Tips for getting your best wedding images: Planning Your Wedding Day Schedule

To this date I've photographed over 100 weddings. I'm not an expert on planning a wedding day timeline by any means, but I thought it might be helpful to share, from a photographer's viewpoint, what I've experienced to be an ideal wedding day timeline. This timeline is typical for the weddings I shoot and I've experienced that it runs very smoothly and  the bride and groom seem to enjoy their day and be most stress-free when their timeline is closest to it. 

First and foremost, I would HIGHLY recommend hiring a planner to help with your timeline. They ARE the true, time-tested experts. The further you get into the planning process, the more complex it becomes and you quickly realize what a beast planning a wedding can be. If you need further convincing on this matter, definitely read my top 10 reasons to hire a wedding planner. You will be so happy you did. 

This is intended to be a general starting point. There are SO many factors that make each wedding unique so more than likely, any bride looking at this will have to make some tweaks. Other considerations you will have to make when nailing down your timeline include: sunset time, location/weather, transportation time (this model assumes one location), the type of reception you want and any cultural traditions or elements that will make your wedding day unique. Each of these elements will cause you to need to tweak the timeline I'm suggesting here. That's why I'm only proposing this as a starting point. 

My model is built around a sunset time of 6pm. It also assumes that the bride and groom have decided to see each other before the ceremony for portraits. I really believe this route is ideal for a number of reasons. Click here to read more about why I suggest that my clients see each other before the ceremony.

With all this said, here is what I would consider an ideal wedding day timeline (based on a sunset time of 6pm): 

3:00 - bride & groom's first look/ portraits 
3:30 - bridal party portraits 
4:00 - family portraits 
4:30 - completely done with portraits - bridal party freshens up while guests arrive 
5:00 - ceremony (perfect light for an outdoor ceremony is one hour before sunset) 
5:30 - cocktail hour (if you do your portraits before the ceremony you can enjoy your cocktail hour with your guests or take a few more portraits - up to you!)
6:30 - dinner reception 

And here is a good starting point for a reception timeline: 

6:45 - grand entrance/ first dance/ blessing 
7:00 - dinner (allow guests to eat without interruption for 45 minutes) 
7:45 - toasts/ special dances 
8:00 - open dancing 
8:30/9 - cake cutting/ more open dancing 

All of my packages include 8 hours of coverage on the wedding day. So for the above timeline, I would suggest that the bride and groom have me shooting either from: 2:00 - 10:00, or 3:00 - 11:00 depending on whether they want more getting ready photos or reception photos. When planning your getting ready schedule, brides, count backwards from when you will see the groom and start portraits (3pm in the above model) to find out when you should start getting ready. Make sure to plan in time for hair, make-up, eating lunch, transportation, getting into your dress (at least a half hour - brides perpetually underestimate this) and hang-out time. It's better to plan in more time than not enough. Oftentimes each element takes longer than you expect and you also need to leave room for the unexpected. So make sure you start early! 

The key to enjoying your day is having a great plan ahead of time. That way the day will run smoothly, and the only thing you will need to focus on is being the bride and taking in every precious moment.