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Wedding Timeline Tips

Wedding Day Timeline Tips and Ideas

Planning your wedding day timeline can be one of the most stressful parts of the entire wedding planning process. We have put together a bunch of tips and ideas to help make your wedding day run as smoothly as possible.

There is also an awesome video at the bottom of this post that includes some great wedding day timeline tips from Jamie at JW Coordination.

The entire planning process starts with your ceremony time. This is the first thing that you will want to lock in. The entire day revolves around the wedding ceremony. The second big decision to make is whether you want to do a first look or not (We put together some great info on doing a first look). Once you make your decision on these two things, the entire process gets much easier. Another great resource for you to check out is our list of getting ready tips.

Your Getting Ready Timeline

Below is a sample timeline (based on a 4pm ceremony) with a first look (assuming that you are getting ready, getting married, and having your reception at the same venue). If your ceremony starts at 3:30pm, 4:30pm, or 5pm, just adjust the times below by the appropriate amount of time.

  • 12:00pm: Candid photos of bride getting hair/make up done.
  • 12:45pm: Bride completely finished with hair and makeup.
  • 12:45pm: Photos of girls in robes/pajamas, champagne toast
  • 01:00pm: Groom gets ready (Pants/shirt on. No jacket, shoes, or tie)
  • 01:15pm: Bride gets into dress
  • 01:35pm: Bride first look with father, brother, mom, etc...
  • 01:50pm: Bride gets ready for first look with groom (groom heads out to first look location)
  • 02:00pm: First look
  • 02:15pm: Bride/groom photos
  • 02:45pm: Wedding party photos
  • 03:00pm: Family photos (some couples choose to do these family photos right after ceremony instead)
  • 03:15pm: Bride tucked away to freshen up while guests arrive
  • 03:30pm: Photographer captures photos of ceremony details and guests arriving
  • 04:00pm: Ceremony starts
  • 04:30pm: Visit with friends and family at cocktail hour (Photographer captures lots of candid photos during this time)
  • 05:40pm: Reception

A good to rule to follow for weddings where everything takes place at the same location is to do the first look 2 hours before your ceremony start time.

Below is a sample timeline (based on a 4pm ceremony) with no first look (assuming that you are getting ready, getting married, and having your reception at the same venue):

  • 12:45pm: Photos of the bride getting hair/makeup finishing touches.
  • 01:30pm: Bride and bridesmaids hair/makeup ready
  • 01:30pm: Photos of girls doing champagne toast in pajamas/robes
  • 01:30pm: Photos of groom getting ready (He should have pants and shirt on. No jacket, tie, or shoes)
  • 02:00pm: Bride gets into dress
  • 02:15pm: Photos of groom and groomsmen
  • 02:15pm: Bride first look with father, brother, mother, etc...
  • 02:45pm: Photos of bride and bridesmaids (guys tucked away to avoid seeing each other)
  • 03:15pm: Bride tucked away to freshen up while guests arrive
  • 03:30pm: Photographer captures photos of ceremony details and guests arriving
  • 04:00pm: Ceremony starts
  • 04:30pm: Ceremony ends (bride/groom, wedding party, and immediate family wait for guests to head to cocktail hour)
  • 04:45pm: Family photos (This allows for 15 minutes of immediate family)
  • 05:00pm: Wedding party photos (This allows for 15 minutes)
  • 05:15pm: Bride/groom photos (This allows for 15 minutes of time. Please note that waiting until after ceremony to do all photos will not allow a lot of time. We like to make this known ahead of time so there are no surprises.)
  • 05:30pm: Bustle dress
  • 05:40pm: Reception

As you can see from these very realistic sample timelines, there is simply more time for bride and groom photos if you do a first look. There are also many more opportunities to capture candid photos since you will have more time with your family and friends. We do not say this to persuade you into doing a first look. We just want to be as honest as possible, provide you with the information, and then allow you to make the decision that fits best with your wants and needs.

One thing to keep in mind when looking at the wedding timelines above is that those timelines are examples of weddings where everything is at the same location. They do account for travel between different locations. We have given you some average times for how long events typically take on the wedding day. They can be found below.

How long do things take?

  • Receiving line: 15-45 minutes depending on size of wedding and how many people will great guests
  • Each time the wedding party gets in or out of a bus/limo/trolley: 5 minutes
  • Bustling the wedding dress: 10-15 minutes
  • Travel time between locations: Google map it and then add 10 minutes each way
  • Reception room "reveal" before your guests take their seats: 10 minutes
  • Doing a champagne toast with the girls before getting dressed: 10 minutes
  • First look with dad, brother, or mother: 10 minutes

Sunset Photos

Do you want sunset photos? You can check the exact sunset time for your wedding date and location by simply Googling "sunset time + wedding location + wedding date", but the times below will give you a great place to start:

Sunset time changes throughout the year. Keep these times in mind when planning your day.!
In March it ranges from 6-7:30pm!
In April it ranges from 7:30-8pm!
In May it ranges from 8-8:30pm!
In June it ranges from 8:30-8:40pm!
In July it ranges from 8:20-8:40pm!
In August it ranges from 7:30-8:20pm!
In September it ranges from 6:45-7:30pm!
In October it ranges from 6-6:45pm!
In November it ranges from 4:40-6pm!
In December it ranges from 4:40-4:50pm!

A good rule to follow with the times listed above is to knock off 10-20 minutes from the posted sunset time. The reason for this is unless you are at the beach on the west coast, the sun typically sets behind mountains, hills, or buildings way before the listed sunset time. Here in Pennsylvania, if the listed sunset time is 6pm, the sun will probably dip below the hills closer to 5:45. If you are in the city, it can disappear even earlier. Heading out 15 minutes before the listed sunset time will usually give you the best chance for amazing light.

Planning Tips For Your Wedding Reception

You are now married, your guests have had a chance to have a drink at cocktail hour (with you if you did a first look), and you have taken all of your photos. Now it's time to have dinner with your family/friends and dance the night away. Here are a few wedding reception planning tips to help you get the most out of your night.

This is the order of events that will make the wedding reception flow nicely. The key is getting all of the special dances, toasts, and cake cutting done early. This allows your dj/band to keep the dance floor packed for the rest of the night.

Recommended order for your wedding reception:

  • Grand entrance
  • First dance
  • Father/daughter dance
  • Mother/son dance - Some couples try to do the father/daughter dance at the same time as the mother/son dance to save on time. We do not recommend doing it this way. If you do the two dances at the same time, your photographer will have a hard time capturing the best moments since he/she will have to pick one to focus on. If having amazing moments captured is important to you, do these special dances separately.
  • Welcome toast (typically done by father of the bride or the couple)
  • First course (salads)
  • Toasts
  • Second course (main entree)
  • Bride/groom outside for golden hour photos: (If these photos are important to you, make sure you put them in your timeline)
  • Large group photos (extended family, college friends, co-workers) - We gets asked to do these photos at most of our weddings. If planned ahead, it can be very easy. If it's not planned ahead, it can get chaotic and take forever, which won't make you or your guests very happy. Let your photographer AND your DJ/band know that you want to do this ahead of time. This way they can work together to make the process quick and easy.
  • Cake cutting
  • Dancing

Check out this great video from Jamie Wolfer from JW Coordination. The video has a pretty long intro so if you want to get right to the timeline tips, fast forward to the 1:50 mark:

Check out these 10+ getting ready tips for your wedding day (it goes over choosing the best room for hair/makeup, important details to gather for your photographer, getting ready outfits, tips for the guys and more).

If you are still looking for a photographer, we would love to be considered. Please contact us here for more info. to see how we typically approach the wedding day, this is a great place to start.