Sample Wedding Planning Timelines

Check Out These Sample Wedding Planning Timelines From Real Couples to Help You Shape Your Day

Bride and Groom walking down the aisle after the wedding ceremony plus ideas to help other brides to be create a sample wedding planning timeline

In this blogpost we’ll go over sample wedding planning timelines from real couples for both large and small celebrations. This will give you some scenarios that you can use as a jumping off point for planning your wedding. We’ll also talk about how much time things typically take and tips for making photos run smoothly. If you’re thinking about working with a wedding planner, keep in mind this is a big part of their job. They’ll ask you some questions and then give you suggestions on when things should happen. If you’re planning things on your own, this blog post is definitely for you. We hope it helps and happy planning!

If you want to skip ahead to see just the sample wedding planning timelines, click the link below.

Jump to the Sample Wedding Planning Timelines

Starting with the Ceremony

I find the easiest way to start this process is to pick a ceremony time and length, then work around it to create the rest of your day. Most ceremonies on average last about 30 minutes. So we’ll use that for our sample wedding planning templates mainly. But this is a starting point for you, so adjust as you need to. Catholic masses can be an hour plus and elopement ceremonies can sometimes be short, more like 10 minutes.

One key factor you’ll want to consider for your ceremony time is, sunrise and sunset (depending on if you’re having a morning or evening wedding). Ideally you’ll want to allocate enough time for photos while the sun is up. Then add in an extra half hour of time before the ceremony time as a buffer. That will help you and your partner get tucked away and have a little time to relax before the ceremony.

Ceremony Tips & Timing Recap:

Tip – Set your ceremony start time at least a couple hours before sunset to have natural light for your photos

Ceremony – 30 minutes (plus a 30 minute buffer time beforehand)

Do You Want to See Each Other Before the Wedding Ceremony & Are You Doing a Wedding Party?

These are two big elements that will affect how photos will be organized before and after your ceremony. If you’re ok with seeing each other before the wedding, you can take care of some photos beforehand. If you don’t want to see each other before the ceremony then more time will need to be allocated for photos after the ceremony.

If you do want to see each other before the ceremony most people will do a first look and some romantic portraits, plus wedding party photos during that time. I like to budget at least an hour of time for romantic portraits (this can be split up) and 30 minutes for wedding party photos. If we’re pressed for time 45 minutes for romantic photos can work well also.

Portrait Tips & Timing Recap:

Tip – If you don’t want to do a first look, plan on doing some of the wedding party portraits before the ceremony separately to save time. Groom with groomsmen and bride with bridesmaids. Having 2 photographers can also help with this part by doing them at the same time in different locations.

Romantic Portraits – 45 minutes – 1 hour (as one block of time or split up)

Wedding Party Portraits – 30 minutes

Getting Ready

So to expand more on the sample wedding planning timeline, let’s work backwards from when you want to do the portraits. For instance say you want to start photos at 3PM, that means its probably a good idea to be ready by 2:30PM. That extra half hour will act a a buffer so you don’t feel too rushed. The time it takes you and your wedding party to get ready can vary from person to person in a big way. Usually its somewhere on average between 1.5 hours – 4 hours. It depends on what you all are doing and how many people are getting ready. If you’re doing your own hair and makeup you should have a good idea of how long that will take. If you are using a hair and makeup artist, ask them about how long everything should take for you and the members of your wedding party.

If you’re interested in capturing getting ready photographs, here are a few questions to keep in mind. Do you want photos of just the final touches of you getting in your dress? Or would you like to capture some more candid moments of you and your wedding party doing hair and makeup? Do you want photos of your dress and details? If so, think about adding in another 30 minutes or so for that. Do you want to have getting ready images of both the groom and bride? If so, think about having a second photographer to help with this part. Photographers can split up during the getting ready segment of the day. This is really helpful when the bride and groom are getting ready at different locations.

Getting Ready Tips & Timing Recap:

Tip – If you want photos of details, this is a great place to include it. Keep in mind it will take some extra time to capture the details as well as the candids of getting ready. Ask your photographer how long they would need for this.

Getting Ready – 1.5-4 hours on average

Photography Coverage time for this block of the day – 30 minutes – 1.5 hours on average

Family Portraits

Your photographer should send you a questionnaire to cover this part of the day. They usually ask about who you would like in what specific groupings. Having a list will help the time for family portraits be more efficient. On average family photos will take about 2 minutes per grouping. For example if you do 15 different groupings it’ll take about 30 minutes. I find that in general 30 minutes is a good general starting point for family portraits. But if you want to do a lot more family groupings it will take more time. In that case, it might be a good idea to plan for some family photos before the ceremony to help break it up.

If you want to do all the family photos in one block, I find the easiest and fastest way is to plan them right after the ceremony. That way everyone is already in the same place. You can even have your officiant make an announcement during the ceremony for family to please stay at the ceremony site for photos after the ceremony is over.

Family Portrait Tips & Timing Recap:

Tip – To help prevent the need to track people down, do your family photos all right after the ceremony. If you have a large amount of family photos, allot for some before the ceremony and afterwards as well. Have your officiant make an announcement to encourage family members to not wander too far.

Family Portraits – 30 minutes (for about 15 different family groupings)  

The Reception

The timing for this can vary also depending on what you have planned. Would you like to do a formal exit? Do you want to do the traditional speeches, dances, toasts, etc? Do your friends and family love to dance? Do you want a more low key reception where everyone just mingles? Whatever you’re doing for the reception, usually 2-3 hours is average after dinner is finished. And dinner can be around 30-60 minutes.

In terms of photography I don’t typically stay to the very end unless my clients are doing a formal exit. In general photography coverage is nice to have during the main points of the reception. And then if you want candid shots after that, usually 30 minutes – 1 hour of dancing/mingling photography coverage is a good amount. Unless you’re really excited about this part of the day and want more photos of it or you’re doing a formal exit that you want captured.

Reception Tips & Timing Recap:

Tip – Make sure to include a little buffer time before the reception so you can get bustled if you need to. And factor in the time it will take to, seat your guests, do a formal entrance potentially, or other things like a blessing before the meal.

Dinner – 30-60 minutes

Reception – 2-3 hours after dinner is done

Adding Time Buffers

When you look at the sample wedding planning timelines below, you can see some time buffers here and there. Make sure to add time buffers in for things like travel. And also for things like eating, drinking water, breathing, having a moment with just your partner, etc. The goal is to have a plan but to also have some leeway. That way you’ll feel more relaxed throughout the day.

Having a Second Photographer

Having a second photographer can help with capturing getting ready, wedding party photos, and will also allow for more photos of guests during cocktail hour. Typically this makes more sense for weddings with 50 guests or more. But it can also be nice if you just want more variety and perspectives of the day. We dive into this topic more in another blog post. If you think you might need 2 photographers for your wedding, but your not sure, check out this other blog post 5 Reason Why You Need Two Photographers For Your Wedding.

Sample Wedding Planning Timelines

Sample Wedding Timeline: Large Ski Resort Wedding with 2 Photographers, Multiple Locations

8:00AM – Hair & Makeup starts at a lodge (for 14 women)

9:00AM – Tent and Rentals arrive to set up at the venue

1:00PM – Shuttle picks up groomsmen and takes them to the ski resort

1:00PM – Wedding Planner and Florist arrive for setup

1:15PM – Photography starts (one photographer to meet with bride and one to meet with groom in separate locations)

1:30PM – Bridesmaids get dressed, bride gets her dress ready to take to the ski resort. Groomsmen start to get ready at the ski resort.

2:00PM – Other vendors arrive

2:10PM – Shuttle picks up bride and bridesmaids

2:40PM – Bride puts her dress on at the ski resort

3:10PM – First look and romantic portraits

4:00PM – Bridal Party photos

4:30PM – Father/Daughter first look

4:45PM – Family Photos

5:00PM – Guests Arrive

5:30PM – Ceremony begins

6:00PM – Ceremony ends/Any remaining family photos

6:00PM – Cocktail hour

6:20PM – A handful of romantic portraits as husband and wife

6:40PM – Bride gets bustled and ready for formal entrance

7:00PM – Bride and Groom announced

7:20PM – Dinner service begins

8:20PM – Toasts

8:30PM – Cake Cutting

8:35PM – First Dances

8:45PM – Open dancing begins

9:15PM – Photography ends

11:00PM – Reception ends and shuttle takes guests back to hotel

Sample Wedding Timeline: Midsize Wedding with 2 Photographers, No First Look, Wedding Party and Additional Portrait Location

10:00AM – Getting ready starts with hair and makeup

12:30PM – Florist arrives/groomsmen head to venue

12:45PM – Hair & Makeup complete, bridesmaids are dressed and ready

12:45PM – Photography starts with bride getting into her dress

1:15PM – Wedding Party Portraits

2:30PM – Guests arrive/bride and groom get tucked away

3:00PM – Ceremony

3:30PM – Family Portraits/Cocktail hour

4:00PM – Couple and Wedding Party travel to a nearby locations for portraits

4:15PM – Portraits at nearby location

5:00PM – Couple and Wedding Party travel back to the venue

5:15PM – Guest seated for dinner/bride gets bustled

5:30PM – Formal entrance of bride and groom

5:45PM – Dinner service starts

6:30PM – Toasts

7:00PM – Shoe Game

7:10PM – Cake Cutting

7:15PM – First Dances

7:25PM – Open Dancing

8:30PM – Photography Ends

10:00PM – Reception ends

Sample Wedding Timeline: Small Wedding with No Wedding Party and 1 Photographer

2:00PM – Setup begins

2:30PM – Vendors start to arrive

3:30PM – Photography starts with Getting ready at the venue. Bride and groom to be in separate rooms and photographer bounces back and forth.

4:30PM – Ceremony

5:00PM – Family Portraits

5:20PM – Romantic Portraits

6:00PM – Guests seated and toasts

6:30PM – Dinner service begins

7:00PM – Sunset Portraits with bride and groom

7:30PM – First Dances

7:35PM – Open dancing begins

8:00PM – Photography ends

10:00PM – Reception ends

Sample Wedding Timeline: Small Wedding with 2 Dates, One Hiking Vow Exchange and a More Traditional Ceremony a Week Later. No Wedding Party


2:30PM – Getting ready starts

3:30PM – Photography starts with last touches of getting ready

4:00PM – Travel to trailhead

4:30PM – 2 mile hike, vows and portraits along the way

6:30PM – hike & photography ends


12:00PM – Arrive at venue and DIY setup begins

2:00PM – Photography starts with last touches of getting ready. Photographer bounces back and forth between bride and groom

3:00PM – Ceremony

3:40PM – Family Portraits

4:00PM – Portraits as husband and wife

4:30PM – Dinner Starts

5:00PM – Photography Ends

6:30PM – Reception Ends

Sample Wedding Timeline: Midsize Wedding with 2 photographers, No Wedding Party, Formal Exit

12:00PM – Bride and Groom arrive at the venue to start getting ready

1:00PM – Vendors start to arrive

2:00PM – Photography starts with important details and last touches of getting ready

3:00PM – First look and some romantic portraits

3:30PM – Bride and groom get tucked away and ready for ceremony

4:00PM – Ceremony

4:30PM – Family portraits/Cocktail hour

5:00PM – Romantic portraits as husband and wife

5:30PM – Bride gets bustled

5:40PM – Guests are seated for dinner

5:50PM – Dinner service starts

6:20PM – Toasts

6:40PM – Cake Cutting

6:50 – First Dances

7:00PM – Bouquet and Garter Toss

7:10PM – Open Dancing Begins

9:00PM – Formal Exit/Photography ends/Reception ends

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February 20, 2024

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