Timeline Planning

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One of the most important parts of planning your big day is the actual timeline for your wedding. Things tend to run late on the wedding day, so plan in extra time. Remember, the bride is never late!

May 24, 2013

The Bride is Never Late: Wedding Timeline Planning

By: David Champagne Photography

One of the most important parts of planning your big day is the actual timeline for your wedding. Your timeline effects every aspect of your wedding starting with hair and makeup and ending with your exit from your reception. Your wedding coordinator and wedding photographer are excellent resources to help you plan your timeline.

To get excellent photos, I usually try to plan in one full hour of photos with the bride and groom and bridal party either before the ceremony or between the ceremony and reception. Because things tend to run late on the wedding day, planning for one hour of photos usually gives us just enough time so we are not rushed during your photos.

As a wedding photographer, I’ll focus on timeline planning as it pertains to your wedding photos.

The first details you must know before you start your photography timeline planning are below:

(1) What are the starting locations and logistics for the bride and groom when getting ready?
(2) What time is sunset on the wedding day?
(3) What are the photo locations for the day?
(4) Are you doing a first look (where the happy couple see each other before the ceremony)?
(5) How are you and your bridal party traveling (i.e., bus, limo, etc.)?
(6) What time will your ceremony start and how long is your ceremony?
(7) How many people are in the family/friend photos after the ceremony?
(8) What time do you plan on entering your reception?
(9) What is your ending time?

Now let’s take each one in turn.

(1) What are the starting locations and logistics for the bride and groom when getting ready?

This will effect the travel time (if any) between the getting ready location(s) and the ceremony site. If the happy couple get ready at the same location, this will maximize your photos because your photographer can just walk down the hall and take photos of the other side of the wedding party getting ready without leaving the getting ready location. Larger wedding parties take longer to get ready – more hair and more makeup. Hair and makeup almost always run 30 minutes late – it’s like a universal constant, like the speed of light. Plan on finishing your hair and makeup 30 minutes before you actually need to be ready and you’ll be ready right on time.

(2) What time is sunset on the wedding day?

You should actually research this before you pick your wedding day and ceremony time. Sunset times vary in Virginia from around 5:00PM in the winter to 8:30PM in the summer. If you had your heart set on taking photos outside in that beautiful garden, make sure you have set aside enough daylight time for those photos.

(3) What are the photo locations for the day?

Whatever the travel time is between those locations, give yourself plenty of cushion time for getting lost, stuck in traffic, finding parking, an impromptu beer run, and hiking to that beautiful scenic overlook in heels.

(4) Are you doing a first look (where the happy couple see each other before the ceremony)?

First looks are the best! Check out a video of real first look on my blog with wedding photos I captured interspersed throughout the video. A first look is a private and special moment between the happy couple when you get to see each other, just the two of you, for the first time before the ceremony.

Here is why I love first looks: your hair and makeup is best immediately after it is completed, and if we take these portraits right away, your hair and makeup are perfect in your portraits. From my own personal experience, a first look does not take away from the magical moment when you walk down the aisle – it adds to it! It’s almost like you get two incredibly special moments during the wedding day instead of just one: seeing each other for the first time, and walking down the aisle. Seeing each other before the ceremony takes all of the stress off of you for the rest of the day! Because you have already taken your portraits before the ceremony, if the ceremony runs behind schedule (which they tend to do), then the portraits following the ceremony will not be rushed because there is no time crunch for photos after the ceremony and before the reception.

Many of my couples who do a first look even plan to have abbreviated portraits following the ceremony without sacrificing their portrait time – they can get to their cocktail hour early to mingle with their guests.

I have never had a couple regret doing a first look! I have only ever had couples who decided not to see each other before the ceremony wish they had done a first look. No pressure! It is completely up to you.

(5) How are you and your wedding party traveling (i.e., bus, limo, horse drawn carriage, rideshare apps, etc.)?

Even if you have a small wedding party, having your wedding party drive themselves to different locations is risky – people get lost, and parking can be an issue. If one person from your wedding party is missing then those photos have to be put on hold (or might not happen). I recommend arranging transportation so the entire wedding party (and maybe even the photographer if the logistics work out) can all travel together.

(6) What time will your ceremony start and how long is your ceremony?

Ceremonies generally start a little late, however, the bride is never late. If your ceremony starts late, that means it will end late and push back everything else. If you have not planned enough time between the end of the ceremony and the start of your reception, then your photo time will be cut short and you do not want to be rushed on your wedding day.

(7) How many people are in the family/friend photos after the ceremony?

Family photos after the ceremony are like herding cats. Your family pictures from your wedding will be some of your most treasured photographs. It is important that you don’t miss anyone, but you also want to move through the family pictures quickly to make sure there is still time to photograph the happy couple and the wedding party before the reception. The best way to accomplish this goal is to make a complete list of the family pictures you would like taken and email that list to your photographer so s/he can bring it to the wedding (one less thing you need to worry about!). Please assign one or two family members (who know everyone) to be the “Coordinator(s)” of the family pictures. Your photographer only knows the two of you, and the family pictures always move faster when family members are in charge of the family photos. A strong “Type A” personality does best as a family coordinator. While the photographer is photographing one group, the family coordinator(s) can organize the next group. When designing your list, check with your parents to see if they have pictures to add to your list. Start with the largest groups first and work your way down to the smallest groups last, and ending with immediate family. Listing the family pictures in that order allows you to dismiss large groups of your guests early so they are not waiting around to for their photo time. It’s also a good idea to email everyone participating in the family photos and let them know that they need to stick around after the ceremony. There’s always one person (usually an uncle) who wanders off and then we can’t do that specific family photo. Grandma and Grandpa can go first – they are probably tired and need a break. Little kids can also go first – they just want to get to the cake cutting anyway and their parents will thank you.

(8) What time do you plan on entering your reception?

This will impact the ending time for your photos after the ceremony to make sure you get to your reception at the right time.

(9) What is your ending time for your reception?

The time you want your photos to end at the reception will dictate the time for your photos to begin earlier in the day. Are you doing a grand exit? If so, and you want photos of your exit, make sure your photo coverage time ends at the right time. If you are considering extending your reception time, give your vendors a heads up before the big day and ask what are the costs for extending the reception end time, just so you don’t have any surprises.

Sample photo timeline from a real wedding:


Photo Coverage will be from 11:30AM – 9:30PM

To Do List: (1) email the photographer family photo list, (2) assign family coordinators, (3) email all family/friend participants to let them know they need to stay for pictures, (4) all flowers arrive by 12:30PM, (5) hair and make-up done by 1:00PM.

Starting Location: Name of Church – Address of Church

11:30 – 12:30 – details, dress, ALL rings, shoes, bouquets, etc…

12:30 – 01:00 – guys getting ready

01:00 – 01:30 – groom and groomsmen photos

01:30 – 02:00 – wedding dress on (bridesmaids completely dressed and ready at 1:30 to help the bride)

02:00 – 02:15 – first look with bride and groom

02:15 – 03:00 – bridal party, bridesmaids, bride and groom portraits

03:00 – 03:30 – ceremony details

03:30 – 04:00 – ceremony

04:00 – 04:30 – family and friends (see family list and refer to family coordinators), bridal party, bride and groom

04:30 – 05:00 – travel to beach

Photo Location: Name of Beach – Address of Beach

05:00 – 05:30 – beach photos
*** SUNSET AT 5:30PM ***
05:30 – 05:45 – travel to reception

Reception: Name of Reception Location – Address of Reception Location

05:45 – 09:30 – reception

09:30 – grand exit

specifically requested important photos: fraternity guys, grandma, sparkler exit


I hope this helps with your timeline planning. Thank you so much and congratulations!

David Champagne

David Champagne Photography
(858) 254-7365
website: www.davidchampagnephotography.com
blog: www.davidchampagnephotography.com/blog
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/davidchampagnephotography
promo video: https://davidchampagnephotography.com/blog/promo-video/


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