You’ve done it – you’re engaged! Now comes the fun bit: busting out the scrapbooks and bringing that vision to life. Or maybe you were actually hoping to wrap it all up on a napkin over Sunday brunch? Either way, when it comes to a smooth execution, you don’t need to have the organisational skills of a Google Sheets wizard, you just need to follow a few simple rules. So how do you plan a stress-free wedding? There can be a lot of moving parts, but you’ll quickly find the support of a little structure will do wonders for your peace of mind. So, let’s dive in and learn how to craft the perfect stress-free wedding timeline!
What is a wedding timeline and do I need one?
Simply put, it’s a schedule to help you keep track of key moments throughout the day. The obvious benefit is that you’ll know what’s happening and when. Think of it like a second brain you’ve created to keep yours clear as everything blissfully unfurls around you.
You don’t need to go overboard (granular planning gets stressful, too!), just go for whatever balance that will put you at ease.
Here’s how a wedding planning timeline template could typically play out:
10 AM – Begin hair and makeup
2 PM – Get dressed
2:45 PM – Portraits
3:15 PM – VIPS leave for ceremony venue
4 PM – Ceremony begins
4:30 PM – Ceremony ends, travel to reception
5 PM – Cocktail Hour
6 PM – Guests enter reception
6:10 PM – Newlyweds enter for first dance
6:30 PM – Dinner
7:15 PM – Speeches
8:30 PM – Cake cutting
8:40 PM – Party time
10:55 PM – Last dance
11:00 PM – End
There are tons of similar wedding timeline examples across the web, so simply tweak to fit your weddings vibe and voila!
When it comes to photos, you can weave in the ops when and however you like. As a general guide, I often share this timeline with my clients to help bring those Hallmark moments candidly into frame (pun totally intended!). You can also catch me in action through my portfolio here.
The Preparation – 1.5–3 hours
Your preparation time will include everything leading up to the ceremony for you, your partner and your wedding party. Hair on point, makeup glowing, and pre-matrimony rags ditched for dazzling attire.
Some things that could be worth noting;
- When hair and makeup will arrive
- When your photographer and videographer will arrive
- When your partner will arrive, if separately
- Your journey times
The Ceremony – 30 minutes (roughly)
Ceremonies can run anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours. Depending on preference, yours could sit at either end or nicely in between. You may find that, once considering all the elements you’d like to involve, the length will simply reveal itself. Be sure to also take into account the size of your wedding party and any traditions.
Photos – 1.5 to 2 hours
Photos can be taken in one go or segmented throughout the day. It all depends on you, your venue, and the photography plan you decide to go with. If first looks are on the agenda, for example, you’d need to allocate some time around the pre-ceremony. Large group photos, on the other hand, are best taken after. More flexible moments like wedding party photos can swing whichever way you please.
Some common types of photos worth considering are –
Group Photos – 10 minutes
Hectic, but memorable. Location, time and size can play a factor in the practicality of the full-squad shot. Note: If doable, logical and desired, large group photos are worth scheduling directly after the ceremony, before we squeeze all the toothpaste out the tube.
Family Photos – 15 minutes
The cherished family photo is a big one for newlyweds. Grab the grandparents, the troublesome nieces and nephews, and all the rest of your dolled-up loved ones. Communication is how to plan family photos at your wedding. Just be sure to give them all a nudge with the whens and wheres ahead of time. Nobody wants to be across the way with a face full of cake for a picture this precious.
Wedding Party Photos – 20 minutes
Now, it’s time for some fun! Your family, best friends and loved ones can fully loosen up and let their personality shine. Bring those special moments that make your friends a unit and your family so lovably embarrassing. In-jokes and quirks can wreak havoc among silly matching accessories. Why not even pop open a bottle of Champagne? Get creative, be yourself and let the vibes shine naturally through the lens.
Couples Portraits – 45 minutes
When to plan couples photos during wedding days could be either or both sides of the ceremony. It’s a particularly special time for you and your new life partner to grab a breather and for some beautiful shots of just the two of you. Relax, and just be together. But just like your wedding party photos, there’s plenty of opportunity to get some laughs in and capture both the adoring and playful sides of each other.
The Reception – Open-Ended
Whoop – time to party! Let loose, have fun, dance, eat, and enjoy time with all your loved ones. They’re all there to celebrate the start of this new chapter in your life. Somewhere around the cheers, there are also a few timeline pointers worth pegging. They might apply to you, your photographer or the venue. Be mindful of things like wrap-up times, and where the right people should be when it’s time for speeches.
Some things you may want to include in this part of your timeline include:
- Grand entrances
- First dances or other big ones
- What time dinner will be served
- When toasts will be given
- When you will cut the cake
A couple other great moments you may fancy including could be the golden hour couples shoot, like sunset photos, and your farewell send-off at the end of the night.
A sure-fire solution for how to craft the perfect stress-free wedding timeline is to be certain you’ve left no stone unturned when exploring the options. Not sure which photo package is the right fit? Check out my super-thumbable selection here.
This Melbourne Wedding Photographer‘s Tips & Tricks
Some things to remember about planning from your friendly wedding photographer in Melbourne:
- Sort it nice and early. As soon as you start booking venues and vendors, start laying out a rough timeline for the day. You’ll be able to change it as you go, but the earlier you start, the less likely you are to forget something. Some vendors may also have questions about when they should arrive. If you’ve already started figuring out your timeline, the logistics should be way easier to handle.
- Get enough sleep. A no-brainer, but super important nonetheless. Nothing puts the pressure on even the simplest of tasks like a rough night’s sleep. Make sure you give yourself plenty of beauty rest the night before. It’s an exciting time, I get it, but keep the bags for your gifts and let your eyelids stay fresh.
- Add extra time anywhere you can. It can be tough to anticipate timings when unexpected blips crop up, so pad your timings wherever you can. If you think you can get something done in 15 minutes, why not give yourself a nice, calm 30? Playing catch-up – “eurgh.” 10 mins to kill – “top me up!”
- Hair and makeup will take longer than you think. Are we repeating ourselves? Yes. The overspilling hair and makeup sesh is a dreaded cliché of a hurried pre-ceremony. Let’s just tack on some extra time to keep ourselves covered. A little extra blusher? Dabble away.
- Schedule time to eat. And not just through reception. For evening weddings, breakfast and lunch will be key to keeping energised and excited throughout the day. As you know, it’s a big one, so let’s not skimp on meals, or at least some quality snacks. Stay fed, calm, and cheery. The cake will still taste good after.
- Limit location changes. As you plan out your big day, it may sound exciting to get ready at a beautiful hotel, and then travel to an even more beautiful outdoor venue for the ceremony, and then travel across town to another beautiful hall. But the more you travel, the more moving pieces, and the more opportunity for a slip-up. You don’t have to over-compromise, but sometimes simpler is better.
- Anticipate traffic. Whilst we’re on the subject, travelling means traffic. Maybe a lot, maybe a little. But if there’s one thing we know about traffic, it’s unpredictable. Keeping it in mind should prevent it from playing any bigger part in your wedding day than necessary.
- Season and time of day. Both the time of day and year can take a sneaky toll on a wedding. Watch out for freak weather and dull days for photo lighting. Nothing major, just some consideration for the baggage your chosen day may come with.
- Work with your photographer. Any seasoned wedding photographer like myself will have seen it all. If there’s any questions about timings, unusual requests or anything imaginable, be sure to ask. There’s virtually nothing that can’t be figured out and tailored just right for you.
- (Some) things will go wrong. No matter how well you plan and anticipate, something always goes a little bit wonky. Sure, it could be a biggie, but most likely it’ll be something small. Still, the better prepared you are, the easier it will be to handle anything your big day has in store for you. Just go with the flow and remember what it’s all about!
And that’s all there is to it. How to create a stress-free wedding timeline, demystified. Just remember: an optimal and easy wedding day timeline is the one you feel most comfortable with. And so long as your photography is in good hands, you can soak up the atmosphere to its magical fullest. In the meantime, you can fire any questions or convo-starters over here and I’d be delighted to say hello!