Timeline Planning Tips For Your Wedding

October 25, 2022

Having a timeline of events is very important for your wedding day. So how do we make sure everything goes according to plan? Short answer: we can’t. Often times something will go wrong, something will be late or early, etc. And that’s OKAY. We just need to be prepared as best we can and expect some mishaps. That’s why I’ve put together this post of what I think are helpful, time-saving wedding timeline tips for your wedding. And hey, it’s not like they can start the ceremony without you!

Detail photos and getting ready

The first thing I like to do when I arrive to a wedding is take all of the details and arrange them into a display. This includes any rings, other jewelry, shoes, perfume/cologne, ties, watches, etc. that you want included in a close up photo. The benefit to doing this is that it’s easier to see them all laid out rather than just on you. To help with time, it helps to put all of these items into a box or bag so that your photographer can easily grab them when he or she gets there. It also helps you keep track of those smaller items.

I would also encourage you to have the two parties get ready within a few minutes of each other. This way, your photographer doesn’t have to spend time driving back and forth and miss any moments. However, if you are getting ready in two further apart locations, a second photographer can help with this. Also, if you have a larger wedding party, make sure you have enough hair and makeup artists to get everyone ready efficiently. Hair and makeup taking longer than expected can delay your wedding day right off the bat.

First looks: Pros

Your timeline will largely depend on whether or not you’re planning to do a first look with your partner. Do you want to wait until the ceremony to see each other for the first time? Or do you want that intimate moment in a more private place? Whatever you decide is completely up to you, but here are some things to consider when thinking about a first look:


  1. First looks give more time for photos and more time to be together. You can do most of the photos before the ceremony as opposed to after and will get to enjoy at least part of cocktail hour. Also, the time between your ceremony and reception won’t feel like it’s being dragged out (from your guests’ perspective).
  2. First looks can calm nerves if you have any. For a lot of my couples, seeing their partner in a more intimate setting before the ceremony gives them a sense of relief.
  3. It also gives you a chance to read your vows privately. If you aren’t a fan of 100+ people hearing your vows, a first look is a perfect opportunity to just make it about the two of you privately.

First looks: Cons


  1. Of course, the obvious con here is that you won’t experience seeing your partner for the first time at your ceremony. If that’s something that’s important to you, then nothing else really matters, and you can stop reading.
  2. You will have to get ready earlier in the day if photos are starting earlier.
  3. The lighting will likely be more harsh for your photos. The ideal time for taking photos is 1-2 hours before sunset because the lighting is softer and more filtered (we love a golden hour glow). If you’re doing your photos in the middle of the day, you won’t get that glow. However, if you’re doing a summer wedding, you can schedule time for golden hour/sunset photos during your reception. I recommend this for just you and your partner, though.

If you choose not to do a first look

If you’ve read through that and you’ve decided a first look isn’t for you, that’s completely your choice! There are pros and cons to this too, mostly based on the above:


  1. You keep that traditional aspect of not seeing each other before the ceremony.
  2. You may get better lighting for photos depending on what time your ceremony is and when sunset is.


  1. Some couples choose to do a receiving line right after their ceremony, and this will be really difficult to do if you have not already done the bulk of your photos. I recommend making your rounds during the reception if you do not want to do a first look.
  2. You may feel rushed to get your pictures done before the reception begins. If you’re only getting an hour for formal/family photos, wedding party photos, and couple photos, this is a lot to squeeze in, especially for large families or wedding parties. Something may end up having to get cut out.

Wedding timeline tips: Family/Formal Photos

Family photos can be the most chaotic part of a wedding if not planned out well. To avoid that and get you to your party faster, here are some tips:

  1. If you’re doing a first look, I really encourage family photos to be done before the ceremony. If you’re doing this, make sure you ask everyone to arrive early in order to get this done. You’ll want to make sure all photos are done at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony so you’re hidden away before guests arrive.
  2. If your family photos will be done after the ceremony, ask your officiant to make an announcement. They can make sure the family stays behind afterwards so you don’t have to spend time tracking anyone down. I also recommend assigning someone (maybe a bridesmaid) to be in charge of tracking people down and organizing groupings while other photos are being taken.
  3. Consider keeping the family photos to your immediate family only. This would be your parents, siblings, their spouses/kids, and grandparents. Of course, you can have whoever you want in these photos, but keep in mind that more people will mean more time.
  4. Make sure you get the photos involving small children or older guests done first. The kids will likely get restless if they have to wait, and the older guests (aka your grandparents) will probably want to get a seat at cocktail hour as soon as possible.
  5. Lastly, if you have a larger family or if it would just make you feel better, you can make a list of all photos you want. If you choose to do this, make sure you use first names and not names like Mom, Dad, or Grandma. This helps the photographer call out who needs to be in the photo and helps things move along quickly.

Wedding timeline tips: Receiving lines

This brings me to my next point– receiving lines. It’s important to say hello to all of your guests and thank them for coming, but that can be a time consuming task if you have a hundred people to talk to. However you choose to do it, you want to average about 15-20 seconds per person. Here are a few ideas for accomplishing this:

  1. Dismiss each row yourselves. After you exit your ceremony, come back and dismiss each row of guests yourselves! This ensures you see everyone before anyone leaves and creates a sense of urgency so you don’t get stuck talking to any one person too long. This can also be done in a similar way by waiting right outside the ceremony space so everyone can say hello on their way out. If you have photos to get done quickly, however, this may not be the best approach.
  2. Go around to each table after dinner. If you want to jump right into photos after your ceremony, this approach may be better. This is another way to ensure you can talk to guests before they leave, but you may go over the 15-20 seconds rule. If you have a guest count of under 100, but if you have a larger count this may not be the best idea.
  3. Take a photo with each table at the reception. If you have a large guest count AND don’t have a lot of time for photos after the ceremony, I would go with this option. A fun way to accomplish this is to have the DJ announce what is happening and that they only have these next two songs to get it done. The DJ can also give time reminders throughout to create even more of a sense of urgency. This helps you reach all of your guests in a timely manner.

Sunset time

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind when planning out your timeline is what time the sun sets. Obviously the sun is out the longest in spring and summer time, so you don’t have anything to worry about then. If you have a fall or winter wedding, however, this is more important. Make sure all outdoor photo opportunities will be done by sunset. If you aren’t sure what time the sun sets for your wedding, you can easily Google search “your wedding date + sunset” and it will tell you! If you have time, I highly recommend sneaking out of your reception for some sunset pictures!

Wedding timeline tips: Reception

Your photographer will likely not be staying the entire night. If you want them to, that is of course up to you. But after about 30 minutes of open dance floor all of the photos start to look the same. So, make sure you schedule any reception formalities while he or she is still there. This would include first dances, cake cutting, bouquet or garder toss, etc. You can also knock some of these out immediately after walking into your reception while you have your guests’ attention. Or, if you’d rather them not watch, you also have the option of not announcing these things and doing them on your own terms.

Wedding timeline tips: Send offs and private last dances

If you want to do some kind of fun send off, I recommend two things: either do a fun exit from your ceremony (with confetti or bubbles) or do a pseudo exit (with sparklers or lights) before the actual end of the evening. This way, you can ensure all your guests will be part of it and you don’t have to keep your photographer the whole night. This also goes for private last dances! I love this idea, but take the opportunity to have an actual private last dance (even without your photographer). You won’t get many moments to be alone with your partner on your wedding day, so take this one!

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you found some useful wedding timeline tips in here to help put your mind at ease. Happy scheduling!

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