I recently wrote an article and gave you 10 ways to relieve stress on your wedding day. In it, I shard the importance of planning a realistic timeline, but I realized most brides and grooms don’t really have the experience necessary to do this, so today I thought I’d help anyone who might be in the process of planning their wedding day and needing a bit of guidance. It can be daunting!
When Vitaliy and I first started photographing weddings more than 7 years ago, we used the timeline our clients provided and simply trusted their plan.
There were even weddings when a client provided no timeline at all and we walked blindly into the wedding day. We often found ourselves falling behind in the schedule and feeling really stressed out. We did our absolute best and delivered great photos to our clients, but we quickly realized this was not how we wanted to operate. We were on the road to burnout and decided to take a proactive approach to the wedding day. The first thing I did was start timing how long different portions of the wedding day typically took. My calculations never matched the timelines our clients provided. If we wanted to give our clients the best wedding day experience while also keeping our stress levels low, we needed to be a part of the planning process.
The truth is, if our clients don’t have a wedding planner, they have no idea how to create a wedding day timeline. We now use our experiences from collectively photographing over 150 weddings to help guide our clients in the planning process. This helps ensure we’re all on the same page when the wedding day arrives. It helps manage expectations and stress levels. And it ensures the wedding day runs smoothly and efficiently. This was a game changer for us! We’re now able to give our clients the kind of wedding day experience we have always envisioned and that’s only possible by planning a realistic timeline.
That’s the key! In order to create the perfect wedding day timeline, you have to build a timeline that is realistic. When I started helping our clients plan their timelines, I found there were portions of the day unaccounted for and there were also portions that were drastically miscalculated. Let me share the most common ones in hope of helping you plan the perfect timeline for your wedding. Because believe me, the last thing you want on your wedding day is to get behind schedule. It always results in unnecessary stress. There can definitely be mishaps that happen on a wedding day, but there are a lot of things that can be avoided completely, with the proper planning. Here we go!
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CREATING
THE PERFECT WEDDING DAY TIMELINE
- Detail shots (30 min – 1 hr) Thanks to Pinterest and social media, every bride dreams of having magazine worthy photographs of her dress, shoes, flowers, etc. Your photographer is happy to oblige! But you need to factor those pictures into your timeline if they are a high priority. If we are extremely tight on time, we can make them happen in 30 minutes. But we usually like to allow 1 hour for these which we take simultaneously with the getting ready photos.
- Bride putting on her wedding dress (30 min) I now give this it’s own time slot in the timeline because it was often an area that was putting us behind schedule. A bride often thinks this will take 10 minutes. How long could slipping on a wedding dress take? But it’s not just slipping on the dress. It’s the culmination of everything. This is the moment! You are putting on your wedding dress! The one you bought more than 6 months ago. The Cinderella moment you’ve been dreaming of. Don’t rush this! The reality is, you won’t rush it so make sure your timeline reflects the not rushing it. You’ll need to go to the bathroom, put on your jewelry, probably a veil, your shoes, and do one final take in the mirror which usually ends up with a few touch-ups from your make-up artist. Again, factor in a minimum of 30 minutes and even 45 minutes if you’re a diva or very sentimental.
- Bridemaids behind schedule (be selective) This is a little hidden tip. I don’t factor this into my timeline, but I thought it was worth sharing. I cannot tell you how many times a bride has been late because one of her bridesmaids ran late. I’m being serious! A bride usually wants her bridesmaids surrounding her and helping her in this special moment. It always looks better if the bridesmaids are already dressed when helping the bride get dressed. My highest recommendation would be to surround yourself with thoughtful friends who have your best interest in mind on your wedding day and I’ll leave it at that!
- Travel time (depends) Always, always factor in travel time to and from locations and put it as a time slot in your timeline. And if a location has a far walk to the car, then be sure to factor that in as well. Use google.maps ahead of time to get an estimated travel time and then factor in your location, day and time to account for possible traffic. Adding a 10 – 15 min wiggle room is always a good thing, regardless.
- Bride getting tucked away (30 min) Regardless of your plans on doing a First Look, no bride wants to be seen by guests before the ceremony. I had one bride that was so adamant about not being seen, she wanted to be tucked away 1 hour before the ceremony. This obviously causes you to lose valuable photo time, but its your wedding day. As long as you discuss things with your photographer ahead of time, together you can map out other parts of the day to make up for the time and ensure you get the important photos. Depending on your location, you might be able to take photos in an area hidden from arriving guests. Typically, guests start arriving about 30 minutes before the ceremony, but there can be a few that come as early as 45 min – 1 hour before the ceremony.
- Celebration after the recessional (15 min) My favorite moment of the day is watching the bride and groom walk back down the aisle as husband and wife. The joy on their faces is unforgettable! That is still the most vivid memory I have of my own wedding day. The last thing I want to do is pull the bride and groom away from this moment of celebration to go take photos. This is another reason why I always suggest a First Look and getting the majority of your photos done before the ceremony. Because in my experience, taking photos is the last thing couples want to do after their ceremony. In order to help our clients fully enjoy this moment while also staying on schedule, I simply factor this celebratory time into the timeline. I’d allow 15 – 20 minutes.
- Bridal party/family photos (30 min each) There are so many factors that go into wedding party and family photos that a bride and groom could never imagine ahead of time. Family members getting stuck in traffic and arriving late. Groomsmen drinking early and becoming difficult to motivate for photos. Gathering 10 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen, posing them, and making it enjoyable enough that they’re not grimacing in the photos. Divorced families that need to be positioned in such a way that two people aren’t standing side by side to prevent a possible argument from erupting. Yes, these are all true stories and they only begin to paint a picture. We do a ton of planning in this area before a wedding day. But suffice it to say, if you have 5 or more bridesmaids/groomsmen, then I’d recommend allowing 30 min for wedding party photos. And if you’re family is medium to large, allow 30 minutes for those photos as well.
- Bride and Groom photos (30 min) I honestly once received a timeline with no time slot for bride and groom photos. When I mentioned needing to add it in there, the bride and groom were so thankful! They said they didn’t even think about it. Let me tell you, this can be a very special time on your wedding day. It’s the only time the entire day that it will be just the two of you together. Factor it in and soak each other up. I typically allow 10 min for a First Look and 20 min for photos. And I always, always try to convince my clients to let everything go. No planning or worrying about this or that, focus on each other and take note of this monumental moment in time.
- Bustling your dress and freshening up before the reception (15 min) By the time the reception rolls around, you will likely need a breather. You’ll want to step away, freshen up, and bustle your dress. Be sure to factor this into your timeline or you’ll end up leaving your guests waiting uncomfortably long.
- A safety cushion (10 min) Don’t be afraid to put a safety cushion on this or that. If you’re worried about something or if there’s a portion of the day that means a lot to you, feel free to tack on 10 extra minutes. If you end up not needing the time, you’ll be so thankful to be ahead of the game and so much more at ease.
- Visiting tables during the reception (30 – 45 min) This is another bonus tip! Occasionally, we get requests to photograph the bride and groom visiting tables. This can end up taking up to 45 minutes of your reception. It’s understandable, you’re visiting with friends and family who love you dearly and many who likely haven’t seen you in years. One wedding we photographed a few years back, the couple really wanted to say hello to everyone and get a photo with each table, but they realized they didn’t want to invest such a large portion of their party to table visits. So, they decided to make it fun for everyone. They worked with the DJ to make the announcement that the couple was going to visit each table in the course of one song. He suggested each table get up and decide where and how they wanted to take the photo with the couple so they were all ready when the bride and groom arrived to their table. Then it was off to the races! The bride and groom ran from table to table and the room was filled with laughter. It was a lot of fun to photograph and a great way to start the party. Side note: be sure your dress is bustled so you can easily move around and not get it stepped on.
Most people spend 6 months to a year planning their wedding and it’s over in the blink of an eye. One of my main goals in helping our clients draft their timeline is to help slow down the day as much as I possibly can. You don’t want to rush through one of the most important days of your life. Keep that in mind as you draft your timeline. I hope these suggestions help you revise your draft timeline and make it more realistic. But if you are feeling like you have no idea where to even begin, I’ll soon be sharing the process I take our clients through in order to draft their wedding day timeline so be sure to come back.