Planning a wedding day timeline is a lot like the theory of time and relativity. The further you are from your wedding, the slower it takes for it to arrive. But once it’s the month of the wedding, it’s like time hits the button on fast forward.
In reference to your wedding start time, the sooner you can plan this, the better! In our years of planning a wedding timeline (or multiples of them), we’ve found that there isn’t really an answer to that. At least, not in reference to the question, “What is the best time to have a wedding ceremony.”
There are many things to consider! Such as the time of year, distances between the reception venue and the ceremony venue, distances for walking…there’s a lot.
We’ve had the privilege to be able to hold our couples hands during this planning process and to work with their wedding planner to create detailed timelines that help our couples enjoy every minute of their big day.
As it turns out, we’ve honed in on what a typical wedding timeline looks like for many of our couples.
Disclaimer: We’re going to assume for the purposes of this example wedding that the locations are all on site. This means that where the couple gets ready, has their ceremony, and enjoys the reception is all in one place.
It’s important that if your wedding reception or any other parts of your wedding are not in the same location that you take into consideration travel time and the time to walk to your destination! We know weddings at venues such as the Adolphus Hotel may be in one area, but a hotel requires a network of rooms and elevators to navigate. Not taking this into account can mess up your timeline!
1:00 Coverage Begins | Details
2:00 Getting Ready Images
3:00 Hair and Makeup are Finished
3:30 Bride’s Dress On
3:45 Bridal Portraits
4:00 First look and Couples Portraits
4:30 Wedding Party
5:00 Family Portraits
5:30 Guests Begin to Arrive | Photograph Ceremony Details
6:00 Ceremony Begins
6:45 Ceremony Ends
6:55 Family Portraits | Cocktail Hour Begins
7:20 Cocktail Hour Ends | Bride and Groom Enter Dinner
7:40 Nathan & Zoey Eat
8:15 Sunset Portraits (20 Minutes)
10:55 Last Dance and Sparkler Exit
11:10 Coverage Ends
Getting Ready Images
During the getting ready portion of the day, Zoey and I really want to take the time to allow you to relish in the fact that you are getting married! Ladies are sipping mimosas while having their hair and makeup done, and the guys are out golfing or sitting around having a small glass of bourbon.
What we don’t want to do is fake anything during this portion of the day, and we know this can be a high stress time. After all, it’s not easy having portraits of you taken while your hair is down and makeup half done. Don’t fear though, because while you are at your most vulnerable, Zoey and I are also taking some of our favorite portraits: the detail images and flat lays. These details are incredibly important because they help flesh out the story about your wedding.
Pro Tip: Set all of the details you would like us to include in these images together prior to the wedding day so that when we get to your wedding it’s as simple as handing us a box and we can get started. Some of our favorite things to include in these images are invitation suites, rings, jewelry, shoes, and any small family heirlooms you are including in your day.
One extra tip: when getting ready, things can get messy FAST. If there is an adjacent room with low light, try to contain your mess in there. A clean room will make your images that much more amazing.
Bride’s Dress On
30 minutes before the first look is a great time to put on the dress. It doesn’t matter how much space your wedding dress takes – the dress is going to get heavy! We want to help you stay as fresh as possible as the wedding time allows.
This is a big moment for you, because once the dress is on, it’s game time. Whether you are putting on the dress yourself or having help from your mother or maid of honor, we want you to take your time. Let’s not waste energy on empty words – just live in the moment. Feel how the dress feels as it slips over your arms, experience the weight of the veil, and cry when you see yourself fully dressed as a bride.
Pro tip: Make sure to have whoever is helping you into your dress get dressed before you that way they are ready to go when the moment comes.
After you put on your dress and you are ready to go is the perfect moment to grab a few portraits of you alone. The day goes by super quickly and we love getting these portraits but with the excitement of the first look building it can be easy to look over if we don’t add at least a little time in the day. If you are really wanting to lean into your bridal portraits some brides even opt to schedule a bridal session before the day. It’s a great way to get some extra time in your dress, take some amazing images, and even run a trial on your hair and makeup with your dress.
First Look and Couples Portraits
Easily the most exciting part of the wedding day – the first look! Think about it. Up until this point, you and your partner have intentionally kept away from each other, and now you get to actually see and hold each other! Once we have given you a minute completely alone, it’s at this point that Zoey and I also like to go right into the couples portraits because this is when the excitement and electricity is at its peak – aside from the part when you say, “I do.”
Before we go on, I want to encourage you to take this time to be present with each other. Don’t worry about the Pinterest photos you saw that you want to recreate.
Don’t think about your stray hair in your face as your partner leans in to hug you. Be there for each other and feel the breath of your partner as you embrace. Maybe take a time to linger, just a little longer, with each other. The wedding isn’t starting without you.
Wedding Party/ Family Portraits
A typical wedding day timeline schedules the wedding party and family portraits after the ceremony. What no one tells couples is that the family portion of the day can be the most strenuous. You have Uncle Jim who wants to talk with Aunt Clarita, John and Sue who keep going to the bar during cocktail hour because they haven’t had a night out away from their kids in 3 years, and it is just loud (sometimes).
The way we keep this from happening is through pre-planning the family portraits. Who will be there, when they need to be there, and how long this will take.
Zoey is a master planner and she will take that list and make it so that it is a quick and painless process in which everyone has fun! We won’t let a family member off that you want there – and we won’t include the ones you don’t. 😉
Pro Tip: Limit your Formal Family Portrait list as much as you can, we have never spoken to a couple who has told us that this time of the day was their favorite. Our personal opinion, limit these portraits to immediate family and grandparents, then we can grab portraits with everyone else during the cocktail hour and reception. This way, you get to enjoy cocktail hour and you get more authentic and fun portraits.
Guests Begin to Arrive | Photograph Ceremony Details
Once the family portraits are done, it’s time for you to go rest before the wedding ceremony starts! We really do love an evening wedding timeline because it allows for everyone to get everything done before guests arrive.
It also gives Zoey and I the time we need to photograph ceremony details. Wedding planners, florists, and everyone who spent any time making your wedding as beautiful as it is deserve recognition.
These photographs allow us to give credit where credit is due, and it allows us to fill in the gaps of your wedding story. After all, a story is made up of not only the characters or what happens, but it needs a setting as well.
From what Zoey and I have experienced, the average wedding ceremony time is about 30 minutes. There is no official answer for the best time of day for wedding ceremonies to take place, but we do have a few pointers. It really depends on the wedding season.
During a winter wedding, the sun sets around 4:00pm. A summer wedding, on the other hand, wouldn’t have sunset until 7:00pm to 8:00pm. Outdoor weddings are less forgiving on the time than indoor weddings, but they are so beautiful!
Evening wedding ceremonies are amazing for photographers because the sun isn’t extremely harsh, and if it’s angled just right, can really make your ceremony images stand out.
At the end of the day, these are just tiny details in the grand scheme of things. The moment you see your partner during the ceremony , the only thing that matters is each other.
Cocktail Hour and Dinner
Once the ceremony ends, the party begins! If your venue requires a room flip, or if the brand (or DJ) needs to set up in the reception venue, then you may have a cocktail hour. This is a great time to walk around to visit your guests and receive congratulations while Zoey and I follow.
The cocktail hour is an easy way to get photos of you with the ones who love you! You may even see the two of us sneak off into the reception before things open up so we can continue telling your wedding story through detailed photographs. Don’t fill up too much on hors d’oeuvres – dinner is right after! Followed by an open dance floor, parent dances, first dances, and more dancing!
Here’s your next excuse to get away from the crowd and experience the day with your partner again – sunset time. I could speak of the dreaminess sunset portraits bring or the perfect lighting situations, but really, it’s the connection a sunset brings. Clichés exist for a reason – because they’re commonly agreed upon. Sunsets are romantic, and for a life that we want full of it, weddings tend to bring out the romance.
During this small 20-minute portion of the day, Zoey and I want you to slow down, enjoy the last of the light on your wedding day, and realize with the end of one day, another is coming. The start of a new chapter.
Last Dance / Grand Exit
Now your celebration comes to a close – but not without one last hoorah. You’ve taken the time to share the night with your friends and family – but only a few of those moments have been spent intimately with each other. The night belongs to you, so take ownership of the final dance of the night.
As everyone prepares to wish you well on your journey with a fun grand exit, Zoey and I want you to have a moment that is sans-guest for anyone without a camera. As the final note plays and you hear the guests speaking just outside the doors – lighting their sparklers or blowing bubbles – grab each others hand, rush out to your getaway vehicle, and begin your newly married life together.