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How to Make a Timeline for Your Wedding Day // Wedding Planning

Ahh the timeline.  Unless you’re an event planner, this is probably one of the hardest parts of planning your wedding day!  I mean, how on earth are you supposed to know how long your ceremony will be, how long you’ll need for pictures, and what time is best cut your cake?

There are so many moving parts on your wedding day, this is where hiring professionals comes in really handy.  If you have a wedding planner, they handle everything.  For most of our weddings that don’t have a planner, between the DJ and us we have the whole day mapped out for you.  We take the information you give us and create a rough sketch of the wedding day, up the the reception starting time.  Then we ask for your DJ’s contact information so we can get in touch ahead of time– usually s/he will have the whole reception mapped out.

Easy, huh?  But here’s a look a how we map it out, because it’s awesome when the bride has everything covered already!

Let’s start with the ceremony.  If you want an evening ceremony, then consider the golden hour of lighting (the last hour before sunset).  If you do pictures before the ceremony, then it’s fine to have the ceremony during the golden hour.  If you are doing pictures after the ceremony, plan them during the golden hour.  Trust me… the lighting is sweet!  Leaving a little 30 minute buffer is pretty helpful, too.  Buffers are your friend on your wedding day!

So let’s say sunset is at 7pm and you want pictures after your ceremony.  Let’s say the ceremony starts at 5:00pm and will last 30 minutes, then from 5:30-5:45 your guest will head towards the reception.  5:45-6:45 will be family, bridal party, and couple photos.

Then plan about 15 minutes to relax, bustle the wedding dress or get a drink if needed, and then a grand entrance at the reception at 7:00pm.  Unless there’s travel time to the reception, then make sure to add that.

So… when is hair and makeup?  Let’s work backwards.

Ceremony is at 5pm.  You’ll want to rest and relax from 4:30-5:00pm.  The day will be so busy, it’ll be nice to relax with your bridal party for a bit!  It also leaves that ever-important buffer time in case times get crazy.

Many of our couples like to take some pictures before the ceremony, too (if not all).  So we leave about 30 minutes for the groomsmen, and 30 minutes for the bridesmaids.  That will take place from 3:30-4:30pm.

Depending on how large your bridal party is, 30 minutes is usually a good time frame for the ladies to put on their dresses & jewelry.  Between the bridesmaids getting dressed, and then helping the bride get dressed, you wouldn’t believe how long it takes!  Plus we get lots of great (clean) pictures during this time, and emotions tend to run pretty high so make-up touch ups tend to happen.  That can take place from 3:15-3:45, leaving 15 minutes for the ladies to get to where we’re taking pictures.

We usually tell the guys to do whatever they like, so long as they are ready for pictures at 3:30pm.  Sometimes the bride tells them an earlier time to ensure they’re actually there on time.  😉

Then talk to your make up and hair artists.  Are you going to their salon or are they coming to you?  How long will it take to complete everything? Take that time, add at least 30 minutes to it (buffer time!) especially if they will use essential accessories for stunning nail creations, and tack that on at the beginning of your timeline.  The beginning is also when the photographers and videographers take most of our detail shots.  The dress hanging in the window, the makeup spread across a table, your lovely rings… most of that happens early in the day when everything looks nice and fresh! Jessica Smith Photography is a wedding photographer Northern Virginia.

Now… that’s a very rough sketch, but it gets your mind rolling in how we go about planning a wedding day timeline.  Leaving buffer room throughout the day makes everything go so much smoother.  That way when a key family member gets stuck in traffic, you’re not sweating bullets.

Speaking of which… the larger the crowd, the longer everything will take.  The best example we had of buffer times & large families was Mikaela & Michael’s wedding this past summer.  Mikaela knew she had a crazy big family, 18 people in their bridal party, and a zillion details.  Everything was going to take a longer time than normal, so she planned accordingly.  Honestly, at the time we were planning I thought perhaps I was going overboard in the buffer time.  But when the wedding day came, it started to rain in the middle of family pictures and we had to corral 20 family members into a dark hallway.  Thank goodness she had a first look and we did bridal party pictures before the wedding because as soon as they walked down the aisle as husband and wife, it started pouring rain and it didn’t stop until after sunset.

Bottom Line: Utilize your wedding planner, photographer & DJ, and leave plenty of buffer time.