Tips for Planning your Wedding Day Timeline

October 26, 2023

When you start planning your wedding day timeline, it can be hard to know how much time to dedicate for each part of the day. How long will the bridal party photos take? When should we do sunset photos? What if we’re not doing a first look? What time should the photographer arrive for getting ready photos?

It can all get pretty overwhelming, but don’t worry, I’ve been photographing weddings for over 15 years and have compiled some of my best tips to help answer all your questions!

Planning your wedding day timeline, tips compiled by an experienced wedding photographer in Salem, Oregon

Start at the End – The Send Off

First things first, start with the last! Yep, let’s jump to the end of the day and start there. Will you be having some sort of finale to your wedding reception? A sparkler exit or bubble send off? If you’re doing a sparkler exit this generally will happen after it gets dark, or can be be dictated by how late you have your venue. For example, if you know you all need to be out of your venue by 10 pm and you need to give people time to clean up after you’ve left, exiting at 9pm might be just right. Also, don’t wait too long, if you want a lot of your guests to be there when you exit, do it earlier in the evening before people start heading home. Knowing how late you need the photographer to stay can help you figure out how many hours of coverage you’ll need.

Next up, what time is the Ceremony?

Ok, now that we’ve got an end point, let’s find our middle, aka the ceremony start time. There’s a few things to consider when choosing a time to start your wedding ceremony. As a photographer, I think priority number one and something that is often overlooked by couples is the light. If you’re doing an outdoor ceremony, think about where the sun be! If you can visit your ceremony location use an app like Sun Seeker and look around at where the trees are, where will the shadows be. Will one of you be in direct sun and the other hidden in shade? Will you both be squinting and have harsh shadows under your eyes because the sun is directly overhead? And remember the time of year will change the location of the sun. Once you’ve set your ceremony time you can move onto how much time you’ll need to be ready for that ceremony.

a wide photo of an outdoor wedding ceremony in Salem, Oregon

How much time do you need to Get Ready?

This is the most common part of the timeline for things to get behind schedule or to get behind. When planning your wedding day timeline make sure you’re adding in a buffer of time for if people tend to arrive late, for hair and make up to have enough time and for getting dressed. Putting on a wedding dress can often take more time than just slipping into an every day dress. There can be buttons or special undergarments required, securing a veil or bustling the dress. And if you’re getting ready at a different location than the ceremony, don’t forget to calculate in travel time plus loading up the vehicles.

Bride and her Bridesmaids get ready together in matching robes, how much time you need for getting ready will change how you plan your wedding day timeline

Should you do a First Look or Not?

Deciding to see each other before the ceremony or wait to the ceremony can significantly change your timeline. It will also effect the amount of time you as a couple will spend together on your wedding day. If you’d like to see examples of wedding day timelines both with and without a first look, check out this blog post: Free Wedding Day Timeline Examples

Tips for Planning your wedding day timeline such as to do a first look or not, picture here, a groom sees his bride for the first time during their first look

Don’t FOrget Your Bridal Party and Family

Lastly you’ll want to consider how much time you’ll need to take any formal, posed family and bridal party photos. If you have a large bridal party or lots of extended family that you’d like to include, be sure to give this part of the day lots of time, or even break it up doing the bridal party photos before the ceremony and family immediately after. Your photographer should help you compile a list of the family groupings you want to make sure they get. Make sure to include families names to make it easier for your photographer to direct folks in and out of photographs.

Need some examples?

If all this is feeling overwhelming and you’d like to see some examples of wedding day timelines, head over to this blog to see three examples for a 6 hour, 8 hour and 10 hour wedding.

Free Wedding Day Timeline Examples


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