Wedding Day Timeline Tips
Updated 16 December 2020
One of the questions I get asked all the time as a Sydney wedding photographer is, “How to I plan my wedding day timeline?”
I completely get it, planning a wedding is one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. You’ve probably never organised a party this big before so I’m sure you would not mind a bit of help!
Just think about this for a second. Imagine you’ve just finished your wedding ceremony. It was so amazing…. Your fiancé was so overcome with emotion he sobbed like a 2 year old boy when he saw you for the first time.
You saw your father cry for the first time in your life. A kangaroo photobombed you right before you put a ring on it.
A rainbow appeared out of the sky when you had your first kiss…
But…even with all of your meticulous planning, you realise the sun had just gone down and you forgot to allow time for your wedding photos with just the two of you…..oh NO!!!
Timing is everything on your wedding day and its probably the last thing that comes to mind. And that’s OK…as long as we plan for the unexpected you will be fine. All of what you are about to read should go under the major heading “You can never have too much time for photographs”
Keep reading to learn about how to plan your wedding day timeline
First off, we’ll start by saying there are two main ways to schedule your day: Golden Hour and First look
For a golden hour schedule, the couple does not see each other before the ceremony. The first time you will see each other is..simply at the ceremony when you lock eyes for the first time down the aisle.
Imagine the butterflies in your stomach, all the eyes on you as you take those final steps as a single person and stepping into becoming a married couple.
It’s pretty exciting and I can still recall when I saw my wife for the first time. And I can still recall the reactions of my friends and family as they saw me wipe tears away from my eyes…and how they felt watching us crumble into an emotional train wreck. Very entertaining indeed and totally EPIC!
The reason why we call it the “Golden Hour” timeline is the majority of portraits together will likely take place later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky providing the most awesome, beautiful soft lighting for your wedding photography.
Normally right after the ceremony, you should allow some time for family formal photos, because they are the ones your parents are bugging you for and if you don’t do them now it’s going to be hard to wrangle everyone up in the one place at one time.
If time allows, you would gather your bridal party for some photos together and then the couple has their portrait session with their photographer.
In most situations, this happens while everyone else is stuffing their faces with canapés and throwing down glasses of champagne during cocktail hour.
Then not long after that, you’ll head into a separate room where there is usually canapés and drinks waiting for you before you enter the wedding reception and party the night away.
Why We Like it
In my totally unbiased opinion, this is the best time of the day when you can just simply spend some alone time with your partner before you party the night away and reflect on what had just happened, without all of the distractions of your friends and family.
It’s a pretty big moment and you just need a bit of space to just hold each other close and celebrate just with each other.
The golden hour schedule is pretty common but has some issues
- It’s the classic tried and tested way of doing things. You may have always dreamed of walking down the aisle and seeing your fiancé for the first time….and that’s totally worth doing!
- That light! The ideal time for wedding photography is always 1-2 hours before sunset. The sun is lower, and the light is much softer. In Sydney, the sun is always more squinty during the middle of the day and always seems to be really harsh until you get to the last part of the day.
- Just be aware of winter weddings where the sun often sets about 5pm so factor that into your ceremony start time.
- If you are planning a summer wedding, just be aware sunset will be quite late (past 8pm), so consider having a late ceremony, then take a bit of time during reception for just photos of you two
- No stress! The legal stuff is done. You’ve come off that emotional rollercoaster called a wedding! You can go an enjoy the rest of the day and just go chill out with your bridal crew and partner.
Hints and Tips on how to schedule it
- Simply google “sunset time (your location) date” and it will come up with the sunset time. This doesn’t mean it will be pitch dark at that time, but when the sun is out of the sky. So you will have about 15-20mins of what we call “Blue light” which can also be pretty amazeballs too for photography.
- Work your wedding day timings from the sunset time backwards. For example if sunset time is at 5pm, start your ceremony at least 2-3 hours from that to allow for at least one hour of photography time with your bridal party and yourselves.
- Allow about 20 minutes for family photos right after the ceremony, and add more time if you have a bigger family
- If you want a big group photo, just make sure you allow about 10 minutes for that, and make sure no one leaves the ceremony site to go to the toilet or for a smoko break!
- If your wedding day happens to be cloudy, then there most likely will not be a sunset, but the light is still better towards the later afternoon
Why you may not like it
- The biggest drawback is scheduling. Some weddings only allow for 1 hour between ceremony and reception. This means that family formal photos, bridal party and couple photos are all done within that time. This is possible if everything is located in one place and if you don’t want a lot of photos of just the two of you
- It may feel a little rushed and you may not have time to do everything you want. Especially if you want to have photos with all of your friends as well
- You will miss out on cocktail hour and having that little bit of time to unwind, chat with long lost friends and relatives and everyone who likes you.
A Sample Golden Hour Timeline
Here is an example timeline of a wedding day based on the Golden Hour Schedule (sunset time of 5.44pm on the 10th September, spring in Sydney) Couple are getting ready in the same location, and wedding ceremony and reception in the same location
1pm – Getting ready with the girls and boys
3pm – Ceremony Start Time
3.30pm – Family and Friends Photos
4pm – Bridal Party photos and couple photos
4.30pm – Cocktail Hour
5.30pm – Reception Start time
10pm – End of photography
11pm – End of Reception
Photography coverage time approximately 9 hours
The First Look Timeline
What is the first look?
Simply it is an opportunity to see each other for the first time privately without all of the friends and family watching you before the ceremony happens.
It has become a popular thing to do over the last few years and I’ve done my fair share of them recently. It normally ends up with tears being wiped away, and you needing to reapply some makeup, but for those who have done it they say it was one of their favourite moments of the day.
Typically we’ll find a spot away from everyone so you can have the moment together alone (with your photographer capturing everything of course), but it’s pretty much just you two, having a moment.
Why We Love it
- It is perfect for those who don’t like being in the spotlight, the centre of attention
- It should help calm the nerves and knowing you won’t have 100 pairs of eyes staring at you making you more nervous than you already feel
- From a photography perspective, you’ll have a lot more time, plus you’ll get those amazing first look photos you will treasure forever.
- You get to hang out with your best buddy for longer (huge WIN)
- The time between ceremony and reception doesn’t drag out and you can go and enjoy cocktail hour with everyone
- In winter you can do this before it gets dark outside leaving you more time later on for everything else
Why you may not like it
- You will need to factor that into your wedding day timeline, so you will have to get up earlier in the morning and start getting ready sooner
- The quality of light may not be the best as you will need to have this done before the ceremony . Having said that your photographer should still be able to make it work for you. As we said earlier, the best time of the day for photographs is as late as possible
- If you are one to follow tradition and always wanted to walk down the aisle, then this may not work for you
A Sample First Look Timeline
Here is an example timeline of a wedding day with a first look (sunset time of 5.44pm on the 10th September, spring in Sydney). Couple are getting ready in the same location, and wedding ceremony and reception in the same location
11.30pm – Getting ready with the girls and boys
2pm -First Look and bridal party photos
3pm – Ceremony Start Time
3.30pm – Family and Friends Photos
4pm – Couple photos
4.30pm – Cocktail Hour (you get to spend it with friends and family
5.30pm – Reception Start time
10pm – End of photography
Photography coverage time approximately 11 hours
Other things to consider when planning your wedding day timeline
1. Getting ready at the same location or close as possible
I could not recommend highly enough to consider getting ready either at the same place, or close to each other. It will save a huge amount of travel time, stress, and a lot of other things you didn’t know about!
2. Hotel or Home?
There is benefits to both, so let’s run through the here
There’s going to be less clutter in a hotel room (unless you decided to trash the place the night before!). When there’s less stuff everywhere it will be easier to find a nice place to take photos with good clean light.
If we need to move furniture around (I sometimes feel I’m a part time removalist at times) it’s much easier than moving stuff in your own place.
Everyone is in the same spot and we can go back and forth to both for the guys and girls easily. Plus, there’s less time travelling around.
The best reason to get ready in your own home is storytelling. Yes it may be a little cluttered, but it will mean a lot more to you getting ready in your family home instead of somewhere that doesn’t mean as much to you beside being in a convenient location. Your photographer will also be on the lookout for storytelling photos that show your personalities and your values too.
3. Natural light
It is the most important point of photography – lighting. It creates each photo, gives uniqueness like no other and makes everything just better.
Natural lighting isn’t only flattering, looks amazing and brings a certain quality to your photos you’ll be happy with.
The worst time of the day for photographs is always in the middle of the day, where the sun is high in the sky which creates unflattering shadows on your face, so I would try and avoid having your ceremony in the middle of the day where everyone will be squinting to see you.
The best way to avoid this problem is to think about your wedding day schedule first and foremost before you book anything in. That way you know what time your ceremony will start and when your reception will begin.
And of course, allow plenty of time for photography in between.
4. Letters and Gifts
This seems to be the “new” tradition where the couples will write a nice letter to each other with a gift that they open before they see each other. This is not required, nor expected but a welcome way to add a bit of surprise on the day. It’s also really nice to capture in photographs or in a video.
When was the last time someone wrote you a handwritten letter? What a better time to do one for your new partner
5. First look with your parents, or anyone else
Another popular idea is to have a first look with your parents so they can see you in your dress for the first time. I know being a father myself I look forward to the day my daughter gets married (I’m sure I’ll be a emotional mess when she does).
Just think about your parents and how much they love you, and what it would mean to them seeing you get married. Why not gift them with a moment they will never forget?
6. Be adventurous/Be You
When we hand over your wedding album at the end of this, we want you to sat “WOW WOW WOW!!” Not because the photos are gorgeous, but they are exactly who you are as people and it told the story of the day just as you remember it. If it’s meaningful to you, make sure you include it.
If you decide to go visit your grandma in a nursing home because she can’t make your wedding, then do it.
If you decide that having photos taken at your favourite local cafe on your wedding day because you had your first date there, then go for it.
I challenge you to dig deep, think about what it means to you instead of picking a place just because it’s pretty.
7. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Murphy’s law unfortunately doesn’t skip the wedding day. Sometimes things do not to plan and they don’t line up. It’s all good!!
On the wedding day, things run late, the wedding dress WILL get dirty, the cake might melt because the caterer forgot to put it in the fridge! But hey, what’s most important is you’re getting married to the love of your life!
The day is all about you, so if you’re late, then everything else will have to wait until you’re ready!
Bonus Wedding Day Timeline Tips
Just when you thought I was done helping you, I’ve got a few more things for you to consider. I frequently get asked how long you need for each part of the day. Over the years this is what I have provided to my clients and it has seemed to work pretty well.
So here it is, a guideline for you to help plan your timings. These numbers are bare minimum requirements, so if you want your day to run a bit more smoothly add some buffer time on top of these.
Girls Getting Ready – 1.5 hours
Boys Getting Ready – 30 mins
Ceremony (depends if its a civil or church) – 30 to 2 hours
Family Photos – 15mins to 30mins
Large Group Photo – 15mins
Bridal Party Photos – 20mins
Couple Photos – 40mins
Wedding Day Timeline Advice
We finally made it to the end of the article and I hope you liked my 7 Simple Wedding Day Timeline Tips.
If you’re still stuck on how to plan your wedding, I’m here to help. I’ve seen over hundreds of weddings and I know how hard it is to plan one (I’ve been there myself too!)
Here’s a few more articles that I prepared earlier that I’m sure you’ll find useful when planning your Sydney wedding
Planning your honeymoon? I’ve got something for you here too
I also wrote some tips on how to get better wedding photos on the day
And one of my favourite weddings at Sydney’s Vaucluse House and Grounds of Alexandria
If you would love to chat more about your wedding photography, I’d love to hear from you. Just book in a time with me here via my calendar and we’ll make it happen