At the moment of this post, I can’t remember exactly how many weddings I’ve photographed. Although I am not a wedding planner, I’ve helped many couples with their wedding schedule (or wedding timeline, however you want to call it). I thought it might be helpful for you to have an insight, from the perspective of a photographer, into an ideal wedding schedule. I call it an ideal schedule because it runs without any hiccup. When my bride & groom have their schedule similar to it, they seemed to enjoy their wedding day most, without feeling stressful at all.
Before I talk further, the true expert of wedding timeline is a wedding planner, which I HIGHLY recommend you to have. They can help you not only with your wedding timeline but also with many aspects of your wedding. Having them makes a HUGE difference in how effective your wedding plan will be. Also, when things get out of hand, they can keep things under control and allow you to enjoy your wedding stress-free. They are an investment that you will be so happy you made.
If you are at the early stage of your planning and just want to estimate how many hours of photography coverage you need for booking purposes, you can skip and come back to this later.
The wedding schedule below is a starting point. There are hundreds of factors that make your wedding unique. When you look at this schedule, you should make some adjustments. Some considerations you should take are sunset time, location, ceremony time, travel time, family photos, portrait time your photographer requires, special traditional cultures, etc. Each consideration might require some tweaks. That’s why I only suggest this as a starting point when planning your schedule.
The below wedding timeline is based on the ceremony starting at 5pm with a First Look before the ceremony. There are many good reasons why many couples decided to have First Look. You can read more about what First Look is and why I suggest my clients see each other before the ceremony. Also, get ready location is at the venue as well.
- 1:30 – Get ready photos
- 3:00 – First Look
- 3:30 – Wedding party portraits & couple portraits
- 4:30 – Finish portraits & freshen up while the guests arriving
- 5:00 – Ceremony
- 5:30 – Cocktail hour & family photos (after you finish family photos, you can spend time for more couple portraits or mingling with your guests – totally up to you)
- 6:30 – Prepare for the reception and guests take their seats.
The reception timeline is usually more personalized based on the type of catering (full-course meal vs buffet), games, activities, etc. Here is a starting point:
- 6:30 – Line up for the reception
- 6:45 – Grand entrance & first dance
- 7:00 – Dinner
- 7:45 – Table visit
- 8:15 – Toasts/Speeches
- 8:30 – Open dancing
- 9:00 – Cake cutting
- 9:15 – Bouquet/Garter Toss
- 9:30 – More dancing
This is a typical 8-hour American wedding that my clients usually book. Some book coverage earlier for more getting ready photos, or later for more dancing photos. Some extend both ends.
It’s worth noticing that the above wedding timeline doesn’t have any travel time since getting ready is at the same location as the ceremony and the reception. If you get ready at a different location, pay close attention to the travel time and parking time as they might delay your wedding schedule. You should book additional hours instead of trying to squeeze everything in the same coverage.
Our final thought about wedding schedule:
- Don’t try to do this alone. This will be stressful without additional help from an expert.
- More time is safer than enough. Each element often takes longer than expected. When planning your timeline, allow extra room for any possible delay.
- Plan early so that you have time to adjust and discuss with your photographer/planner for any necessary adjustment.
- A great wedding schedule determines how you will enjoy and remember your wedding day.