How to Write the BEST Timeline for Your Best Day Ever

Informational

March 8, 2020

First off I would like to mention that this is written based on you NOT being one of my brides or couples. If you ARE a M&Co. bride/couple, THANK YOU, I LOVE YOU, and this will be a glimpse at to what is in store for you!
I.love.planning. I live planning. I breathe planning. My life consists of perpetual planning, whether it’s a friend’s baby shower, a family member’s bridal shower, my own brother’s wedding, you name it, I plan it.
Once upon a time, before my photography business took off like a SR-71 Blackbird, I was working on my event planning certification and writing application letters to various event planning agencies. So, I take it upon myself to HAPPILY help all my brides and couples write their own timelines (I had four written for my brother’s wedding day) as well as help (as much as possible) keep their wedding day running smoothly.
In this blog, I’ll be helping you learn how to do this, without losing your mind! This info will also go hand in hand with this blog about choosing how many hours of coverage you need. So let’s get to it!

Assuming you’ve chosen your package length, you start out with you basic events that your ENTIRE DAY is based around: your ceremony and your reception.

If you’re having a Catholic ceremony or your ceremony is church-based, your officiant/the church may have predetermined ceremony times for you to choose from. If you’re having a non-denominational ceremony not located in a church, then you will typically have some more flexibility. With my couples, we try to aim for as close to “golden hour” as possible. Which brings us to the other most important decision: whether or not to do a “first look”. Some pros and cons of a “first look” can be found here.
How long your ceremony is also plays a pretty big role on how the rest of your day is laid out. Be sure to have a conversation with your officiant about what they have planned for you two!

If your ceremony is earlier in the day, then yes, you’ll need more coverage hours from your team, but you can more than likely get away without doing a first look. If you’re ceremony is later in the day and close to your reception time, you’ll want to chat with your photographer about your photo options (more on this later). I typically allot ten minutes for a first look on a timeline, even though it takes only seconds for the actually “looking” part, it’s nice to set aside some time alone together before your whirlwind of a day.

The other most popular question I get from my brides is, “When should I schedule hair and makeup to start?” followed by, “When should you show up?”
As far as start time goes, there are a few factors: how many girls/women are receiving services, how many hair and make up artists will be performing the services and how many women/girls are getting hair, makeup or both done. Your hair stylist will be the best person to ask for this info, but three-five hours is the most popular amount of time needed.
Your photographer will typically show up 30-45 minutes AFTER you are supposed to start your hair and makeup so that he/she can check in with you, start on photographing your details, etc. You’ll want to be done AT LEAST an hour and a half before your ceremony if it’s early in the day and you’re not doing a first look, talk to your officiant about how early they are expecting you two to arrive, too. If you ARE doing a first look as well as a majority of your photos prior to your ceremony, chat with your photographer about how much time they’ll need, be cognizant of the fact that you will have to be hidden no more than a half hour prior to your ceremony start time as well.


If you have chosen to NOT have your getting ready time photographed, we’ll see you at the ceremony!

If you have chosen to do a first look, after your few minutes together alone, you will start the wedding party photos, move to bridesmaids and groomsmen photos, then bride+groom portraits.

I personally allot fifteen minutes for the first three groups each, then spend as much time as possible with my couple (after all, you’re kind of the reason we’re all here!). So that’s IDEALLY 45 minutes for wedding party related photos. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Not to mention that if you’ve hired a second photographer (info on that can be found in my blog about choosing the right amount of photo coverage) then the work is typically split up making the process go much quicker!

To recap so far: we’ve set a time for hair and makeup, set a time to meet for a first look if you’re doing one (if not then skip to leaving for your ceremony venue), set your ceremony time and discussed whether or not a majority of your photos will be done before or after your ceremony. If there ISN’T a decent amount of time between your ceremony and reception, and you’re NOT doing a first look, consider having your getting ready time begin earlier to try to get all your bridesmaids/groomsmen photos taken prior to your ceremony. This will help cut down how much needs to be done post-ceremony.


You will also have to decide when you want to do your formal family photos. I would say that 99% of my couples opt to do their formal family photos AFTER the ceremony, regardless of if a first look is done or not. I send out a list of common family photo combinations for my couples to fill out that, and that list of combinations takes about fifteen minutes to complete on your wedding day. But if you have more photos you want, confirm with your photographer how long you’ll need.

I put this on a separate line because it’s THAT important: make sure EVERYONE that is supposed to be in your family photos KNOWS it and remains in the ceremony space. THIS alone will save you countless minutes of not having to hunt them down or have them miss a photo!


With my couples, the most important factor (if possible) is light, light, light and again, LIGHT. If your ceremony is early in the day, I highly suggest asking your photographer if it would be possible to get some photos taken during “golden hour”. Not only is it less harsh lighting for your photos, it’s also easier on those with sensitive eyes. Getting away for even fifteen minutes for another set of portraits and a much needed breather is ALWAYS a good idea, friends!

(Almost)Last, but certainly not least, the reception.

This is probably where you’ll lean on your photographer’s guidance the most for timing. I allow the following times for the respective event: five minutes for a grand entrance, five minutes for cake cutting, five minutes PER speech given, five minutes for each planned dance (first dance, etc.), five minutes for bouquet toss, five minutes for garter toss, ten minutes for dollar dance, 30-45 minutes for dinner (this depends on whether your dinner is a buffet and seated as well as how many guests you have) and five minutes for any other event such as the “shoe game”.

A few tips for your reception to ensure you don’t go over on your coverage time:

  • Have everyone who is speaking PREPARE something and STICK to it. We love our dads, but they seem to like to go off-the-cuff more often than anyone else. Not only does this make your guests impatient as it’s typically BEFORE they’ve eaten, it also cuts down on YOUR time with your coverage team, so you may have to rush through your reception when you shouldn’t have to.
  • Agree to your events and also stick to that. Let your parents/loved ones know that if they have a surprise for you in-store, to contact your coverage team prior so we don’t miss it and can allow for it in the timeline. I personally make myself available to my couples basically 24/7/365 and am always willing to chat with parents, etc. if they have any questions or concerns, if you’re not one of my couples, I would bet on the fact that your photographer is the same! Don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Talk to your photographer about how you want your reception to go. This sounds obvious, but every couple is different. Let your photographer know if you would like to take your time, add some open dance time in between some events (if possible) and space things out OR if you want to get all the formalities out of the way ASAP so you can party your booties off. This way, your coverage team will have a better idea of how to make your wedding day the best day ever for you two.

Typically receptions begin one of three ways (in case you didn’t know!): you walk in and sit down, you walk in and cut your cake or you walk in and begin your first dance. Sometimes where your cake is placed in the reception space will decide this for you. Your photographer will help you more with this, but here’s an example:
6:00pm- Grand entrance
6:05pm- Cut cake
6:10pm- Speeches (MOH, Best Man, Father of the Bride)
6:25pm- Blessing
6:30pm- Buffet dinner
7:00pm- Sunset photos
7:15pm- First dance, Father-daighter, Mother-son
7:30pm- Open dance
7:50pm- Bouquet/garter toss
8:00pm- Open Dance
8:30pm- Photo coverage ends

When writing a timeline for my couples, I let them know that first of all, these are estimates on time and second, that the times labeled “open dance” are what I call “buffers”. This means that if something runs over then we can make it up by cutting that time frame short.

If you have a special exit you’d like to do, there’s also two ways to do that and it’s our LAST item on the list for timelines!

You can either schedule your “exit” during a time where guests are occupied (dinner or open dance) and snag just your wedding party along with any parents/loved ones and significant others of your wedding party, hop outside and do the thang- or you can do your exit fifteen-twenty minutes prior to the end of your reception. Why BEFORE the end? Well, your guests will need to come back in and grab their belongings after they wish you off in to the night!
For any type of planned exit, I allot at least fifteen minutes. This INCLUDES a bubble or confetti exit after your ceremony. As much as we love guests, they can be like herding cats after a ceremony or trying to get them out of a reception.

YOU DID IT!
Now you’re ready to show that timeline who’s boss…YOU!
If you take away anything from this blog, I would love it to be this:
HAVE FUN AND ENJOY YOURSELF!
I’m a Type A, control enthusiast. However, even I understand what happens on your wedding day is going to happen! You can’t reschedule last minute, so you might as well make the best of it! It will be part of your love story for forever, don’t let it slip away due to unnecessary stress!

As a parting gift, here are two eight hour/two photographer coverage day examples:

With A First Look
7:00am- Girls begin hair and makeup
12:30pm- Photographer one arrives to girls and second photographer arrives to guy to getting ready photos
1:45pm- Leave for first look
2:00pm- First look
2:15pm- Begin bridal party photos and couples portraits
3:30pm- Head to ceremony venue
4:30pm- Ceremony begins
5:00pm- Ceremony ends/Cocktail hour/ Formal family portraits begin
6:00pm- Grand entrance in to reception
6:05pm- Cut cake
6:10pm- Speeches (MOH, Best Man, Father of the Bride)
6:25pm- Blessing
6:30pm- Buffet dinner
7:00pm- Sunset photos
7:15pm- First dance, Father-daighter, Mother-son
7:30pm- Open dance
7:50pm- Bouquet/garter toss
8:00pm- Open Dance
8:30pm- Photo coverage ends

Without A First Look
7:00am- Girls begin hair and makeup
12:30pm- Photographer one arrives to girls and second photographer arrives to guy to getting ready photos
1:45pm- Leave for Ceremony
2:00pm- Ceremony begins
2:45pm- Ceremony ends/Receiving line begins
3:00pm- Formal family portraits
3:20pm- Head to park for bridal party photos and couples portraits
4:40pm- Leave for reception venue
5:00pm- Cocktail hour begins
6:00pm- Grand entrance in to reception
6:05pm- Speeches (MOH, Best Man, Father of the Bride)
6:25pm- Blessing
6:30pm- Buffet dinner
7:00pm- Sunset photos
7:15pm- Cut cake
7:20pm- First dance, Father-daighter, Mother-son
7:30pm- Open dance
7:50pm- Bouquet/garter toss
8:00pm- Open Dance
8:30pm- Photo coverage ends

If I didn’t cover something you’re curious about, please comment below so we can share our knowledge with our friends!
Thank you so much for sticking with me! I hope you can now put down the stress relieving methods and have FUN preparing for the best day ever!

Hugs,
Sonni

leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Thank you!