How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline

Close up of winter wedding bouquet dark red blue and orange flowers

Ensure your dream day runs smoothly with a wedding day timeline

A well organized wedding timeline is a must for your wedding day! Either your photographer or wedding planner can help you create out a wedding day timeline to execute your dream day. More than likely not everything will go as planned and that’s completely normal when it comes to weddings, trust me! But there are steps you can take to prepare for the unexpected. My biggest piece of advice is to add in cushion time. Sometimes the most simple things can take an extra 20 minutes and then all of a sudden things start running behind. It’s a smart idea to overestimate time allowances here and there and build in some wiggle room.


Wedding dress hanging on arbor covered in flowers

How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline

First you must decide if you will do a first look or not with your partner. A first look is when two partners see each other for the first time before their wedding ceremony. Usually I will put one partner in a secluded place to wait for the second partner. The second partner will then approach from behind and tap partner one on the shoulder to turn around. This is when I step back and let the couple share a few intimate moments taking in all that is happening in private. This is a good option if you are both non traditional, private, or highly emotional. After a few minutes when the couple is ready, I begin taking more posed romantic portraits. Afterwards, we can then move on to wedding party photos. Once complete, the bride goes into hiding so guests cannot see her while they are arriving. Sub-sequentially, the ceremony takes place. Immediately following the ceremony, family portraits are taken and then the newlyweds and wedding party can be announced to the reception. First looks save time after the ceremony, so that the couple is able to enjoy more time at their cocktail hour and reception.

Wedding Day Timeline Ceremony Photo

Here are two different timelines to consider when figuring out your ideal wedding day:


This timeline is based on a couple who has opted to do a first look and wedding party portraits before the wedding ceremony, meaning they’ll be able to attend their own cocktail hour which gives the bride & groom extra time to mingle with guests. Usually this will result in the couple getting to eat dinner in peace instead of greeting guests at their table.

  • Getting ready and bridal details: 1 Hour
  • Bridal portraits: 20 Mins
  • First look & romantic portraits: 30-40 Mins
  • Wedding Party: 30 Mins
  • Family formals: 30 Mins
  • Groom’s portraits: 20 Mins
  • Pre-ceremony hiding (the time before the ceremony where the bridal party goes into hiding so as not to be seen by guests – I do this 30 minutes before the ceremony is set to begin)
  • Reception setup: 20 Mins
  • Ceremony: 15-30 Mins
  • After the Ceremony everyone goes straight to cocktail hour
  • Extra Newlywed Portrait Time: As much time as you’ll give me later on in the evening for things like sunset photos


Wedding day timeline reception photo of blue table cloth and candles and red table runner



This timeline is based on a couple who’s decided NOT to do a first look, meaning all of their portraits will take place after the ceremony. This is when I advise my couples that they will need to extend cocktail hour to 75 minutes, to make time for all their portraits, and also let them know that by pushing all portraits until after the ceremony, they will miss their entire cocktail hour.

  • Getting ready and bridal details: 1 Hour
  • Bridal portraits: 20 Mins
  • Groom’s portraits: 20 Mins
  • Pre-ceremony hiding (the time before the ceremony where the bridal party goes into hiding so as not to be seen by guests – I do this 30 minutes before the ceremony is set to begin)
  • Reception setup: 20 Mins
  • Ceremony: 15-30 Mins
  • Family formals: 30 Mins
  • Wedding party photos: 20 Mins
  • Newlywed photos: 20 Mins
  • Wedding Party Introductions to Reception

Two brides embracing at wedding reception Poogan's Courtyard

Wedding day timeline cake cutting, two brides holding a blue wedding cake on a silver stand



If your reception will be at a second location don’t forget to add travel time to get there. As a side note, I only do the timeline up until the reception. I generally leave the reception timeline up to the planner/ DJ because most of them prefer to do things in a certain order. But here are the important moments that occurs during a typical wedding reception:

  • Introductions
  • First Dance
  • Father/Daughter Dance
  • Mother/Son Dance
  • Welcome & Blessing
  • Food Served
  • Toasts
  • Dance Floor Opens
  • Cake Cutting
  • Bouquet Toss/ Garter Toss
  • Newlywed Exit

Want more tips to help plan the day of your dreams? Click here to learn more.

Wedding day timeline exit in pedicab . Two brides are being cycled through Charleston on a pedicab decorated with white flowers

Good luck and remember use your wedding vendors; they have years of experience they would love to pass on to you! Your vendors should strive to give their clients a stress free wedding day.

Charleston’s Wedding Row Blog Featured this Wedding


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About Leigh

Leigh Hayward

Leigh Hayward

Charleston Wedding & Engagement Photographer

Hi, I’m Leigh! I’m an engagement and wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC. I’ve been serving ALL love and couples since 2006. I adamantly believe everyone deserves their love story to be told beautifully! 

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