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10 Tips for Creating a Solid Wedding Day Timeline: Tuesday Tips

July 24, 2017

Hi, I'm Michelle
Hi there! Welcome to the Michelle Renee blog, a journal about our lives, travels, and this amazing wedding photography world I serve in
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the ultimate wedding day prep guide 
Timeline suggestions for weddings with both a First Look AND without a First Look! 

Hello, and WELCOME to the first post in the Tuesday Tips blog series!  I am SO glad you decided to join me as I dish out as much information as I possibly can to help your wedding photography experience be relaxed, unique to YOU, and most of all FUN!  Planning a wedding can be stressful, and I get that.  My hope is that this blog series will give ya’ a better grasp on exactly HOW to plan and WHAT to focus on as you plan for your big day.

Before we jump in, in case you’ve never headed over to the blog before and don’t know much, or ANYTHING, about me, I’d like to share a few things with ya’!

  • I’m a wedding photographer based in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia and have traveled internationally to photograph weddings. I love my little slice of Hanover County, VA, and the tomatoes here are the best you’ll find!
  • I’ve been photographing weddings for 6 seasons, and I LOVE IT!  It truly is food to my soul, and I couldn’t imagine life any other way!
  • I’m “mommy” to three boys (Tyler, 12; Nolan, 5; Cameron, 2), so my world is as wild, crazy, and as covered in boy-smooches and dirty fingerprints as it comes.
  • This is not just a job to me…My title may be “wedding photographer”, but I’d say a bit more like a story-teller. And the story I’m telling is yours.  THIS IS YOUR LOVE STORY.  It is the legacy you leave behind for your family…your children…their children… and should be documented well, fully, and true to it’s natural form. It is because of this that I do what I do.


Ok!  So, now that we’ve covered just a few of the basics, let’s get right to it!  Hang on tight!  I’ve got a LOT of information to cover, and today we are going to start with the most fundamental of aspects… your wedding day timeline!

So, why is this even important?  Well, let me share a little story with you… When I began photographing weddings, I honestly thought I’d just show up on a wedding day, camera in hand, and take photos of the day as it unfolded.  Seriously.  That’s what I was hired to do, right?!?  Yep, I thought so, too.  But at one of my very first weddings, a destination wedding in Nags Head, NC, I showed up a few minutes early and ready to roll…I was quite surprised to find the entire group of groomsmen drinking beer in a hot tub near the beach.  The bridesmaids were hanging out all around the property, and no one seemed the least bit concerned about any type of timeline.  Apparently I was the only one with a plan, and that plan, if I’m being completely honest, had only been mapped out in my head and had not been articulated well to my couple. I had a long list of details to photograph, the couple had requested a First Look, and here I was with everyone operating on beach time-straight chillin’.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Your wedding day should not feel like a mad dash to the finish line. But, I’m here to tell you that without a solid plan, the likelihood of it feeling that way greatly increases.  In this instance, as soon as the bride realized we had a LOT to get done and VERY little time to get it done in, it turned to chaos.  Everything that was supposed to happen before the ceremony got smushed into about 30 minutes and the First Look lasted about 2 minutes.  It was no fun for anyone, and I knew that something was going to change after that day.  And so the wedding day timeline was developed.

Because I want you to enjoy your wedding day, relax, and embrace the moments that are already going to pass far too quickly, I am encouraging you to take some time before your wedding to work with your photographer to map your day out!  A solid, detailed timeline is going to help things run much more smoothly!  But where do you start?  Well, right here is a good place! 😉 I’ve put together some quick tips for things to consider as you being working on your timeline:

  1. Don’t do this alone.  This is likely your first rodeo in terms of planning a wedding, so use your photographer to help!  If you are working with an experienced wedding photographer, she will be able to walk you through the ins and outs by asking you all the right questions to know how to structure your day. You are not supposed to have all the answers, and your photographer spends MANY weekends each year photographing weddings and will know what to recommend.  Any question you have is valid.  If you are wondering about something, ask.  We’re here to help!
  2. Allow a cushion.  Ya’ll…you think it won’t happen, and I hope it doesn’t… but I’ve seen weddings get pushed back up to 1.5 hours because hair and makeup runs late… or a groomsman decides to stop at Taco Bell on the way from the ceremony to the reception (true story)… or a bride forgets to bring the marriage license and the officiant won’t start the ceremony without it.  Be generous with your estimates regarding timing and build in extra time where you can.  Even an extra 10 minutes here or there can be a HUGE help if something goes a little wonky on the day of.
  3. Decide if you’ll have a First Look. I plan to address the pros v. cons of a First Look in an upcoming Tuesday Tip post, but you will need to know whether this is something you want to do.  If so, you may be taking into consideration that by having a First Look, you can have all bridal party and family photos taken before the ceremony, allowing you time to enjoy some of your cocktail hour afterwards. If that’s the case, perfect!  If not, totally fine, too!  But you’ll need to decide prior to developing your timeline.
  4. Consider the type of ceremony you are having. Are you having a quick 15 minute, in-and-out ceremony, or a full, 1-hour Catholic mass?  And will you be having a receiving line afterwards?  This is completely your preference and all are beautiful.  Either way, it can be helpful to speak with your officiant beforehand to gain a realistic expectation of how much time the ceremony will take.  If you are having a receiving line, allow at least an additional 30 minutes after the ceremony to accommodate.
  5. Determine the number of family groupings. When photographing family formals, I include parents, siblings (and spouses and children) and grandparents.  If you’d like to include aunts, uncles, cousins, or a large “whole family” shot, allow for extra time.  An alternative to including extended family during family formals is planning to get those shots during the reception; however, this is a personal preference as well. 
  6. Know when the sun sets.  If you are a huge fan of “golden hour” images, want the best lighting for portraits, or want to avoid all of your portraits being photographed with flash, you’ll need to consider the time of sunset.  That means, if you are planning a winter wedding, you have a much smaller window for obtaining those soft, natural light images than if you are planning a summer wedding. However, if you are getting married in the summer, lighting for a First Look can be harsh depending on time of day. Again, you aren’t supposed to know this stuff! Refer to tip number 1 and ASK your photographer!
  7. Don’t rush.  Most wedding photography contracts are for 8-hours of wedding day coverage, but most photographers offer additional hours a la carte, and some offer 10 or 12 hour collections.   If you’ve looked at everything you need to consider and you just cannot realistically fit it into the 8 hours of coverage, add more time.  Don’t rush it.  This is your wedding day, and as I mentioned, it should be documented well and FULLY.  If you want your photographer present to photograph all the details at the beginning of the day AND you have a super-amazing exit you also want photographed, create a timeline that works for you and add the extra hours if needed.  I do also want to mention here that I do not recommend less than 8 hours unless you are not having a full, traditional reception. 
  8. Share your timeline.  You’ve spent all this time working with your photographer and creating a realistic timeline for your wedding day, but it’s no good unless you share it!  Email it to your wedding party, family, coordinator, and other vendors on the creative team.  And then bring copies for everyone on your wedding day, too!  There’s never TOO much information when it comes to your wedding day timeline and your expectations.
  9. Trust your photographer. Unexpected things come up.  It rains.  There is no sun for sunset photos.  A groomsmen leaves his jacket in his apartment.  IT HAPPENS.  And it’s OK.  And you know why it’s ok?  Because you’ve hired an experienced wedding photographer who photographs weddings regularly and she has been there before.  Trust that.  I assure you we’ve seen A LOT along the way and making adjustments is second nature.  Yes, some changes may need to be made to the timeline if something unexpected comes up, but trust your photographer to give you solid recommendations on how to move forward and then relax, enjoy your day, and watch her put the new plan into action and STILL create all those magical photos you’ve been wanting. It’s what we do.
  10. LET IT GO! You’ve planned for everything you can.  You trust your photographer to make any adjustments that arise last minute.  You WILL BE MARRIED TO THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE at the end of the day!  And really, that’s all that matters! 😉


When I began this journey, I had no idea where to even start with developing a timeline but stumbled upon Jasmine Star‘s wedding photography timeline. It’s been several years since then, and I still use it. I send this to couples before the wedding day and use it as a starting point when we have our pre-wedding consultation appointment.  Typically, we start with the ceremony time and work backwards to the beginning of the day to get a starting time.  8 hours later would be the end time.  From there, we determine if extra hours are needed.  I ALWAYS allow 30 minutes prior to the ceremony start time for couples to get tucked away and relax before walking down the aisle.  This also allows time to photograph ceremony details and cocktail hour details if ready.  I also ALWAYS tell my couples that if, at any time, they need a break, to make a change, or just a glass of water–let me know.  It will never be a problem to adjust for the bride and groom.  NEVER.

Lastly, here is the sample timeline I provide to all Michelle Renee Photography couples, as adapted from Jasmine Star’s original timeline. It includes an 8-hour wedding day and a First Look.  It can be adjusted to any of your preferences.

2:00 Photography begins

-photograph details, final touches on hair and makeup

3:00 Getting Ready

-photograph bride getting into gown, putting shoes and jewelry on, spraying perfume

3:30 First Look

-first look with couple

4:00 Bridal Party

-photograph the bride with each bridesmaid

-photograph bride and bridesmaids as group

-photograph groom with each groomsmen

-photograph groom and groomsmen as group

-photograph entire wedding party as a group in a few variations

4:30 Tucked away

-photograph ceremony details

-photograph cocktail hour details if ready

5:00 Ceremony

5:30 Ceremony ends

5:40 Family formals

6:00 Couples Portraits (sunset photos if applicable)

6:25 Reception Details

6:45 Grand Entrance

6:55 First Dance

7:00 Welcome and blessing of food

7:15 First Course Served

7:30 Toasts

7:45 Second course served

8:15 Father-daughter;Mother-son dances

8:25 Open Dancing

-photograph extended family or special groupings requested by couple

9:30 Cake Cutting

9:40 Bouquet/garter toss

9:50 Exit

10:00 Photography concludes

That’s it, ya’ll!  That’s what I’ve got for today!  I hope this is helpful as you move forward in your planning.  Is there anything I forgot?  Anything else you’ve been thinking about related to your wedding day timeline? I want to hear from you, so leave a comment and let me know what information you need!  I’ll add it to my list of Tuesday Tips!

Next week, we will be taking a closer look at First Looks and whether or not it’s for you!  I’ll be listing the pros and cons of First Looks, in my opinion, and weighing in on whether I think they are a good idea!

Thanks SO much for stopping by!  Have a wonderful Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to hanging out again soon! Here’s to walking into your wedding day like the boss you are!

M xoxo


  1. […] chance to check out our first edition, 10 Tips to Creating A Solid Wedding Day Timeline.  If not, you can find it here.  Until then, take a look at some First Looks of a few MRP couples!  I just LOVE these […]

  2. […] down to business and a LOT of content in the first two posts in the series which you can find here and here, but today will be a bit lighter.  We are going to take a look at ALLL the things about […]

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I'm Michelle, and I'm so happy you're here. This blog a journal about our lives and my work as a wedding photographer.

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As a wedding photographer in Virginia, and beyond, for over a decade, I don't arrive to a wedding day without a solid timeline.  Click below to get a sample of my wedding day timeline, both with and without a First Look.

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