Take Five :: Wedding Day Timeline

Figuring out a great timeline can be one of the most stressful parts of planning your wedding day, especially if you aren’t working with a planner.I’ve been to a lot of weddings (both as a wedding photographer, a guest, and one as a bride), and have decided to share a list of things to keep in mind when planning your wedding day timeline. These are a bit photographer-centric, but I think they translate across the whole day. And remember, if you are wondering how long to allocate for anything photo related, just ask me! I’m happy to help!

One: Venues and Transportation Time

Your choice of venues will have a significant impact on your wedding day timeline. If the getting ready location is 1/2 hour from the ceremony location that is 1/2 hour from the portrait locations that is 1/2 hour from the reception venue, you’ll be spending two hours on the wedding day in transit. That eats up 20% of my most popular 10 hour package, yikes!

In addition to trying to choose ceremony and reception venues that are close to each other, think about where you are getting ready. You’ve probably set up a wedding rate at a nearby hotel. Talk to them about getting day rooms (preferably suites with big windows) for getting ready. Or, think outside the box! Does a good friend or family member live nearby?

Lastly, portrait location. When you are picking your portrait location(s), think about the style of portraits you want (funky urban architecture, nature) and where is the closest/ coolest place you can get that. Talk to me about this, I probably have some ideas for you. You need a lot less of “it” (be “it” buildings or trees or whatever) than you might think! I’ve got a post on portrait locations in the works, as well!

Two: Receiving Lines and Family Photos

If you are planning on having a receiving line, it will take longer than you think. On average, you should allocate just under 10 seconds per guest. If you’ve got lots of guests (200+), your receiving line will take 1/2 hour. An alternative is to circulate at cocktail hour or even to have a receiving line at cocktail hour. If you are going to do the latter, let your guests grab a drink before they stand in the line!

The very best time for family portraits is immediately after the ceremony. People haven’t yet had the chance to wander off (or start drinking) and the big group doesn’t need to travel. The amount of time we will need depends on how big your families are, and how many combinations we have to shoot! On average, if everyone is cooperating, family portraits usually take about 20 minutes. I recommend arranging your family portrait list months before the wedding, and making sure that each person on that list knows where to go (and when) well in advance of the wedding day!

Three: Bridal Portraits Timing

Whether you do your portraits before the wedding (a first look) or after the wedding is a personal decision, these comments will apply equally. I love first looks, and have got a separate post planned for them.

You might be surprised to learn that I only usually spend 20 minutes with my couple and 20 minutes with the bridal party. If you love love love wedding portraits (or if you want lots of pictures with your wedding party), allocate closer to an hour and a quarter. If you love photojournalism (i.e., capturing the day as it happens) or your priority is spending time with friends and family, 40 minutes is more than enough. If you don’t have a wedding party (or just have one attendant each) we’ll need less than 1/2 hour! Remember, these times are exclusive of travel time.

Four: Think About Your Guests

It is your wedding day, but you are also hosting the people who are the most important in the world to you! Guests love venues that are close together and a day that flows naturally without any breaks. The high watermark of wedding day timeline – for a guest – is: ceremony at 5:00pm, cocktails at 5:30 (while family portraits are taking place), dinner at 7:00. The only way to execute this perfectly is by doing a first look (I love them!), but your guests will think you are rock stars! Again, that’s the high watermark. But keeping your guests in mind (and remembering all those times you’ve been a guest) will help you plan an efficient timeline.

Five: First Dance / Cake Before Dinner

If you want to save some money on your photographer and don’t feel like you need professional coverage of the party or the speeches, I recommend doing your first dance and cutting your cake (if you have one) before dinner. You can save at least a couple of hours of photography – and you can save on the cost of feeding two extra people. That being said, you won’t have professional coverage of the dancing, which is a great way to finish telling the story in your album.

Also – if there are windows in your venue, the light can be amazing!


I hope you found this post helpful! Please let me know if you have any burning questions or ideas for future blog posts!

5 comments on “Take Five :: Wedding Day Timeline”

  1. Heather says:

    Great things to think about — looking forward to discussing them in the months to come! And the future posts sound very helpful. Heaps to think about and glad to have your tips!

    1. Allison says:

      So happy that you’re finding these posts helpful! I feel like I’m just bursting at the seams with all this info, and I’m finding it super fun to share it!

  2. Morgan says:

    Great post! ~ very accurate advice! ;)

  3. Kate says:

    These posts are awesome Allison! Thanks for such helpful advice; even having a rough idea of how much time things will take makes the planning easier. :)

    1. Allison says:

      I’m super happy you found this useful, Kate! Let me know if you have any questions for me as we get closer to your wedding day!

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