Starting Your Wedding Day Time Line

Starting Your Wedding Day Time Line

We vowed some years ago that we would n-e-v-e-r be that photographer who keeps a couple and bridal party from the reception for two hours. We are believers in being efficient…and helping you to enjoy more real moments with your new spouse, your family and friends. So over the years, we’ve come up with a system that helps to accomplish that.

Wedding day time lines. Having a photographer that has the experience in piecing together the key moments of the day is invaluble. Maybe you’ve heard someone comment before, “it isn’t a wedding if it isn’t running late!”. We couldn’t disagree more. Most “running late” is completely avoidable with experienced time line planning.

Time line planning has a number of moving parts, but probably the most common question we get asked is “how long do we need for photos after the ceremony”. The answer to that will really depend on a variety of things, but nothing more so than how your photographer operates.

Usually, by the time a couple gets around to booking their photographer, thay already have their venue and have typically settled on a ceremony time. Most of the time, when we start helping with the time line planning process, there’s some room for adjustments, but we also have to make decisions based on the structure of the day.

Keeping this in mind, there are three primary things that can make or break a wedding day time line.

1. Proper estimating of hair/make-up time.
2. The photographer’s ability to manage formal photos.
3. overall logistics

Before we go into how we appraoch a time line – let’s look at these three key things and a few others to keep in mind too!

Hair and Make-up:
We always suggest a “goal time” for the bride to get dressed and then back up the time needed for hair and make-up to be completed. It’s always better to leave plenty of time for getting ready. Never save the bride for last. Just in case things begin to run behind, there’s a better chance of being able to get on with the schedule if the bride isn’t at the end of the line. Try not to over-tax your HMU crew…leave a little extra time when in doubt.

The Sweet Olive Style: Our plan is to set a time for the bride to dress – and then we prefer to start 60-90 minutes before that so we can capture details and some of the last getting ready moments.

Photographers and Formal Photos:
A photographer who isn’t organized, directive or doesn’t have a plan or system for family formals, bridal party and the couple – is a disaster waiting to happen. When each “set-up” for a photo takes 2 minutes or so on average, time gets way from you quickly. Too often we’ve seen photographers who are very random in their approach. That leads to confusion with the guests and spending longer on photos than many couples wanted. Remember also, “lists” can actually slow down the process – but they can be a help for less-experienced photographers. Most photos can be accomplished in a “large grouping to small grouping” system using 3-4 key breakdowns at most. That way family can move on to the reception in a timely manner – and you too!

The Sweet Olive Style: When it comes to photos with the couple together, we always start with family first. (before the ceremony we do of course try to have separate photos of the couple finished with their respective attendants as well). Our goal is always to get the family into the cocktail hour/reception asap. Then we move onto the couple with bridal party and then some time with just the couple. In most cases, we will start with one side of the family (the bride’s for example), doing groups from largest to smallest and then dismissing that side of family. Then switch to the other family groupings (groom’s side for example). If step parents are involved, we will certainly address that with you. As mentioned, once family is gathered for photos, we plan on one hour or less unless other planned for.

Always keep in mind travelling distance, whether it’s from where you’re getting ready to your venue (clearing out your stuff, etc…) – or maybe making a stop for photos at some other location. These kind of logistics can quickly add time to your day. Even little things like getting a good sized bridal party in and out of a limousine can add 5 or 10 minutes here or there. It all adds up!

Ceremony plan:
While it’s becoming less common to “excuse guests” row by row or hold a “receiving line” after the ceremony – how guests leave the ceremony and how you get family and bridal party back together for photos is important. People have a tendency to wander off, especially if there’s a bar and cocktail hour starting immediately following in the same location. If your family members don’t already know where to go after the ceremony, you could find yourself spending 15 minutes rounding up people before beginning photos. Also, if the couple doesn’t have a plan for exiting and returning for formal photos, you may find your self in a spontaneous receiving line and greeting everyone at a time you were not planning to.

The Sweet Olive Style: We prefer that family be told ahead of time if they are supposed to be part of formal photos – and also tell them to return to the front of the ceremony location. Whether that is outdoors, in a church, banquet area, etc…It’s the “logical” place most people expect to be called back to. While parents and siblings might instinctively know that they will be expected to be part of formals, it is wise to communicate directly with everyone before the wedding – such as spouses of siblings, grandparents and any other extended family if desired.

Wedding planners and coordinators:
We love our planning and coordinating friends, but it has happened numerous times where we have had a planner/coordinator either leave far too much time for formal photos or nowhere near enough. If you are using a planner or day-of coordinator, be sure that they are checking with your photography team about the time needs for photos before setting some of the other times – especially cocktail hour and dinner. Planning for photography isn’t a one size fits all…

Here’s one example that is pretty typical of how we start the basics of a time line. Let’s use our fictional couple Emily & Ryan.

Let’s say they are having both their ceremony and reception at the same venue…and they’re both getting ready there – and not doing a first look. About 120 guests and a pretty average bridal party size of four bridesmaids and four groomsmen.

We always start with what time your ceremony is.
Starts at 5pm and is expected to last 20 minutes – we round it up to 30 minutes to allow for the bridal party and family to regroup.

5:30pm – Begin photos in this order…Emily & Ryan family breakdowns, Emily & Ryan with bridal party, Emily & Ryan.
We always suggest leaving one hour for this if you’re not doing a first look. Often times it takes less than that for us.

This way you’re looking at being introduced to the reception at about 6:30pm.

If you’re doing a dinner, perhaps it’s starting then at 6:45pm. Allow one hour to complete dinner.

7:45pm – your “events” start. Dances, cake, perhaps toasts a bit earlier or during dinner.

We usually plan on 90-120 minutes for events and some open dancing time. Of course it all depends on how late your planning your reception to go, perhaps an “exit”, etc…

In this example, we would probably be wrapped with what we needed to capture by about 9:30pm. Maybe 10pm.

After working out this timing for the ceremony and reception, we then work backwards from the ceremony to plan out our getting ready coverage.

In most cases – without doing a first look – we suggest Emily is “hidden away” at least 45 minutes or even an hour before the ceremony start time. Since we’re doing photos of Emily and her bridesmaids beforehand, and Ryan and his groomsmen separately, in this case we would start with Emily, and then Ryan, after she is finished and “hidden away”.

Emily & Ryan rough draft time line:

2:00pm – estimated photographer arrival at venue
Getting ready time, details

3:15pm – Emily dresses
3:30pm – Photos – Emily, Emily & bridesmaids (about 20 minutes)

4pm – Emily “hidden away”
Photos following with Ryan, Ryan & groomsmen (about 20 minutes)

5pm – Ceremony (20 minutes)

5:30pm – Photos (Family, Bridal Party and Couple) (maximum of 1 hour)

6:30pm – Introduction to the reception

6:45pm – dinner (1 hour)

7:45pm – events begin

9:30-10pm – estimated depart

With all of our couples, we have our Wedding Day Q&A that they receive when they book their wedding date. It has the most critical details we initially need to begin the time line planning. We take that and put it into our one page format in a PDF. This is what we use on wedding day on our phones so we can refer to it quickly. It has the key info for the day, map links for all addresses and key contact cell numbers. Simplicity, but all of the key info, is the rule.

Then we work with our couples on adjustments, questions and any changes as wedding day approaches. We’ve used this on hundreds of weddings. By making this extra effort on the planning side – we rarely have a wedding run late.