June 5, 2024

Creating A Wedding Day Timeline

bride and groom holding hands and smiling as they walk down the aisle as guests throw flower petals

Prepare a Seamless Wedding Day Timeline

While creating a wedding day timeline isn’t technically the photographer’s responsibility pre se, I do highly recommend helping draft it!

As a wedding photographer, you’re about to embark on a thrilling journey capturing one of the most important days in a couple’s life! One key aspect that can make or break this day is the timeline, and most often your clients will be looking to YOU for help. A well-thought-out timeline not only ensures you capture all the special moments, but also helps the day flow smoothly, reducing stress for everyone involved and guaranteeing a wonderful client experience. Here’s how you can create a wedding day timeline that sets you up for success!

Pre-Wedding Questionnaire: The Foundation of Your Timeline

Before the big day, send your clients a detailed questionnaire to gather essential information. Include questions about the ceremony and reception venues, desired photo locations, family photo groupings, special traditions or events, and any unique requests. This information will serve as the backbone for creating the perfect wedding day timeline.

Not sure what questions to ask? Check out my free “8 Must-Have Wedding Timeline Questionnaire” Questions! These questions are great to have on your questionnaire, that you may not have thought of asking!

Looking for more? Check out my over 65+ wedding day timeline questionnaire to help you ask all the right questions and eliminate the headache of going back and forth with emails. This questionnaire is in a Google form template – so just add your logo and you’re ready to send to couples ASAP! This is the same questionnaire I send my clients after 15+ years of photographing weddings. It has everything you could ever think of asking and more!

bride and groom kiss in the back of a trolley as wedding party raises glasses to cheers

Meeting with Your Clients: Finalizing Wedding Details

Once you’ve received the completed questionnaire, make a draft timeline and schedule a meeting with your clients to go over the details. Use this meeting to clarify any points, discuss the flow of the day, and ensure you have ample time for each part of the wedding. This meeting is also an excellent opportunity to build rapport with your clients and understand their vision. It may also be helpful to invite the wedding planner to guarantee everyone is on the same page.

Key Elements to Include in Your Wedding Day Timeline

1. Getting Ready Photos:

Start the day by capturing the excitement and anticipation as the couple prepares for the ceremony. Allocate about 1.5 – 2 hours for this part of the day, ensuring you have enough time to not only photograph hair, makeup, and the bride getting dressed but also all the details and flatlays. I like to use this time as my warm-up for the big day as well… sometimes I’ll add extra time so I don’t feel rushed.

2. Sunset Time and First Look, Pre-Ceremony Photos:

Ask your clients if they have considered scheduling a first look to capture their emotions in a private setting. This can help alleviate some of the nerves before the ceremony and allow for more relaxed wedding portraits. Be sure to also consider the sunset time when planning this part of the day, especially for winter weddings. The sun will set earlier, so make sure you don’t lose the light before family formals if you’re planning to do them outside. Plus, don’t forget to schedule a few minutes to sneak away with the bride and groom for sunset portraits during the golden hour to capture that stunning, soft light.

bride stands behind groom in brown suit just before he turns to see her for the first look

3. Ceremony:

Allocate enough time for the ceremony, paying special attention to any specific rituals or traditions that are important to the couple. Some religious ceremonies take longer than others!

4. Family and Wedding Formals:

Plan specific times for family photos, and ensure you have a list of groupings from the questionnaire. Allocate about 30 minutes for these photos, and be sure to remind the bride and groom to communicate this info to the family BEFORE the wedding day. You don’t want the aunts & uncles wandering off to cocktail hour!

bride and groom kiss as wedding party in blue suits and pink dresses celebrate behind them

5. Couple Portraits:

Set aside time for portraits of the couple. These are my favorite photos of the day. A sweet spot for these on a wedding day is about 30-45 minutes total (if you can get it). This may be split up into a few different times in the day – 15 minutes at family photo time, 10 – 15 minutes after the ceremony for some just married photos, 10 minutes at sunset, etc.

6. Cocktail Hour:

If your couples have already taken their formal photos after the first look, I like to use this time for a few just married photos, grip and grins, reception details, and setting up lighting for the reception.

7. Reception:

I find that 2.5 – 3 hours is the perfect sweet spot for most wedding receptions. It gives you just the right amount time for all the reception events to happen, about 15 – 30 minutes of dancing, and time for an end-of-the-night photo or special exit.

bride dances with her guests at the wedding reception

Often Overlooked Elements of a Wedding Day Timeline

1. Travel Time:

Factor in travel time between locations to avoid rushing and establish a relaxed atmosphere.

2. Buffer Time:

Include buffer time between events to account for any delays or unexpected moments. I feel like I am a broken record, when it come to buffer time with my clients! I can not stress enough that everything takes a little longer then normal on a wedding day. Leave yourself enough time to capture everything, and leave your couple time to soak it all in!

3. Receiving Lines:

Most people don’t realize how long receiving lines actually take! If you’re not careful, they can quickly throw off the perfect wedding day timeline you have worked so hard to create and cut into your formal photo time. Educate your clients and let them know that receiving lines normally take 1 minute per every 3 guests. If your client wants to do a receiving line, recommend that they either have a delay before their cocktail hour starts or plan for a longer cocktail hour.

It is so important to make sure that you and your couples are on the same page and you have a plan for the big day. You’ll save everyone a lot of stress day of – and your clients will be thanking you! I promise!

Creating the perfect wedding day timeline can be easy if you ask the right questions ahead of time. Check out my 65+ wedding day timeline questionnaire to guarantee you cover all the bases! This questionnaire is in a Google form template, so just add your logo and send away!

Stay tuned for more tips here!

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