Vail Wedding

How to Create a Killer Wedding Timeline

Jul 23

Filed in: Education

Every wedding is different, beautiful, and unique in its own way. In order to be a smashing success, there are two main things I think a wedding needs. The first – two people very much in love. The second – a killer wedding timeline.

Fun fact for you – before I became a wedding photographer, I worked in the marketing and events world. I helped plan and execute the infamous Warrior Dash, a Women’s only mud run called Pretty Muddy (I had a thing for mud runs in my early 20’s ok), and then moved on to saving puppies….literally, as the Marketing and Events Manager at PAWS Chicago. So why am I telling you all this? Because I know a thing or two about planning and executing large scale events (from 20 to 20,000 guests), keeping people happy and diffusing situations, being on my feet for 10+ hours, and keeping a smile on my face the entire time.

As a wedding photographer, I wear many hats. I’m a boutonniere pinner, a dress holder and fluffer, just another one of the guys, family wrangler, and your ultimate cheerleader. One of the services I love being able to provide to all of my wedding clients is timeline support. After planning and now photographing so many events, I have a pretty good grasp on how to make a solid timeline so your day flows smoothly, efficiently, and with plenty of moments for you to stop and take it all in.

Below, I’ve outlined a guide to wedding timelines with my favorite tips and tricks squeezed in!

Arrival Time

I love to arrive 45-60 minutes before the bride needs to get her dress on. This gives me plenty of time to capture all of your pretty details (like invitation, shoes, jewelry, perfume, etc.) as well as those sweet moments between you and your crew. If you’re looking to also have your partner captured, consider a second shooter! I have found that dedicating myself to one or the other allows enough time to fully capture the feel without the need to rush through photos.

Killer Wedding Timeline

Bride Dresses

We’re going to want to get you in that dress a good 30 minutes before the 1st look is scheduled. It might seem like a lot of time but it’s better to have more than less for this one. Final steaming, corsets that need to be laced, last minute bustle details – all little scenarios that will have us appreciating those extra moments.

Killer Wedding Timeline

First Look & Bridal Portraits

I’m a BIG believer in first looks. They help the flow of the wedding day in more ways than one, and I’ll just have to write another post on why and how in the future. Just trust me! I like taking 5-15 minutes for the first look, giving my couples a moment to catch their breaths, and then spending the other 30 or more minutes capturing the two of them. Thinking of locations that have variety of backdrops within walking distance is clutch – if you’re in Chicago, anywhere in downtown, along the lakefront, or even at a conservatory or garden. Don’t underestimate the power of a good stretch of trees, buildings, or water.

Killer Wedding Timeline

Wedding Party Photos

30-45 minutes with your crew! A lot of couples choose to pull their wedding party into photos either right after, or during their bridal portraits. It’s totally fine if we need to mash these two together, I just flip flop between the couple solo and with the party and then need a total of 60-90 minutes. Remind your Bridesmaids to have flowers in hand, and Groomsmen to have their boutonnieres pinned with the top button on their jacket buttoned and NOTHING in their pockets. This will save a few minutes of instruction from me!

Killer Wedding Timeline

Family & Group Photos

We’re typically pretty safe with 30 minutes for family photos as long as you keep these conservative – remember there will always be time during the reception to grab additional group shots. I always get a list from my couples ahead of the wedding and ask them to designate 2 friends or family members who know everyone to help organize. Since I don’t know Grandma Jo from Aunt Mo, it helps to have people who can point them out so I can get them in place. Make sure you communicate to these folks ahead of time when and where pictures will be and make note that if everyone stays in line and plays it cool we can have them done in no time.

Killer Wedding Timeline

Pre-Ceremony Hideaway

We want to have group photos wrapped up at least 30 minute before your ceremony. Guests start arriving, and I like giving my couples time to just be before they walk down the aisle.


This all depends on you! I’m a big fan of “I do” and done (my own ceremony was a whopping 15 minutes), but that’s just me. If there are any special additions to your ceremony, be sure to let your photographer know so they can plan accordingly (for example, a whiskey mixing, special song or speech, etc.).

Killer Wedding Timeline

Some of my couples also choose to have their family photos directly after the ceremony – which is also a great option since everyone is in one place at one time. Be sure in this case to have your officiant make a brief announcement that group photos will take place directly after the ceremony and exit (if applicable).

Cocktail Hour

Depending on where your reception will take place, I will need 60 minutes plus travel time. I like to capture reception details during this time and then hop over to get those cocktail hour candids! OH and hey, because you did that first look earlier today, you get to actually JOIN your cocktail hour and visit with your guests because we already knocked out your family and bridal party photos!

Killer Wedding Timeline

Dinner, Toasts, Dancing

In all honesty, I always refer this one out to your caterer. This will all depend on your guest count, dinner type (stations, buffet, or seated) and every venue and caterer have a pretty good handle on timeline for this. My recommendation is to cut your cake right after your grand entrance, and do toasts as dinner is being served. Do 1st dances about 30 minutes into dinner so your guests can finish their meal and still watch you waltz!

Killer Wedding Timeline

Sunset Photos

These are some of my clients and my personal favorites from the day. If you can spare 5-15 minutes in the hour before the sun sets for me to steal you away, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Weather pending, these are some of the most beautiful memories you can make with your new hubby. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s so worth it!

Killer Wedding Timeline

Mic Drop, I’m Out

I won’t actually mic drop, or Irish goodbye, I promise. 20-60 minutes on the dance floor is all I need, although I can’t make any promises I won’t pack up and head back there when I’m done. 60 minutes would be the absolute max I would recommend covering the dance floor. After a while the photos get real repetitive….and your guests get real drunk. 15 minutes before I leave, I always check in with my couple to see if there are any last photos they want before I head out!

Killer Wedding Timeline

A Few Final Tips

•If you want something to happen on your wedding day – plan for it and get it on your wedding timeline. With so many details colliding, it’s very easy to miss something if you don’t plan for it – think gift exchanges, surprises, speeches, special photos.

•Don’t forget about travel times, and to always plan for longer commutes than anticipated. It’s always nice to have more time than you think you will rather than vice versa.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY. Make sure family knows when and where photos are. Have a chat with your bridal parties letting them know the more attentive they are during photos, the quicker they will take (and sooner they can have that beer). Feel free to share the wedding timeline with them so they have an idea of what’s going on and when!

•It’s ok to feel a bit overwhelmed with the wedding timeline part – but don’t fret, because I’m here to help. We will work together to build a killer wedding timeline that will help the flow of your day so much!

I’ve outlined a sample wedding timeline below to give you an example if you’re just starting out. This would be for an 8 hour package with both the ceremony and reception at the same location.

Sample 8 Hour Timeline

12:00 I arrive!

1:00 Bride gets dressed

1:30 First Look

1:45 Bridal Portraits

2:15 Bridal Party Photos

3:00 Family Photos

3:30 Bride and Groom Hideaway

4:00 Ceremony

4:30 Cocktail Hour

5:30 Grand Entrance // Cake Cutting // Dinner is Served

6:00 Toasts

6:30 First Dance & Parents Dances

7:00 Sunset Photos

7:15 Dance Floor Coverage

8:00 I depart!

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