How to create the perfect wedding day timeline

Discover in 6 steps how to create a perfect wedding day timeline for your special day

If you're about to tie the knot, you might be wondering how to create a typical wedding day timeline. What is a typical wedding time frame? Which are the different stages of a wedding? How long should each of them last?

That’s totally fine! Unless you’re a professional wedding planner or vendor in the wedding industry, it’s normal that it may feel a bit daunting to figure out how to organize the various moments and the timeline of your wedding day.

So let's find out together what a wedding day timeline is and why it is important to make it!

The importance of creating a Wedding Day Timeline

So, to make sure that everything runs smoothly and that you get the most out of your wedding photo shoot, the best thing is to create a timeline for your wedding day.

The more in advance you plan your big day, the more you'll be able to relax during your wedding without worrying about what’s going on, what time it is or what's coming next. 

All you'll have to do it will be enjoying your special moments and celebrating with your dearest ones!

So, how do I make a wedding timeline? Here’s a typical one that you can use as a reference, but as we get closer to the big day, we'll talk about your wedding day in detail to ensure that your photography timeline is tailored to your desired outcome and all the important photos will be covered.

Pre-wedding preparations: the beginning of your journey

The pre-wedding preparation is a wonderful moment to capture as these photos will draw you back to all the excitement and energy you felt before the big event. Additionally, the preparation photos help everyone to get used to having me around, which can help them feel more at ease.

I usually start with the groom's getting ready photos, which take about 45 minutes. This way he will be ready earlier to welcome guests at the venue. Then, I switch to the bride's preparation for its final hour and a half so that I make sure to capture the most interesting parts of makeup and hairdressing plus the wedding dress, the flowers and all the other beautiful details. Keep in mind that if the wedding dress is intricate and involves a lot of fastenings or buttoning, it may take up to 30 minutes to get it settled, jewelry and shoes included.

The makeup artist and hairdresser will usually start earlier, especially if everyone is getting their hair and makeup done. That’s why it's super important to communicate with them to find out how much time they will need to complete their work, and match it with your photographer's timing to cover the most important moments of the getting ready.

It's crucial to keep getting ready stress-free. I suggest allocating extra time for this part as it's better to have 20 minutes of loose hands than to rush around. I can say from experience that the final stages of the bride's getting ready can be very emotional, as the ceremony is about to begin. 

So take some time to relax, enjoy, and allow for beautiful wedding shots to be taken without rushing and worrying about being late. In fact, leaving late delays the ceremony and all the rest, moving the entire timeline forward with less time for the couple session and other shots.

A pre-wedding shot during bride preparations captured by Valentina Cavallini destination wedding photographer
A group of guests toasting the bride and groom during pre-wedding preparation

While you're working on your wedding day timeline, make sure to allocate approximately 30 minutes for your photographer to move to the ceremony area between the time you finish getting ready and the ceremony starting time. I usually use this extra time to document guests gathering, people's interactions, welcome drinks, flower decorations and setting details, as well as to set up my cameras for the entrances.

In the wedding timeline, it is important to set aside time for the wedding photographer to capture details and decorations of the venue

First Look: a moment of anticipation and excitement

Some of my couples choose to have the first look, which is a truly special moment where you can spend some time together before the ceremony. This can help to calm your nerves as you have the opportunity to see each other before the ceremony. It usually turns out to be a very emotional moment, and it's the perfect occasion to capture your reactions and take some candid photos of you two before you exchange your vows. If you decide to do the first look, 10-15 minutes will be enough time to cover this part. You’ll need to add this timeframe between the getting ready and the ceremony if you decide to go for it.

An example of first look during a wedding day captured by Valentina Cavallini wedding photographer

Saying 'I Do': the ceremony time

The length of the ceremony can vary depending on the chosen ritual. 

Standard civil ceremonies usually range from 15 to 30 minutes. Symbolic ceremonies can be more personalized with vows and speeches from guests, and can last from 45 minutes up to an hour. If you choose a religious ceremony, I always take into account an hour and a half.

If you're planning to have an outdoor wedding ceremony during the summer, it's best to avoid a midday celebration because the bright and harsh light, along with the heat, can be overwhelming. 

Additionally, I suggest not having the ceremony too late in the afternoon, as this may leave you with less time to spend with your loved ones. As a general rule, I recommend leaving an hour and a half to two hours between the ceremony and dinner to enjoy the aperitivo time. This way, your guests won't have to wait too long before dinner, and we'll have enough time to capture couple session photos, family photos, and group shots (if desired) without rushing. I always ensure that you have enough time to enjoy your guests during the aperitivo without having to spend the entire time taking pictures.

Frames of love: couple session, family and group portraits

I usually shot the couple portraits during the aperitivo. This is the most intimate part of the photo service and I always make sure to have at least 30-40 minutes to get some beautiful photos of you two together without taking you away from your guests for too long.

For this part the light is especially important. 

So if we shoot the couple portraits outside and it’s a sunny day, the later in the day the better.

 As the sun sets, the light becomes softer, and the colors get warmer giving the beautiful golden hour effect to those romantic photos.

If we manage to have a breathtaking sunset over the venue and the dinner is already going, it could be a great idea to sneak out of the reception for 10 minutes to take some more amazing couple shots with the sunset light! It will be quick and your photos with that beautiful light will last forever!

Straight after the ceremony or after the first toast, while the sun is still high, it’s usually a good moment to take family photos or group shots, taking advantage of some shadowed spots if available. Again, 10-15 minutes for family and group photos will be enough, as long as a detailed list of groups has been made. This way you can ask a guest to help gather people for the photos so we can speed up and save time shooting this part.

Wedding Reception: capturing every memorable moment

Adding as many reception details as possible to your wedding day timeline is a great way to ensure everyone is on the same page. Your photographer may not need to stay for the entire reception to document it, especially if you've opted for a smaller hourly coverage package. However, it's still essential to have the photographer capture all the significant moments, such as speeches, cake cutting, first dance, father/daughter dance, etc., so make sure to plan those moments during the first part of the reception. This ensures that the photographer won't miss any crucial moments and can leave once they've captured everything you need.

Time of the year: crafting your timeline to suit the season

Your wedding timeline can vary greatly depending on the season you choose to get married in. If you're considering a winter wedding, keep in mind that the sun sets earlier, and daylight hours are shorter. To take advantage of the light hours, I recommend planning a morning ceremony to allow your photographer to capture your couple session during the daylight. Don’t forget that a morning ceremony means waking up early to have enough time for the getting ready phase.

Relax, you’ve got a wedding timeline!

I hope you find these tips useful as you plan your ideal wedding day timeline. 

One important aspect to keep in mind is coordinating with your vendors and making sure everyone is on the same page. The earlier you start planning, the more time you have to communicate with your vendors and ensure everything runs smoothly.

By having a well-planned timeline, you can relax and enjoy your special day without worrying about timing or unexpected surprises. And with proper scheduling, your wedding photographer will have ample time to capture all the precious moments of your day, without feeling rushed or pressured for time.

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