How to plan the perfect wedding day timeline | Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips

We all feel that making a schedule all but guarantees you won’t stick to it. But for something as important as your Wedding Day, you want to pull up every bit of punctuality you can muster and plan the day for success. Your photographer, too, will be operating on a very tight schedule to make sure that every moment is captured and you stay the center of your very special day. 

Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips

Use the guide below to partner with your photographer and create your own Wedding Day Timeline:

2:00 pm

  • Photographer arrives. 
  • Bride and bridesmaids should be nearly finished with hair and make-up.
  • Photographer captures detail pieces first: dress, rings, etc. If you don’t know what to set out, or would like further instruction, see this post.
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

2:15 pm

  • Bridesmaids, Mother of the Bride, and any other VIPs from the bridal party are finished with hair and makeup. 
  • (Put this on the agenda to ensure that all important persons can be involved or in the background when the bride reveals her dress!)
  • (Tip: If the Bride wants cute photos in matching robes, budget a few extra minutes for those shots after hair and makeup, but before the bridesmaids put on their dresses.)
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

2:30 pm

  • Bride gets dressed. Photographer is called in once the Bride is mostly ready.
  • Maid of Honor or Mother of the Bride available to help zip/fasten dress. (This is an intimate moment for the photographer to capture!) 
  • Photographer also captures the Bride putting on her shoes and jewelry — Make sure mom has a role here, too!
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

2:45 pm

  • Bridal portraits — Beautiful, full-length and detailed. Bring your veil if you want to showcase that, too!
  • Photographer captures these in your suite, or at pre-scouted locations near the venue.

3:10-3:30 pm

  • Bridesmaid photos (Casual and fun as well as formal.)
  • Photographer captures special moments of celebration between the Bride and friends, such as the champagne-pop and toast. (Make sure to have props — e.g. clean flutes, etc — ready for this!)
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

What About the Guys? 

The above doesn’t only apply to the Bridal Party! The Groom and all menfolk should also prepare for the photographer’s assistant to come by their changing area for candid shots of the boys being boys. Men, if you’re at a loss for what sort of detail-items to prepare, you can look to this post for ideas. 

Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

3:30 pm

  • First Look
  • (While this is untraditional, I recommend it. In my experience, the First Look takes away some of the anxiety that develops before you see one another at the ceremony. This is also a great opportunity to flow right into couples’ portraits!)
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

3:30-4:10 pm

  • Couples’ portraits (Again, at pre-scouted locations)
  • Enjoy these! These portraits may be some of the last moments you have to be all-but-alone together for several hours. The more you delight in each other’s company and relax before the big event, the better these shots will turn out. Don’t think about creating little perfect moments; you are the perfect moment, and your photographer will take care of the rest. 
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

4:10-5:00 pm

  • Wedding party photos
  • Here’s where everyone gets involved! Have fun with the fact that you have all your best friends in one place; be sweet, funny, and serious all at once — and make sure to have props, if you want!
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

[5:30 pm]

  • Ceremony start-time, as listed on invite
  • (Plan to start 15 minutes late; and don’t worry about it. Most weddings start after this time, giving late guests time to find their seats. Continue playing music to set the mood and keep continuity!

5:45-6:15 pm

  • Ceremony begins. (Unless you’re doing a full mass, most ceremonies are about half an hour.)
  • Keep in mind that the ceremony is full of precious moments — the vows, the kiss, the smiles, etc. Allow the ceremony to move slowly enough for the photographer to capture these. 
  • Once the ceremony is complete, have help waiting in the wings to usher everyone out of the ceremony space and make room… Now’s the time to rush!
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

6:15 pm

  • First, do family portraits in or very near the ceremony space. This will keep everyone in one place, preventing you from chasing them down later and losing valuable time. It will also make life easier for the older members of your families. 
  • Your photographer will ask you for a list of desired groupings. Please stick to this as closely as possible; if there’s time after, we can do extra shots beyond those lists. Request that your family members refrain from taking pictures during this time; competing for lighting and space will knock us significantly off schedule. 
  • Don’t worry about the guests you dismissed from the ceremony to cocktail hour — The photographer’s assistant will be waving in and out, capturing candid celebration shots and informal group portraits, as well as detail shots of signature cocktails and/or hors d’oeuvres. wedding day timeline planning

7:00 pm

  • Sunset session — a wonderful opportunity for the couple to look fanciful and romantic in the special, golden end-of-day light!
  • (TIP: Check sunset times well in advance! This varies greatly based on time of year. Your photographer, of course, can help with this!)
  • During this time, you may also have the photographer’s assistant document your beautifully decorated reception space.
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

7:15 pm

  • Guests invited to dinner.

7:30 pm

  • Grand entrance and First Dance.
  • In my experience, it’s a good idea to do the First Dance right away. It helps set expectations, and keeps the formalities and the fun going. Other than that, there are no set-in-stone “best practices” for your First Dance: you can dance the whole song, or fade out after two minutes. You might also have the DJ include a 3-5 song dance set before dinner, to get the energy up in the room.
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

7:35 pm

  • Welcome, toasts, and dinner served.
  • Parents’ Welcome (Father of the Bride usually goes first). wedding day timeline planning

7:45-8:30 pm

  • Dinner.
  • (Make sure the Bride and the Groom eat! At this point in such a busy day, they need to keep their energy up.)

8:30-8:40 pm

  • Best Man and Maid of Honor toasts.
  • Stay within a strict time limit of 5 minutes each.
  • (I highly recommend they script these! It helps keep them to the time limit — about a page or page and a half — and better guarantees that things continue smoothly.)

8:40-8:50 pm

  • Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dances
  • After the last official dance, the DJ should switch to a high-energy song that gets the guests excited for the open dance! 
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

9:30-9:45 pm

  • Cake cutting, bouquet toss, and garter toss.
  • (Some or all of these might be optional, depending on your traditions and guests. Make sure your planner or venue coordinator alerts the DJ and photographer as to if and when these are happening!)

9:45 pm

  • Dance the night away! This is a great opportunity for the photographer to capture more informal group portraits, especially of you with your guests. wedding day timeline planning
Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips Chicago Wedding Photographer

10:30 pm or After

  • Your Grand Exit! Depending on the package you selected, your photographer may be around to capture the big send-off. Sparklers are fun highlights for this. Whatever you use — be it sparklers, bubbles, or confetti poppers — have designated family members or friends to help distribute them to guests. wedding day timeline planning


Now, you eagerly await your gallery! Your photographer will send your full wedding gallery 3-5 weeks after the event. Sit back, enjoy each other, and be proud of how well you scheduled out the biggest day of your lives so far! wedding day timeline planning