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Creating The Perfect Timeline for Your Wedding

Creating The Perfect Timeline for Your Wedding

One of the biggest challenges facing newly engaged couples is understanding the flow of a wedding day.  And, truthfully, that makes sense!

You've spent most of your time attending or being in weddings for friends and family.  But you're now on the other side, where you have to plan the wedding YOU want!

Every wedding is a little different but there are some major parts to each day.  So the best way to get a handle on your schedule is to break it down into sections.

Getting Ready

The term Getting Ready isn't applicable to just the bride and groom.  It encompasses the entire wedding set up process, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, the flower girl and ring bearer and possibly others.

So let's cut through the chase right off the bat - the guys will require at maximum one hour to shave, shower and get dressed.  It's just how we are.

The ladies on the other hand will take substantially longer.  There's hair to do, makeup to put on, dresses to get into and zip or tie up.  Getting the bride and her ladies ready borders on being a finely tuned production and it's where I see most weddings get behind.

The key to allowing the correct amount of time is in-depth conversations with your hair and makeup vendors as well as a clear understanding of when your access to your getting ready location begins.

Your vendors will need to understand what each member of the part wants for their look and from there can give you an solid estimate on the amount of time they'll need to complete those tasks.  In general, the bridesmaids will be done first, with the bride and possibly her mom left as the last two.

Once you've had this conversation, it's as simple as putting the times for each person together.  Keep in mind, that one vendor doing everyone will take considerably longer than 2 vendors working simultaneously.

The First Big Decision - To First Look or Not?

First Looks are gaining in popularity and it's one of the first big decisions you'll need to make regarding the day's organization.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, a First Look is when the bride and groom see each other before the wedding in full dress.

First Looks have some benefits and some drawbacks as discussed below.

The ProsThe Cons

  • Share some private moments as a couple prior to the wedding
  • Allows you to ensure that you see each other before all the guests do
  • Gives you the opportunity to do more couples and family pictures before the ceremony
  • Helps ease some of the wedding day jitters by reliving some of the anticipation and nervousness
  • Saves time if you are having a late afternoon wedding and may run out of light
  • Requires everyone to be ready earlier
  • Less traditional than the typical arrangement
  • Running behind means you may still have to do some formals after the ceremony
  • Might not get quite the reaction you would with a traditional viewing

As you see, the list of pros and cons is quite varied, so this decision comes down to your desires.

As a photographer, I love First Looks as they allow us to work more efficiently and they give you more of the day to enjoy with guests.  However, I never require my couples to do one.

There's one small exception to that rule though and it's mentioned above.  If you are having your wedding at or around sunset, it almost a necessity to do a first look.  At that point, you will be losing light for family formals and couples pictures as well as your ceremony.  This is the only situation where I really push for a First Look.  But at the end of the day, the decision is still your's.

Your Ceremony

This one area where you won't necessarily have much control over, but will have some input on with your officiant.

In general, ceremonies run about 20-30 minutes.  Certain religious or cultural traditions or requirements may make them longer.  But you'll know this in advance.

The Post-Ceremony Family and Couple Pictures

So, now we reach the formals.  

If you did a First Look, you're probably already done with the large bulk of these.  However, if you didn't, now's the time to get them done.

Family formals can be really quick or really long.  I stress to my clients that, on average, each formal grouping they provide me will take roughly 2 minutes to get everyone together, set up and posed for the shot, take a couple pictures to ensure I get everyone with eyes open and looking at me and then move to the next group.

So, let's think of it this way.  Immediately after your ceremony, you are ushered to a private room and your guests head to the reception (this is somewhat lucky thinking and basically never happens).  Between getting all the family members needed together, prying you away from your guests and allowing me time to get things set up, you looking at 10 minutes.

Next, we start with the formal groupings.  We'll assume you have given me about 15 groupings you want formals of - not including the bridal party or you as a couple.  15 groups times 2 minutes is 30 minutes of time.

Time to add the bridal party pics.  Since everyone is present and no one has wondered off, we'll assume 15 minutes to get some various looks and single images, if desired.

Lastly, we roll into some couples pictures.  I generally split these in half and do some now and some later during the reception.  We'll allot 15 minutes.

So where do we stand time-wise?

  1. 10 minutes for gathering and set up
  2. 30 minutes for family images
  3. 15 minutes for the bridal party
  4. 15 minutes for the couple

Total time:  1 hour and 10 minutes.  And you may or may not have to drive to your reception venue, which isn't included here.

This is where a First Look really shows it's value.  If you did most of these before hand, you'll have time to do some fantastic and stress free couple pictures and have plenty of time to make it to your reception for cocktail hour.

The key here is to limit the family formals to only parents, siblings and grandparents.  Close extended family and friends can easily be done at the reception, so you'll want to try and avoid those to control the time constraints.

The Oaks of Salem Wedding Reception PhotographerThe Reception

And now we party!

This part of the day can be short or long, but it's always fun!

There's little to really think through for the reception as it's a big block of time and you can have a relatively open schedule.

But you can't just fly by the seat of your pants here, although there's more flexibility.  Here's some items you need to consider and plan for:

  • Dinner - Kind of goes with saying, but you don't want to rush your guests through their meal.
  • First Dances - Bride and Groom, Daughter and dad and Groom and mother are the typical three and it's generally best to do them all back-to-back-to-back.
  • Garter and Bouquet Tosses - Short and sweet, but if they will be part of your reception, plan for them and do them one after the other.
  • Toasts - Timing for the toasts is generally right before dinner or just as dinner is wrapping up.  Most couple choose to do as dinner is wrapping up as most of your guests will be seated.
  • Exit - Typically, the last part of your day, but here recently, couples are beginning to move this forward and then resume their celebratory activities.  Why?  They want as many people to participate as possible and, with wedding receptions running later, not everyone can stay that long.


Putting it all Together

While certainly not comprehensive, I hope you've found this to be pretty encompassing of your day.  Once you've taken each part and created a schedule, you just have to add them together to get the flow of your day.

As always, I would encourage you to talk with as many of your vendors as necessary to really understand any potential issues and ensure everyone is on the same page.

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