Planning the Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

How to organize an experience-focused day that lends itself to the most authentic photos


Your wedding is one of the most spectacular and treasured days for you, your soon-to-be spouse, & your families! It’s a day that you’ll want to capture every moment of — from getting ready with your bridal party, to saying “I do,” and finally, to dancing the night away. But with so many moving parts, it can be challenging to plan a wedding timeline that allows for real moments to be captured naturally. One of the best things I can do for you as your photographer (besides creating beautiful imagery for you to hold onto forever, obv) is to make sure you truly enjoy your special day. I’ll be sharing loads of tips on how to create a wedding timeline that prioritizes experiencing and cherishing the meaning behind the moments, so you can relax + have fun!

I work with couples around 4 months before the day to create a custom schedule that’s tailored to what’s most important to them. This gives you plenty of time to share your plan and communicate with vendors, your bridal party, and anyone else who needs to know when + where to be! We meet over a video chat or coffee date, & begin by drafting an outline of the main events like the ceremony & reception start times. Then, we move outwards from there & fill in the details as we go! I typically make timelines for days that have between 7 to 10 hours of photography coverage, & I recommend opting for more if you’ll be driving around to multiple locations or don’t plan on doing a first look (more on that in a bit). Let’s dive in to the different parts of the day & my expert tips on how to maximize your time, as well as preparing for and removing any unexpected delays or stressors throughout the wedding!

Jump to:

Getting Ready

The morning of your wedding day is filled with excitement and anticipation, and it’s a beautiful time to capture genuine emotions with your favorite people. Savor the champagne, the laughter with your bridesmaids as you get your hair and makeup done, and don’t rush through this time. While this is my favorite part of the day to document, it also happens to be the #1 thing that runs behind schedule. It’s important to plan ahead so that you have plenty of time to chill (the day really does goes by so fast, these morning moments are the last chance you might have to hit pause and just take it all in!!)

  • Talk with your hair & makeup artist about the order of prep. Could you get yourself all done up second to last in line, instead of waiting for the rest of the group to finish up? If one or two hairstyles take a few extra minutes, that could push you back a little too close to when you need to start getting dressed for first look. I recommend having that extra buffer so you’re not worried about it (and have some extra time to grab a snack, of course)!
  • Gather all of your details together ahead of time. I’ll share a checklist with items to include, such as your invitation suite, sentimental keepsakes, and extra floral pieces. Place them in a box or bag so they’re ready to go, & give it about 30 minutes to an hour for those creative, jaw-on-the-floor detail shots!
  • Ask someone to tidy up the room a bit before the photographer arrives so that there is less clutter (food, water bottles, bags, hangers, etc.) in the background of your bridal portraits. Photoshop can only save so much, and this is an easy way to make getting in your dress a smoother transition + keep the focus on you! Make sure to keep the area near the windows especially clear, since that’s where we’ll be set up to get the most natural light.

First Look

It’s probably crossed your mind once or twice; “is a first look right for us?” — well, you’ve come to the right place for advice! Here’s how it affects your timeline:

  • With a first look, you & your fiancé get more time alone together on your day. Weddings are a whirlwind, so a quiet moment to connect with each other is invaluable! I’ll get you set up in the best spot with the best lighting, & step back to let you guys feel all the feels with no intervention or posing from me. It’s also the perfect opportunity to share your personal vows if you want to keep those private as well! The biggest advantage a first look brings to your timeline is the chance to capture all of your formal photos before the ceremony. Your bridal party, family, & couple’s portraits take about 30 minutes each, therefore…
  • Without a first look, you would need to stay after the ceremony & spend a portion of your cocktail hour taking these posed group photos. Which is totally fine, as long as you plan to have a longer cocktail hour – you will likely still be able to enjoy the last bit of it before it’s time for your reception entrance. We’ll plan for sunset or flash portraits later in the evening to create another opportunity for photos of you two in newlywed bliss.

Additionally, if your wedding is in the winter, then sunset will land sometime around 4 to 5 pm. In this case, a first look (or earlier ceremony time) would be the only way to capture those must-have photos before it gets dark outside!


One essential part of the timeline is a short buffer, or break, between group portraits & the start of your ceremony — I include this in every couple’s wedding day schedule because it’s so beneficial to have that chance to breathe and relax beforehand (not to mention, give you peace of mind in case the first half of the day is running behind)! While guests are filtering in and finding their seats, usually starting about half an hour before the ceremony begins, the bridal party will hide away & get set up in the order they’ll be walking down the aisle. I won’t go into specifics on the flow of a ceremony since each couple has unique backgrounds & traditions, but the most important thing is to make sure everyone has prepared + practiced ahead of time! There are a few more things you can do to ensure a smooth transition into & out of your ceremony…

  • Consider what time the sun will set. If your wedding takes place during the winter months, it could get dark as early as 5 pm — & while flash works great for the reception, I avoid using it at ceremonies since it can be very distracting for you & your guests. For this reason, make sure it’ll still be light out for the entirety of your ceremony (and for some time after if you: (a.) chose not to do a first look & still have more portraits needing to be taken, or (b.) have extended family photos planned during your cocktail hour).
  • Have a game plan for your exit. You’ve just shared your first kiss & are excitedly coming back down the aisle, hand in hand, with the biggest smiles on your faces (pro tip: stop halfway for a dip + kiss moment)! The question is, where are you off to now? Will you greet your guests by way of a receiving line that leads them into cocktail hour, or maybe tuck away to a room where you’ll have a second to yourselves before your bridal party meets you for congratulatory hugs? You might also want to come back around to the altar and dismiss your guests by rows, then have them wait outside of the ceremony venue for a fun exit (tossing petals or confetti, waving ribbon wands, etc.)!
  • Allow time for a room flip. If your reception will be taking place in the same room, the ceremony space might need to be converted into additional dinner seating. In this case, the venue will need a chance to reorganize the chairs & tables – so for the staff to get started on that as soon as possible, you’ll want to skip a lengthy receiving line & guide your guests to cocktail hour right away! Also note that you’d want to have an alternative location in mind for extended family portraits.

Cocktail Hour

Let the night begin! Cocktail hour ranges anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes; you might want to keep the party moving & get dinner started promptly, or extend it a bit if you need that extra time for portraits after the ceremony.

This part of the day is one of the best opportunities for candid photos! You’ll find me bouncing between people signing your guestbook, playing backyard games, hanging around the bar area with your signature drinks in hand, & following you around as you mingle with neighbors / cousins / long-distance friends / anyone that makes your eyes light up when you see them come up to you. I really don’t stick to any “rules” at cocktail hour — I just go with the flow and am always close to where the action is! I mostly want you guys to enjoy it + take as much time as you need to relax before we get into the rest of the evening’s events.


The celebration is expected to be in full swing by the time your reception rolls around — & if it’s one thing you take away from this section, let it be that your entertainment can make or break the vibes of your evening. It sounds dramatic but it’s true; you need to keep the energy high and fill the empty space from dinner to dancing without making your night feel rushed. The goal is to let the events unfold organically but still have some structure so that you know what’s coming next and your guests aren’t waiting with nothing to do (they’re ready to get up and have a good time!!). Wondering how to pull that off? Take it from me:

  • Make a statement with your entrance. When you + your bridal party walk through those reception doors, you want to bring excitement & build the hype for what’s to come! Add another special element to those first few minutes, like a welcome speech or cake cutting. Having something to do immediately after your entrance keeps people interested & occupied while the caterer puts the final touches on dinner!
  • Keep the toasts short. My general rule of thumb is 4 speeches max at 5 minutes each. Try to get these going halfway through dinner while the last few tables are getting their plates. Remember, you want it simple & sweet so we can get to the other fun stuff!
  • Hire a reliable DJ or band. There are a lot of factors involved with how things move from one activity to the next through your reception — who is going to introduce you for your first dance, host games, announce that dinner is being served, & know how to read the crowd? A confident DJ is the key to a full + well-timed dance floor. My recommendation is to sneak out for sunset portraits at the very end of dinner, then do a dress change or take a minute to freshen up before coming back to the dance floor for your specialty dances. This way, you won’t miss out on the moment the dance floor opens (aka, when the best songs are played & you’re likely to get the most people up there). The first 15 minutes of dancing also happen to be the best chance for epic flash photos, so I want to see you on the floor with all your guests & make sure we capture the peak of the party before your coverage ends!

Final Thoughts

Every wedding is completely unique & no two days look alike, so your timeline should cater to your priorities! To recap, it’s all about communicating with everyone involved (vendors, bridal party, family) — so that they know when & where to be. Hire a photographer, coordinator, & DJ that you fully trust, as they will be the ones focused on keeping things moving with a positive attitude & high energy. Give yourself some gaps in the timeline to fall back on in case things run behind (that way, you won’t stress if they do because we already planned for that)! Finally, remember to be PRESENT and HAPPY; you’re getting married!!!

Sample Timeline

7 hour day (with a first look)

  • 1:00 PM | Getting ready + bridal details
  • 1:45 PM | Groom’s prep & details
  • 2:00 PM | Bride gets dressed + first look with parent(s) or bridesmaids
  • 2:30 PM | Bride + groom first look & portraits
  • 3:00 PM | Bridal party photos
  • 3:30 PM | Formal family photos
  • 4:00 PM | Buffer
  • 4:30 PM | Ceremony begins
  • 5:00 PM | Extended family photos
  • 5:15 PM | Cocktail hour
  • 5:40 PM | Photograph reception area + details
  • 6:00 PM | Guests find their seat
  • 6:05 PM | Grand entrance + welcome speech
  • 6:15 PM | Dinner is served
  • 6:40 PM | Toasts
  • 7:00 PM | Cake cutting
  • 7:10 PM | Sunset photos
  • 7:30 PM | First dance + special dances
  • 7:45 PM | Open dance floor
  • 8:00 PM | Coverage ends

I offer additional coverage by the hour so that my couples can create a wedding photography package tailored to them. Send me an inquiry & we’ll set up a consult call to talk more about your day + how we’ll capture all the once-in-a-lifetime moments!