Wedding Day Timeline Layout

Wedding Day Timeline Sample graphic


Like any big project, the hardest part is getting the wheels rolling. In my client meetings I hear it all the time, “Wow, I hadn’t put that much thought into this or that part of the day.”  This is where we’re going with this post – I’m going to walk you through one of my typical wedding day timelines.  Every wedding will be a little different however the basic structure – the bones of it – will be very similar.


First things first, establish the two key times of the day – when the ceremony will start? When will dinner plates hit the table?  From there you can build out the rest of your day around those two points.  Something to keep in mind is the time between the ceremony and dinner/reception. You don’t want your guests waiting around any longer than they have to – keep the time between them as brief as possible.  In my experience, the most common times for ceremonies has been 4pm and dinner/reception at 6:30pm.

Cranberry Resort Bear Estates reception setup photos


Let’s walk through the key points of the day based on the sample timeline I used above.  This timeline includes a First Look session however I’ve also included a non-First Look timeline later in the post.  The key advantage of a First Look in terms of timeline is that it allows you to do the majority of your wedding photos ahead of time thus keeping our ceremony and dinner closer together. In this case, guests won’t have to wait around too long while you’re having photos done and they can show up a little later in the day for the ceremony as well – well rested and ready to party!

A few tips before you get started:

1.  Mind your Distance – be sure to consider the distance between where you and your hubby will be getting ready, additional travel time for your photographer/vendors needs to be considered. Travel time to off-site photo locations also needs to factor into your timelines (if you’re planning on going to different shoot locations).

2.  Plan for Delays – while you can’t predict when or where they’ll pop up, rest assured that delays will occur.  They’re typically nothing serious however 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there adds up quickly. I always recommend working in a little buffer for when those delays occur.  If they never do then hey, bonus time for photos!

Groom getting ready photos

11:00 – GUYS PREP
I nearly always start my wedding days by shooting the guys first. We’ll mess around a bit – boys-being-boys type shenanigans – before getting a little more serious with some portraits of the groom and guys looking sharp. This typically takes an hour. Once I leave, the guys can take off their suits, grab some lunch and relax for a bit before they’re needed at either the First Look or ceremony.

Quick Tip: Tell your groomsmen they need to arrive for photos 15 minutes before they actually need to. Everyone has that one buddy who can just never seem to arrive on time.

Bridesmaids at Muskoka Bay Club photo

12:00 – GIRLS PREP
There’s a lot more going on in the bridal suite than with the guys so I suggest budgeting between 1.5 to 2 hours for this part of the day. I typically arrive shortly before your hair and makeup is finished. This gives me time to catch some of the prep action as well as the general “goings-on” around the room leading right through to putting on the dress and bridal portraits with you and your girls once you’re all done up and looking gorgeous

Quick Tip: Try to keep the room as clean as possible, easier said than done without question. Start with the bed, make a rule for everyone that the bed is off-limits to ‘stuff’. We’ll typically use it as a prop or backdrop in the photos so keeping it made and uncluttered is key. 

Here are a few additional tips to make your get-ready photos a huge success.

First Look Reveal wedding photos

A quick, but often one of the most emotional times of the day. The First Look takes no more than 10 minutes start to finish and is a great opportunity for you to see one another for the first time without any prying eyes from guests, bridal party etc. Even I put on a long lens and disappear in the distance to shoot it – so it’s just the two of you!  Your groom will turn and see you looking amazing without an entire room staring at him for his reaction – he can be himself, unguarded and soak in the moment without that pressure.

Now while the majority of my couples choose to do a First Look, it’s certainly not for everyone – my own wife insisted that I not see her until she came down the aisle and I was totally down for that. I’ve included a sample timeline later in this post that lays out the timing without doing a First Look.

Quick Tip: The moment and the photos will be great either way so go with your gut when it comes to a First Look.

Bridesmaids bouquets in Muskoka

Time to have some fun with your besties in your bridal party session. Girls grab your flowers, guys grab the cooler. That’s about all you need to know about this part of the day!  I’ll take the lead and we’ll have some fun.

Quick Tip: Prepare a “Go-Bag” if you haven’t yet brides. This can be a simple bag with touch-up makeup, dabbers and comfy shoes. We’ll likely be walking around a lot so have a pair of comfy slip on shoes/sandals (they’ll be hidden under your dress) just for this short period of the day – your feet will thank you.

Bridal Party photo in Fall

I’ll get you back and tucked away in your bridal suite or holding room at the ceremony location to freshen up, go to the bathroom etc. before your big walk down the aisle. I take this time to go down and take photos of the ceremony set up as well as guests arriving etc.

Game time. Only tip here is for you and your girls to take your time coming down the aisle – take it all in.

Trillium Resort Wedding Ceremony photo

More than any other photos, these family shots will likely be the most printed images of your day. They’re simple, yet warm group photos of the most important people in your lives.  Typically this time is reserved for immediate family only ie. parents, grandparents and siblings however it can include as many people as you’d like.  Keep in mind however, the more people involved here, the more time it takes.

Quick Tip: Prepare a specific list of the people you would like in these photos and give that to me ahead of time. Here’s a quick post I did explaining the huge benefit to writing a family photo shot list.

Family Formal Wedding Photos

Now that you’re hitched, we need a photo session worthy of the occasion. This is when we’ll go off on our own away from the crowd and have some fun while getting a little romantic and maybe even get a little creative. This is the heart of your photography coverage.

Quick Tip: Ask someone ie. Maid of Honour/Best Man to tag along with us to help with your “Go Bag”, hold flowers, help with touch ups etc. It’s always good to have an extra pair of hands to help out if needed.

Muskoka Wedding Photographer

Time to get back to freshen up, go to the bathroom, grab a cocktail etc. before your grand entrance to the dinner and reception.

“Introducing for the first time – Mr & Mrs… ”  And you make your way into the reception to either sit down and begin dinner services or you can head straight to the dance floor for your first dance.  I’ve been recommending this option for a while now simply because when you do your grand entrance, everyone is standing and cheering.  The energy in the room is as high as it will be the entire evening so why not head straight to the dance floor.  The crowd will typically remain standing for the entire dance which is a goose-bumpy feeling and spectacular for photos!

Following dinner, you can do your parent dances to bring the energy back up in the room leading into the party!

Trillium Resort Wedding Reception Table photo

6:30 – DINNER
Not much to say here other than be sure to think ahead and plan out timing for any speeches that will take place. Often times if there are several speeches you can do one before dinner, between courses and during desert. This breaks them up and allows for a nice flow instead of a series of speeches back to back to back to back to back after dinner while everyone is waiting for the bar and dance floor to open.

This is the point where I will typically hand over the timeline to the MC and DJ to do their thing.

Wedding Dance photo

If a First Look isn’t in the cards – no worries.  Here’s a sample wedding timeline without it.  You’ll note the wider gap between ceremony and reception to make room for the bridal party + bride & groom sessions.

12:00 – Guys Prep
1:00 – Girls Prep
3:00 – Ceremony
3:30 – Family Formals
4:00 – Bridal Party Session
4:45 – Bride & Groom Session
6:00 – Freshen Up
6:30 – Dinner & Reception

There it is, your basic timeline template to work from.  If you have any questions feel free to reach out anytime!

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Go briefly behind the scenes on one of my recent shoots…

Wedding Day Timeline Layout
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Wedding Day Timeline Layout
Like any big project, the hardest part is getting the wheels rolling. Here are some tips to kickstart your wedding day timeline planning.
Vaughn Barry
Vaughn Barry Photography
Vaughn Barry Photography
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Vaughn Barry

Vaughn Barry

Wedding Photographer at Vaughn Barry Photography
Outdoor Muskoka, Barrie, Collingwood and international destination wedding photographer based in Severn, Ontario (lower Muskoka). When I put my camera down you'll find me with my beautiful wife and 2 daughters or behind the bench as a local hockey coach.
Vaughn Barry
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