How To Create a Wedding and Reception Timeline / Sample Wedding Timelines for Wedding Photography

Introduction to planning a wedding and reception timeline

After working with couples and photographing weddings for over a decade, one of the most frequent questions that clients ask me is, “What do you think our timeline should be?” There are so many moving parts when it comes to planning your wedding day. Trying to oversee every aspect of your day can be an extremely overwhelming task, especially if you don’t have the budget for a wedding planner! As wedding photographers for 15+ years, we witness how the timelines play out every weekend. We see what works well, what doesn’t work, and we also witness many common problems that brides overlook when planning their day. We’re going to take a look at timelines that work for several common scenarios. Plus, at the end I’ll give you some problems to watch out for! Keep in mind that every wedding is different (and some weddings will have multiple locations involved) which may alter the timeline given.

These are meant to be general guidelines that you can tweak or adjust as needed. 🙂

Bride and groom relax before ceremony, wedding photographer krista lee discusses the pros and cons of first look vs traditional wedding ceremony

Ready? Let’s get you down the aisle – on time!

 

First Look or Traditional Timeline

Trying to decide whether you should see each other before the ceremony? Let’s explore the 2 options.

Seeing each other before your wedding with a “first look” can create such a beautiful moment! You will get all the jitters out of the way and enjoy some private relaxed time with your fiance away from all the hustle and busyness of the day. A “first look” also is a great opportunity for your photographer to capture beautiful photos full of emotion and love. Lastly, doing a first look also takes away some tension, as after the ceremony you can quickly join the cocktail hour or reception… Resulting in guests not having to wait hours for the bride and groom’s entrance.

But what if you and your husband-to-be prefer a more traditional route? A traditional wedding day allows that magical moment where you enter the ceremony on your father’s arm, all eyes on you, and your groom-to-be tears up as he sees you for the first time in your dress. That is such a timeless moment to treasure, and we understand your desire to create that memory! If you plan accordingly you can easily fit all photos into your day. In this scenario, we still recommend doing some photos before the ceremony. Your bridal portrait, you with each one of your bridesmaids, you with your immediate family, groom’s portrait, groom with groomsmen and immediate family, etc. can all be done before the ceremony without seeing each other. This way, you can still have your moment as you walk down the aisle, but won’t feel as rushed after the ceremony!

 

Bride walks down the aisle to her groom who is in tears, wedding photographer krista lee discusses the pros and cons of first look vs traditional wedding ceremony

Recommended Wedding and Reception Guidelines

The timelines shown below are the minimum times we recommend. You can always add more time to each section. Adding more time will allow a more leisurely pace and allow your photographer more time to capture different angles, and move to different areas for a variety of backgrounds.

First Look Timeline

doing a first look can help to ease wedding day jitters, and can allow for a more relaxed schedule at the wedding reception.

CEREMONY TIME – 5 PM

  • 1:45p Begin photography coverage
  • 1:45-2:15p Detail photos of venue, ceremony site, dress hanging up, shoes, bouquet, jewelry, invitations, any other requested details (30 minutes, adding more time here allows photographer more creativity but 30 minutes is bare minimum).
  • 2:15-3:00p Candid getting ready photos of bride and groom, bridal party candids, bride getting into dress, groom and groomsmen getting boutineers pinned (45 minutes total, adding more time would allow for more makeup artist and hair prep photos of bride before getting dressed). *Optional shots after getting into dress: First look/reveal with bridesmaids, or private reveal/moment with dad, add 10 minutes for this.
  • 3:00-3:15p First look with groom, private bride and groom photos
  • 3:15-3:30p Bridal portrait, groom portrait, additional bride and groom photos around venue.
  • 3:30-4:10p Bridal party photos- Bride with each bridesmaid and each flower girl, group photos with bridesmaids groom with each groomsman and ring bearer, group photos with groomsmen, bridal party all together. *Optional: Several different locations/backdrops, bride with groomsmen, groom with bridesmaids.
  • 4:10-4:30p Immediate family photos, bride with mom, dad, siblings, groom with mom, dad, siblings, bride and groom with each side of the immediate family.
  • 4:30p Wrap photos, refresh makeup and hair, start lining up and prepping for ceremony.
  • 5:00-5:30p Ceremony
  • 5:30-5:45p Extended family formal photos of everyone all together, any other family combinations not done before ceremony
  • 5:45-6:00p Bride and groom photos around grounds, sunset or golden hour photos. *Optional: Add in bridal party for golden hour photos (add 10 minutes).
  • 6:00p Wrap photos, bride bustles dress.
  • 6:15p Enter reception or cocktail hour. Candid photos of guests enjoying the reception, group photos with guests. Photographer begins photojournalistic coverage, meaning we capture events as they happen rather than directing who does what 🙂 At this point, the venue or DJ usually dictates the schedule. If total coverage time is longer than 5 hours, photographers usually take a 15-20 minute break to eat dinner. *Optional: Bride and groom photos with each table of guests, bride and groom night photos outside.
  • End coverage either after all significant events are done (cake cutting, first dances, bouquet and garter, toasts, etc.) or at the end of the event.

Traditional Wedding Timeline

Pro wedding photographer krista lee discusses pros and cons of doing a first look vs a traditional wedding ceremony

CEREMONY TIME – 5 PM

  • 2:00p Begin photography coverage
  • 2:00-2:30p Detail photos of venue, ceremony site, dress hanging up, shoes, bouquet, jewelry, invitations, any other requested details (30 minutes, more time allows photographer more creativity but 30 minutes is bare minimum).
  • 2:30-3:00p Candid getting ready photos of bride and groom, bridal party candids, bride getting into dress, groom and groomsmen getting boutonnieres pinned (45 minutes total, adding more time would allow for more makeup artist and hair prep photos of bride before getting dressed). *Optional shots after getting into dress: First look/reveal with bridesmaids, or private reveal/moment with dad, add 10 minutes for this.
  • 3:00-3:30p Bridal portrait, bride with each bridesmaid and each flower girl, group photos with bridesmaids. **Make sure groom is hidden away!
  • 3:30-3:45p Immediate family photos with bride
  • 3:45-4:15p Groom portrait, groom with each groomsman and ring bearer, group photos with groomsmen. *Make sure bride is hidden away!
  • 4:15-4:30p Immediate family photos with groom
  • 4:30p Wrap photos and refresh for ceremony
  • 5:00p Ceremony
  • 5:30-6:00p Family formal photos of everyone all together, extended family photos, any other family combinations not done before ceremony. Exact end time will depend on how large family is, and how many different family combinations are requested. I
  • 6:00-6:15p Bridal party photos with bride and groom. *Optional: Walk to several different locations with bridal party, bride with groomsmen, groom with bridesmaids, silly photos. Add in extra time for any of the optional photos.
  • 6:15-6:40p Bride and groom photos around grounds, sunset or golden hour photos.
  • 6:40 Wrap photos, bride bustles dress.
  • 6:50 Enter reception. Candid photos of guests enjoying the reception, group photos with guests. Photographer begins photojournalistic coverage, meaning we capture events as they happen rather than directing who does what 🙂 At this point, the venue or DJ usually dictates the schedule. If total coverage time is longer than 5 hours, photographers usually take a 15-20 minute break to eat dinner. *Optional: Bride and groom photos with each table of guests, bride and groom night photos outside.
  • End coverage either after all significant events are done (cake cutting, first dances, bouquet and garter, toasts, etc.) or at the end of the event.

Potential Planning Issues

After many ‘I do’s,” we’ve seen a few “don’ts”. Listed below are a few issues that we see wedding after wedding. These can easily be avoided with a little knowledge and planning. Be stress-free and beautiful on your big day!!

  • Do a test run with your hair and makeup. We are shocked at the number of brides who do not do a test run with the makeup artist before their wedding day. Imagine this: You finish your hair and makeup and look in the mirror only to realize you look like a clown. The colors are wonky, the makeup is WAY too dark and caked on, and your hair doesn’t look anything like the photo you showed her. You’re now in a panic. Ceremony is in 1.5 hours, you still have photos to do pre-ceremony and no time to redo makeup. Sound far fetched? Unfortunately, we’ve seen this happen more times than we’d like to remember. PLEASE do yourself a favor and do a test run with the artist at least a few weeks in advance. Leave yourself enough time to find a new artist in the event that you strongly dislike the results.
  • Allow adequate time for hair and makeup. Unfortunately, it is common for hair and makeup to run WAY behind schedule. Let’s say your timeline says your first look is at 3pm, with ceremony at 4:30 pm and sunset at 5pm. You start hair and makeup (for 8 girls) at 1 pm. The artist assures you this is enough time, but several girls don’t like their makeup and take longer than expected. At 3pm, they still haven’t started your hair and makeup and there are still 2 bridesmaids being worked on. This now COMPLETELY destroys your timeline. You risk being late to your ceremony AND you miss all of your alloted time for daylight photos. As a general guideline, allow 45 minutes per bridesmaid and at least 1 hour for the bride’s hair and makeup. A great option is to have your hair and makeup done in the middle of your maids so even if your girls run late, you will be ready. Worst case scenario, you finish up early and get to relax and drink champagne 😉
  • Remember to leave a little wiggle room in your schedule. So many times people jam pack their itinerary, and forget that you are going to want to enjoy the day. People from all over the country and friends you have not seen in ages will be traveling to see you. You are going to want to stop and spend time with them, greet them. You’re going to want to walk around your venue when you first arrive to see how beautiful everything looks. Allow a little time in between photos and events to ENJOY your day! If you have every minute of the day planned out, you won’t have time to relax, mingle, and soak it in.

  • Plan in advance for family photos. One of the biggest inefficiencies while doing photos on a wedding day usually happens during family photos. Most family photos happen immediately after the ceremony but unless you plan, this could turn into a big mess. Common scenario: Cousin so-and-so runs to the bathroom, Uncle Bob goes to the bar to grab a quick drink, Aunt Joyce runs to the car to grab something, and some of your other family members see old friends and walk to a different area to chat. Managing several large families is a bit like herding cats. Make your photographer a list of groupings you would like and give to your photographer before the wedding. If your photographer knows how many groupings there are, it helps them create a realistic timeline. Next, put a family member on each side in charge of rounding up each group. We don’t know Aunt Joyce but your cousin Ashley, who is organized and loud, knows everybody and can help assist to make this process go smoothly!
  • Try to relax for photos and pretend like the camera is not there. It IS difficult when all eyes and cameras are on you to relax and act natural. Try to remember that some of the most heartfelt photos that we as photographers capture are the moments where you’re laughing, you’re interacting with others, you’re ignoring the camera crew. We’ve had clients in the past that were so worried about looking perfect on camera that they stared directly at the camera through the whole ceremony, rather than looking deeply into their husband’s eyes. We understand it’s not every day you have a camera crew following you! But if you want the best photos, try to ignore us and genuinely enjoy your day. <3

Conclusion

Remember that ultimately on your wedding day, the ultimate goal is to be married and enjoy time with friends and family! The flowers and dresses will fade, but the memories and commitment will last a lifetime. Even if small things don’t go as planned, try to relax and enjoy your day regardless 🙂 🙂

Have questions? Feel free to leave us a comment below!

 

 

 

 

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Krista is a Nashville, Tennessee based wedding and portrait photographer. Visit the "About" section for more info!

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