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Your Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

One of the first questions I am asked when meeting with a new bride is, “how many hours of photography do you think we’ll need?” This is a very important question to ask and knowing how much time to plan for each part of the wedding day can help in answering this question. When I talk with brides about all of the things that they would like to have documented on their big day, we then talk about the amount of time that they will need for each of those events. Having photographed dozens and dozens of weddings over the years, I have come to find that planning in more time than you think you’ll need creates more of a stress-free wedding day.  Of course everyone’s wedding schedule will look slightly different, but generally, this is the ideal wedding day timeline that many of my brides have followed and it has lead to a very smooth and stress-free day!

First, here are a few things to consider when planning your wedding day timeline:

Getting ready before a wedding

1.Getting Ready: How much time does it generally take you to get ready for a special occasion? Estimate that amount of hours and add 1-2 more! Also consider all of your bridesmaids, groomsmen and family members who might be getting ready with you.  In my experience, most brides and bridesmaids average 3-4 hours total to do hair, make-up and get dressed. Guys, on the other hand, take around 30 minutes to an hour to get ready completely! Also, consider adding a bit of time for relaxing and eating breakfast or lunch!

Jena and Tom's First Look

2. Are you having a First Look? Some couples choose to have a “first look” before their ceremony.

If you have never heard of a First Look, it is the time before a wedding ceremony where the bride and groom get to see each other for the first time, uninterrupted, just the two of them. This is a very special time that they get to share together. Many times couples will exchange gifts or notes to each other.

Couples can choose whether to have a First Look or not before their wedding ceremony, but if they do, this is something to consider in your ideal wedding day timeline. I would recommend planning about 30 minutes to have a First Look together. This will allow the both of you to spend a few minutes together and to also have a few portraits taken before your ceremony.

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

3. Bridal Party & Family Portraits (If you choose to have a First Look) Right after your First Look, if you choose to have one, is the perfect time to take some bridal party and/or family portraits. Having these photos taken before your ceremony is beneficial in several ways:

  • There is usually a bit more time available before the ceremony and everything is more relaxed. Not to mention, everyone is fresh for photos!
  • There will be fewer photos to take after the ceremony which means you and your guests get to spend more time at your cocktail hour!

I would recommend allotting about 30 minutes for bridal party and family photos taken before the ceremony. Be sure to leave enough time to head over to the ceremony site if you are getting ready somewhere else!

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

4. The Ceremony!!! It’s that time! You are officially getting married! Needless to say, the ceremony is the part of the wedding day that the rest of the timeline is built around! Depending on the time of year that you plan to have your wedding, think about how the light outside will be at what time when planning your ceremony start time.

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

For example, in Summer months, June-August, the sun will set around 8-8:30pm, depending on how early in the Summer it is. The absolute best light for portraits is one hour before sunset! Keeping that in mind, decide what time would be best for your ceremony, decide how long your ceremony will be and carve out about 30 minutes for portraits afterwards.

Next, while you and your new bride or groom are having beautiful portraits done, your wedding guests can head over to the cocktail hour! Again, remember to factor in travel time from the ceremony venue to the reception venue!


5. The Grand Entrance:  Your guest are all relaxing at your reception venue, waiting with bated breath for the bride and groom to come through the door! This is time when the DJ announces your parents in, then your bridal party and then you!

After you are announced in for the first time as Mr. and Mrs., receptions can play out in a number of ways. The order of events is up to you, but here is how most wedding receptions are lined up: Bride and Groom enter, Bride and Groom first dance, Blessing, & Dinner.

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

6. Dinner usually lasts an hour to an hour and a half, meanwhile your photographer might take photos of your rings and candid photos of guests at their tables.

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

7. Post Dinner Fun! After dinner, the schedule is usually pretty flexible as well. Some weddings might flow right into toasts, given by a parent or member of the bridal party. This is also a great time to do Bride/Father and Groom/Mother dances! Factor in about 15 minutes for special dances!

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

8. Dance The Night Away! After the special dances and toasts is a great time for the DJ to start getting your guests out on the dance floor for some open dancing! Most weddings have open dancing for about 30-45 minutes after dinner before pausing for the next events.

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

9. Cake Cutting, Bouquet Toss & Garter Toss: After a little bit of fun and dancing, it’s time to cut the cake! If you choose to have a bouquet or garter toss, this is a great time to do that as well! Plan about 15 minutes for these.

There are always other activities you could include in your reception, like games. Or sometimes the bridal party has planned a special dance or surprise for the bride and groom! I always suggest adding some extra time for open dancing as well. You would be surprised how fast the reception goes by and you’ve hardly gotten to dance! Also, from a photographers stand point, some of the BEST photos of the night get captured when everybody really starts getting their dance on!

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

10. The Grand Exit! Your wonderful day is coming to a close and it’s time to get ready for your grand exit! Your exit can be anything you want it to be! A lot of couples choose for their guests to surround them with sparklers, blow bubbles as they run through or shower them with flower petals. For one last amazing photo, grooms, remember to pause in the middle, dip your bride and give her a big kiss!

Richmond Va Wedding Photography by Caroline Martin Photography.

I hope that this was helpful for you! I know that planning your wedding day timeline can seem really overwhelming and you may not even know where to start! To make it even easier on you, here is a rough schedule that you can copy and paste, to use as a guide! Good luck and happy planning!

Your Ideal Wedding Day Timeline:

11:00 Relax and eat breakfast

12:00 Hair and makeup with bridal party

2:30 – Bride & Groom’s First Look (if you choose to do it)

3:30 Bridal party & family portraits (can also be taken after the ceremony)

5:00 – Ceremony (perfect light for an outdoor ceremony is one hour before sunset)

5:30 – Cocktail hour for guests (continue portraits with the Bride & Groom, bridal party & family)

6:30 – Grand entrance

6:45 – First dance and blessing

7:00 – Dinner

7:45 – Toasts & special dances

8:00 – Open dancing

8:30/9 – Cake cutting & more open dancing


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error: ©Caroline Martin Photography