How to Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline (FREE downloadable examples included)
So, you’re unsure on how to plan the timeline of your wedding day?
Chances are, this is the first time that you’re faced with the decision on how to go about scheduling a wedding day or elopement timeline, and there can be an overwhelming amount of information, resources, and opinions surrounding this topic, which isn’t making your attempt at planning any easier.
You might also find that you don’t relate to a lot of the information that’s out there; often times, blogs are placing importance and emphasis on timelines that cater to the well-being of your vendors (i.e planners, photographers, videographers, venue managers, etc), which can make you feel like their part in your day is more important that it should be.
As a photographer of more the 70+ weddings and elopements over the last few years, I’ve encountered any timeline that you can imagine
from first looks to no first looks, from morning wedding receptions, to late reception parties, quick elopements, to extended outdoor celebrations, and everything in between.
Over the years, I’ve seen couples who stretch to accommodate everyone else’s needs, and couples who have remained unwaveringly true to whatever they felt were most important pieces of their day; and throughout it all, I’ve gathered a few of my own pieces of advice that I feel needs to be shared with couples who are looking for honest, tried-and-true advice when it comes to planning a wedding day or elopement timeline.
For far too long, industry leaders have been straying couples away from the most important part of a wedding day, which is the two of you; your journey up until this point, the connection that you share, and those who support your unwaveringly throughout it all.
Your wedding day is important, meaningful, and wonderful in so so many ways, but it is not the be-all, end-all. You’ve both had your own journeys before this day, and you’ll continue to journey and build your life long after this day is over, so let’s make sure that your wedding day timeline reflects who you are, what you want, and what’s most important to you.
Planning your wedding day timeline, and why doing it your own way matters.
Doing things your own way matters, it matters more than I could ever articulate in this post.
Throughout our entire life, we’re bombarded with thoughts, ideas, opinions, and outside pressure to do things a certain way, act a certain way, or stray from our own ideas and opinions in order to please others. When it comes to your wedding day, I urge you to lean into the idea that this day is for you; if nothing else, it’s a day for you two to celebrate who you are, as individuals, as well as who you’ve grown to be as a couple.
Think about this: everything decision you've ever made in your lifetime—up until this point—has led you here, to this exact moment in time. Every choice, every breakup, every fear, every celebration, every left turn instead of right, and every thought has brought you both together. Isn’t that incredible? Throughout it all, you’ve landed here, together. Your wedding day is a celebration of that.
An engagement can bring immediate outside pressure and opinions from everyone--from family and friends, to vendors, to even strangers--and as hard as it is to bend to the thoughts of everyone else, I urge you to come back to each other, time and time again throughout it all, and remind yourselves (and each other) that this is about what you share and that you should allow that to be the foundation on which you build your wedding day plans and wedding day timeline.
How to plan your wedding day timeline
Sounds pretty good right?
But how do we begin to turn that wonderful thought into a practical plan of action?
Let’s take a walk together through some of my best pieces of advice that I’ve collected over the last few years with having the privilege of being included in my own couples’ wedding and elopement days.
1. What do you value most in your relationship?
Is it the laid back and positive outlook that you share on life? Is it the importance that you place on relationships with family and friends? Is it your connection over similar life values and morals? Is it the way that you both bring out the best in each other?
First and foremost, I want you to find that thing, that part of the life that you share together that you value through and through.
Okay, now let that be the foundation for all of your decisions moving forward.
If you place incredible value in your relationships with your family and friends, then maybe eloping without anyone there isn’t going to feel right for you. Maybe something more along the lines of creating a full weekend wedding where all of your loved ones can stay and celebrate together is the route for you; whatever the case, use that foundation to steer all of your wedding day planning decisions right from the get-go.
2. Make a few of the bigger decisions.
There are no rules when it comes to planning your wedding day timeline, but sometimes having endless options for structure can be overwhelming in and of itself; so let me share a few questions that will aid in guiding you throughout the process:
Let’s start with your ceremony - any important pieces here that are non-negotiables for you? Indoors or out? In the city or out of the city? Happening rain or shine? Morning, afternoon, or evening? Sunrise, sunset, or somewhere in between?
From there, what are you feeling in terms of a reception? More traditional sit down and dinner? Outdoor BBQ or picnic? No reception? Big dance party? Reservation at one of your favourite places? Backyard lawn games and take out? A brunch reception?
Let’s move to getting ready, what feels best for you here? Do you want to get ready separately and see each other for the first time when one of you is coming down the aisle? Or would you feel more calm and at ease if you got ready together? If you’re getting ready separately, are you having a first look, or are you seeing each other for the first time during the ceremony?
Once you have those three non-negotiables chosen, then you can move into some more of the logistical details and can start building up your day-of timeline. With the three core decisions mentioned above, everything else can be fit in throughout that base timeframe.
Here’s a little verbal walkthrough example of how to build up your schedule:
What time is our ceremony? 3pm.
What time is does our reception begin? 6:30pm.
Are we having a first look? No? Okay.
3:00pm - 3:30pm - Ceremony
3:30pm - 4:00pm - Family Photos
4:0pm - 4:30pm - Bridal Party Photos
4:30pm - 5:45pm - Couple Photos
6:00pm - Join your guests back for cocktail hour, or join in on the backyard games, or whatever else is planned for the “reception” portion of your day.
Once you have the ceremony + reception portion planned out, just work your way backwards from there to fill in the blanks for the rest of the day…as follows:
Prior to 12pm - Do whatever feels best, sleep in, go for a hike, go for brunch, hang out, whatever else you’re wanting to fill your wedding day morning with
12:00pm - 2:00pm - Start getting ready
2:00pm - Get into dress/get dressed
2:30pm - Leave for ceremony
3pm - Ceremony
**all that follows in the timeline that we laid out above.
Does that all make sense?
From a base template such as the one that we laid out above, we’re then able to slide that around to fit whatever times you’re planning for, and we are also able to push and pull any/all of those times to suit our wants and needs for the day-of.
Want more time for photos? Extend the “Couple Photos” section and then adjust the rest of the timeline accordingly.
Having a brunch reception and a morning ceremony? Slide the entire timeline back by a few hours.
Need more travel time between locations? Add in your driving time and then adjust the rest accordingly.
As a recap for planning your own wedding day timeline, just keep in mind that as long as you have a few of the more solidified times and decisions made, the rest of the day can fall into its place; the overwhelm starts when we have a complete blank page in front of us that we’re trying to fill in without really knowing where to start, so take a few moments to gather your non-negotiables, followed by choosing the times of your ceremony and reception that reflects those non-negotiables, and the rest will flow.
Regardless of what you’re feeling or which direction of planning you’re starting to lean towards, let me just say that there is no right or wrong way to go about this - just do you two!
Go slow, trust your gut, trust each other, turn off the outside noise, enjoy the process, and again, go slow. Don’t lose sight of what’s most important here - the wild and wonderful ride of togetherness that has brought you here, and will continue long long after a wedding day has taken place. Who you are, individually, as well as a couple, is more important than any day on a calendar or decision that you make when it comes to planning.
Need some more examples?
I want to invite you to download my free wedding day timeline planning PDF where I share a handful of varying wedding day timeline examples with you. Through the document, I just really want to emphasize again that this day or weekend can be planned however you’d like it to be; there are no rules, no expectations, and non right or wrong way to go about things.
Lastly, if you’d like a little planning help, or would like to chat with me more about planning your own wedding or elopement and getting a take from my photography-perspective, I’d love to hear from you. You’re also more than welcome to comment any questions down below - I’m happy to help out with whatever I can.