Wedding Planning

3 Tips for Creating a Stress-Free Wedding Day Timeline

November 6, 2023

Wedding Day Timeline


Your wedding day timeline is arguably the most important factor to managing the stress of a wedding day. Your wedding day timeline sets the tone for the day, and not allocating enough time affects major wedding day experiences. This causes unnecessary stress, which we always want to avoid.

Creating a stress-free wedding day timeline means thinking ahead to set yourself up for success. Below, we’re discussing our top five tips for creating a stress-free wedding day timeline.

How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline
Photography: Lauren Fair

Create a Lighting-Focused Wedding Day Timeline

The stunning wedding photography you see scrolling Instagram or Pinterest don’t just happen. Decisions informed by years of experience and careful planning create the wow-worthy images worthy of the pages of publications.

Lighting has a big impact on your wedding photography and timeline. Plan your wedding photography timeline around the best lighting of the day for the best possible wedding photos. The hour before sunset and the hour after sunrise, called Golden Hour, provides the best, most flattering lighting of the day. If you’re working with a film photographer, planning for the perfect natural light is a must for the best possible results.

Factor in Sunset Time to Your Wedding Day Timeline

First, search the sunset time on your wedding date at your wedding location. This will tell you at what time the sun will set on your wedding day, which is the guiding point. The weather can affect how much sunlight is present, so we recommend giving yourself a 30-minute buffer before sunset time for wedding photos to conclude. Knowing the sunset time also helps you determine when the wedding ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception should take place.

Visit Your Wedding Venue, If You Can

If you can, visit your wedding venue one year before your wedding to evaluate the lighting throughout the day. This is so helpful in determining the flow of the wedding day.

Consult Your Wedding Photographer

Next, consult your wedding photographer to create a wedding photography timeline around optimal lighting to ensure these once-in-a lifetime keepsakes images are captured beautifully. Your photographer will be an invaluable resource to guide you.

How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline
Photography: Jacqueline Benét

Consider a First Look

One of the first questions your wedding photographer will ask is if you will have a first look. A first look is a private moment between the couple before the ceremony to see each other for the first time on the wedding day, rather than seeing each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony.

While this is a personal choice, there are several benefits to opting for a first look.

You Can Attend and Experience Your Cocktail Hour

If you forego a first look and see each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony, this means the bulk of your wedding photography must happen after the ceremony. This means couple’s portraits, full wedding party photos, and family portraits all take place during cocktail hour.

This means that the couple often isn’t able to attend and experience their cocktail hour. This can (understandably) frustrate the couple, as they’d often prefer to attend their cocktail hour to meet with and celebrate with their guests after the ceremony.

Alternatively, a first look allows the majority of your wedding photography to take place before the ceremony and schedule only the necessary group photos after the ceremony. This allows you to attend and enjoy the day’s festivities, rather than spending this time in photography.

A First Look Creates a More Relaxed Experience

It also typically rushes these photos. If cocktail hour lasts an hour and a half, that means all of these photos must take place in a very short time period.

We recommend against rushing these photos. These once-in-a-lifetime photos deserve the time and attention necessary for the best result. Rushing these photos also creates unnecessary stress.

This ensures there is plenty of time to capture these moments for the best possible results and a relaxed experience.

How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline
Photography: Lauren Fair

Create a Realistic Wedding Day Timeline

A realistic wedding day timeline is key to a stress-free, relaxed experience. This means consulting and heeding the advice of your wedding vendors. Your team knows from experience how much time is necessary and it’s crucial to listen to their guidance, even if their recommendation is more time than you anticipated.

A great example of this is wedding day hair and makeup. Most couples underestimate how much time hair and makeup will take. If you do not follow the guidance of your hair and makeup team on the number of artists needed and how much hair and makeup time to allocate, it causes big delays that throws off the schedule of the entire day. This stress is avoidable with proper planning.

Always Factor In Buffer Time

The unforeseen can (and often will) happen. Things like traffic delays and the unexpected can happen, and a tight wedding day timeline ensures you will run behind. If something goes late, it means running late for the rest of the day, or sacrificing time allocated to something else to accommodate the difference.

Avoid this by setting realistic timeframes for each activity of the wedding day and giving yourself plenty of breathing room.

Worst case scenario? Your buffer time was needed, and you’re still on schedule. Best case scenario? You’re ahead of schedule and have time for a glass of champagne and a moment to relax.

How Do I Know What’s Realistic?

If you’ve never planned a wedding before, how are you supposed to know how long wedding hair and makeup, deliveries, or reception set-up should take?

Trust the guidance of your wedding vendor team. They are here as a resource to you, and can give you experienced guidance on what is realistic. Their top priority is creating the best possible service for you, and having the appropriate amount of time to do so is a must.

We highly recommend leaning on the guidance of your catering team if you are not working with a wedding planner. Your caterer will be able to advise on the flow of the day from the production side to ensure everything runs smoothly.

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behind rsvp events


American wedding planner based in Paris, France curating unforgettable experiences with art de vivre in Europe and the United States.

As seen in leading publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Raela has serviced weddings and brands both stateside and abroad, from the sun-drenched hillsides of Southern California to the resplendent châteaux of France to the lemon trees of Positano. With unparalleled attention to detail, Raela’s specialty lies in creating unforgettable, exquisite, sensory experiences.

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