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How to Build a Stress-Free Timeline for a Smooth Sailing Wedding Day

The wedding day timeline is probably the single most important planning element in making sure your wedding day is as stress-free as possible, and ensures that you have plenty of time for all the photos you want to capture! As a wedding photographer, part of my client experience is that I build the wedding day timeline in a working google doc very early on in our time working together! I send out a questionnaire to get some basic information, and from there I build out a timeline for my couples and I to reference and tweak throughout the wedding planning process!

Below are five tips to help you build a stress-free wedding day timeline to help the wedding day go smoothly! 🙂 I hope this helps!

1. Start early!!!

If I could make this tip number 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5, I totally would. (But don’t worry I won’t do that to you! ;)) Starting early is the most important tip for creating a stress-free timeline! This is one of the first things I do when a new couple books me, and for a few good reasons. Having this timeline helps my couples when planning other parts of the day. When we have a working timeline in place, when a bride books hair and makeup, she already has the answers to tell them when they need to know when hair and makeup should be finished by. When the florist asks about what time flowers should be delivered, my brides already have an answer! Having this timeline built out from the start, ensures that these other time-sensitive parts of the day all align together to make for a smooth flow of the wedding day all around. And remember, this timeline doesn’t have to be set in stone. Of course things may shift or adjust as more plans fall into place, but having a working timeline as a reference guide throughout the planning process from the start is key!

2.Expect the unexpected!

Wedding days rarely are on time for every portion of the day. And that’s okay! With so many moving parts it’s totally normal for something to run a little late, or a delay to cause a hiccup in the timeline. But that’s why you need to plan for that and budget in extra time! That way when you have to think on your feet, pivot, and make up for lost time, you have some cushion to work with! If it normally takes you 20 minutes to photograph family formals, I’d budget for 30 minutes. That way when Aunt Marie is in the restroom, or cousin Jesse went to get a glass of water, there’s no sweat that you have to wait a couple of minutes for the stragglers to gather!

3. Factor in travel times (with traffic)!!

When the bride is getting ready at her childhood home, and the wedding ceremony is at the nearby church, and the reception venue is two towns over…you have to factor travel time into your timeline. But you’ll need to estimate for traffic!!!! In an ideal world there would be no traffic on wedding days, and there would always be seamless easy drives. However, like that saying goes, plan for the worst but hope for the best. When I factor travel times between locations, I always allot for extra time in case there’s traffic. When you calculate travel times using google maps, they’ll give you a range of time that the route will usually take. I always go with the higher end of that, just to be safe. That way, if you get stuck in some traffic, it’s okay, that was all accounted for! And if there is no traffic, great! You have some extra time for portraits, or for your bride and groom to relax and have a bite to eat!

4. Sunset time is super important!!!

The time that the sun goes down is always important to know! You can find out the sunset time ahead of time by going to a site like Put in the location, and choose the date of the wedding, and you’ll be able to see what time sunset will be that day. I always prefer to shoot portraits outside in natural light, so know the time that it’ll get dark is important! I can make sure that our portraits are all finished before the sun goes down, and my couples can make sure to plan their ceremony time accordingly if it’s an outdoor ceremony. (This especially applies during the fall when the sun sets earlier). If we waited to do the timeline until a few weeks before the wedding, there is no changing the ceremony time! Just another reason why starting early is important – because most things can still be changed early on! Knowing the time of sunset is also important in the summer time, because I like to pull my couples out for sunset portraits when possible! Knowing the sunset time can ensure we leave an open window during the reception without dances or speeches scheduled so that we can sneak out for 10 minutes during golden hour!

5. Find out about extra factors that can impact timing!

Make sure to find out in advance about some things that may require extra time budgeted into the timeline. Does the wedding party have 28 people in it? Are there extra extended family photos on the list? Will there be a receiving line following the ceremony? Factors like that can require extra built in time, and if you don’t plan for it, can send you into that making-up-for-lost-time mode. When you know about those things in advance and plan accordingly that helps keep everything stress-free with less curve balls! 🙂

I hope these tips are helpful when creating a wedding day timeline for your clients! The goal should always be to give your clients the best possible experience on their wedding day, and having a smooth sailing timeline is a big part of that!


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