How to Create a Wedding Timeline

Okay so this week’s topic is: How to create a Wedding Timeline

After years and years of being a professional wedding photographer, I have mastered the art of timelines. Anywhere from 12 hour wedding days to two hour elopements, I got you. 

Details + Flat Lay ~

One of my personal favs is detail photos! This will be the first thing your photographer is going to capture. Depending on the amount of items you have, you should plan on this taking 30-45 minutes. You might be thinking, “Wow Syd that’s a lot of time for details” but trust me, that time flies by! Some items that are typically included are:

Family Heirlooms









Pretty Dress Hanger

Pocket square / Tie / Bowtie


Socks (If patterned)




Wedding stationary with envelopes i.e. invitations, programs, thank you cards.

Vow Books

Ring Box

Hanging shots of the dress

Honestly, the list could go on and on. I have photographed super simple details being just the vow books, rings and flowers. BUT I have also had a couple show up with every movie ticket, hand-written letter, post it note, polaroid.. You name it, they brought it! Think about trying to design how all of those beautiful items should be placed…it took a long time haha! Definitely chat with your photographer and let them know what detail items you’re bringing so you can set enough time aside in your timeline.

Getting Ready ~

This is up to you on how in depth you want your getting ready photos to be. My professional opinion is AT LEAST an hour for the bride. Groom getting ready photos should be around 45 minutes to an hour. (P.S. this is where a second photographer comes in handy. You can have getting ready photos of both of you at the same time. That way you don’t have to add any additional time to the timeline)

Why so long you may ask? The moments leading up to your ceremony tend to be some of the most emotional parts of your day. You’re getting ready with your girls, your mom and maybe your grandma are both there. This is the part of the day when it hits everyone that this is really REAL, it is ACTUALLY happening. Sweet, intimate moments are shared, tears are shed and family heirlooms are passed on during this time. I can’t tell you how many beautiful moments I have captured during the getting ready stages. Trust me when I say, you DO NOT want to rush this part of your wedding day!

First look ~ (optional of course) 

There are so many reasons why a first look is a good idea. One being that you get to have a sweet and intimate moment between you and your soon to be spouse. You get the nerves out, let the stress go, and sneak in a few kisses. This is the time to really take in the fact that you’re about to get married.

Second reason is having a first look allows you to have bridal party photos and immediate family photos done early. Doing this means you don’t have to spend the majority of cocktail hour taking pictures. You could probably even sneak in a few couples photos during this time. That way you only have to sneak out around golden hour for 20-30 minutes for the rest of them.

I tell all of my friends who are getting married that this is such a great idea. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve honestly seen grooms reactions be even more emotional after a first look. Reason being is: Having that moment to share with one another, allows for the first initial shock to subside. Then, when you walk down the aisle, all you have left to feel is emotion. Thats when the real waterworks come out! It is honestly so beautiful to see this happen and makes me tear up just about every single time. 

Ceremony ~

Depending on if you are having a religious ceremony or not, will be what affects the length. Generally, with non-religious ceremonies, they take about 30 minutes. With the officiant speaking about 20 minutes and your vows taking somewhere between 5-10 minutes. The rest of the time is spent walking up and down the aisle. If you are having a religious ceremony, I would reserve at least an hour for your ceremony.

Something else to think about: If you are having a unity ceremony, make sure you factor in that time as well. I would say anywhere between an extra 5-10 minutes.

Family Photos/Cocktail Hour ~ 

If you have a first look, you will be able to get the majority of photos done before the ceremony. You would only have to factor in your couples photos during golden hour .(Which for those of you who don’t know, is the last hour before sunset). 

If you do not do a first look, you need to first figure out how many family photos you want. My suggestion is to create a grouping list. This includes the names of the family members and friends you want photos with. Both with you two as a couple and if you want solos with anyone.

Once you have done that, count how many groupings you have and account at least one minute per grouping. That may sound like a lot of time but after your ceremony people will most likely go grab a cocktail. This will then push back photos for a little bit of time.

Last thing you want is to be late to dinner because you didn’t account for enough time for family/friend photos. During this time you will also need to set aside some time for bridal party photos. You can get the individual ones done prior to the ceremony. For example, you and your girls and then him and his boys separately. After the ceremony you will also need group bridal party photos. This should only take around 10-15 minutes.

Now that you have all of your groupings figured out, you should have accounted for at least 30 to 45 minutes. If your family/friend grouping list is more extensive, make sure to include some extra time.

Golden Hour Photos ~ 

This is one of my favorite parts of the day. If you are able to, I would try to allow between 45 minutes to an hour for these photos. I cannot tell you enough how important it is to set some time aside for just the two of you. I’ve been a part of so many weddings that are rushed. Half the time, the couple hardly remembers what happened!

HUGE TIP – If time together during your day is really important to you, set aside 10-15 minutes after your ceremony to just go wander off at your venue together. Talk about the day, bring a cocktail or some snacks with you and just enjoy each other’s company. This is your day, you need to be able to really soak it in and enjoy it. This way you can be fully present with your guests later on in the evening. 

EVEN BIGGER TIP – 9 times out of 10 I have had my couples book a bridal session with me. These are sessions with the couple and I, the day after their wedding. They dress back up in their bridal attire and we go take couples photos at sunset. We find somewhere amazing and beautiful, completely different from the venue. Doing this allows them to spend all of dinner and cocktail hour with their guests.

Grand Entrance ~ 

This should only take about 5-10 minutes, depending on what you do. You can do this a couple of different ways. If you have a bridal party, have them go in before you and you two go in last. If you don’t have a bridal party, you can just do it by yourselves or not at all! Totally customizable and up to what you’re comfortable with. Then you will either lead into a toast to your guests and then to dinner. Another option – you will have your first dance and then dinner. 

Dinner ~ 

Dinner will probably take between 45 minutes an hour, depending on the amount of people that you have. Plan to have toasts and speeches at the tail end of dinner. This way no one is walking around and lingering anywhere they shouldn’t lol!

Toasts/Speeches ~ 

I’ve seen toasts take five minutes, as well as some taking 30 minutes. I would highly suggest either limiting the amount of toasts you have or setting a time limit. Generally, with fathers of the bride, they are very proud of their little girls. They LOVE to tell several different stories about how they were when they grew up. As beautiful and sentimental as these speeches are, they do tend to take a while haha! I would say to give between 3 to 5 minutes per speech!! Obviously you know your guests more than I do so you will be able to have a better idea of how long they will take! 

First Dances ~ 

For first dances, you want to allow at least five minutes per dance. 

Father + Daughter Dance

Mother + Son Dance

Your First Dance

Cake Cutting and Reception Games ~ 

This is very much dependent on what games you want to play. Cake cutting takes about five minutes. Just about every reception game I have seen between brides and grooms are between 5-10 minutes.

Reception Photos ~ 

Reception photos are super fun to have! Generally the longer the reception, the less people are going to be there by the end of the night. Keep that in mind if you are planning on doing any kind of exit! 

If you have several hours of dancing, you will probably only have a few stragglers at the very end of the night. The first hour or two of reception is when I would say a good 90% of people are on the dance floor. After that people get tired, they have to go home to the kids, they have to be up for work the next day, or they are flying out the following day… People don’t really dance for the WHOLE time. Again though, you know your people better than I do. If y’all are partiers, you might just be on the dance floor all night!! I will say this – read your guests and get a good vibe for the night. Then decide how long you want your reception to be.

For your photographer – They should be there for at least, bare minimum, an hour. I always tell my couples if you can give me an hour, great. BUT, if you can give me two, that’s perfect! Reason being is that during the first hour, you’re playing games and having dances. During that second hour is when people have had a cocktail or two and are more than willing to get on the dance floor and boogie! That is where the fun and (sometimes) crazy photos come from haha!

Last but not least, GRAND EXIT ~ 

Your grand exit is definitely going to take some time. Reason being is that you have to gather your guests and get them in position. Someone has to make sure that the car or getaway vehicle is waiting for you. Then you have to make sure everyone has whatever grand exit item you want them to use! This generally takes about 15 minutes!

With ALL of that being said ~ 

In the end, this is your day and you can make it to be how you would like. From my experience, as a professional photographer, these are my suggestions. I have attended over 150 weddings/elopements and have seen anywhere from large 250+ weddings to intimate elopements of just two. This guide is meant to help you have the most peaceful, stress-free and fun day you could possibly have!

If this post helped you out, feel free to leave me a comment below 🤍


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