tropical beach wedding in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
vows during a beach wedding in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
To this date I've photographed more than 200 weddings. I'm not an expert on planning a wedding day timeline by any means, but I thought it might be helpful to share, from a photographer's point of view, what I've experienced to be an ideal wedding day timeline. This timeline is typical for the weddings I shoot. I prefer it because, in my experience, it runs very smoothly and the bride and groom seem to enjoy their day and be most stress-free when their timeline is closest to it.

First and foremost, I always HIGHLY recommend hiring a planner to help with your timeline. Wedding planners ARE the true, time-tested experts. The further you get into the planning process, the more complex it becomes and you quickly realize what a beast planning a wedding can be. If you need further convincing on this matter, definitely read my top 10 reasons to hire a wedding planner. You will be so happy you did.

This timeline is intended to be a general starting point. There are a zillion factors that make each wedding unique, so I assume that any bride looking at this will want to make some tweaks. Other considerations to take into account when finalizing your timeline include: sunset time, location/weather, the amount of time your photographer requires for portraits, transportation time (this model assumes one location), the type of reception you want and any cultural traditions or elements that will make your wedding day unique. Any of these elements could require a tweak to the timeline I'm suggesting below. That's why I'm only proposing this as a place to get started with planning your timeline.

My model is built around a sunset time of 6pm. It also assumes that the bride and groom have decided to see each other before the ceremony for portraits. I really believe this route is ideal for a number of reasons. Click here to read more about why I suggest that my clients see each other before the ceremony.

With all those caveats, here is the wedding day timeline that I would consider ideal (based on a sunset time of 6pm):

2:30 - Bride & groom's first look/ portraits
3:30 - Bridal party portraits
4:00 - Family portraits
4:30 - Completely done with portraits - bridal party freshens up while guests arrive
5:00 - Ceremony (perfect light for an outdoor ceremony is one hour before sunset)
5:30 - Cocktail hour (If you do your portraits before the ceremony you can enjoy your cocktail hour with your guests or take a few more portraits. It's up to you!)
6:30 - Dinner reception

Receptions tend to be even more individualized than the rest of the wedding day, but here is a good basic starting point for a reception timeline:

6:45 - Grand entrance/ first dance/ blessing
7:00 - Dinner (allow guests to eat without interruption for 45 minutes)
7:45 - Toasts/ special dances
8:00 - Open dancing
8:30/9 - Cake cutting/ more open dancing

Personally, all of my packages include 8 hours of coverage on the wedding day. So for the above timeline, I would suggest that the bride and groom have me shooting either from:

1:00 - 9:00 or
1:30 - 9:30

... depending on whether they want more getting ready photos or more reception photos. Brides, when you are planning your getting ready schedule, count backwards from when you will see your groom and start portraits (2:30 in the above model) to find out when you should start getting ready. Make sure to plan in time for hair, make-up, eating lunch, transportation, getting into your dress (at least a half hour - brides typically underestimate this) and hang-out time. It's ALWAYS better to plan in more time than not enough. Oftentimes each element takes longer than you expect, and you also need to leave room for the unexpected. So make sure you start early!

The key to enjoying your day is having a great plan ahead of time. That way the day will run smoothly, and the only thing you will need to focus on is being the bride and taking in every precious moment.

-----------> If you are planning your wedding, and would like to have a timeline to start from, click here to take a quick 2-question quiz, and we will email you back with an ideal preliminary timeline based on the sunset time on your wedding day as well as whether or not you would like to do a first look!
Take this 2-Question Quiz to determine your ideal wedding day timeline!
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