How To Write A Timeline

The wedding day timeline. Where do you even start, right? Some couples plan around the ceremony, others want to prioritize golden hour portraits. Trying to figure out what the rest of the day looks like that can be straight-up impossible if you've never done it before. How long does everything actually take? How long do I need my vendors?

Writing a basic timeline early in the planning process can make things easier. It tells you how long to book your DJ, what time to put on your invitation, how many hair and makeup artists you need, whether to do a first look and how to plan around sunset. We'll get to the nitty gritty scheduling later! First, decide where to actually start by asking "What is most important to me?" Extra time on the dance floor? Late ceremony? Golden hour for portraits? A brunch ceremony and extended afternoon portrait session?

Maybe you haven't asked yourself these questions yet. That's okay! I'm going to break it down for you below and take the guess work out of planning. The timelines that you'll see are based on what I encounter most often. They can easily be rewritten to match your ceremony time and needs. And if you want to throw tradition out the window and get right down to dancing, your timeline is below, too!

 
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5pm Ceremony and Traditional Timeline

1:00pm Photographer arrives
1:00-1:30pm Detail photos (rings, invitations, dress, perfume, shoes, cuff links, tie, gifts)
2:00pm 2nd photographer arrives
3:45pm Hair and makeup complete (start time depends on size of bridal party!! Ask your MUA!)
4:00-4:30pm Bride(s) put on gown
4:30-4:45pm Wedding party photos
**if you want a first look, add an extra 30-45 minutes here for portraits**
5:00-5:20pm Ceremony (longer for religious ceremonies)
5:30-6:30pm Cocktail hour
5:30-5:45pm Family photos
5:45-6:00pm Wedding party
6:00-6:45pm Portraits (golden hour?)
6:45pm Grand entrance, first dance, thank you speech, prayer
7:00pm-8:00pm Dinner served/buffet opens
7:20pm Speeches and toasts during dinner
7:50pm Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances
8:00pm DJ announces open dance floor
8:30pm Cake cutting
9:50pm DJ announces last song and sparkler exit
10pm Sparkler exit for the love birds!

 

5pm Ceremony and Non-Traditional Reception

1:00pm Photographer arrives
1:00-1:30pm Detail photos (rings, invitations, dress, perfume, shoes, cuff links, tie, gifts)
2:00pm 2nd photographer arrives
3:15pm Hair and makeup complete (Talk with your MUA!)
3:30-4:00pm Bride(s) put on gown
4:10-4:50pm First Look, portraits
5:00-5:20pm Ceremony
5:30-6:30pm Cocktail hour
5:30-5:45pm Family Photos
5:45-6:00pm Wedding Party
6:00pm Couple joins cocktail hour (hell yeah, grab a drink!)
6:30-7:30pm
7:15-7:30pm Speeches, toasts, "thank you" from the couple
8:00pm-10:50pm Open dance floor
10:50pm Sparkler exit, last dance, thank you speech, etc
11:00pm Go home! And by home I mean, after party!

 

Brunch Wedding (Quiche and mimosas? Count me in!)

8:00am Photographer arrives (with coffee, obvs)
8:00-8:30am Detail photos (rings, invitations, dress, perfume, shoes, cuff links, tie, gifts)
10:00am Hair and makeup complete (Talk with your MUA!)
10:15-10:40pm Bride(s) put on gown
11:00-11:20am Ceremony
11:30-12:30 Cocktail hour (Appetizers, drinks, lawn games)
11:30-11:45am Family Photos
11:45-12:00pm Wedding Party
12:00-12:45pm Portraits
12:50pm-2:00pm Lunch, reception (skip the plated meal and serve appetizers or a buffet!)

Most brunch weddings must end early enough for the venue to set up for an evening wedding. Brunch weddings are typically shorter and have less reception time. If you want to have time for dancing, cake cutting and a bouquet toss then consider adding a portrait session immediately after the wedding ends. The three of us can go to a nearby park for private photos with no time crunch. This can make your wedding time feel longer AND get you some exceptional portraits!

 

Additional Tips

  • Include travel time between hotels, churches and venue on your timeline.
  • Do not go last for makeup! If the day runs late, you don't want to be the one rushed.
  • Have your details together for your photographer (invitations, perfume, jewelry and rings).
  • Make sure you schedule for an hour of daylight after your ceremony.
  • For large families, write a detailed shot list of the family photos. Ask me for examples!
  • Photo booth should start during cocktail hour and end an hour or so before the reception ends.
  • For an 11pm end time, add 20 minutes to portraits and 40 minutes to dancing.
  • If you aren't doing a sparkler exit, have the DJ announce a last dance. It's the perfect way to end!