There are many things that play a role in a successful wedding day. However, if I'm being honest I have to credit a lot of the success to a well-planned wedding timeline. Your wedding timeline helps ensure that everything is running smoothly and is incredibly important in making sure that all of your wedding vendors are on the same page. It also helps me, the wedding photographer, make sure that photos that you find important are captured and documented properly. So whether you're a newly engaged couple looking to draft up your perfect wedding timeline or a wedding photographer wanting to perfect your technique, I got you.

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.

Example Wedding Timeline

Below is just one example of what a wedding timeline may look like. Keep in mind that this timeline is based on a typical 8-hour wedding day. This is not a reflection of what all wedding timelines will look like!

10:00 a.m. Hair and makeup artists arrive / getting ready

11:00 a.m. Vendors arrive for setup

12:00 p.m. Bride begins hair and makeup

1:00 p.m. Photographer arrives; begins shooting getting-ready photos

2:15 p.m. Bride gets into her wedding dress

2:40 p.m. Couples' "first look" and portraits

3:30 p.m. All wedding party members arrive at wedding venue

4:00 p.m. Wedding party and family photos with the couple

4:30 p.m. Guests begin to arrive / pre-ceremony music starts

5:00 p.m. Ceremony start time

6:00 p.m. Ceremony ends / cocktail hour begins

7:00 p.m. Cocktail hour ends / guests are invited into the reception

7:00pm - 9:00pm Reception begins/ends

9:00pm Photography Coverage Ends

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 Your Events That Can't Change

It can be easy to look at a task such as creating your perfect wedding timeline and thinking “where do I even begin?”. 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 photos. 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 A First Look Is For You

Next, you’ll need to decide if you want to have a first look prior to your ceremony. If you want to hear my thoughts on first looks, just click here! At the end of the day, it's your choice. 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.

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.

Don't Forget To Add In Travel Time

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.

Sunset Portraits

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.

Don't Feel Like You Need To Fit Everything In All At Once

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.