How to create your wedding day timeline
(with examples)

June 2021

Planning your wedding day timeline can be daunting! Is there a formula? What do most couples do? How do I plan start and end times with vendors? When should I have my timeline finalized? How much time should I allot for photos? And so many more questions will likely cross your mind when trying to plan your perfect day. So I thought I would offer a few tips that I have learned as a wedding photographer as well as a few sample timelines that will hopefully get you started!

When should you have your timeline finalized?

When working with my clients I recommend that they send me their finished timeline 2 weeks before the big day. This ensures that no one is scrambling to get organized right before the wedding day and everyone is clear on start and end times as well as the general flow of the day. There may be some information such as hotel room numbers that won’t be known until you arrive at the hotel and in that case I note who I (or my second) will contact to get that information and when to do so. Then any adjustments that happen during those final 2 weeks can be updated as you go.

How much detail should be included in the timeline?

The clearer and more detailed the better. I recommend including time, location and who is involved. Specifically in the case of photographers and videographers we can help you to finalize details regard what team member will be going where, I know most photographers are more than willing to help as you are planning for this! My favourite layout for a timeline looks like this:

Time Range 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Location + Address Hotel X, 123 45 St NW, Edmonton
What + Who Getting ready with X, Y, Z

How much buffer time should I add to my timeline?

I always always recommend adding some buffer time to your day, that way if something runs a little slower than you thought you don’t throw the rest of your day off schedule. I would add a few 15 minute buffer times throughout your day, maybe add 15 minutes to your getting ready time, add 15 minutes to your dinner time, 15 minutes to your speeches, etc. And don’t forget to add travel time as well! This can easily get missed or lumped in with another activity but make sure you consider all travel time. For example, if you have 2 locations in mind for your photo session remember to plan for 1 hour at location, 20 minutes drive, 1 hour at location, 10 minute drive back to reception venue, 15 minute buffer before grand entrance, etc. And trust me, your photo/video team will thank you for buffer time between big events! It gives us time to get in the proper position, with the proper equipment ready to go for when the big moment happens.

When should my photographer and videographer start and finish the day?

This one can vary a bit depending on what part of the day is most important to you. Every photographer is different but for me I like to approach my work from the perspective of telling the story of your day, so for me every story has a beginning (getting ready), middle (ceremony + photos) and end (reception + dancing). When booking your vendors it is very helpful to have a general idea of what your day will look like so we can make sure you are getting the right amount of time for your big day! I recommend a good start time for photo and video to be approximately 1 hour before you’re finished getting ready. No one really likes a lot of photos with no makeup and bed hair so capturing the tail end of getting ready is usually perfect! Then I recommend end time to be about an hour after the dancing portion of the reception starts. Of course if you have some more events during your reception or if you’re coordinating some entertainment or a fun send off that you want captured it may be important to stay later. 10 hours is usually a great amount of time to capture everything you need but of course your timeline, values and budget may require more or less hours. Work with your photographer and videographer to discuss what is right for you when booking. I also encourage you to ask what their policy is for adding hours if you decide you need more closer to the wedding date. 

How much time should I plan for the portrait session?

I would recommend allotting 1.5 - 2 hours for the portrait session with the couple and wedding party, depending on how many locations you are visiting and how far it takes to get there. I would recommend allotting 30 - 45 min for family photos which usually happens right after the ceremony when everyone is in the same place.

Should you do a first look or see each other for the first time at the ceremony?

This is totally up to your preference and there are quite a few benefits to both. Obviously seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony is traditional and it makes the ceremony extra exciting. But a first look give you a chance to have an intimate moment to share when you first see each other, it also makes the ceremony and bit more relaxing. 

If you are doing a first look you can plan for a timeline in this general order: getting ready - first look - portrait photo session - ceremony - family photos - straight into cocktails/reception.  

If you decide to see each other for the first time at the ceremony you can plan for a timeline in this general order: getting ready - ceremony - family photos - portrait photo session - reception.

When should we plan our first dance and other reception activities?

This is very much a matter of preference but my absolute favourite time to see a first dance is immediately following the grand entrance to the reception. At this time everyone is so excited and full of energy. Of course it has been very common to see the first dance after dinner and speeches and right before the party gets started. There is no right or wrong time, it is completely up to you! If you are planning parent dances you can use those as one way to get the party started and guests on the dance floor.

One other idea that I love is opting to do the cake cutting before dinner, that way the caterers/venue staff can cut the cake during dinner and slices are ready for dessert.

Or if you're playing a slideshow or doing another game or activity as a couple then consider scheduling those while guests are finishing up their dinner. 

When it comes to speeches most couples want those captured to some extent, so remember your vendors will need a break to eat too! And since most people don't enjoy getting their photo taken while they eat dinner time is the perfect opportunity for your vendors to get a much needed break. So make sure you have time allotted during dinner for your vendors to eat before beginning speeches. Most couples plan for speeches to commence once dinner is essentially finished for everyone. You may also want to do speeches in between dinner and dessert to give your guests a chance to digest before digging into the sweets!

Have you thought about sunset photos?

Depending on your location and time of year the sun will set at different times. I usually suggest to my clients that we plan to sneak out of the reception at the proper time for 15-20 minutes and get some great sunset shots just outside the venue. Sometimes we may need to pause or delay speeches or dances to get out and just the right time this but I highly recommend adding it into your timeline! All of your photos will be beautiful but the quality of light during golden hour is definitely worth getting a few shots!

What about a controlled exit?

What is a “controlled exit” you ask? It’s a term photographers and videographers use for capturing end of night sparklers, etc. Since photographers and videographers are rarely scheduled until the very end of the night if you are thinking of doing a special send off I recommend coordinating with your creative team to setup this event earlier in the evening. One of the perks to doing it earlier as well is after sunset there is an amazing time between sundown and complete darkness called "blue hour" during this time you can really get an amazing composition of light for sparklers, etc. If you have questions about making your send off amazing earlier in the evening feel free to reach out and chat! I’d be glad to offer recommendations!

Sample Timelines

Feel free to steal any of these ideas to create your own perfect timeline! Your perfect day can look any way you want, these are purely for information and inspiration.

Are you looking for a photographer and videographer for your Alberta or British Columbia wedding? Well helping you create and capture a magical memory is what I do best!

If you’re thinking "Lindsay!! I need you to be on our wedding day team!” then let’s go. To get in touch with me, you can fill out my contact form and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. In the meantime, come hang with me day-to-day over on my Instagram!

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