How to design your wedding day Timeline

The more time you have, the less you will stress out, the more relaxed you will be, the better you will enjoy your day, and the better the pictures will be!
As a wedding photographer, I have been to more than 300 weddings. Each wedding (and schedule) is different from the others, but there are some common patterns. It may not be the perfect fit for your wedding, but it should be a great tool to help you design the perfect timeline.
Also, when I help the bride and the groom setup the perfect timeline, I have noticed that some questions come up all the time. What time should the photographer start taking pictures?
How much time before the ceremony the bride should be ready?
I have compiled here a list of common questions you may face and also of some popular misconceptions that surround some moments during the wedding. Let’s dig into that and try to differentiate the true from the false.

Stress-Free Schedule

First, there is no secret, you cannot extend the time. Well, I know it is technically possible under certain circumstances (you would have to fly in the board of a spaceship and accelerate to the speed of light, and that would require too many years). All joking aside, it’s better for your wedding to design a good timeline.
Second, every wedding runs a bit late, so you should plan for buffer time.
If you start running late on your wedding day, probably you will cut some of the photography’s time, and we don’t want that.
So, I will help you create a timeline including all unexpected events, and enough buffer time between each event. As a result, you won’t stress on your wedding day (hopefully).

Common pitfall: pack too much in a too short timeline

Your photography package offers you a number of hours. Of course, you will try to fit every picture you want in your timeline. If you try to compress too many things in a too short period of time, you will be exposed to a high risk of running all day long. No need to say, you will not enjoy your wedding day this way. Scheduling too many things in a small-time window would be a bad idea. In photography, I want to create amazing pictures you will be proud off. For that to happen, I need time! Like every creative field, and especially for creative photographs, time is required.
That is also the reason why I have designed my photography package to offer you a LOT of hours for your wedding day (and this, starting from my smaller package, so you don’t have to run).
On your wedding day, I am there for you, to complete a good job.
Also, when creating your wedding timeline, if you realize you will run out of time, remember you can still upgrade to a bigger package, or add some additional hours.

Bricks to design your wedding timeline

Here is a list of the popular moments of the day, and the time you will need. It may seem long on the paper, but actually it is not. Your wedding day will fly by, and you won’t even notice it. If you plan too much time, the worst that can happen is that you have too many photos, and you enjoy too much time with your friends and family. So, not a big deal!

Details of your wedding attire

What: the gown, earrings, wedding and engagement rings, shoes, necklace, garter, bouquet, save the date and other stationnary.
Where: in the venue, hotel room, in the garden.
How long: 30 (inside)-50 minutes (if there is a nice venue to use)

The photographer usually starts with the detail pictures while the bride has her hair done. The detail pictures can take time, especially for creative pictures that involve camera flashes. That’s why 30-45 min is great. Furthermore, for any unfortunate circumstance your photographer is late, the detail pictures are maybe the less important ones and that would not impact on the rest of your wedding day. Usually, pictures will be taken inside the getting-ready room, but for some pictures, it can be worth going outside (taking advantage of the venue, of the hotel lobby, or of a sunny day). Also, sometimes, the getting-ready room is crowded and the photographer takes the entire bride’s attire somewhere else. For great detail pictures, the natural light is mandatory. Make sure you have already all your attire unpacked and ready for the pictures.
You may also want a picture with the stationary, with something old, something blue or else.

Bride Getting ready

Who: bride, bridesmaid and relatives
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue or at your home
How long: 2-4 hours

The best place to be prepared is a spacious room, with bright walls and many windows. The time to get ready varies regarding the number of women who need to have hair and makeup done, but also on the number of makeup artists and hair stylists you have. If you have a large bridal party, it’s better you hire several makeup artists and hair stylists. Indeed, it will not only reduce the average getting-ready time, but also it will avoid any butterfly effect, on all the timeline. For instance, a situation where the professional will be stuck with one bridesmaid (if something is not working as wished), and all the other bridesmaids would be delayed.

Makeup for the bride usually takes 30-90 min and 30-45 min for the bridesmaid. Hair takes around 45-90 min for the bride and 30-45 min for bridesmaids. Don’t be surprised if the hair and makeup take slightly more time on your wedding day than during the test. Indeed, the makeup artist and hairstylist will work harder to make sure you are gorgeous. And like every artist looking for perfection, they may use more time. That’s normal, don’t blame them. Just know that it’s pretty usual, and that hair and makeup artists also have difficulty to give you a right estimation for a huge bridal party, simply because each lady requires different needs.
Finally, the bride should start to have her hair done first, even before the makeup, for three reasons:
1. when the photographer is done with the detail pictures he will start taking pictures of the bride, and a bride with her hair done (or almost) is better for the pictures. And he can also take pictures during the bride’s makeup session;
2. you can easily ruin a makeup while doing the hair, but the opposite is not true (you won’t ruin the hair by doing the makeup);
3. the makeup is supposed to enhance your natural beauty, playing with volume and curves, and should integrate the hairstyle.

Other micro events during the getting ready.

  • The bride opens the bottle of champagne.
  • The bride reveals her dress to her bridesmaids.
  • The bride offers gifts.
  • The bride discovers the bouquet.
  • The bride reads the groom’s letter, and receives his gift.
  • The dressing of the gown itself could take from 5 min to 15 min for a dress with lace on the back, or buttons. You photographer comes as soon as you let him enter. For your reminder, he is French and he is used to work in the fashion industry, so don’t be afraid to shock him, you won’t.

Bride individual pictures

Who: bride
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue or at your home
How long: 5-10 min

When you discover your partner, you will probably want to have his hands around you constantly. So this 5-10 min is a great opportunity to catch a great picture of the bride alone.
In a hotel, we will choose a nice room with a large window.

First looks with parents

Who: the father of the bride and the bride
Where: anywhere with nice light.
How long: 10 min.

It’s usually the first look with the father and the bride, but it could be done with the groom and his mother too.
I recommend a shaded place, or an inside location, with a soft and natural light. It could be the time the father picks to offer the bride a gift (like a necklace, a bracelet, or a pendant).
Grand-parents and other family members can be included. It’s usually a strong emotional moment.

Groom Getting ready

Who: Groom, Groomsmen and close family
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue or at your home
How long: 45min – 1h Depending

The groom pictures can take place after all the girls are set, or during the bridesmaid getting-ready if it’s a large bridal party. One hour may seem long, but, actually, it is not when you take in consideration the detail photos. All the details will be taken first: suits, collared shirt, tie or bootie, tie clip, boutonniere, socks, rings, watch. Make sure to unpack everything before the photographer comes.
The photographer usually starts taking pictures after the groom takes his shower, and has his pants on him. The shaving moment could also be a funny moment for pictures.
It’s great if the best man or other relatives help the groom to get dressed.
During the preparation, the groom and his groomsmen can share a glass of champagne or whisky to celebrate the day. The groom can also offer gifts to his groomsmen, and receive gifts/letter from the bride.

Pictures of Bride and Bridesmaids, and Groom and Groomsmen

Who: Brides and bridesmaids, groom and groomsmen
Where: at the hotel, the venue or at home
How long: 20-30 min each

A great way to save some time, it’s to do the bride and bridesmaid pictures before the groom and groomsmen ones and the ceremony.
Depending on your getting-ready location, you can decide to do them in the continuity of the getting-ready. But we will need to wait for all the girls to be ready in order to take the pictures. So it can be done after the bride and bridesmaid pictures and the groom’s getting-ready (or the opposite).
An ideal place to take those pictures is an indoor space with a nice backdrop offering a seating option, such as a hotel’s lobby with luxurious chairs and table to play with. Outside shaded location works too, when you bring chairs/small stools/boxes to seat on and compose the pictures.

Groom individual pictures

Who: groom
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue or at your home
How long: 5-10 min

Same idea as for the bride’s pictures: a large window.

First looks with the bride and groom

Who: the two lovers
Where: anywhere with nice light
How long: 10 min

If you plan on a first look before the ceremony (I will discuss this subject in details later), plan 10 min for it. I would recommend keeping it private, so you can have a romantic moment together. It’s always an emotional moment. Most of the time, the bride and the groom haven’t seen each other since the groom’s dinner the day before. Pick a place in the shade, large enough so the photographer can turn around you and catch both bride’s and groom’s emotions. Sometimes, the groom uses this as an opportunity to offer the bride her bouquet. It’s also a chance to offer each other a letter and or a gift.

Bride and groom photo session

Who: The two lovers
How long: 1 hour – 1h30 (or more)
Where: hotel, venue, park

Bride and groom’s photo session requires at least 1 hour. It’s the time for you to relax in front of the camera and to create pictures on which you look natural. You can decide on several locations (inside and outside). You can also plan some backup options in case of rain. Doing the photo session before the ceremony will avoid to leave your guests during the cocktail.
In addition to this session, you should also schedule a sunset session and a night getaway.

Bridal Party Pictures

Who: the entire bridal party and the lovers (ushers and personal attendants are welcome)
Where: anywhere with a seating option
How long: 20-30 min

This session is the opportunity to create a living painting. We can make formal pictures, and funnier pictures, using props (glass of whisky, sun glasses, toys, whatever). We can also stage funny situations.
For the Bridal Party Pictures, I ask for a place offering a nice background, and several seating options. To compose a dynamic picture it’s better if there are small chairs, high chairs, stools, etc.
An outside shaded location can work, too.

Relaxing time before ceremony

Who: everyone
Where: at the ceremony location
How long: 20 min to 1 hour

You need to be at your ceremony location at least 20 min prior to your ceremony. You will hide from your guests, and adjust the last touch of your makeup. You will also discuss the last details with your officiant.
It’s also a time you can enjoy a prayer, or simply being alone or relaxing with the bridal party. This time is also a buffer time that will help adjust any unexpected delay.

Wedding Ceremony

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue or the church
How long: 20 min to 1 hour

Depending on your culture and tradition, your ceremony will last around 20 min to one hour. Sometimes, it can last even more for Catholic ceremonies including communion. If you plan for an outside ceremony, pick a place in the shades, or try to have the sun in front of your guests, or on their back, but not coming from the side.
If you decide on one friend as your officiant, make sure the ceremony is not less than 15 min.

Family Pictures

Who: family
Where: anywhere with a seating option
How long: 3 min to 5 min per group.

The family photo time depends, of course, of your family, the number of pictures and the combinations you want. I usually ask for 3 min for small groups and 5 min for groups bigger than 8 people.
To make sure you don’t forget any picture, write down a list and give it to your personal attendant or relative.
Family pictures can be taken before the ceremony. That’s said for a large family I would recommend after the ceremony (read below why).

Cocktail hour

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: 1-2 hours

The cocktail hour is the time your photographer will take lots of candid shots of your guests. It’s also the time you can have a portrait taken with some of your guests, and your guests can ask for having their portrait taken. It’s especially worth it when a spread family is gathered for your wedding. Regarding the sunset time, it could also be the time you enjoy some sunset pictures.
In some cases, the bride and the groom like to escape in bars downtown with their bridal party, to have crazy moments, before joining their guests for the dinner.

Decoration details

Who: photographer
Where: at the diner room
How long: 10 min

These are the pictures of the venue. Details of the table’s center piece, candles lighted up, all the decoration you have carefully selected. Your photographer usually escapes during the cocktail hour to take a snapshot of the diner room ready.

Venue first look

Who: bride and groom
Where: at the venue
How long: 5 min

When you design an event at every single detail during several months, it could be pretty rewarding to enjoy discovering it finalized. Also, before all the guests enter the diner room, the bride and the groom (and the wedding planner), will enter first to have first look.

Diner

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: 1-2 hours

The length of the dinner varies regarding your venue and caterer (if you have a buffet, or many dishes). Toasts can also add time to the diner.
Your photographer may kidnap you for a few sunset pictures or night pictures during the diner.
You may want to get from table to table to take a picture with your guests. The diner ends with the cake cutting or the first dance.

The party

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: until the middle of the night

You photographer recommends to stay at least 30 min after the first dance in order to have pictures of your friends dancing. Also if you are planning a grand exit, and any special event such as bouquet toss (or Garter toss), a special dance, you may want your photographer to catch this moment.

Late night last pictures

Who: Bride and groom
Where: at the venue
How long: 20 min

I like to set up some artistic pictures during the party. It’s usually the pictures that close your book. Depending on your venue, you may have several of those!

Some Up of the Bricks

Now you have all the bricks to build your perfect time line. So to sum up (and add a few extra ones).

  • Details (Dress, Jewels, etc.): 20-40 min
  • Makeup and hair: 2-3 hours for the, more for the bridal party (45-90 for hair and 30-90min for makeup)
  • Reveal the Dress with bridesmaids: 5-10 min
  • Champagne toast: 5-10 min
  • Gown Dressing: 10-20 min
  • Individual photo shoot of the bride: 5-10 min
  • Pictures with the bridesmaids and individual shoots: 20-30 min
  • First look with the parents: 10 min
  • Getting ready for the groom (including details): 45-60 min
  • Individual photo shoot of the groom: 5-10 min
  • Pictures with the groomsmen and individuals: 20-30 min
  • First look bride and groom: 10 min
  • Bridal Party: 20-30 min
  • Bride and groom session: 1 hour or more if you want to go on several locations.
  • Relax time before the ceremony: 30 min to 1 hour
  • Ceremony: 30-60 min
  • Family (depending on how many people): 20-50 min (3 min for small groups, 5 min for groups with more than 8 people)
  • Cocktail hour: 1-2 hours
  • Details of the venue: 10 min
  • Venue first look (discovery of the venue’s dinner room before the guests enter): 5 min
  • Sneak away for sunset pictures: 20 min
  • Escape for night pictures: 20-30 min
  • Cigar & whisky time pictures: 15 min
  • Diner and Party: totally up to you!

Typical wedding schedule

This is an example of a typical relaxed wedding day where everything happens at the same location

  • 9:15 Bride Starts Hair and Photographer starts Detail Pictures
  • 10:00 Bride Starts Makeup
  • 10:50 Groom getting ready
  • 11:40 Individual shoot of the groom
  • 11:50 Groom and groomsmen
  • 12:15 Bride dressing
  • 12:30 Bride and Bridesmaids
  • 12:50 Individual shoot of the bride
  • 1:05 First look with father of the bride
  • 1:15 First look followed with bride and groom pictures
  • 2:40 Bridal Party Pictures
  • 3:00 Relax time
  • 3:45 Ceremony Starts
  • 4:20 End of the ceremony
  • 4:30 Cocktail starting and family pictures
  • 5:00 Family pictures done
  • 6:30 Details of the reception room
  • 6:50 First look of the reception room
  • 7:00 Doors open, starting
  • 7:10 Grand Entrance
  • 7:20 Blessings and Toasts
  • 7:50 Escape for Sunset pictures (depending on the sunset time)
  • 8:15 Cake cutting
  • 8: 30 Escape for Sunset pictures (depending on the sunset time)
  • 9:00 Bouquet & Garter Toss
  • 9:10 First Dance
  • 10:00 Escape for night picture
  • 11:00 Grand exit

Buffer time is the secret:

The real secret is every wedding turns late at one point. So, when you are planning your schedule, add 5 min in between each element.
Also, don’t forget the time to pack up all the stuff.
If you need to drive somewhere, look at the time recommended by Google, and multiply it by two to make sure.

Find some examples of timeline on our website.

How to estimate what time I should start getting ready?

To estimate when you should start getting ready, I would recommend you to make a list of all moments of your wedding day. Then, help yourself with what’s explained above and define the required time. Add numbers (don’t forget the buffer time), and discover when you should start to get ready.
Another method that I don’t really recommend is to take the last moment you want your photographer to take pictures of, and deduct your photography coverage time (10 hours or longer). You will discover then the time your photographer can start taking pictures. To be sure it matches with what you expect make time estimation for each moment you want, add the numbers. If you have 30 min left then you are all good! If you don’t have 30 min left, then you probably need to add an extra hour.

Should I do a first look? Should we do the bride and groom pictures before the ceremony?

Doing the first look prior to the ceremony offers the couple an intimate moment together before the ceremony. It’s a moment to share together, it’s your moment. Some people are shy, and don’t especially want to share this with 300 pairs of eyes staring at them.
Also, a common misconception is that some people are afraid of the first look because they think that afterwards walking down the aisle would be fade and insipid. It’s just not true. Even if you had a first look, when you walk down the aisle, this will still be a strong and emotional moment. These are two different things. I have seen many grooms (and brides) in tears during the walking down the aisle moment, even if they had done a first look before. After their wedding, they shared with me how both moments are strong. To discover your beloved one wearing his suite/her dress, and realizing you are getting married for real (when the bride walks down the aisle) are two complimentary emotions. So, if you decide on a first look, be reassured you won’t miss anything.
At a timeline perspective, the first look allows the bride, the groom and the bridal party to do some pictures before the ceremony. And this is extremely convenient! That means you won’t need to leave you guests, and so you will have more time to enjoy them during the cocktail hour.
That been said, this choice is totally up to you. There is a romantic and symbolic aspect in the tradition of discovering each other at the church, which I totally understand and totally respect. Your wedding is yours, and you decide on what is important for you first.

How long before the ceremony should the bride be ready?

The bride should be completely ready to get married at least 30 min prior to the ceremony if there is nothing planned in between (no pictures and no travel required, you get ready at the venue). In such a situation, 1 hour is even more secured.

Should you do the family photos before or after the ceremony?

What you should understand about family photos is that it takes time because of the human factor. Indeed, what’s time consuming is to gather all people. There is always someone late, or someone missing for any reason. They are not ready, they don’t have their bouquet, they don’t find the location, they don’t find a parking slot, the kids are dirty and need to be changed, they need to go to the bathroom, they are watching the football game outside, etc. The major issue with a large family is managing to gather them.
That’s why I usually recommend doing the family pictures after the ceremony. Indeed, even if some people are late and miss the beginning of your ceremony, it’s very unlikely that they will miss your entire ceremony. So, let them know that just after the ceremony they should not leave anywhere, and that we will do the family pictures.

I strongly recommend that you write down a list of all the pictures you want. You don’t give the list to your photographer (because he doesn’t know who is who, and won’t be able to discipline everyone), but you give it to someone with a lot of energy and a powerful voice. Name each person clearly (or each family), so there is no ambiguity if they should stay or not. For instance “close family” doesn’t mean anything. Are your uncles in this circle? Are their girlfriends and children included? What about their parents-in-law? Therefore, be precise.

Should we take small group family pictures before the ceremony, with only one family at a time?

For instance, the bride plus the bride’s family first followed by the groom plus the groom’s family.
Honestly, making each side’s family sessions before the ceremony and another session with the bride and the groom together after the ceremony won’t help you saving time. It is natural that if it’s your close family (parents, grandparents, brother, sister), you will wish pictures with and without your husband/wife. So if you do only one family session after the ceremony and ask him/her to step aside for one picture, it will take only 20 sec.
Again, what takes time is to gather everyone for one picture and to stage each person. So if we have family sessions before and after the ceremony, it may be even more confusing for them. Some may be thinking they are all good with the first small family photo, and go enjoy the cocktail while you will wait for them for the second large family session after the ceremony.

How to save time during your wedding day

To save time during the preparation:

First, unpack everything, so the photographer can start taking pictures when he arrives. Take the dress out of its bag, and hang it on a nice hanger.

Try to pack all the events together (as much as possible), so the photographer can take all events next to each other. Avoid him to continuously go back and forth from the groom and to another bride’s room. First, it is time consuming (time to pack up all photography material each time). Second, and above all, it may result in a situation that one side is late (let say the guys are late), and it will have repercussions on the rest of the schedule. That’s why, it is better if the photographer can focus mostly on one side, and then the other side. But not switching all the time.

Example to AVOID:

  • Taking pictures of the bride until she has hair and makeup done.
  • Taking pictures of the groom and groomsmen while all the bridesmaids have their makeup done and dress up.
  • Taking individual pictures of the groom, and groomsmen
  • Taking pictures of the bride dressing surrounded by the bridesmaids
  • Taking individual pictures of the bride and bridesmaids
  • First look
  • Bride and groom pictures
  • Bride and groom and bridal party pictures

To save time for bride and groom session

If you have to move to other places, pick only the very best locations, and try to select them in the same area. Ask someone to be your driver, so you don’t lose time parking.
You can ask your personal attendant to make sure you have your bouquet and anything required for photos.

Save time on the group pictures

Do all the group pictures one at a time at the same location, so the photographer doesn’t need to set up different lighting every time.
Pick an easy and obvious location to gather people, so they know where to go (even if we need to move the entire group after).

General recommendations to have a smooth flowing day, a list of common senses.

  • Check if there is any popular event happening on the day of your wedding date, and plan your itinerary accordingly. For example: you get married in front of a football stadium and there will be a famous game that day, or a festival taking place one street above your venue.
  • Check if there is any road construction on your itinerary.
  • Multiply your time travel by a factor 2.
  • Make sure you will have a parking access, and advise your guests where to park if it’s difficult.
  • Be aware that makeup and hairstylist will probably be late on their schedule.
  • Have an emergency kit, with at least sewing kit and bandages. Check the perfect Survival Wedding Kit.

Don’t Over Plan

I am sure you have already heard about the freak control bride (AKA Bridezilla) who over plans her wedding minute by minute. Having a good timeline is mandatory, but having too precise timeline simply won’t work, because there are always unexpected things happening. It’s life.
So, basically plan using 15 min periods.