Want to know how to create a wedding timeline? Just plain curious why your super relaxed and fun-filled day needs one? I promise even if you hate logistics, wedding timelines are easy and single handedly the best thing you can do for your sanity – and the sanctity of your marriage.
From your bridal party not being ready on time to your mother-in-law dragging in her second cousins for the 50 thousandth impromptu group photograph, there are about a million in ways your wedding day can “go wrong”. Essentially, without a timeline, you’ll likely miss out on photographs you wanted and your day will feel a bit all over place. Either it will feel rushed from start to finish or have massive lulls where a guest or two falls asleep – it could also end up being a mad mix of both.
But with a timeline? The day will run smoothly and you’ll be able to enjoy every part of your day – from spending time with your nearest and dearest, to eating those award-winning hors d’oeuvres. You’ll also be able to enjoy all the reasons you booked your wedding venue – so that’s a massive win! And on top of all that, your wedding suppliers will know what needs to happen when and any hiccups can be kept to a minimum.
“Kelsie made things flow so well and made us feel comfortable during our day. photos and moments were captured that we will forever be blessed with and have her to thank for this.”
After photographing weddings for well over a decade, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how long things take and have successfully helped my couples have a wedding day that flows perfectly and just how they imaged. For a ton of top tips on having a really amazing wedding day, I’ve dished out all the wisdom I’ve gleaned over the years in this blog post. And as I start by saying in that that top tips post, you don’t have to do all or any of the moments mentioned in this timeline guide (except maybe the vow bit!). This day is yours and I hope you make it your own.
How to create a wedding timeline
So now that we’ve got the disclaimer out the way, here’s what you need to do first in order to outline the basics of your wedding timeline. Start by breaking your day up into the key events, such as: getting ready, ceremony, drinks reception, wedding breakfast, and evening disco. Write down the times you’d like these to commence. We’ll then break things down more later in this post (such as when to do toasts and group portraits), but this way you can start to figure out where and when you can fit everything in.
Getting ready wedding timeline
When it comes to getting ready, start with when hair and makeup needs to happen. If you’re having a makeup artist and wedding hair stylist, find out when they need to start and how long they will take. In my top tips tell-all wedding blog post, I suggest the bride gets her look done towards the middle of the bridal party – never last and and have this set to finish at least an hour and half before needing to leave. This ensures that you won’t be late to your own wedding and you’ll have a chance to let your hair and makeup settle a bit and fix any issues you notice. You’ll need about 30 minutes to get into your wedding dress and accessorised, plus time to take any group photographs – so that hour and half will go by quick!
If you’re having bridal prep photographed, I usually arrive at least 2 hours before the ceremony. When I arrive, I quickly photograph all details (so have those all ready in one spot so I know what needs photographing), and then I can focus my attention on capturing candid moments and any group photographs requested before heading to the ceremony location.
I then aim to arrive at the ceremony location at the same time as the groom. This way I can capture photographs of the groom with his friends and family, as well as the ceremony location, decor, and guests arriving. Alternatively, you can book one of my second photographers and they can cover the groom prep and guests arriving at the church.
Though every wedding is unique and not all of these may be applicable to yours, here are a list of timings you should consider outlining for the morning:
Bridesmaids arrive at: XX:XX
Flowers arrive at: XX:XX
Beauty professionals arrive at: XX:XX
Photographer arrives at: XX:XX
Bride getting makeup done at: XX:XX
Bride getting hair done at: XX:XX
Bride getting dressed at: XX:XX (tell everyone else they must be dressed before this time, check out my wedding tips blog post for why this is important)
Car arrives for Bride at: XX:XX
Photographer leaves for ceremony location at: XX:XX
Bride leaves for ceremony at: XX:XX
What time your ceremony takes place can play a big part in how your day flows. A 10 AM ceremony with the wedding breakfast at 6 PM will most likely have a lull. For wedding venues that are able to perform civil ceremonies and host your wedding breakfast, a start time between 1 and 2:30 PM is usually optimal as you won’t have much or any lulls and the wedding won’t be over and done with in a blink of an eye. With those weddings with a separate ceremony location, make sure you take this into account and plan extra time for guests to make the commute.
And speaking of commutes, both bride and groom should plan to leave 15 minutes before you actually need to leave for the ceremony location – there is always some sort of delay and last minute checks can turn into 10. Plus don’t forget traffic – and on that note, make sure you check there are no planned events going on, road works or closures! If there are, take even more time into account. You can always have a cheeky drink at the ceremony location, especially if there is a pub or restaurant bar just across the road.
Here are the timings to jot down for the ceremony:
Groom arrives at: XX:XX
Guests arrive at: XX:XX
Bride arrives at: XX:XX
Ceremony starts at: XX:XX
Ceremony ends at: XX:XX
After the ceremony
Unless you run straight out of the church to a car with the engines already roaring or the drinks reception is at the same place as your I Do’s, you’ll most likely need about 40 minutes after the ceremony before heading to the reception. Guests are going to want to chat with you, shower you in confetti, surround your getaway car, and cheer at the top of their lungs while taking loads of photos on their phones. Make time for this. This moment is important and special. But above all, make time for just the two of you.
I always have my couples walk out the ceremony doors and head to a private location (such as the other side of the building or different room) so they have 10 minutes or so to truly celebrate and talk. This is perfect if doing a confetti toss, as you can have your bridal party organise this and you don’t have to stand around awkwardly waiting for a bunch of adults to get corralled into two lines. With you hiding away, said confetti tunnel also forms a lot more quickly as guests are eager to see you!
After allocating another 20 minutes for you two to be bombarded with confetti and chat with your guests, I suggest doing group portraits. You can either do these at the ceremony location and/or at the wedding venue. If you want to do an all group portrait, I suggest doing these later in the evening – keep reading to find out why!
Here are the timings to consider jotting down:
Confetti toss start time: XX:XX (schedule for 15 minutes after the ceremony is set to end so you get some time alone)
Group portraits start: XX:XX (give yourself at least 15 minutes to greet guests after confetti toss before these start if being done at the ceremony location. If at the reception venue, make sure you leave extra time for everyone to arrive and get to the designated location. For group portraits, set aside 3-5 minutes per photograph for parties with fewer than 7 people).
Leave for reception venue: XX:XX
Drinks reception timeline
This is the time where, as a photographer, I put my people management skills to the test. I like to get these completed as quickly as possible and have couples confirm a list of crucial portraits in advance. This way I can keep an aunt from suggestion a “cousin photo” and dragging things out. Any extra groupings that you wouldn’t be devastated to miss out on, we can attempt to squeeze in later – I tell family and guests this too to keep everyone happy.
Group portraits are mentally draining on couples (and on hot days it can really take a toll), so consider limiting group portraits to 30 minutes. While I do goofy things to make portraits fun and break up the standard posed shoots, chatting with old friends and relaxing is important and time should be made for that.
So working with the knowledge that each group photograph can take between 3-5 minutes, choose your groupings wisely. There is always the risk some family member will walk off to get a drink or nip to the loo, and so this can easily turn what is supposed to be 30 minutes into an hour. My best advice here is to make sure you tell your guests in advance if they are needed for portraits and when those are set to happen. I’d also recommend you have a designated photo helper for the bride’s side of the family and groom’s. They will be in charge of rounding up everyone who is needed.
If you want an all group photograph, I sometimes do these right after the ceremony. But more often than not, I suggest you schedule this for just after the wedding breakfast ends – before the cake cutting, first dance or bouquet toss. Often venues have to flip the room, and the guests are all being ushered out at once anyway. This one group portrait can take 15 or more minutes to organise, so keep that in mind when deciding if this is a shot you really want – also when to fit it in the wedding timeline. I usually find it’s a bit of a squeeze to do before the ceremony, and thus hold off on it. But do make sure guests know when this is going to happen and when – an announcement during the wedding breakfast is a good idea so guests plan loo breaks accordingly.
Here are the timings to jot down for this part of the day:
Drinks reception start time: XX:XX (have this last for about an hour and half to cover time needed reception decor shots, group portraits, and to give yourselves time to mingle)
Group portraits start time: XX:XX (if not done at ceremony location)
Bridal party portrait start time: XX:XX (set aside 15 minutes for small bridal parties and 25+ minutes for larger bridal parties).
Couple portraits start time: XX:XX (set aside at least 15 minutes. We’ll do more in the evening, but this ensures you have some great photographs before people get a bit too tipsy or your hair starts to come undone from one too many hugs. I usually grab these while guests are filing out of the ceremony and the confetti tunnel is being organised, but if I haven’t grabbed them prior, I do a few at this time. If you are having a winter wedding, the best light is usually at this time, so should set aside longer.)
Wedding breakfast and evening timeline
Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry. Though with that said, this is about the time the groom starts to stress – that speech hasn’t written itself!
To space out the rest of your evening, make sure you leave a decent break between the meal and the start of the first dance so that the venue can change the room layout for a party atmosphere, guests can freshen up, and the band or DJ can set up.
You’ll also want to ensure you have a natural break in the evening to sneak away and do your last set of couple portraits and maybe any group combinations that had to be skipped earlier. You’ll want to do couple portraits at golden hour, when the light is the best. From about April to August, this starts at around 7:30-8:30 PM in the UK and lasts for an hour. Here’s a golden hour calculator to get the exact start time for your wedding date. This time is always one of my couple’s favourite parts in the day (even grooms that swore prior they hated the idea of pictures have come back with high praise about this moment in particular). This is one of the rare moments where you two are alone. And to give some real privacy, I often put on a big lens and give you loads of space to just chat for a bit.
Timings to consider for the evening:
Wedding breakfast start time: XX:XX
Meal served at: XX:XX
Toasts start at: XX:XX
Toasts end at: XX:XX
Group portrait at: XX:XX (If you didn’t do right after the ceremony, you could also schedule before wedding breakfast, before cake cutting or first dance, or after a bouquet toss)
Band/DJ sets up: XX:XX
Evening couple portraits at: XX:XX
Evening guests arrive at: XX:XX
Cake cutting at: XX:XX
First dance at: XX:XX
Dancing starts at: XX:XX
Putting your wedding timeline into action
Now that you’ve got all the key moments, write up your timeline chronologically and add any other bits in that you can think of. Send the full timeline to your photographer, wedding coordinator, and wedding venue (and anyone else that this feels applicable to). It’s also a good idea to send information about your evening plans to the Band/DJ.
But above all, be flexible. And a wedding timeline gives you the capacity to achieve just that without much stress. If it rains and you desperately want portraits done outside, your photographer can work with your other suppliers to figure out the logistics of making that happen. We’ll be in the background checking weather forecasts, coordinating to shift the cake cutting up by 15 minutes, pushing back the first dance by a few more, etc.
If you found this blog post useful on how to create a wedding a timeline, you have to check out my top tips wedding blog post as it serves as a perfect companion to this. It’s really, really good – like really good!
And if you haven’t yet booked a photographer, but are thinking you’d really love someone by your side other than your other half who is funny, caring and has your back the entire day (and can also create wonderful photographs, send me an email so we can start dreaming about your perfect day together). For couples that book with me, I take all your key elements and create the timeline for you from a straightforward questionnaire – taking care of a lot of the logistics for you.
I hope planning your dream wedding is a really fun, enjoyable experience. And if you want more tips and inspiration, make sure you check out places like the WeddingWire’s top tips page as well as the planning resource page on my website.