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The Ultimate Wedding Timeline – With and Without a First Look (with Cheat Sheet to Make Your Own!)

Creating the Ultimate Wedding Timeline for Your Day

The key to creating an incredible wedding timeline that will keep your day on track and smooth? Details, details!

The more organized you (along with your planner and photographer) are leading up to the day, the more likely the day is going to go smoothly. Chances are, this is your first wedding — so relying on the professionals for timeline planning is critical. When I walk through wedding timelines with my couples, we take all people and transitions into account and proactively build in time for each and every step of the wedding day.

Today I’m highlighting two sample wedding timelines (with and without a first look) and highlighting how to start thinking about the flow of your own wedding day. If you aren’t sure whether or not a first look is for you yet, check out this recent blog post.

Each and every wedding day is different. And especially in New England, each and every season will provide different lighting that you’ll want to take into account when planning your wedding day. Here are the factors that we’re accounting for when creating these sample timelines:

  • Sunset time of 7:30 pm
  • Both the ceremony and reception are happening at the same venue

 

The Ultimate Wedding Timeline – With and Without a First Look - Martha's Vineyard Wedding

 

Sample Timeline WITH a First Look

Based on our sunset time of 7:30 pm, we’re going to say that the ceremony is happening at 5:30 pm. Learn how we decided the ceremony time based on sunset.

 

1:00 pm: Photo Team begins their coverage with wedding detail photos

  • This time will vary depending on the level of detail or importance of these images. For my own couples, it’s typical for me to spend about an hour on detail images alone. And for full weekend events, we’ll sometimes do these photos the day prior, before rehearsal coverage, and work alongside your planner to stylize the images.
  • I recommend setting aside a minimum of 30 minutes for a few simple photos of your wedding dress, invitation suite, and rings. Stylizing your items takes time.

 

2:05 pm: Robe/pre-getting-dressed photos

  • These can oftentimes take only 5 minutes, but I like to plan for 15 minutes in the event that hair or makeup runs behind, or that there’s some running around to get champagne or missing people — which definitely happens!

 

2:20 pm: Parents and Wedding Party members should all go get dressed by this time; Photo Team documents the couple opening any cards, then they should brush teeth/use bathroom/prep to get dressed

  • This is a critical part of the timeline that can often be missed. Essentially, anyone that will be with you when you get into your dress or suit jacket, should already be dressed so that everyone looks polished in those “final prep” images.
  • For anyone with a Bride or Groom – anyone wearing a dress should be in that dress; anyone wearing pants for the day should get those on, plus collared shirt. We’ll document putting on ties, jackets, etc. Parents should be fully dressed if they’ll be present for the “final prep” images.
  • A reminder to anyone with the couple: there will be time during the first look for you to do final touches of your own! Being dressed and looking presentable is important, but you’ll have extra time to perfect your look after this point. Don’t be that friend/parent that holds up the couple from going to their first look on time 😉

 

2:40 pm: Final Prep

  • Brides get into dresses, Grooms begin to put their suits on.
  • 30 minutes can sound like a lot, but in the event that there is a button malfunction or something, you’ll want the extra time. This is NOT the time to add stress to running late.
  • Pro-tip: If you’re getting dressed off-site (i.e. at a hotel or a family home) be sure to account to travel time to the venue AS WELL AS time to transition into the suite and settle in before jumping right into the first look. That transition time can often be overlooked and could be the difference of rush versus relaxed portraits.

 

 

Download the Ultimate Timeline Cheat Sheet by Boston Wedding Photographer, By Halie.

3:10 pm: First Look

  • The first look itself will literally take under a minute, but you also have to factor in setting everyone up and time for the two of you to enjoy the moment before beginning portraits.

 

3:20 pm: Couple Portraits

  • This time can be abbreviated now and shifted to cocktail hour, if necessary or wanted. I’ll occasionally recommend it, based on lighting and available shaded areas at your venue — the closer we are to sunset, the softer and nicer the lighting in your images.

 

3:50 pm: Wedding Party Portraits

  • Generally sufficient for average-sized wedding parties.

 

4:20 pm: Immediate Family Portraits

  • Sufficient timing for both families when there are no or few special circumstances (i.e. multiple family variations due to divorce, remarriage, or other situations).
  • Immediate family generally includes parents, siblings, any sibling spouses or children.
  • It’s most common for grandparents to arrive with an aunt/uncle for the ceremony time, but not beforehand (to avoid unnecessary waiting time). For that reason, I generally see photos with grandparents happen immediately after the ceremony.

 

4:50 pm: Couple freshens up for the ceremony; Photo Team photographs the wedding ceremony and reception setups

  • Many venue coordinators will ask that we’re done pre-ceremony portraits by 30 minutes prior to the ceremony starting, as this tends to be the time that guests begin to arrive.
  • When possible, I plan to end the pre-ceremony portraits 40 minutes prior to the ceremony. This gives us a 10-minute buffer if any family or wedding party photos were delayed for any reason — a missing brother or bridesmaid that forgot their bouquet inside sort of situations. If we don’t need the extra time for family/wedding party, it’s a bonus 10 minutes that we can use for your portraits or to relax with your friends and family!

 

5:30 pm: Ceremony

  • Even the shortest of ceremonies tend to run ~30 minutes by the time the wedding party is all lined up, everyone walks down the aisle and back up on either side of the actual ceremony. And many ceremonies start at least a few minutes behind. I’d use 30 minutes as a baseline timeframe in your timeline, and treat anything leftover as a bonus!

 

Receiving Line – for the purpose of this, let’s pretend there isn’t a receiving line.

  • If you do plan to have one, be sure to adjust the time based on the number of guests in attendance.

 

6:00 pm: Cocktail Hour

  • I always recommend doing a few “just married” portraits right after the ceremony — the energy between the two of you will be incredible and these always tend to be some of the best ones of the day! Even 5-10 minutes as guests transition to cocktail hour is sufficient — and also fits perfectly for making an entrance into the cocktail space! This time of day is also incredible for photos — the lighting tends to be very soft and flattering.
  • Pro tip: if you’re planning to take any photos immediately after the ceremony, determine a place “hide out” while guests transition over to cocktail hour. Clue your parents and wedding party into this as well, if they need to be included in any photos. Guests will be excited to all say hi, if you’re within their sight.
  • During this time, the Photo Team will generally photograph guests mingling at cocktail hour. They might also wrap up detail photos of the reception decor, or do any extended family portraits you’ve requested.
  • Pro-tip: consider your cocktail and reception space — if they’re connected/nearby it may be critical to allocate some pre-ceremony time for your photographer to document the setup untouched (i.e. no guest jackets or purses scattered everywhere). There are almost always guests that are excited to see the space and set their personal belongings down.

 

7:00 pm: Your Wedding Reception

  • From this point forward, your catering manager/venue coordinator generally takes the lead on scheduling.
  • The order of events I most commonly see: Introductions into First Dance and Toasts; Dinner is served; Cake cutting into Parent Dances; Dance floor is opened!

 

7:30 pm: Sunset

  • Depending on the flow of events and how epic the sunset is, we can either plan to sneak out for a moment or find a window of time between toasts and dinner.
  • Sunset time will vary depending on the time of year; it will also vary at what point it happens on your wedding day, depending on when your ceremony time is in relation to sunset.

 

10:00 pm: Photo Team coverage typically ends

  • This will vary depending on the package you have with your photographer. The majority of my wedding packages are for 9 hours, which allows me to capture the details and wedding prep, through just enough dancing to see everyone had fun!
  • If there’s an exit or surprise happening later in the evening, talk with your photographer about extending their coverage when you do your final timeline planning.

 

Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline - Omni Parker Boston Wedding

 

Sample Timeline WITHOUT a First Look

In many cases, the wedding timeline only shifts slightly when there isn’t a first look. When you decide whether a first look is right for you or not, there are a few ways we can structure your wedding timeline without the mad rush for photos after your ceremony even without a first look. Whenever possible, I recommend doing photos of each half of the wedding party and family separately before the ceremony — you and your crew do photos, then after we shift you back inside, and your partner comes out to do photos with their crew. That way, after the ceremony we only have a few combined group photos to do before focusing in on the two of you! It’s typically ~30 minutes for the wedding party and family photos each, meaning that a standard cocktail hour could be eaten up entirely with group photos, before even getting to photos of the two of you . . . and that isn’t ideal.

The below timeline is built under the assumption that we’d be able to do some photos pre-ceremony, without spoiling your first look at each other across the aisle. If you weren’t able to do most photos ahead of the ceremony, I’d recommend pushing your ceremony time up at least 30 minutes — racing against sunset is never any fun, but especially if we get a cloudy/darker wedding day.

 

1:30 pm: Photo Team begins their coverage with wedding detail photos

  • This time will vary depending on the level of detail or importance of these images. Fro my couples, it’s typical for me to spend about an hour on detail images alone. And for full weekend events, we’ll sometimes do these photos the day prior, before rehearsal coverage, and work alongside your planner to stylize the images.
  • I would recommend setting aside a minimum of 30 minutes so that your photographer can capture a few simple photos of your wedding dress, invitation suite, and rings. Stylizing your items takes time.

 

2:40 pm: Robe/pre-getting-dressed photos

  • These can oftentimes take only 5 minutes, but I like to plan for 15 minutes in the event that hair or makeup runs behind, or that there’s some running around to get champagne or missing people — which definitely happens!

 

2:55 pm: Parents and Wedding Party members should all go get dressed by this time; Photo Team documents the couple opening any cards, then they should brush teeth/use bathroom/prep to get dressed

  • This is a critical part of the timeline that can often be missed. Essentially, anyone that will be with you when you get into your dress or suit jacket, should already be dressed so that everyone looks polished in those “final prep” images.
  • For anyone with a Bride or Groom – anyone wearing a dress should be in that dress; anyone wearing pants for the day should get those on, plus collared shirt. We’ll document putting on ties, jackets, etc. Parents should be fully dressed if they’ll be present for the “final prep” images.
  • A reminder to anyone with the couple: there will be time during the first look for you to do final touches of your own! Being dressed and looking presentable is important, but you’ll have extra time to perfect your look after this point. Don’t be that friend/parent that holds up the couple from going to their first look on time 😉

 

3:15 pm: Final Prep

  • Brides get into dresses, Grooms begin to put their suits on.
  • 30 minutes can sound like a lot, but in the event that there is a button malfunction or something, you’ll want the extra time. This is NOT the time to add stress to running late.
  • Pro-tip: If you’re getting dressed off-site (i.e. at a hotel or a family home) be sure to account to travel time to the venue AS WELL AS time to transition into the suite and settle in before jumping right into the first look. That transition time can often be overlooked and could be the difference of rush versus relaxed portraits.

 

3:45 pm: You + Your Wedding Party and Immediate Family

  • We’ll coordinate to make sure that no one runs into each other or peeks out the window!
  • Immediate family generally includes parents, siblings, any sibling spouses or children.
  • It’s most common for grandparents to arrive with an aunt/uncle for the ceremony time, but not beforehand (to avoid unnecessary waiting time). For that reason, I generally see photos with grandparents happen immediately after the ceremony.

 

4:15 pm: Your Partner + Their Wedding Party and Immediate Family

  • We’ll transition you inside and then pull your parter + their group out for their photos.

 

4:45 pm: Couple freshens up for the ceremony; Photo Team photographs the wedding ceremony and reception setups

  • Many venue coordinators will ask that we’re done pre-ceremony portraits by 30 minutes prior to the ceremony starting, as this tends to be the time that guests begin to arrive.
  • When possible, I plan to end the pre-ceremony portraits 40 minutes prior to the ceremony. This gives us a 10-minute buffer if any family or wedding party photos were delayed for any reason — a missing brother or bridesmaid that forgot their bouquet inside sort of situations. If we don’t need the extra time for family/wedding party, it’s a bonus 10 minutes that we can use for your portraits or to relax with your friends and family!
  • Pro-tip: consider your cocktail and reception space — if they’re connected/nearby it may be critical to allocate some pre-ceremony time for your photographer to document the setup untouched (i.e. no guest jackets or purses scattered everywhere). There are almost always guests that are excited to see the space and set their personal belongings down — and the Photo Team will be busy with portraits during most of cocktail hour.

 

5:30 pm: Ceremony

  • Even the shortest of ceremonies tend to run ~30 minutes by the time the wedding party is all lined up, everyone walks down the aisle and back up on either side of the actual ceremony. And many ceremonies start at least a few minutes behind. I’d use 30 minutes as a baseline timeframe in your timeline, and treat anything leftover as a bonus!

 

Receiving Line – for the purpose of this, let’s pretend there isn’t a receiving line.

  • If you do plan to have one, be sure to adjust the time based on the number of guests in attendance.

 

6:00 pm: Cocktail Hour & Formal Photos

  • Combined wedding party and family portraits. Any photos we need to get that involve BOTH of you. Timing will vary based on the number of combinations, but this can move fairly quickly when all people arrive one time and aren’t tempted to run off to cocktail hour too early 😉
  • Couple Portrait time to follow our group photos
  • Pro tip: determine a place “hide out” while guests transition over to cocktail hour. Clue your parents and wedding party into this as well. Guests will be excited to all say hi, if you’re within their sight!
  • During this time, our second photographer will generally photograph guests mingling at cocktail hour. They might also wrap up detail photos of the reception decor.

 

7:00 pm: Your Wedding Reception

  • From this point forward, your catering manager/venue coordinator generally takes the lead on scheduling.
  • The order of events I most commonly see: Introductions into First Dance and Toasts; Dinner is served; Cake cutting into Parent Dances; Dance floor is opened!
  • If there were any extended family portraits requested, sometimes we have enough time at cocktail hour to capture those, but most commonly we’ll try to tackle them between reception formalities before the dancefloor opens. Your band or DJ can be a HUGE help in calling up any larger groups.

 

7:30 pm: Sunset

  • Depending on the flow of events and how epic the sunset is, we can either plan to sneak out for a moment or find a window of time between toasts and dinner.
  • Sunset time will vary depending on the time of year; it will also vary at what point it happens on your wedding day, depending on when your ceremony time is in relation to sunset.

 

10:30 pm: Photo Team coverage typically ends

  • This will vary depending on the package you have with your photographer. The majority of my wedding packages are for 9 hours, which allows me to capture the details and wedding prep, through just enough dancing to see everyone had fun!
  • If there’s an exit or surprise happening later in the evening, talk with your photographer about extending their coverage when you do your final timeline planning.

 

Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline - The Exchange Boston Wedding

 

How to Build Your Own Wedding Timeline

  1. Start with your ceremony time, then work backward from there. If your ceremony time is flexible, read this to decide what the best ceremony time is for your date, location, and venue.
  2. Decide whether or not you’d like to do a first look.
  3. As a general rule of thumb, plan for 30 minutes for wedding party, family, and couple portraits, EACH. Whather they happen pre- or post-ceremony, most photographers will need about an hour and a half.
  4. Before finalizing anything, consult your planner and photographer. They’ll have good input and help you to make the right decision for the day you envisioning.

 

 

Download the Ultimate Timeline Cheat Sheet by Boston Wedding Photographer, By Halie.

 

For more wedding planning tips and advice, explore the Advice section of the blog!

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