How to Plan Your Wedding Timeline

If you’re getting married and currently working with a wedding planner and/or photographer, you may have heard the term “wedding timeline” being thrown around. Out of everything you’re going to learn about weddings, there is one thing you should know: the ins and outs of wedding timelines. It’s especially important if you aren’t working with any wedding vendors who may help you with this subject. (But don’t worry, working with me means you’ll have every detail squared away for you. 😉 Knowing how to plan your wedding timeline will not only keep you on track, but your guests and other vendors as well. Included below are my best tips for building your wedding’s specific timeline!

What is A Wedding Timeline?

Your wedding timeline will essentially be the eyes and ears of your entire wedding. It’s a detailed agenda of your wedding day activities. From the moment you arrive at your venue, to travel time, to the start and end times of every activity. This is all vital in making sure that everyone has a time and place to be.

How To Plan Your Wedding Timeline?

Like I’ve mentioned a million and one times already, a solid wedding timeline is crucial to your wedding day running smoothly. Drilling this into your brain at this point! Here are a few easy steps that you can follow when it comes to planning out your wedding day.

Start With Events That Are Set In Stone

It can be easy to look at a task such as creating your perfect wedding timeline and thinking “where do I even begin?”. Don’t worry, I have ya covered! I suggest starting with events in your day that absolutely cannot be changed and working outwards from there.

These events can include your ceremony, reception/dinner service, and sunset. These are some of the few things on your wedding day that are incredibly difficult to change and are 99.9% of the time set in stone. From there, you’re able to build outwards and see where you can fit certain moments/activities to fill the gaps! 

Decide If You Want To Have A First Look

Next, you’ll need to decide if you want to see your sweetheart before the ceremony.

It’s your choice: a private first look before the ceremony or seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle. In the end, it’s up to you!! No one but YOU TWO should decide how you want to see each other for the first time on your wedding day.

Your first look is often a very special, intimate moment between you and your soon-to-be spouse. It can help get your nerves shaken out and give you more time with your beloved on your wedding day. I’ll be sure to have tissues… because I’m going to be crying right alongside you haha!

If you’re an introvert, a private first look may be a great option for you. It’s a great way to tailor your day so that there isn’t so much pressure on the walking-down-the-aisle moment in front of all of your friends and family.

Having a private first look also allows for more flexibility with your timeline – oftentimes that allows more time for portraits before the ceremony so that you can enjoy cocktail hour with your guests.

Note: If you’re overly nervous about what kind of reaction your partner will give, a private first look may not be for you. Just being honest here! This moment should be about you two coming together for the first time on your wedding day, and not about a certain reaction or “perfect” image that comes from it.

Add In Buffer Times

Say it with me, buffer times are your friend. They are your BFF when it comes to curating the perfect wedding timeline that keeps you as stress-free as possible. Let’s face it, not everything goes accordingly to plan even though we hope it does. When moments like this come about, we need to make sure that especially on your wedding day we don’t panic. Instead, thanks to your trusty timeline and buffer times set in place, even if something goes wrong or things fall behind you’re still on time.

I especially recommend adding buffer times throughout the daytime activities such as getting ready and your portraits. You never know what can come up – from hair/makeup running behind, to traffic ramping up, the list is never-ending. By adding extra time in each of these spots, we ensure that we still have ample time to capture everything that is important to you even when things are behind.

Account For Travel

This is one step that many couples will forget when it comes to creating their perfect timeline. You want to make sure that you are accounting for travel for your ENTIRE wedding day. This means traveling from your getting-ready space to the venue, the venue to your portrait locations, portraits to reception, etc. Commuting and traveling can have a huge impact and delay on your wedding day which may cause you to slightly enter a panic if things start to fall behind. 

I suggest looking at a map and finding out the exact commute time from Location A to Location B, Location B to Location C, and so on and so forth. Once you get those distances, I would add an extra 15 minutes to each time JUST IN CASE. This accounts for traffic, accidents, loading and unloading the cars/trolley, etc. You would much rather be early and ready than stressed and late.

Don’t Forget About Sunset

You know those beautiful golden glow photos everyone loves so much? Well, that’s all thanks to golden hour, which only happens for a brief moment in time as the sun sets. If your timeline allows for golden hour photos, I encourage all couples to take the time to snap a few photos as a break from the chaos of your reception.

However, this is something couples forget when planning their wedding timeline. You want to make sure you account for when the sun actually sets on the actual day of your wedding. The sunset can range from 8:30 pm in summer to as early as 4:15 pm in winter here in Chicago. We’ll work together to determine the best time for your sunset portraits based on the rest of your timeline and any obstacles that may block the sun like trees, other buildings, etc.

Lastly, I always tell all of my couples – if you’re at all interested in sunset photos, let’s plan time for it. And on your wedding day if the time to head out rolls around and you’d rather spend more time with your guests or the sun is obscured by a cloudy evening, then no worries! Sunset photos are always a bonus in my eyes and never a requirement. My priority is always making sure that you’re spending your precious time on your wedding day exactly as you wish!

Don’t Feel The Need To Do Everything

We have to admit there are so many pressures when it comes to your wedding. Not only from you, family or friends but also from the “traditional” standards of weddings. (Which side note, I think can be vastly overrated sometimes… is that just me?) However, if you’re not feeling connected to certain traditions and are interested in creating your own, I say GO FOR IT.

Don’t be pressured to do everything on your wedding day and take time away from what is most important to you. Moments like a bouquet/garter toss or a publicly announced cake cutting, although beautiful, may not be what’s best for you two as a couple. Introverted couples may opt for a private cake cutting, or maybe not even cake at all! Choose donuts or pie instead if you like those treats better.

Don’t feel the need to add anything to your wedding day if you don’t want to. You should choose moments that resonate with you and your partner and are meaningful to you. That’s what matters.

Example Timeline

Now, it’s one thing to SAY something but it’s more to show it. Below is an example of a typical (heterosexual) wedding timeline with me:

11:30 am – Photographers Arrive

11:30 am – 12:30 pm – Flat-Lay Details + Getting Ready Photos

12:15 pm – 12:30 pm – Matching PJ Photos

12:30 pm – 1:15 pm – Men Getting Ready with Second Photographer

12:30 pm – Bride Gets Dressed

1:00 pm – First Look with Bridesmaids

1:10 pm – First Look With Father of the Bride

1:20 pm – 1:35 pm – Head to Photo Location

1:35 pm – 1:45 pm – Gifts/Letters & First Look with Groom

1:45 pm – 2:30 pm – Bride & Groom Portraits

2:30 pm – 3:15 pm – Wedding Party Photographs

3:15 pm – 3:30 pm – Travel to Ceremony Location

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm – Final Touch-Ups, Line Up

4:00 pm – 5:00 pm – Ceremony

5:00 pm – 5:30 pm – Family Photos

5:00 pm – 6:00 pm – Cocktail Hour

6:05 pm – 6:10 pm – Grand Entrance

6:10 pm – 6:15 pm – Cake Cutting

6:15 pm – 6:25 pm – Father/Daughter Dance, Mother/Son Dance, First Dance

6:25 pm – Main Course Served

6:40 pm – 7:00 pm – Speeches

7:15 pm – Open Dance Floor

7:50 pm – 8:15 pm – Sunset Photos

8:30 pm – Coverage Ends

Keep in mind that no two weddings are the same. Someone else’s timeline may look completely different than yours and that is okay! Your wedding timeline should be reflective of you, your partner and what matters most to you both on your wedding day.

If you want to grab a coffee on your wedding day, head to the drive-thru at McDonald’s, or explore your neighborhood in your wedding attire I am all for it! When it comes to working with my couples, it’s all about creating a completely customizable and unique wedding timeline that fits YOUR needs. This will make sure that you are feeling good about your special day and that you can just focus on getting married – woohoo! 

How to Plan Your Wedding Timeline

Well, there you have it, folks. A few of my key tips on how to plan your wedding timeline for the most bulletproof timeline for your big day. Is that me being dramatic? Maybe, but I don’t care. I’m giving you the inside scoop, the 4-1-1, and the tell-all secrets that I use when it comes to creating your customizable and well-thought-out timeline.

Your wedding day does not have to be scary, overwhelming, or stressful. In fact, it should be the exact opposite. Having resources, tools, and helpful tips from us in the industry can help make tasks like creating your wedding timeline work for you and not against you.

Check out some other helpful tips for your wedding day here!

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