How to plan your wedding timeline

If you’re in the early stages of your wedding planning process, you might ask yourself how to plan your wedding timeline. During the past years of photographing weddings all over Australia, I have gained helpful insights into how different days unfold during different seasons and in different locations. It’s a crucial part of your day to get your timeline straight and stress-free, and whilst lots of weddings are structured in a similar way, that doesn’t mean that you need to stick to this procedure. In this post I will give you some general tips and tricks on how to plan your wedding timeline, along with some example timelines for different scenarios and seasons around Australia and New Zealand.

Before you start reading

Always keep in mind – this is YOUR day and you are getting married for yourselves, not other people. Give yourself the time to make this experience fantastic and cherish every moment. As your wedding photographer, I will always create a custom photography timeline with you to get the best out of your day and your wedding images. It’s important to keep in mind that no day is ever 100% the same and timings change for every location and month, but here are a few important things you should be aware of:

1. Plan with plenty of Buffer Time

When planning your day, make sure you leave some wiggle room and keep things flexible.

Add an extra 10-15 minutes to every activity, because often things take a little longer than you first thought. That’s normal and shouldn’t be a reason to get stressed out. Instead of spending your day chasing down your own schedule, give yourself some breathing space so that you can relax and enjoy every moment.

How to stay flexible

For example, you might plan to duck out for some sunset photos later in the day. But your wedding day might end up being cloudy or rainy, and if all you have time for is the 20 minute slot around sunset for your portraits, I can’t create the best possible images for you outdoors as it gets darker much sooner and we might not be able to escape the rain. An alternative could be to take some photos using flash indoors in the evening, if this is your jam! However, if you leave some spare time earlier in the day, we can flexibly take your portraits when the rain eases and the even light on a cloudy day creates beautiful even skin tones.

Another way to loosen up the timeline on your wedding day, is to do a First Look with your other half. I have written a whole other blog post about benefits of doing a first look, which you can check out here. In short, by doing a first look prior to your ceremony, maybe even followed by some family or bridal party photos, or even your portraits, you free up much more time later in the day to hang with your guests.

2. Keep the light in mind

From a photography standpoint, light is a key factor and will greatly influence the mood I am able to capture during the ceremony, the bridal portraits, the reception etc. Simply keep that in mind, especially for everything taking place outdoors, and feel free to hit me with any questions that may come up. Again, this is material for a whole other blog post, but here are the basics you need to keep in mind for how to plan your wedding timeline:

The right time of day

When choosing the perfect place and time for your ceremony, keep in mind that light will greatly influence the mood of the setting. A time later in the day is ideal for outdoor ceremonies, when the sun is already a lot lower in the sky. This obviously changes throughout the months, so my advice would be to do a quick check and keep in mind when the sun will start to set on your wedding day. I have linked the best website for this here for you.

I can also assist you with this of course, since I have a program that allows me to exactly see when the sun might dip behind a mountain or trees surrounding your venue, which is generally much sooner than the actual sunset time on the day. Let’s make sure we can catch that golden light in your photos! I highly recommend to have your ceremony as late as possible in the summer months, whilst still allowing for family photos and bridal portraits to be captured in the daylight.

The right location

How to plan your wedding timeline is important, but so is planning the setting. If you are set on having your outdoor ceremony around noon, potentially on a sunny and hot day, make sure you position yourself in a way that you are backlit and provide some shade for your guests, too, e.g. with trees or parasols in nude colours. Otherwise this can create really harsh shadows in your faces. Feel free to ask me beforehand or on site if you are not sure about how to set everything up. Where possible, I’d also be happy to come to site visits with you and discuss the best setting.

3. Allow extra time for the things that matter most

I highly recommend you plan more time for the things that are most important to you. Don’t forget to create moments throughout the day that you can just enjoy between the two of you. Also, make sure you plan for some downtime to have a bite to eat – this might seem like a no brainer, but trust me, it’s easily forgotten in the course of the day.

4. Important questions to ask yourself

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, in order to create a realistic wedding photography timeline for your day:

  • Are you planning any activities the morning of your wedding, e.g. golf? How long does this take and how long does it take to get to your getting ready location from there?
  • How far will you have to travel from your getting ready location to your ceremony venue?
  • How many people are getting ready with you? How long does hair and make up take for each person? Ideally, I will get to you just as hair and make up are about to be finished.
  • If you have your ceremony and reception in different locations, how long does travel take?
  • Are you planning on having a First Look and do photos pre-ceremony? Or would you rather do this afterwards?
  • Do you prefer a morning, lunch or afternoon ceremony? How long will your ceremony be?
  • Will you want family or bridal party photos? How many family group photos will you need? And how about a group shot of all guests?
  • Do you want your bridal portraits taken at a specific time, e.g. sunset?
  • What traditions/ games do you want to include in your day? How long will they take?
  • How many speeches will you have? How long will they be?
  • Does your venue have a curfew or noise restrictions? This might determine the end of your reception.
  • Will there be an after party the next day? When and where?
  • How much time have you booked each vendor for?

5. How long do photos take for each part of your wedding day?

Every photographer works differently and it’s important to check with yours how long they might need to capture each part of your day. Personally, I like to allocate the following times:

  • Getting Ready Partner 1: 30-45 minutes. Generally, this is the partner who might not have a pre-ceremony outfit such as robes etc, they might have less details such as jewellery to photograph or just a few people at their getting ready.
  • Getting Ready Partner 2: 1.5-2 hours. Generally, this is the partner who has robes or pyjamas as pre-ceremony outfits, more details such as jewellery to photograph or more people at their getting ready. This may also include some hair and make up coverage or a first look with the bridal party or loved ones.
  • First Look: 30 minutes. This includes the first look between you and your partner and some portraits.
  • Ceremony: 1 hour. Most traditional ceremonies go for 30 minutes, however I like to allow buffer time for late arrivals and to give all your guests the chance to come up and congratulate you afterwards.
  • Group shot of all guests: 15 minutes. This depends on your number of guests, it usually takes around 15 minutes for 50-150 guests.
  • Family group photos: 30 minutes. This depends on the family group sizes and number of constellations, but a general rule of thumb is usually around 2-3 minutes per group.
  • Bridal Party Photos: 15-20 minutes.
  • Couple Photos: 20-30 minutes. I have also taken couple photos for over an hour in the past, which I recommend if you plan on going to multiple locations that you might have to drive to, or if couple photos are especially important to you.
  • Sunset Photos: 10-20 minutes.
  • Reception: TBD. This entirely depends on your package hours, ‘must have’ shots for the reception and reception timeline. Decide on whether you are having e.g. a first dance, cake cut, speeches, when these are happening and whether you would like these photographed.

6. Example Wedding Photography Timelines

To finish this post on how to plan your wedding timeline, I have created some example wedding photo timelines for different times of the year. For these, I have assumed that all parts of the day unfold at the same venue/ location. Keep in mind that you have to factor in travel times for yourself and your vendors, in case your locations differ. You will notice that I have also planned with additional buffer times for some parts of the day, as photographers and videographers generally aim to be at the ceremony location 30-40 minutes prior to your wedding, to set up and capture guests arriving and the styling. As your wedding photographer, I will always take the time to plan a day entirely customised to you and your plans though, so you don’t have to do this yourself.

Summer Wedding Timeline (8.30pm Sunset)

  • 1.00pm Partner 1 Getting Ready
  • 2.00pm Partner 2 Getting Ready
  • 4.00pm Ceremony
  • 5.00pm Group shot
  • 5.15pm Family Photos
  • 5.45pm Bridal Party Photos
  • 6.00pm Couple Photos
  • 6.40pm Reception start, Bridal Party entrance
  • 8.20pm Sunset Photos
  • 10.00pm Sparkler Exit

Summer Wedding Timeline with First Look (8.30pm Sunset)

  • 12.00pm Partner 1 Getting Ready
  • 1.00pm Partner 2 Getting Ready
  • 2.30pm First Look
  • 3.00pm Bridal Party Photos
  • 4.00pm Ceremony
  • 5.00pm Group shot
  • 5.15pm Family Photos
  • 6.30pm Reception start, Bridal Party entrance
  • 8.20pm Sunset Photos
  • 10.00pm Sparkler Exit

Winter Wedding Timeline (6.00pm Sunset)

  • 12.00pm Partner 1 Getting Ready
  • 1.00pm Partner 2 Getting Ready
  • 3.00pm Ceremony
  • 4.00pm Group shot
  • 4.15pm Family Photos
  • 5.00pm Bridal Party Photos
  • 5.30pm Couple/ Sunset Photos
  • 6.15pm Reception start, Bridal Party entrance
  • 10.00pm Sparkler Exit

Winter Wedding Timeline with First Look (6.00pm Sunset)

  • 11.00am Partner 1 Getting Ready
  • 12.00pm Partner 2 Getting Ready
  • 1.30pm First Look
  • 2.00pm Bridal Party Photos
  • 3.00pm Ceremony
  • 4.00pm Group shot
  • 4.15pm Family Photos
  • 5.50pm Sunset photos
  • 6.15pm Reception start, Bridal Party entrance
  • 10.00pm Sparkler Exit

Found this info helpful? Now it’s time to lock in your wedding photographer!

Hey, I’m Caro, a hopeless romantic, dog mum and nature lover, and the creator of the images and words you’ve just absorbed. I found my passion in wedding photography and shoot destination weddings all over Australia, New Zealand and Europe. I hope you found this blog post about how to plan your wedding timeline helpful! If there are any questions you have whilst planning your wedding, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I have photographed over 100 weddings for couples just like you, so I am always here to help! You can check out more of my work here or get in contact to have me photograph your wedding or elopement here.

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  1. […] I get it, wedding planning can get pretty overwhelming. Which is why I’ve created a blog post full of tips and tricks on how to plan your wedding timeline! Give it a read here. […]