The Complete Wedding Day Timeline Guide

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Pre-Wedding Planning

Putting together a timeline and giving a copy to your photographer is beneficial in that it will be used to determine how many dedicated hours they need to give you on the day. A photographer knows the best times of day to take photos and they can provide suggestions on changing things around if they think images will be best elsewhere due to lighting.

It’s also worth noting that some venues – not all, but some – dictate the start time of your ceremony or reception. If this is the case for your wedding, and you’re unsure how to work backwards or forwards with scheduling bridal photos or even your morning preparations, your photographer has the knowledge to guide you.

In a typical wedding, 8 hours is generally sufficient to cover you from bride and groom preparations through to the first dance at the reception, but this can vary – all dependant on your timeline, of course!

One more important point to make mention of and this is with regards to your invitations. It’s vital not to send out any invitations until you’ve consulted with your wedding supplier and vendors and double confirmed your ceremony time – once those invites get mailed out, everything is set in stone!


Typical Wedding Day Timeline

EventTime Required
Bride Preparation 1.5 Hours
Groom Preparation 1 hour
First look (Optional) 15 to 30 minutes
Travel Time  Varies
Wedding Traditions Ritual (Optional) Varies
Wedding Ceremony 0.5 to 1.5 hour
Congratulations and Family Photos0.5 to 1 hour
Location Shoot/Bridal Photos 30-45 minutes per location
Short Break Varies
Reception 2 to 6 hours

Bride Preparations

Start your special day by giving yourself plenty of time to get ready for your wedding party. Normally, a photographer would require 1.5 hours at the bridal preparations, so to keep on track with your schedule, ensure your hair and make-up is almost completed by the time they arrive (if you have a large bridal party, give yourself more hours earlier in the day, not later).

Your wedding photographer should be taking snaps of you getting into your wedding gown approximately 1 hour before leaving for your venue. This ensures they capture not only the fun of putting on your dress, shoes and veil (which takes about 15 minutes depending on the gown you have), but gives enough time to have beautiful portraits done of yourself, with family, with the bridesmaids, with pets, and also in a variety of spots within your location such as your staircase, backyard, front garden, and with your limousine. 


Groom Preparations

Not as lengthy as the bride’s morning rituals, the groom’s preparations will usually take about 1 hour. The rule of thumb is to suit up 45 minutes before leaving for the ceremony venue and then do all portraits and family pictures – but remember, tradition has him arriving at the venue 30 minutes before the ceremony itself.


First Look

This new trend is completely optional but very popular amongst modern wedding couples. Believe it or not, the first look doesn’t take very long to photograph so you only need 15 to 30 minutes at a quiet location. Ensure you factor the drive to and from if the site is away from your ceremony venue.


Travel Time

This brings me to your travel time. Although difficult to really tell how long it will take to drive from place to place, it’s suggested to be aware of any road works or detours in the lead up to your day. Add on extra time as a buffer for surprise traffic conditions like sporting events and construction, and if you’re getting married during the week, think about school pick-up/drop-off and peak hour work traffic.


Rituals, Customs and Traditions

Some weddings require cultural rituals and/or traditions to take place, like a Chinese Tea Ceremony or a Baraat for Indian weddings. Always factor these in by discussing with family how long they may be.


Wedding Ceremony

This varies a great deal. It’s the most important part of your day, and you don’t want to rush anything. So with the time block varying amongst most couples, it’s important to discuss if you’re having a religious ceremony or a secular one. With my experience photographing weddings over the years, ceremonies conducted at the Marriage Registry Office require at most 15 minutes at the altar; a secular ceremony outdoors in a garden or at a hall generally takes about 30 minutes, and a religious ceremony within a church or chapel can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes.


Congratulatory

This is a tricky one because depending on the number of guests you’ve invited to the ceremony, this time can go incredibly quickly but be one of the longest. Getting congratulations from each and every guest post-ceremony is an unpredictable timeframe, but if you’re keen to move on from the situation then allow up to 30 minutes if there are more than 80 people due to show up.

If you’re someone who likes to mingle with the crowd and have a good chat, put in more time, however for those who like to run a tight ship or you find yourself behind schedule, there is the option of skipping this altogether and simply asking your guests to provide their congratulatory praises at the reception.


Formal Family Photos

Most of the time your list of family members should be relatively short with just the immediate family involved but have a list nonetheless. It’s important to provide a rundown of family dynamics on that list before the big day so that everyone can stay focused. With only a short block of time to capture a variety of groups together, it’s necessary to remain on task and move quickly. A good idea is to have a designated helper (one of your bridesmaids) to assist with gathering people.

Also too, if your flower girls and page boys in the bridal party are relatively young, they more than likely won’t be travelling with you for the bridal party location shoot so it’s a good idea to do them here – if you’re not the parent/s, alert those who are beforehand this is where you’d like to take photos with them.

Formal family photo time should be no longer than 30 minutes. 


Bridal Party Location Shoot

In the lead up to your wedding day, you should have discussed the location ideas in detail with your photographer – are you someone who prefers a lot of variety using several locations, or are keen on just 1 or 2 sentimental sites?

As a wedding photographer, I will work with what I’m given – meaning, if your ceremony and reception are at the one location, we go for a wander and utilise various parts of the property and can take as much or as little time during the location shoot.

If however, you are wanting shoots at more than 2 locations, you must take into consideration travel time between locations; the further away from each other, the longer the day will be.

Big bridal parties also contribute to long hours, but generally I give between 30 to 45 minutes for each separate location.

*Tip: one of the best times of day for bridal couple portraits is 30 to 45 minutes before sunset as that is the best light – it’s soft and it’s golden.


Break Time

Some couples like the idea of scheduling a short break before heading to the reception. It’s a long day, and having a refreshing drink or snack at a bar, café or eatery is a fantastic way to get in some downtime before spending the rest of the night partying with family and friends – it’s also an opportunity for me to grab a quick bite, and if you are planning on changing outfits, this is the time to do it.


Reception

Always liaise and seek advice from your venue coordinator or MC/DJ on the reception procession, but the typical schedule of events are:

  • Bridal Entrance
  • Entrees
  • Speeches Part 1
  • Main Entrees
  • Speeches Part 2
  • Cake Cutting
  • First Dance
  • Dance Floor Opens Up
  • Photographer Departs

Depending on your photography package, your reception is generally covered. However shorter packages are available, and if this is the case with your timeline you have every option to discuss with your venue coordinator, MC or DJ as well as your photographer a change in the above scheduling of events. For instance, your photographer might only be staying for 30 minutes or 1 hour so you can do the bridal entrance, cake cutting and first dance in that time to preserve those precious moments in photos.


Example Wedding Day Photo Timeline

12:30PM-2:00PMBride Preparation1:00pm Hair & Make-up completion
1:15pm Put on the wedding dress
2:00pm Photographer leaving for the ceremony
2:15pm Bridal party leaving for the ceremony
1:15PM-2:00PMGroom Preparation 1:30pm Groom suit up
2:00pm Leaving for the ceremony
2:00PM-4:00PMChurch Ceremony2:00pm Guests Arrive
2:30pm Ceremony Start
3:00pm Congratulate, group photos, afternoon tea
4:00PM-6:30PMOn-Location Portraits4:00pm location 1
5:00pm location 2
6:00pm short break
6:30PM-11:00PMReception6:45pm Bridal entrance
7:45pm Speeches
8:15pm Cake Cuttings
8:20pm First dance
9:00pm Photographer departs

Conclusion

As your wedding photographer, I am here to help you plan your big day, and can provide my expertise and knowledge in suggesting venues, time blocks, and an order of events without actually taking over your planning. Of course, it’s your wedding day so what you decide is up to you but feel free to use the above as a guideline to help in your preparations. 

But there it is, all here for you, and if you have any other questions, I’d love to meet up for a chat to answer them for you, discuss exactly what you’re wanting for your wedding day and show you some more examples of my work.

Happy planning!

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