How To Create A Wedding Day Timeline

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For so many couples, creating a wedding day timeline is the most stressful part of planning a wedding. Let me be the first to tell you that timelines always run late! A lot of couples simply underestimate the time it takes to curate story telling images. 

When I first started shooting weddings 10 years ago, I wasn’t as involved in helping my clients create a rock solid wedding day schedule. The truth is, my hands off approach was more a lack of confidence on my part and not wanting to step on any toes while my couples planned out their special day. Through time I realized I wasn’t doing my clients or myself any favors by not sharing with them valuable tips on how to create a realistic day of itinerary and it was adding unnecessary stress for everyone on the one day you want to be really present.

My biggest goal as a wedding photographer is not only to create perfect images for my couples that tell a story, but also to ensure that your day feels perfect no matter what kinks should arise in your timeline. 

It isn’t easy to make it all come together beautifully, that’s why I’ve created a step by step guide that walks you through how to start planning your wedding day timeline.  


Getting beautified: Once you’ve worked out your ceremony time you’ll be able to work backwards to figure out when you should start getting ready. I try to arrive at least 30 minutes before my bride is putting on her dress, because let’s face it, I don’t want you running away from my camera because you’re fresh faced and not feeling camera ready. Often all that’s need to tell the story of your day from the preparation leading up, is a few images capturing a swipe of the mascara wand or a final touch up of lipstick.

It’s all in the details: As a detail lover myself I get it! Organize your wedding details the night before and have them centrally located and easily accessible in your suite so your photographer can photograph them quickly upon arriving. Include items such as your dress, shoes, jewelry, something old, something blue, rings, bouquet, boutonnieres, programs and even menus! Delegate to your personal attendant or maid of honor to be in charge of these items so you can relax and enjoy a mimosa while you finalize your hair and make-up.

First looks: I always urge my couples to ditch old superstitions and opt instead to do a first look. Besides relaxing your wedding day timeline so you’re not stressed trying to cram in wedding party photos, family formals and portraits of the two of you between the ceremony and dinner, a first look allows you to soak in those first moments of seeing each other in a more intimate environment. From all my years of experience, I’ve found when you take the pressure off of seeing each other for the first time in front of all 200 of your guests, it allows for expression and emotions to occur organically. I am partial to first looks for a number of reasons but alleviating stress on your special day and how easy it makes creating a timeline is one of the biggest! 


Family formals: Family photos are generally the most chaotic part of the day. Your uncle Bob is trying to direct group poses with his point and shoot camera, your nephew and niece are throwing tantrums in the church pews and your face muscles are developing a tremor from smiling so long. Maybe you’re the lucky few whose family can line up in a single line faster than an army platoon, but if that’s not the case here are a few tips to make that portion of your timeline flow super smoothly!

The first bit of advice I have for couples getting married is to put a lot of thought into who you’ll need to have in the images. The fewer people you have to worry about gathering the more you can enjoy the process. I also encourage couples to include both you and your spouse in each of the photos. This day is about celebrating the two of you as a couple and through my experience, these are the images you and your family will want to print and frame down the road. 

The next crucial piece is making sure you are budgeting enough time for family formals. A good rule of thumb is to plan for each group combination to take 3 minutes to set up if everyone is in location, photo ready, and listening. That means if you have 10 total shots on your family formal shot list you’ll want to dedicate 30 minutes to capture all those images. Prioritize the most important shots you want taken at the church, and which groupings can be done in another location if you do end up running out of time. Also, organize the list in such a way that minimizes the number of times people need to be shuffled in and out of photos.

Once your list is created, share it with a key person who knows most of the family members  and can help call out names from the list to help get everyone in place. I call this person a sheep herder. It helps to pick someone who can be loud especially if your family can get a little crazy to wrangle up the herd and fly through these images quickly and painlessly. 

Limit your locations: I know its easy to dream up a million different spots you want to have as backdrops for your wedding photos, but the most relaxed weddings are the ones where couples choose one spot that offers versatility. Lighting is a huge key factor when it comes to good photography and it impacts where I decide to shoot. If most of your portraits are taking place around the noon hour when the sun is directly overhead, I’ll be hunting for shade to keep you squint and sweat free for your photos. 

The less time everyone is in their car traveling from point A to point B the better, but if your day is spread out between multiple locations, factor in travel time. For city driving I suggest doubling the amount of time it takes to drive from one location to the next to allocate for traffic, detours, parking and loading and unloading of vehicles. 


Forego your receiving line: Not all traditions are created equal, while I’m sure to catch a little flack from all the wonderful mother-of-the-bride’s out there, hear me out. I’m all for my couple’s having a chance to greet and acknowledge those who showed up in attendance on their special day, however I do think there is a better solution to holding your guests captive while they wait to be dismissed and awkwardly trying to remember the name of your spouses third cousin while you hug and usher her out. It was Gertrude, right? Receiving lines eat up a big chunk of time, for every 100 guests you have a plan on adding 30 minutes to your timeline. I recommend couples skip the conventional receiving line and wrap up photos so you can enjoy a cocktail and mingle with your guests at your reception. 

I hope this helps any couples out there who might be struggling with planning out their big celebration. Shooting weddings nearly every weekend over the last several years, I’ve just about seen it all and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. When the day arrives for you to look into the eyes of your beloved and vow to your forever, I don’t want you stressing out about your timeline or any of the special details you worked so hard to plan. I want you to stay present and focused on the why behind your big celebration,  and to soak in all the raw and genuine moments. I promise you, if you can do that, your day will be-perfect! 

***Click here to download a free wedding day sample timeline and shot list and a template to create your own!***