. You don’t want to get a month out from your wedding and realize you have 40 minutes to take all the pictures you need so I want to get this post in front of you now so it can help you determine your ceremony time, reception time, whether you want to do a first look or not, how much time is needed for pictures, etc.

I hope it will be helpful for you in making big decisions about your wedding day! I’m here to help every step of the way so if you are ready to make a big timing decision (such as when your ceremony will be) and want some input I’m always happy to help!

1. Check the sunset time for your wedding day! Just Google “sunset time, {Wedding City} {Wedding Date}”. (Or you can check out this link) Use this as the center of your timeline, if possible. (I know it’s not always possible for couples getting married in the Catholic church.) If you’re having an outdoor ceremony with a first look, schedule your ceremony start time to be anywhere from 30-60 minutes before sunset time for optimal lighting conditions. This is known as golden hour and your pictures will be dreamy and gorgeous!! If you’re not doing a first look before the ceremony, make sure you give your photographer 1.5 to 2 hours to complete your couples’ portraits, wedding party photos, and family photos before heading to the reception. *THEREFORE, do not schedule your ceremony 30-60 minutes before if you will be doing portraits after, then you’d want to schedule it 2.5-4 hours before sunset, depending on your venue locations and travel time. 

2. If you are doing a first look, it’s a great idea to do ALL your formal pictures before the ceremony begins so you can go and enjoy your cocktail hour! Ideally, 2 hours of picture time is necessary to get all the magical moments and ensure a stress-free portrait time! 2 hours includes your couple’s portraits, family, and wedding party photos TOTAL.  If you have a large bridal party and a large immediate family, allot for about 30 extra minutes.

3. Schedule hair and make-up to start two hours before you think you need to begin, and if you have a large bridal party, make sure you have more than one hair and make-up person. If anyone has thick or long hair, make sure to let your hair and makeup team know well before the wedding day so they can allot enough time for each person. Giving yourself ample time in the morning is ESSENTIAL. Plus, if you’re done early there’s more time for champagne and dance parties, am I right?!

4. Make sure everyone getting their hair and makeup done knows exactly what style / makeup look they want. It’s a timeline killer when half your bridesmaids spend 10-15 minutes searching Pinterest and Instagram before the hair and makeup team can get started on them. 

5. Keep ALL your details in one place in the morning for when I arrive. Generally, this will be your dress, shoes, veil/hairpiece, jewelry, garter, invitations, any special gifts/cards from your fiancé or family, and anything else that has special meaning. It saves a TON of time in the morning if it’s all ready to go to start the detail shots!

6. Keep in mind how much time it takes to travel between all your venues (getting ready, ceremony, reception) and account for this in your timeline and your hourly coverage. You’ll also need to keep in mind that traveling in wedding attire and traveling with an entourage (the wedding party) will take more time than usual. You’ll want to add an additional 10-15 minutes each time you have to get in and out of a vehicle. (I know that seems like a lot of time, but TRUST ME on this!)

7. If you plan on having a party bus or limo for travel, and you plan on bringing a cooler with drinks/snacks, make sure the cooler is stocked and filled with ice BEFORE the day begins. Liquor store and gas station runs will majorly screw your timeline. Assign cooler duty to someone you trust will get the job done correctly. 

8. Give us time to capture the reception details untouched! If your portraits are all happening during the cocktail hour, make sure you give our photo team enough time to go into the reception space before your guests do to capture the details and set up lights. 15 minutes is usually sufficient! This is also where having a second photographer comes in handy! The second photographer will be capturing cocktail hour and reception details while I am photographing portraits. 

9. Make sure your dress and your bridesmaids dresses (and this goes for the guys too!) steam your dresses BEFORE the day of the wedding. Nothing’s worse than trying to steam a dress and panicking the morning of! Often times, steamers will leave water marks on the dress, which can take quite a bit of time to dry. Check out this tutorial for tips on steaming dresses. 

10. Guys: Try on your rental tux at the store, before you leave. If any adjustments have to be made to anything, TRY THE TUX ON AGAIN AFTER THE ALTERATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE. I would say that there’s an issue with someone’s tux probably 95% of the time that tuxes have been rented. Also: BRING BLACK DRESS SOCKS. Those do not come with the tux and shoe rentals. Wedding day Walmart runs for black dress socks will cause a major delay! 

11. Hire a day of wedding coordinator to help keep all vendors on time and ensure the day runs smoothly. They also take care of any and all hiccups that happen such as (but not limited to): bouquet issues, tux rental issues (it happens- a lot!), none of the guys brought black socks, centerpiece malfunctions, getting flats for you to wear because you forgot to bring them and didn’t realize how much heels SUCK, cutting your wedding cake, fixing a broken bustle on your dress, and the list goes on.. and yes, I have had to do all of these things as a PHOTOGRAPHER, and this cut a lot of time into me taking pictures because I was putting out fires. Don’t let this fall onto your wedding party or family members to fix, they’re there to enjoy the day!

12. If your photography and video only cover a set amount of hours make sure all your important reception events fall into the time that they are there. Generally, I am present for the first 2.5 hours of a reception. That is usually more than enough time to cover all of the important events of the reception, as well as to get lots of candid photos of everyone dancing and having fun. 

13. If you hire a videographer, check with them to see how much additional time they will need. Not all videographers are strictly documentary. Some will need additional time to film details, bridal portraits, wedding party, and couple’s shots. It could potentially add an additional an hour or so to the timeline. 

14. Make sure your DJ / MC has all the information they need for the reception entrances. They’ll need the list of names in the order of entrance, as well as how each name is phonetically pronounced. Entrances can be a time suck, usually eating up the first 30 minutes of the reception. And in all honesty, your guests don’t really care about your wedding party’s entrance. They’re ready to eat and party! Opting out of doing a full wedding party entrance means you’ll get to eat sooner, and you’ll have more time to party later on! 

15. Relax. Seriously! At the end of the day, no matter what tiny details go wrong, you are still marrying the love of your life. And in reality, it’s not the wedding that matters, it’s the marriage. Besides, things going wrong makes for the best stories later on! 

And as always, if you have any timeline questions, shoot me an email! I’m always happy to help with timeline management. (It’s definitely one of my wedding photographer superpowers!) 

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