Wedding Day Timeline Cheat Sheet

I always seem to be the first person a bride comes to asking what time should they get their hair done, their make-up, how long we need for photos, etc. I decided to take everything I’ve learned and put it into a cheat sheet. Here is what a perfectly planned, stress free timeline for your wedding day looks like. *Note: example timeline is for non-traditional wedding held during Canadian spring/summer with a non-traditional wedding because the Bride and Groom see each other before the ceremony.*

Wedding Day Timeline Cheat Sheet

Make up is generally 45 minutes per person. Bridesmaid should start first so the photographer can show up a bit later and catch the last bit of the make-up application. It’s also better to do the bride’s make up later so there is less re-touching if they are having breakfast or a few mimosas. Sometimes make-up artist will just prep the bride’s face and do the final touches later. She will feel a bit more comfortable with a bit of make-up foundation if there are some candid photos being taken before all her make up is applied. If you have more than 4 ladies needing their make-up done your make-up artist should consider having an assistant to speed things along, especially if anyone not in the wedding party (i.e. Mothers, etc.) is getting their make-up done as well. If you are going to your make-up artist or hair stylist allow for travel time to/from. If you have any hair accessories or a veil you might want to ask your hair stylist to stay until it’s all in so she can make any changes or fixes to your do.

I will need some time to carry all my stuff in, set up my equipment and just chat with everyone for a bit before the day gets crazy. I will usually sit down and have a drink with all the ladies. My nerves are going as well when I first arrive because I want to do the best job I can for you and I’m excited for you! I may snap a few photos of the bridesmaids getting ready, but I will usually scope out the location we are at and come back to steal all the little details (shoes, rings, jewelry, etc.) and your wedding dress to photograph. I usually plan to show up around 9am so I have time to do all this before the bride’s make-up and hair.

*Remember to have something to eat before you leave for photos and the ceremony!

Unless you have an extravagant idea for first look photos, you will only need 30 minutes. I think first look photos are a great idea. They allow you to get your wedding party photos done before the ceremony and spreads out your day. You will be able to have more time at your cocktail hour this way and have more visit time. I find first looks to be such a stress reliever for the Bride and Groom as well. Nothing will make you feel more comfortable than spending a bit of time with your other half. This also gives you a few moments alone which probably won’t happen until the end of the day.

Plan to arrive at the ceremony about 20 minutes early. Consider even earlier if there is no back door for you to sneak in hidden from your guests. Let’s be serious for a moment, most people don’t enjoy sitting through the ceremonies. Keep the ceremony short and sweet to keep everyone engaged. 30 minutes is the perfect amount of time to say what you want to say and to do any traditions or any symbolic rituals.

Right after the ceremony you will usually have a moment to see, hug, kiss and chat with your guests. If you have about 150 guests plan for about 20 minutes of visiting. You are going to get pulled in every direction and to be blunt, its quite chaotic for the Bride and Groom so be prepared.

At this point we will want to do any formal family photos. Its best to do this immediately after the ceremony so no one runs away. Everyone is in one spot and the focus is still on the Bride and Groom so it makes it easier to “herd” all the groups of people you want photos with. We will have picked a spot prior to your wedding day where we can do these types of photos. I will plan accordingly with the sun in mind so no one is squinting and we don’t have the parking lot as the backdrop. Each photo will take about 3 minutes to do. I suggest you have some people who know your families running around and collecting everyone and having them ready to go. Informing your guests the day before the wedding if they are required for photos let them know and tell them who they should follow to save any confusion. The more prepared you are for this the faster it will go and it will be a lot less stressful and hopefully no one will be missed.

The reception is best planned about an hour after the ceremony. This all depends on how far the ceremony location is from the reception, if it’s a bit of a drive than maybe a bit longer will be needed. Cocktail hours are the best thing to give out of town guests something to do between! Nothing is worse than your guests trying to burn time between the ceremony and reception and being stuck outside in the hot sun or cars.

Alternatively, if you want to do wedding party photos or just bride and groom after the ceremony plan, for an extended cocktail hour for your guests. There are benefits of doing these photos later in the day after the ceremony when the  sunlight will be softer and warmer.

Reception and all the fun events! You may or may not want to include all of the following things into your reception: First dance, Father/Daughter dance, Mother/Son dance, welcome toast, speeches, dancing, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, snacks and a farewell.

If you want to fit all of this on here is my suggestion for the order.
First Dance. Right when you enter the reception venue or right after the main course meal.
Father/Daughter Dance. Right after the first dance.
Mother/Son Dance. Right after Father/Daughter or at the same time.
Welcome Toast. Usually given by the father or the Bride or Groom.
Appetizers. People are happier when they eat, feed them!
Toasts/Speeches. Usually the Best Man and the Maid of Honor start.
Main Course. Time to get some fuel for the night of dancing and celebrating.
Toasts/Speeches. Continue while everyone is eating/drinking.
Dancing. Open up the dance floor and invite everyone out.
Cake Cutting. Really anytime is appropriate now to slice the cake. *If this is important to you move this to earlier in the night so your photographer is still around
Bouquet and Garter Toss. Right after the cake cutting. This is usually more fun later in the night when everyone’s has a couple drinks.
Snacks. People get hungry fast especially after dancing, make sure you have some food out.
Farewell. Thank everyone for coming and say your goodbyes, light some fireworks off if you can! If you want to have a grand exit make sure your limo and guests are lined up 20 minutes before you plan to leave. If you have sparklers, confetti or anything else, make sure you have someone in charge of organizing that.

For the few couples having a very small wedding or destination, where photography is extremely important to you, I would suggest a different timeline than the one I just described. The later in the afternoon we schedule your photos for the better. The golden hour (a few hours before sunset) is the absolute best time to shoot. Depending on what’s most important to you(ceremony, family photos or creative portraits) find out when the sunset is going to be setting and work backwards to plan your timeline. As the sun gets lower it colors the world in warm, gold colors and has a luminous quality to it. Once we start to lose the sun and begin seeing the amazing sunset colors this is my favorite time to steal the Bride and Groom and get some fantastic, intimate, and bold photos.


Hopefully you’ve picked up some pointers from this article. This time line won’t work for everyone but it’s a good start and makes you think about some details you might not have considered. If you have any more questions about this just sent me an e-mail I am more than happy to help couples with timelines when you book with me. For most of you it’s your first wedding and luckily I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to a quite few now and I’m happy to help.