planning a wedding timeline

Table of Contents

tips for creating the perfect wedding timeline

  Having a timeline really gives you an advantage when it comes to your wedding day. Timelines are a great way to have a general idea of what the schedule is and what can be expected when it comes to your big day. Here are 8 tips to crafting the perfect wedding timeline! If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown of specific portions of the wedding day along with the average time they may take then scroll down a bit – I’ve got you covered!

leave yourself plenty of time to get ready

  Getting ready for your wedding day takes longer than you might think. If you hired a hair or makeup artist, factor in time for them to set up and get you and your wedding party all ready to go. Keep in mind that if it isn’t just you getting ready (if you have a wedding party and family hanging out as well) that it’s going to take a lot longer to get ready with all the extra people. You probably want to be completely ready about an hour before your first major event for the day, that could be the ceremony, a first look, photos with your bridal party – whatever that may be: plan to be ready about an hour before to give yourself some wiggle room! 

this isn't a "timeline compliance contest"

  Someone will inevitably be a little too serious about the timeline and that’s okay, we all have those people in our lives that keep us on track! You have the timeline for a reason, but also leave yourself some flexibility because things will run behind and you may find the day to be flying by! Either way, this is your day, not a “timeline compliance test.” Almost always someone will become a little too worried and stressed about keeping you perfectly on track with your timeline. This can add stress to an already overwhelming day. You will most likely know who this person will be prior to the wedding. Do yourself a favor, have a talk with them to tell them you’ve planned for buffers in the schedule already and this day is about you getting married – it’s going to be amazing no matter what!  

make sure everyone has the timeline

  As we talked about, many vendors will require a timeline to know what to expect when it comes to your day. It’s a great way to be more prepared! People that will probably need to know about your timeline are family members, members of your bridal party, and anyone involved in your day (i.e. musicians for your ceremony, your MC, etc.) These are all people that will need to be prepared in one way or another, and a timeline is a great way to do that! 

How do I create a wedding timeline? | What’s a wedding timeline? | Planning a wedding timeline.

add extra time throughout the day

  A general rule of thumb is to always have some buffer. Your wedding is going to be so much fun and there’s going to be a lot going on all at once. It may be a bit overwhelming. It’s always a better idea to give yourself a little extra time rather than not having enough time for everything. This also gives you time for breaks which will be much needed! You may want to go sit on the couch with your partner and not worry about photos or talking with people. This is what a buffer in the schedule is great for. This is your day, give yourself all the time you want and need! 

factor in travel time

  Do you have multiple locations for your wedding day? Make sure to account for whatever Google Maps says the travel time is plus a little bit more. Things happen and you’ll much rather have time being ahead of schedule than behind because of things that we usually forget to account for (loading things into your vehicle or a little bit of traffic). If you have multiple locations where you’re transporting things throughout the day (beer for the reception, change of clothes, vow books, veils, change of shoes) make sure you have everything organized and in a designated spot so someone can easily load them into a vehicle. I recommend having a designated person in charge of certain things so they don’t get forgotten somewhere along the way! 

consider having a first look

  If you are set on not having one, definitely don’t have one! That’s totally fine. That being said, it 100% can help a wedding timeline go much smoother. In my experience, the timelines with a first look go the smoothest. The biggest reason for this is that it allows you to finish your portraits, bridal party photos, and family photos before the ceremony. If you want to read more about the pros and cons of a first look, you can read that here. 

talk with your wedding photographer about your timeline

 I always go through (and am often the one to design) a timeline with my couples. I’m going to be basically everywhere you are, getting beautiful photos of every aspect of your day. It’s in everyone’s best interest that we’re on the same page long before the rings get put on. I love creating timelines for my couples!

don't forget about golden hours

  Sunset is awesome and creates the most beautiful light for photos. You might want to think about sneaking away from your reception for 15 minutes for some killer photos or creating your timeline in a way that you have some buffer time at sunset! If your photographer builds your timeline for you, most likely there will be a time designated for this. When a couple takes the time to do this, they end up with some of the best photos from their day.  

Make sure you can look back on every moment in 20 years.

building a wedding timeline piece by piece

getting ready with your wedding party
(1-5 hours)

  Ok ok, I know that isn’t very helpful but this one is highly variable. Some groups of people are able to get ready in about 30 minutes, some take 90. If you’re planning for hair and makeup as well that’s going to add time depending on A. how many people need hair and makeup done B. How many hair and makeup artists you have. You’re the best judge of how long your friends take to get ready, and beyond that I’d check in with your hair and makeup artist to see what sort of time they’ll need. I’d always add on a little extra buffer to this chunk of the day- you never know what might happen! It’s always better to have too much time rather than too little. 

solo portraits for each partner (15 minutes)

  It’s not a bad idea to block off a little bit of time to get some portraits of just you. You’re looking awesome after all! There’s usually also time for some additional portraits later one when you and your partner are together, so this time doesn’t necessarily need to be

wedding party photos (30 minutes)

  The most difficult part of wedding party photos is making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. If you can communicate to them early and often to be exactly where they need to be this part will be a breeze.

Family Photos (30 minutes)

  This is basically the same advice as the wedding party: make sure they know to be wherever they need to be. You know who the most organized and motivated members of your family are. Consider tasking a couple of them with corralling the larger group leading up to this chunk of the timeline. It’s also important to have a preplanned list to work with. As soon as people start interjecting with their own group ideas, or going off memory things start to fall apart. Having that preconceived list to stick to (at least initially) will help smooth everything along the way.

Couple’s Portraits and First Look (if you’re doing a first look) (45minutes or 60-90minutes if you want multiple locations that aren’t all at the venue or ceremony area)

  The first look aspect of this (if you do one) doesn’t take too long to actually photograph. The longest part is usually just setting up one partner in such a way that the other can get close without being seen. After that things just flow! Couples portraits can really take as long as you’d like. Are they super important to you? Awesome, let’s spend 45 minutes on them. Want to go somewhere else beyond the venue/ceremony area for them? You should add a little bit more time for travel and the time you’ll spend just walking in a new location. Not super interested in couples portraits? That’s also totally fine! This is your wedding – nobody should tell you what you need to do. Want to read more about the pros and cons of a first look? Click here for another post I wrote on that exact topic.

ceremony (20-40 minutes)

  This one varies a bit as well! If you’re having a quick personal ceremony then it’s not uncommon for it to last 15-20 minutes. If you’re getting married in a Catholic church with a full mass then expect around 90 minutes! If you aren’t sure how long this portion will take then you can always run through a practice ceremony out loud prior. Make sure to add some buffer time on the front and back though!

cocktail hour (60-90 minutes)

  It’s usually an hour, but nobody will complain about another 30 minutes of delicious appetizers and drinks. If you’re planning on not doing a first look, then this portion of the day will also be when your couple portraits, family photos, and wedding party photos happen. In that case I’d strongly recommend extending cocktail hour to *at least* 90 minutes. The last thing you want to do after getting married is to rush through as many chaotic photos in as short of an amount of time as possible. Give yourself a little room to breathe!

the reception starts! People get seated
(15 minutes)

When offered limitless cocktail hour food and drinks people tend to take a few minutes to stop what they’re doing and sit down. 

introductions and first dance (15 minutes)

It’s time to make your grand entrance! Have fun! Your wedding party will enter the reception (either together or separately) and then you’ll be introduced. After that you’ll have your first dance! It’s going to be awesome. You’re so freaking married.

speeches (15 minutes)

Fifteen minutes should allow for 2-3 people to give around a five minute speech each! 

parent dances (10 minutes)

  At this point people often share a dance with one of their parents, or another important person in their life. It’s up to you as to whether you want to dance to part of a song, or the whole thing. Either way, let your DJ/Band know exactly what you want. Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing it longer or shorter than you guys would like. I’ve seen people get persuaded into cutting things shorter than they wanted – they ended up regretting that. On the flip side if this doesn’t sound enjoyable to you for any reason feel free to cut it as short as you’d like – or skip it all together. 

first course/main course (30-60 minutes)

  This time chunk is pretty variable as well. Are you having an open buffet? Food trucks? Or are you at a more traditional venue and having a first course salad brought out separately from the main course?

cake cutting! Or something else entirely (10 minutes)

  You can do anything you want with this! You can play a fun song. Your cake might not even be a cake! One couple I worked with had a ceremonial water ice scoping. This is your day, you can do what you want (watch We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus if you need encouragement). Don’t care about anyone watching you, or don’t want to do it at all? Consider doing a private cake cutting – or just don’t do it if you don’t want to. 

at the end of the day. . .

this is your wedding

Hopefully seeing all of these chunks of time laid out is useful! I can’t stress it enough though – if you don’t want to do something . . . *don’t!*
Use this info as a general tool, and in no ways should it be taken as a rule. (I made a rhyme!) Every wedding day is totally different, and every couple has their own unique set of values. That’s why I work with every couple to create their own custom timeline!

Want more help with your timeline? I can help with that!

Hey, I'm Alex

It’s awesome to meet you here on my blog. I’m pumped to have you here, and ready to help you plan your adventurous wedding wherever that takes you. I’m a wedding and elopement photographer based out of Denver, Colorado – but don’t let that stop you from talking to me. If we’re a great fit for each other, I will travel anywhere in the world.