As a wedding photographer, I've seen all kinds of different wedding days. Since every couple is different, every wedding day is also different. From the engagement to the wedding day, there will be many new things for you to learn. Most couples have never made a wedding day timeline for themselves or anyone else for that matter. So, I often get the question of how to create a wedding day timeline. There are two main types of wedding day timelines: traditional and non-traditional or first look.


This type of timeline is for couples that do not want to see each other on their wedding day before the ceremony. Weddings can be as traditional as you want them to be. The best advice I could give my couples is not to force any tradition that makes you uncomfortable. If you don't wish to see each other, then you need a timeline that accommodates for a lot of time to do all portraits after the ceremony. Wedding party and family photos will begin immediately following the ceremony. This is the reason so many couples choose to do a cocktail hour between the ceremony and the reception. Guests can enjoy a drink or snack while the wedding party and immediate family take pictures. If enjoying your cocktail hour is important to you, then a traditional timeline will not work for you. Some couples choose a traditional timeline and do not offer a cocktail hour for guests while doing photos and this is a surefire way to annoy your guests.

Make sure you discuss with your wedding photographer before the wedding day what shots they are going to capture and provide them with specific ones if you want them. Don't ever assume the photographer knows exactly what you want and understands your family dynamics. I always provide my couples with a shot list and ask them for any additional photos they want that are not listed. Most wedding photographers will do all bridal party and groom's party photos before the ceremony, to free up time after the ceremony for these photos. There are a few other activities that need to be considered when making your timeline like: giving away of the bride, unity ceremonies during the main ceremony, cutting the cake, the bouquet / garter toss, and any religious activities. These are all traditional parts of a wedding that may or not make it into your timeline, but knowing that before the wedding day will help everything go over more smoothly.


This type of timeline is for couples that do want to see each other on their wedding day before the ceremony. Some couples that are less traditional may opt to have a "first look" in which the couple does a reveal to one another and shares a special moment between themselves before the ceremony. This allows for all or some of the couple portraits, wedding party, and family portraits to be taken before the ceremony happens. Doing so saves time later in the day and frees everyone up to enjoy cocktail hour or head straight to the reception. Sometimes couples opt to do more than one first look. Some other common first looks are between the bride and her father, groom and his mother, between siblings, and the bride and her bridal party. This is by far, my favorite timeline because of the flexibility that it offers and can be super helpful if the forecast is calling for rain. Due to this, first look wedding days are often less stressful for both the couple and the wedding photographer.

If one of the couple doesn't like to be emotional in front of others then a first look is a great option to let the couple have an intimate moment together without the embarrassment of everyone seeing. This also allows for the wedding photographer to capture some raw, real emotion from the couple. Immediately after they have their moment, begin doing couples portraits. The big advantage to this is that you will be taking couples portraits throughout the day, which will give you multiple backdrops, different lighting, and keeps you from smashing all the photos into one hour. Freeing up this time for the couple lets them have some fun on their wedding day. Instead of just running from one thing to the next. This also gives your photographer a break to check their equipment, set up for the reception, change batteries, etc. If you have a wedding day that calls for rain, a first look timeline allows to to pick and choose when you will be taking photos. You can choose a time before the rain hits or a time when it's only sprinkling to help minimize the chances of the wedding party getting soaked.


Becoming familiar with the two main types of timelines will help you better understand how to create a wedding day timeline that isn't stuffy or rushed and leaves room for you to have fun. Some general tips that can be applied to either timeline are as follows:

  1. If you want getting ready photos, plan to have your photographer arrive 2-3 hours before the ceremony.
  2. If the couple is getting ready at separate locations, allot for more time with the photographer before the ceremony or consider adding a second shooter.
  3. If you're a bride wanting getting ready photos, make sure whomever is going to help you get dressed is dressed before you. This way everyone looks good in the pictures helping you rather than having someone half-dressed. Also, make sure to put on your jewelry and accessories after getting into the dress.
  4. If you want a full timeline of the reception, then you'll need to coordinate between your photographer and your other vendors. There is a lot that goes on during a reception that the photographer does not have control over and will need to work out the timeline with vendors like the coordinator, caterer, DJ or band, and more.
  5. If you want a smooth timeline, talk with your photographer beforehand about what you will and will not be including in your wedding day. Discuss your shot lists. Explain your family dynamics. Tell the photographer what activities you'll be doing and what you're skipping. Good communication will help you and the photographer stay on the same page.


Not everyone is an organized, plan ahead type of person. But, if you work with your photographer and let them guide you through your wedding day timeline, you can avoid the stress of worrying over how everything is going to flow on your wedding day. It's okay to have questions about the logistics of your wedding day, it's not something you'll do often or even more than once. Understanding how to create a wedding day timeline will help you stay on top of things and make the whole day smooth sailing!