A wedding day timeline is more than just the blueprint for your wedding day; it’s the single most important piece of your wedding planning. A good timeline ensures that your wedding Day flows smoothly and is flexible enough to allow for the unexpected. After photographing dozens of San Francisco weddings, we’ve learned what works, so check out our tips to create a wedding day timeline that’s perfect for you.
Begin with your ceremony start time, and go from there. Generally speaking, it takes about four hours before the ceremony to capture bridal details, getting ready shots, your first look and/or couple’s portraits, and wedding party portraits. You will want to allow yourself some downtime before the ceremony; 30-45 minutes is typical.
Once the ceremony is finished, your guests will go to cocktail hour, and family and group photos happen. Once cocktail hour is over, your reception officially begins, and the party gets started!
Here is a sample timeline to give you an idea of how to structure your own:
Keep in mind that this timeline can be adjusted, depending on your needs. Not all couples choose to do a first look, for example, so you can adjust accordingly. It’s also helpful to remember that ceremony start times are different throughout the seasons and the sun goes down earlier during the fall and winter months.
10:00 a.m.—Hair and makeup / Getting ready
12:00 p.m.—Photographer arrives
2:00 p.m.—First look/Wedding party photos start
3:30 p.m.—Doors open / Room ready for guests / Pre-ceremony music starts
4:00 p.m.—Invite time
4:15 p.m.—Ceremony starts
4:35 p.m.—Ceremony ends
4:40 p.m.—Cocktail hour starts; Group & Family Photos begin
5:45 p.m.—Reception begins
6:00 p.m.—Dinner served
7:30 p.m.—First dance
7:35 p.m.—General dancing music starts
8:00 p.m.—Second set of pre-sunset portraits
9:45 p.m.—Last call
9:55 p.m.—Music off
10:00 p.m.—Guests depart
11:00 p.m.—Breakdown done / All staff departs
The most common pitfalls to any wedding day timeline usually happen because of lack of preparation or lack of time. We want to help you avoid these common mistakes so your day will flow more smoothly!
Gather your bridal details ahead of time! Have the dress, shoes, wedding rings, jewelry, and any other items you would like to have photographed together in one corner of the room so they are ready to be photographed and we don’t lose time trying to track all of these items down.
Allow time for guests who get lost or delayed (and your more flaky friends). The ceremony start time on your wedding invitations should be 15 minutes earlier than when you actually plan to start.
Plan for the unexpected by padding your timeline. We usually add an extra 15 minutes to the time we allow for your first look, for example, as well as an extra 15 minutes of downtime before your ceremony. That way, if anything unexpected happens, you’ll still be able to stay on track.
We know it’s tempting to want a shot with all of your people; just not during cocktail hour. A good rule of thumb is to allow five minutes for each group shot – it takes time to maneuver groups of people in an out of position! Since family and group shots occur during cocktail hour, you will have 30 minutes to complete them, which means you should have no more than six groupings. Any other group shots can happen later during your reception.
Guests typically begin to leave after dinner, which is why we suggest that you plan all of your major reception activities within the first two hours of the reception. This is especially important if you are planning a grand exit; consider doing a faux grand exit earlier in the evening so all of your people will be there.
Of course we are well-versed in creating timelines, and we’re more than happy to help you create yours. We address all of this and more during your pre-wedding consultation, so we make sure to capture all of the things that are most meaningful to you.
Make sure you share your wedding day timeline ahead of time with your wedding planner (if you are working with one) and all of your vendors, so everyone is on the same page!
Click here to download our sample timeline so you can refer to it, and let us know if you have any questions!