Ahhh the timeline. Probably the most important aspect of your wedding day. Also the most complicated to organize… unless you have done this countless times, of course. I’m sure you’ve all read the magazines and received suggested timelines from vendors here and there. All great i’m sure… but the problem usually is that other vendors don’t always know how a WHOLE day actually goes because they simply … aren’t there to see it first hand. Do allow me to suggest a timeline from me, a photographer.
Having an awesome timeline will dictate the difference between you having a successful wedding… or you running around like a chicken without a head. I think it’s clear to imagine which one is the best option. Hopefully with this post, you’ll be able to get a better idea of how to organize yours.
The easiest way to determine when everything will be happening is by setting your starting point at your ceremony. Chances are, it’s one of the first thing you booked and one of the few things you don’t really have a choice about. It’s usually whatever the church (or location) has as availability when you booked it. Receptions always start around 6h30/7h so, there’s not much to plan there.
In this FAKE timeline, I placed the ceremony at 4pm. The ideal time to get married so that have a smooth wedding day (i’ll explain why later)
Let’s determine how much time everything needs.
While getting ready, there’s a few things you will need to time. Hair, Makeup and getting dressed. In the mist of that, there’s eating, getting everyone else dressed, taking family photos (if your photographer does that – I do this only after the ceremony) and having your father see you for the first time and putting on his boutonniere. All as important … but fit in between the three major points.
Hair typically will take 1h for the bride and 30 min for each bridesmaid. If you have more than 3 people getting their hair done, I would suggest asking your hairstylist to bring some extra hands so that you don’t need to get up at 8am. I really really suggest not having to get up SUPER early to start your hair and makeup. This is your wedding day. You need to enjoy it. Take advantage of the morning to hang out with your bridesmaids, have a fancy brunch and take it easy before everything starts rolling. It’s important. It will be a big day. If you have a hairstylist (or makeup artist) that suggests starting 5-6 hours before your ceremony time, consider asking them to bring someone with them instead, so that you can start later.
Makeup should take 45min to 1h for the bride and 30 minutes for everyone else. The bride always takes longer to allow time for changes in case you don’t feel comfortable with something and want something changed. Make sure to let your makeup artist (and hairstylist) know EXACTLY how many people need to be “done” and don’t allow family and friends to decide the day of . This could make a major change to your timeline … and you don’t want that considering how much time each person takes. Note that the bride should ALWAYS be LAST in terms of makeup. This allows you to schedule the photographer to show up when the bride gets started. So that there’s more coverage to use for later in the evening instead. Since the bride is the last to get her makeup done… your bridesmaids will be ready to get dressed. Another thing the photographer can capture (since she is already there!)
It all makes sense!
Having your hair done in a salon ? Why? I STRONGLY recommend having them come to your house to avoid traffic issues or bridesmaids getting lost. This will also allow you to start LATER. If you absolutely must have your hair/makeup done at the salon though… do not forget to count your TRAVEL TIME in your timeline and always add 50% more time than you THINK you need. Example: 30minutes to get home ? Put 45 minutes in your timeline.
So we have 1h for Hair and 1h (max) for Makeup. When does the photographer/cinematographer show up? I like to come over 1h30 to 2h before the ceremony start and just as the bride gets in the makeup chair. Why? Well because we don’t like to capture photos of people being rushed. They are not fun to look at. We want a relaxed bunch of people having fun, getting ready, drinking champagne and taking their time. Chances are, we also want to photograph all your little details (like dresses and shoes) so they can’t be on you … right? We use the time when you get your makeup done to get all the details and photograph you interacting with your family/maids.
What about the groom ? The groom getting ready is also a very important aspect of the day… however it’s not as complicated. Grooms (and groomsmen) generally take 20/30mins to get ready. Of course, you can always allow them more time. After the shower though, they usually jump in their suits and they are ready to go out the door. Isn’t fun being a man ? Talk to your photographer about how they work with grooms. I love photographing the groom myself so I usually go take photos of him as the bride is getting her hair done. I photograph him for 30 minutes and then drive to the bride’s house to take photos of her. DON’T FORGET TO CONSIDER TRAVEL TIME between the two locations for the photographer.
Tip: Want to save time? Get ready in the same location i.e a hotel. Or a few streets away from each other. Traffic is awful in the summer. This will allow your photographer to have more time between the bride and groom.
So, makeup is done and your bridesmaids are all ready. Yay! Mom and dad should also be dressed at this point. The groom should be on his way to your ceremony location. Time to get dressed for the bride!!
Time needed ? pfffttt 5 minutes. Seriously. Putting on the dress is complicated in theory… but in reality… it’s a joke. Just open the dress on the floor, step into it and zip. Not sure? practice it with your people BEFORE THE WEDDING DAY. Unless i’m your photographer. If so, you are fine. I know how to lace up any dress in a few minutes.
You should however get dressed approx. 45 minutes before leaving for the ceremony. You need time to : Get dressed, get your accessories on, take a few portraits with your photographer, have your dad see you for the first time (ahh emotional) and putting on people’s boutonnieres – If you feel like doing that.
So, let’s recap.
Hair: 1 h (groom 30 minutes – in that same period)
Makeup 1h (Photographer shows up)
Getting dressed ( 45 minutes)
Total getting ready time: 2h45
Are you seeing each other before the ceremony to take photos so that you can spend time with your guests at Cocktail hour? If yes… AMAZING. Let’s move on to the first look.
If you are planning to see each other before the ceremony, this is called a first look. First looks are AMAZING because your photographer can plan exactly how your groom will see you for the first time and be able to capture every emotion on camera. Between the first look and the creative portraits, this period should take about 1h30 (ideally)
The first look itself can take about 10-15 minutes. This will give you time to get to the location, walk up to the groom, see each other and get a little emotional. I like to give them a few minutes so that the bride and groom can “have a moment”.
After the first look, we can do the bridal party portraits and then the bride/groom portraits. Ideally, in that same location. Try to avoid traveling too much during your day as it causes a lot of unnecessary stress.
So, let’s recap.
First look : 1h 30 minutes
Once all is done, out to get married we go…
If you recall at the beginning of this article, the ceremony should be the starting point of your timeline. Once you set a time for your ceremony.. and you know how long everything takes, it’s very easy to make a timeline. The reason I set my ceremony to 4pm is because I feel that it’s the IDEAL time so that you have a fun/easy-going day. Once everything starts, everything can be one after the other – without having huge pauses for your guests… which can be super annoying. By having a traditional “noon” ceremony.. you are forcing your guests to stand around doing nothing for 4 hours before cocktail hour. Not always fun when you are in a suit and it’s +30 degrees celsius outside. Plus, at 4pm.. the sun is not straight above your head (or depending of the season… almost sunset) which make photos nicer.
If your ceremony is at 3pm and you are taking photos afterwards, this gives you enough time to do what you gonna do and your guests enough time to take it slow but still be on the way straight to the reception hall. If you do your photos BEFORE your ceremony (first look) you can even consider having your ceremony at 4pm since you only have family portraits to do before the cocktails.
Ideal time for a ceremony is 30 minutes. This gives enough time for the ceremony to be romantic with vows and rings and short enough not to annoy your guests. Hey. I’m just being honest here… for your benefit. 1h tends to be a little long in a hot church (or outdoors) and 15 minutes is way too fast and ups your chances for your photographer to miss an important moment.
So, let’s recap.
Ceremony: 30 minutes
After the ceremony, expect to have all your family photos done here. Even if you have a first look. The reason being that it’s the one time when you KNOW your family members will ALL be present … and dressed. The family photos are the traditional portraits that Mom and Grandma LOVE to have on their mantel. They are the most tedious of the day but man… are they important. Depending how BIG your family is, expect about 20 minutes to get this done. I say usually 2 minutes per portraits. But ONLY if you have a list ready (which you prepared WEEKS before your day) you do NOT want to shoot these portraits on a whim. If you are a photographer and are reading this article… PLEASE SEND A LIST TO YOUR BRIDE AND GROOMS TO FILL OUT WHAT PHOTOS THEY WANT TO DO and WITH WHO. You will thank me later. The last thing you want is to forget that photo with Grandpapa and … he passes away two weeks later. It sucks. Trust me. It happened to me on my FIRST EVER wedding. If you are a bride-to-be and are reading this, ask your photographer if they will send you something to fill out, if they say no… hire another photographer. Just kidding. Kinda. But take matter into your own hands and make a list anyways. The wedding day is way too hectic to think about nailing this list. You’re welcome. In case you didn’t get my joke… I do send lists to fill out to my own brides.
IMPORTANT TIP: MAKE SURE YOU TELL YOUR FAMILY THAT FAMILY PORTRAITS ARE HAPPENING RIGHT AFTER THE CEREMONY. Usually, people try to get out of there fast and the worse thing that can happen to your timeline is having to run after family members for photos. Do not take this tip for granted. Tell them. If you aren’t sure you have told them… tell them again. and then again.
If you did NOT do a first look, you will take the time after the family portraits to do your fun/creative portraits with your photographer. Typically 1h. Please don’t schedule less than that. You will not like your photos if you feel rushed the entire time. Your photographer will also feel your stress and won’t be able to get into “creative mode” and give you those beautiful photos that you hired him for. LOVE your photographer? Schedule even MORE time to head to more than 1 location.
So, let’s recap:
Portraits: 20-30minutes with first look done earlier
1h 30 minutes without first look
Enough said? Cocktail hour is about… 1h
This is basically to let your guests arrive to your location before you do your official “entrance” to the reception hall. If you did your first look, you get to enjoy cocktail hour with your guests. If you didn’t , cocktail hour is used to the fun/creative portraits. Don’t want to see your guests ? Understandable. Use this hour to relax and enjoy a little quiet time with your new hubby, away from your photographer. This time is PERFECT for the photog to go capture alllll your details in your reception room before your guests enter it. Another great reason to do a first look. Otherwise, your photographer DOES NOT have time to get this done.
Reception starts at 6h30/7h pretty much… anywhere in montreal. This is also where your DJs timeline generally takes over. So talk to them about how the night will be organized.
A few things to consider :
1. Do you have a receiving line? Keep in mind that for 100 guests or less, it takes about 20 minutes. For 100-150 guests, it takes 45 minutes and for more than 150 guests, I would really consider skipping it and going to see guests at their tables during the night … because it takes FOREVER. This is cost you MAJOR in your timeline if you do it.
2. How long do you still have your photographer for, once you enter the reception? Be sure to let your DJ know along with WHICH MOMENTS you need photographed… so that he can make sure that it happens. Bare in mind that you need to talk to your DJ MONTHS before the day. Don’t surprise him with a “p.s my photographer ends at 8 oclock” the day of. He will not like you very much.
3. It’s really hard for photographers to take photos of guests at EVERY TABLE given that everyone moves all the time. If this is important to you, let the photographer know ASAP so that they can start fast. If it’s “so-so” important… consider skipping it. Your photographer will probably end up take at least 1 photos of your attending guests… unless you have 350+.
4. Make sure the speeches aren’t too long. 5 minutes (max) is the standard.
5. Are there surprises or special performances? TELL ALL YOUR VENDORS.
6. Keep in mind that your cake can be pretty much cut at anytime. Just let the kitchen know and they’ll take it out.
7. I always recommend to get the dances “out of the way” as soon as you enter. That way you are sure that they get photographed. It’s not rare that the courses take longer than expected to come out.
8. Want Gather/bouquet photographed ? Consider your coverage time with your photographer.
9. Feed your vendors. Unrelated… but still important.
So, let’s recap. With a ceremony starting at 4 o’clock and no traveling time (ish) Your timeline should look something like this:
Morning – Fun time with girls
12h30 Hair (1h) – Photographer at grooms
1h30 Makeup (1h) – Photographer arrives at brides, girls get ready
2h30 traveling to photos (10 minutes)
2h40 First look/Creative photos (1h 20 minutes)
4h ceremony (30 minutes)
4h30 Family portraits (20 minutes)
4h50 Travel to cocktail (20 minutes)
5h15 Cocktail (1h) Photographer takes photos of empty room and details
6h30 Reception Entrance
7h First dance + Parent’s dances (10 minutes)
7h30 First course
8h Speech (as second course comes out)
8h30 another speech
9h Cake cutting (5 minutes)
10h Gather + bouquet
10h10 Dancing and Drinking
A nice and compact wedding timeline. Everything done within 10hrs and no rushing. That’s it. Now it’s up to you. Keep in mind that this is a typical wedding. If you have specific traditions that need to be done during your day, make sure to change up the timeline accordingly and never… ever… FORGET TO CALCULATE MORE TRAVEL TIME THAN NEEDED 🙂
Tata for now.
Need an awesome helper? My bride Stephanie found this free template to help plan your wedding by russellandhazel.com…. The timeline part is pretty handy although some things might defer from my timeline. It’s on page 54. The rest is a little too “general” and it’s also american but still give a good base for your planning. Just be careful with the family portraits page… You should try to be more specific by naming who you want that photo with. Exemple: Bride + Groom + cousins (john,marie and tim)