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“I do” How To: 5 Tips to keeping Your Timeline on Track

Wedding planning.  Either you love it, or you hate it.

It’s the mix of adrenaline filled emotions running on high, with the need to check off all those pesky little items on your to do list.

Often, the bride is overwhelmed with all of the decisions she is facing.  And figuring out exactly how each moment will happen in an efficient, yet non-stressful manner is left until the last moment.

But, sitting down and creating your wedding timeline, or order of events for your big day should be one of the first things you accomplish.

Gather your ideas

Get out your notebook and pen, pour yourself a glass of wine, and begin to list all of those incredible moments you will experience on your wedding day.  Write them down.  Your must haves, your expectations, and even the trivial tasks.  They all take up time, and to make sure your day flows smoothly from start to finish, do not leave anything out.

Book your photographer early and defer to their expertise

Your photographer will be directly responsible for documenting each step of your day.  A professional will be experienced in the flow of events, and will be able to provide you with a realistic time for each.  Take their advice.  Most professional photographers prefer to assist with creating your wedding timeline, as they can offer you true time frames, and not feel rushed.

If you hired a wedding coordinator, or your venue provides one, make sure you notify your photographer with the coordinator’s contact information.  The wedding coordinator will be there to assist with your venue, but they are not responsible for the entire day, as the photographer is.

I create the wedding timeline for all my couples as a courtesy and part of my booking process.  We discuss wants, what is happening when, and I transfer all the notes and information into one document.  If you are attempting to complete this yourself without assistance, that’s okay.  I am here to help.


Creating your wedding timeline

I prefer to use a spreadsheet to capture all the pertinent information for my couples.  Excel or Google Docs are excellent programs for this purpose.  First, create a spreadsheet and label it “Wedding Timeline”.  Make 5 columns as follows:  Time., Location, Who, What, and Notes.  Save the document and begin to plan out your Big Day!

Start with the Ceremony and work backwards

Most likely you will know the ceremony time in the early planning stages.  You may want to recite your vows at sunset, or your church only offers service at a set time.  This is your starting point.  Write this time down three quarters of the way down your spreadsheet.

An example would be:      5:00 pm.       All.          Ceremony.

Directly above that line will be the Bridal Procession line up.  Above that the groom to alter.  Begin listing each and every moment.  Do not forget to plan some cushion time for bathroom breaks, and just time to relax.

List of Common Wedding Day Events

Details Images:  They say its all in the details, and with a Wedding it is never more true!  You will want pictures of all those special items which make your day uniquely you!  This goes for the Bride, Groom, the Ceremony site, and the Reception site.

The details images are the first images your photographer will take once they arrive.  I ask all my couples to have what I call a “Details” Box for both the Bride and Groom.  You can use a plain box, plastic tote, or some brides go to  a big box or craft stores such as Michaels, or JoAnn and purchase one of those pretty color coordinated boxes with those wonderful 50% off coupons. (I love when my Brides do this)

Having all your details in one place is one of the easiest, yet best things you can do to eliminate stress and that last minute scramble from forgetting something important.  Begin packing your details two weeks prior to your wedding.  Keep a list of everything you will need, and check it off.

Bride things to include are:  Complete Invitation Suite, Save the Date cards, ALL the rings, Ring box, Wedding shoes, Garter, Any jewelry–earrings, necklace, broach, family heirloom, something blue, hair piece, perfume bottle, veil, Bouquet, and anything else you may wish documented.  **Your photographer will also request your Wedding Dress for images.  Bridal details takes 45 minutes to an hour to document, as the photographer will stage the items for the best imagery.

Groom things to include are:  Shoes, socks, tie, tie pin, ,boutonnière, Suit, Watch, Cuff links, Suspenders/belt, cigar, Pocket watch, Hankie, Cologne, and anything else of importance to him.  Groom details takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

Brides Hair and Make-up:  After looking through magazines, and scrolling through Pinterest, you will decide on your “look” for your wedding day.  I recommend a trial run with whomever will be doing your hair and makeup on your wedding day.  This will help you gauge how much time to allot for this part of your day.  Also, will your bridal party be having their hair and makeup done as well?  This takes up a large chunk of time on your wedding day, and is an easy way to fall behind, and start running late.  It is better to start earlier than later, as you will need to add in travel time for all to the venue or church as well.  Most brides take 1.5 to 2 hours for hair and makeup.  Now, do you want this part of your day photographed as well?  If so, your photographer will need to be on site with you while you prepare.

Bride Dressing:  With my couples, this is a private time between the Mother and Daughter, or Bride and her Maid of Honor or Aunt.  When the Bride slips into her gown, she is transformed.  Gone is the little girl, and in her place is standing a woman about to marry.  Bridal dressing images are a must for every wedding.  Your photographer will be in the room with you, but please be assured they will not take images of you until you are decently clothed.

After the Bride is dressed, bridal portraits are taken of the bride and her Mother or Maid of Honor.  The bride will also have images taken affixing her earrings, adding the veil, slipping into her shoes.  This getting dressed section lasts approximately 20 minutes to half an hour, depending on the details.  **HINT:  Practice getting into your wedding dress with whomever will be assisting you on your wedding day.  Trial runs cut down on last minute frustrations.

The Mother or Maid of Honor may also present the Bride with a personal gift at this time, or the something borrowed something blue.


Bride Reveal:. After the Bride is dressed, she will then reveal herself to her squad.  This is always an emotional time, and your photographer will capture the candid reactions, as well as some posed images with the bridesmaids.  The Bride reveal usually takes 15 to 20 minutes.

First Look between Father and Daughter:  This is where the Bride reveals herself to her father prior to walking down the aisle.  Every Father tears up at seeing his baby girl dressed in her wedding gown.  Your photographer will find a private place for this event to take place.  Often, the bride is presented with a gift at this time.  Father/Daughter First Looks last approximately 10 to 15 minutes depending on gift exchange and imagery.

Groom Dressing:  The Groom deserves some images with him dressing as well.  But, face it.  Guys dress way faster than the gals.  The photographer will usually capture images of the guys hanging out during this time as well as group shots.  Time frame 20 -25 minutes

First Look.  Will you and your soon to be spouse sharing a First Look?  This is where the couple selects a private location for an intimate first meeting prior to exchanging their vows and ceremony.  Photographers love this as it permits them to obtain couples portraits earlier in the day, instead of rushing to accomplish all images within the 30 to 60 minutes of cocktail hour.

A First Look does not detract from seeing the bride walking down the aisle.  The emotional reaction will still be as strong.  Most couples appreciate a first look as they get to experience this moment up close and personal, without hundreds of eyes on them.  A first look is private, intimate and a photographers dream.  This will be the only time you two will be alone together all day.

Most First Looks between couples last approximately 30 to 40 minutes depending on photography options.

Venue Set up Times:  Be aware of when your venue will permit your wedding party to arrive, also when they will begin and complete your wedding set up.  These times should be listed on your timeline so vendors know when they may arrive.  No one wants the cake to arrive AFTER the ceremony has begun.  Know your times.

Ceremony Site Details:  When planning your timeline, do not forget your photographer will need at least 10 to 15 minutes PRIOR to any guests arrival to photograph your venue, and capture all those details you have worked so hard on.  **Include sufficient travel time for your photographer to get between locations***

Reception Site Details:  Same as above.

QUICK TIPS: When photographing venues, the more natural light the better.  Consider placement of chairs, tables, etc to accommodate ease of access.

Lunch:  Do not skip a meal on your wedding day!  Plan to have food delivered or a relative provide a brunch for your bridal party.  Eat PRIOR to dressing in your gowns.  If a big meal seems to heavy for you, prepare light snacks and have options for your bridal party.  30 minutes of down time

Exchange of letters or Gifts: You may want to write the love of your life a touching letter, telling them you will meet them soon at the alter.  Or you may want to share a private moment where you present them with a personal gift or family heirloom.

Formal Portraits:  Formal family portraits consist of the Brides immediate family, and the Groom’s immediate family.  These normally take place directly after the ceremony, and during the cocktail hour.  Time will vary depending on the size of family involved.  They will be photographed in two sections.  Group A:  Bride’s side.  Then Group B:  The Groom’s side.  Normally time runs from 10 to 20 minutes. Tip:  Assign an Aunt or Cousin who knows each person you wish to have in your family formal photographs.  This person will then assist the photographer by informing these guests of where to meet and when for the portraits.

Bridal Party Portraits:  These usually happen directly after the formal family portraits.  This will involve the entire bridal party; Bride, Groom, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, and any Flower girls or Ring Bearers.  20 minutes. 

Couples Portraits:. These are what matter the most, so make sure you allow enough time for this intimate session with the Bride and Groom.  This tales place either after the First Look as mentioned above, or after the bridal party images, during cocktail hour.  20 to 30 minutes


Grand Entrance:  Where the entire bridal party is announced and enters the reception after the cocktail hour is ended and the guests are all seated.  Normally, the DJ will coordinate asking guests to be seated, and have the order in which the bridal party will enter and be announced–ending with the Bride and Groom.  10 minutes to 15 minutes depending on crowd

First Dances:  These are the traditional dances performed at most weddings.

Bride and Groom, Bride/Father; Groom/Mother, and sometimes the Anniversary dance.  The transition or time allowance is 5 minutes per song or dance.  15 to 20 minutes

Blessing and Welcome:  Most often the Father of the bride will make a short welcome and thank you for coming speech, ending with a toast to the Bride and Groom.  5 minutes

A formal blessing before the meal by the officiant or church official follows the welcome speech.

Meal:  This will depend on if you are having a plated, family style or buffet type service.  The plated dinners usually run shorter than those which the tables are called one at a time to enter the buffet line.  30 to 45 minutes or longer depending on guest count and service style

Toasts:  After the meal is served to the Bride and Groom, and while the guests are eating, the toasts usually happen.  The Best Man and Maid of Honor offer toasts to the newly wed couple. 10 minutes


Cake Cutting:  The Bride and Groom will take the posed traditional images with the cake. 10 minutes   Tip:  It is best to place your cake table away from a wall, so you are able to walk all the way around the table.  If you can only access the cake from in front, you will block your guests view and limit the angle your photographer will have to capture the images.


Bouquet Toss/Garter Toss:  These two events happen back to back, with the option of having whomever catches the bouquet and garter also participate.  10 to 15 minutes depending on guest count

Grand Exit:  The staged Grand Exit is becoming more and more popular.  Guests line up and form a tunnel for the Bride and Groom to pass through.  Sparkler, bubbles, even light wand exits are among the current favorites.  Plan on having the DJ notify guests PRIOR to the last dance, where they are to meet and the protocol.  This process usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to get all guest moved into position, light the sparklers, and have the wedding couple exit.  The couple may be asked to do two runs through, as an encore and to ensure the photographer has caught the images sufficiently.

Bathroom breaks:  Yes, I am listing this for a reason.  Some wedding gowns will require the assistance of one or two other individuals for the Bride to visit the restroom.  Also take into account the time period in which the dress is bustled.  Pad your timeline with an extra 5 to 10 minutes of this downtime.

Dancing:  Each venue will have a different “end time”.  The music usually plays right up until the venue end time.

Sunset images:  If the ceremony ended earlier in the day, your photographer will pull the couple away from the festivities for a few moments to take images during sunset.  10 minutes

Sample Timeline

All of the above listed events may or may not take place during your wedding.  It is entirely up to you and what you want.  Go over the list again, and see what speaks to you, what you want differently or want to eliminate all together.

This list is only meant as a standard guideline of events. You may chose to add other things, such as a couple game, a new version of the newlywed game where the guests interact with you.


Finalizing your Wedding Timeline

Once you have made all your decisions and have the timeline complete, this document is then given to ALL vendors participating in your wedding day.  This way, each vendor will coordinate with the others, to ensure the process goes smoothly and they are prepared for each event.

One last word of advice.  Schedule yourself some down time.  Your wedding day will fly by in a flurry of activity and well wishes.  It is easy to become over whelmed and need a breather.  Make sure you have a room or somewhere quiet available where you may escape for a private minute or two.

Planning now will save lots of headache later.

Now, go and rock that timeline.











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