Weddings are naturally busy times. Considering the fact that you have out-of-town guests to visit with, a rehearsal to attend, and any number of other activities before and after the wedding itself, scheduling the day-of is something that many brides genuinely overlook until it’s too late.

Truth be told, you have a lot going on!

But getting the timing right is important to help ease your stress and keep everyone on the same page on arguably the most important day of your life. From my experience as a wedding photographer, there isn’t anything as effective in guaranteeing a smooth wedding than a detailed schedule.

Follow this schedule to help get the timing right on your wedding day.

General Timeline

Start by mapping out your day. What time does your ceremony start? When are getting makeup or hair styling services? A timeline will help you allot ample time for each activity.

  1. Bridal Party Preparation: 1 hr + depending on the number of bridesmaids and stylists. During this time, a photographer will take pictures of everyone getting ready. If you have one photographer, he/she splits the time between the bride and groom.
  • 1-1.5 hrs for bride’s hair and makeup
  • 30 min – 1 hr for each bridesmaid
  • 15 minutes for getting into dress
  • 10 minutes for “first look” photo with parents (if applicable)
  1. Individual portraits of bridal party and groomsmen: 30 minutes.
  2. Arrival at ceremony site: 1 hr before the ceremony. Bridal party and groomsmen arrive separately and at slightly different times. During this time, it’s important to relax and take it all in. Designate a bridesmaid to bring a small speaker, beverages, and some light (easy to clean) snacks such as pretzels and rice cakes. If you’re choosing to do “first look” pictures, this is the time to do so.
  3. Ceremony: 30 minutes to 1 hr. Secular services generally last 30 minutes, while religious ceremonies average slightly longer.
  4. Receiving line: 15 minutes. Some couples choose to have a receiving line, especially if the ceremony is in a place of worship. While it’s not necessary, a receiving line is a great way to greet all your guests without having to “make the rounds” during the reception.
  5. Formal Portraits/Cocktail Hour (if applicable): 1 hr. Most formal pictures occur during the cocktail hour. If you choose not to have a cocktail hour, provide guests with local places to snack and grab a beverage before the reception begins.
  6. Reception: 4 hrs +. The average wedding reception lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 or more hours. A good rule of thumb is to allot 1-2 hrs for dinner and 2-3+ hrs for dancing and mingling. Here is the general order of events for a wedding reception:
    • Introduction of bridal party into reception area
    • First dance
    • Father/daughter dance
    • Mother/son dance
    • Dinner: 1-2 hrs
    • Toasts: 10-20 minutes
      • Traditionally the father of bride or groom
      • Maid/matron of honor
      • Best man
    • Dancing: 2-3 hrs
    • Cutting of cake and desserts: 1-2 hrs before end of event
    • Bouquet toss and garter toss (if applicable)
  1. End of event: 10 minutes for farewell pictures

Photography Schedule

You’ll be surprised at how much time you’ll spend with your photographer leading up to the wedding ceremony and directly after.  Below, you’ll see an estimate of the amount of time you’ll spend taking pictures.

Keep in mind that some of these sessions are formal poses, while others are just as you’re going about your day.  Talk with your photographer ahead of time to confirm the pictures you want taken and any additional preferences.

  • 1 hr: Bridal party preparation pictures
  • 1 hr: Individual portraits (formal)
  • 30 minutes: “First Look” pictures of bride and groom (formal and often optional)
  • 30 minutes to 1hr: Ceremony
  • 30 minutes: Portraits of couple, family, and bridal party (formal)
  • 2 hr +: Reception

Guard against stress on your wedding day by setting a schedule based on the timelines shared above. Leaving enough time to do everything you need to do will help keep you organized, on schedule, and most importantly, in control of what’s happening.