Envisioning your wedding day can be a daunting task.
Not just the decor and fun details, but the overall timeline of the day and how everything will flow. Wrapping your mind around what the entire day will hold can be a bit much. After all, most of us only get to experience a small part of the wedding day – even as a wedding party member, it can be hard to imagine WHY you’ll have to (or want to) be at your venue for 12 hours. Or why you’d need a photographer for 9 or 10 of those hours.
I’m going to lay it all out for you. Not just timeline type stuff, but the nitty gritty, this is the shit going down throughout your wedding day. I’m going to use bride/groom identifiers for clarification’s sake as some things are very specific to role, but many these could apply to both sexes or be modified to work for any couple. This example is built off of how a typical wedding day works when you work with GSquared Weddings Photography.
Ready? Let’s do this.
MORNING – We’ll say 10am.
In the morning , you’re going to realize you didn’t sleep nearly enough. Eat a rich protein breakfast and drink some water. Hydration is going to be important.
A LOT of stuff is going to need to be picked up today or delivered to your venue: decor rentals, desserts, florals, etc. You and your wedding party should not be doing any of this errand running stuff. Parents and siblings either. Have a wedding planner/coordinator? They can help execute this part of the process and delegate to a few trusted people that are still wanting to be part of your day (aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, close friends who aren’t in the wedding party, etc).
Whenever you need to travel via car between spaces, give yourself a 15 minute buffer just in case.
When you get access to your venue on your wedding day, you’ll be focused on unloading decor, supplies, clothing, and food for you and your wedding party. And brides – if you don’t have enough hair and makeup artists to handle your bridesmaids/moms and still be ready on time – or if that window is super tight – you may not even be on site at your venue at your access time. Bridal hair and makeup can take as much as 2 1/2 hours, and bridesmaids/moms can take an hour or more each.
Your wedding photographer and videographer usually arrive during this part of the process (based on this timeline we’re using, probably around 11am) – many will go off site if you’re getting ready there, too, so don’t worry. When they arrive, a lot of photographers/videographers start with all of your details – wedding dress, rings, wedding invitations, shoes, tie, watch, cuff-links, etc. It’s easiest to have that all in one location and ready for them (in a bag or box is super helpful and makes it easier to transport while they create photos). This is when you’ll want to mention any special things like rings from grandma, ring box, handkerchiefs, or personalized hanger. Once they’re done with details, they come back in to the getting ready space to photograph you and your friends hanging out and getting ready for the day.
Quick interjection – please have lots of food and drinks (not just alcohol) in your ready room and keep eating. Once you leave this room, you’re not snacking again til right before ceremony. Bring a toothbrush. No one needs veggie tray teeth.
So here’s the thing – this means you need a wedding planner/coordinator that understands your vision ( or that you have really, really detailed instructions and a team of people that are not in your wedding to set up) that you can trust to carry this all out. You are literally not going to see any of your reception and ceremony decor until at least your portrait time, if not the moment you actually walk in to do all of those activities on your wedding day.
Don’t worry – if the OCD in you is having a panic attack right now, email me and I can give you a bunch of helpful tips to make this part of the day stupid proof. Set up can take anywhere from 3-6 hours. Yes, hours. This is why they can’t be family or wedding party members. Sure, some of them may be able to help a little once all of their formal duties are done, but they can’t be the ones responsible for making it all happen.
While the bride, bridesmaids and moms are getting ready, the groom, groomsmen and dads are great people to help with as much as they can – moving tables, setting centerpieces, unloading and reloading things, putting away storage boxes, etc.
And by now it’s …..
Once hair and makeup is done, it will be time for people to get dressed. Your photographer and videographer should be in the room with you now. Most of the time it’s best if moms and bridesmaids are dressed and ready before the bride gets in to her dress – just as it can be better for dad and groomsmen to be ready before the groom starts. You’ll get dressed, with the small details going on last… so don’t skip ahead and put those earrings or necklace on before your dress is on. It makes for prettier photos to wait. Shoes and veil are last. We don’t recommend you wear your garter all day (if you have one), as they’re uncomfortable and can slip at the most inopportune moments – you can slip it on later during the reception. We’re going to imagine it’s now 12:30pm
Groom and groomsmen – I know you don’t take long to get ready, but remember to head into the ready room about 30 minutes before it’s time to get dressed so you can eat something. You won’t eat again til dinner. I know. It’s awful torture (you can grab a snack before ceremony, but you’ll also be busy greeting guests, so it’s up to you how much food breath you want to have). And drink more than beer. Like, water. You’ll be a lot happier in that suit if you’re hydrated. And please, for the love of all things holy, bring a toothbrush (and toothpaste). Altoids don’t cut it.
After you’re dressed, we’ll prepare for first look, and it’s now 1pm. This is the moment where the reality of “It’s my wedding day” is starting to really sink in. Breathe in that and enjoy it, because your hard work has paid off. If you’re doing one with dad/grandpa, we’ll start there first. We make sure that your significant other is hidden. When that first look is done, we tuck you away again, and set up the first look with your significant other. We will often ask if you have a specific spot you’d love to have this happen in – but please know that we want this to be the best experience for both of you, and will let you know if the lighting isn’t cohesive to great photos/video. Even lighting, like open shade, is usually best – or at least nothing where one or both of you would end up squinting into direct or side sun and unable to see the other. We’ll wrap both of these up by 1:30.
And now, it’s portrait time!
This is the longest part of the day time wise. Portraits can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours (depending on your wedding photographer and videographer – some videographers require separate time with you, so this can add significant time on when building your timeline). Wedding party full group, groomsmen, bridesmaids, and immediate family photos (sometimes extended, but we don’t recommend it – it means a lot of people milling about for quite awhile before your actual ceremony). and then couple photos. Not everyone uses this same order, but it’s our favorite flow because it lets you two get some time together, focused on each other before you head down the aisle to get married. We take about 105 minutes, ideally, so we would be done with these around 3/3:15pm
During this time, a whirlwind of stuff is happening. The caterers and bartenders and event staff are arriving and prepping. Your DJ will set up, and your officiant will arrive, too. Shit’s getting real real.
About 45 minutes to an hour before ceremony, we tuck the bride away. Many guests worry about being late, so they arrive within that hour window. This is when groom, groomsmen, and family members will be greeting people.
A few minutes before it’s time to start, someone will tell you to line up. Make sure you have all the important stuff – rings to the right people, vows where they need to be, bouquets ready and dried off, boutonnieres, pocket squares, ties and buttons all in the correct place.
It’s 4pm – CEREMONY START TIME. This has been our most popular ceremony start time on a typical wedding day for the last several years.
It’s normal to start 5 minutes late or so – so don’t feel like it’s all falling apart if we’re not lined up until 4:07. It’s ok – none of this can start without you anyways. You’ll walk down the aisle, say your vows, probably cry a little, laugh a little, and then kiss for the first time as a married couple. Most ceremonies tend to take around 30 minutes. Readings, songs, speakers, etc all impact this. Religious ceremonies can take longer.
You’ll walk back down the aisle, and head to a private room where your witnesses and officiant will join you. You’ll sign your marriage license (two of them – the legal one and the pretty one). You can then take a few minutes alone before heading out to the next part of the day.
It’s now 5pm, and you’re going to head out to a designated spot and take an extended family photo if you want them, and probably some couple photos since you’re now wearing your rings (you can wear them before for portraits, it’s totally up to you – we’ll never force you to do that if you’re not comfortable with it).
Around 5:30, you’ll head in to your reception. You’re going to be STARVING now, because all of the adrenaline and nerves have worn off and the “performance” part of the day is over. It’s a good time to eat.
You, your immediate family, and wedding party will eat first if you’re doing a buffet. Then, we highly recommend your photographers, videographers and DJ go through the line after that so they can be done eating when you’re ready to get all of the party stuff started.
Around 6, you’ll be ready to get up and walk around to tables and talk to your guests. Start on one side of the room and work it in the easiest way for you – either front to back/back to front, or front row of tables/next row of tables, etc. Usually you’ll get through one side of the room before we get started on the traditions, but sometimes, if you make sure you keep focused and keep conversations super short, you can get through the whole room. You have to keep moving along though – this isn’t the time or the place to recap the last 5 years of life. Thank them for coming, invite them to come dance with you guys later, and tell them to have a great time and enjoy the drinks & desserts … and then move to the next table.
Around 6:20 or so, things will start to feel antsy, so you’ll want to get started on something. Toasts are a great easy place to start things off (do NOT do an open mic, and keep this to a max of 4 toasters – it’s incredibly awkward for everyone if you have an open mic or 8 people scheduled to come up – they’re ready to party and this can kill the vibe quick), and then lead in to special dances. You’ll begin with your first dance as a married couple. Please keep this to just the two of you – even if it feels uncomfortable, this is an important moment, and your wedding party can join you later. We’ll even give you an idea for when, so you can make sure your dance floor keeps going all night (and your DJ probably has some awesome ideas, too!) Then you’ll go in to the parent dances (father/daughter, mother/son) …. and then the dance floor opens up. You can do something like the anniversary dance to make that happen (just don’t do the whole “the photographer wants a group photo” trick – we hate that).
Now, this is our favorite part, and it’s about 7pm. Dance with your family in friends, take the extra time to go mingle and talk to people you didn’t get to chat with much (especially those who traveled or are elderly).
If sunset is happening soon, we will keep an eye on the light and pull you outside when the light is *perfect*. We’ll make sure your videographer knows, too, and usually spend about 20 minutes getting some gorgeous portraits of just the two of you in the evening – maybe about 740pm, just as an example.
After that happens, it’s 8pm, and it’s usually a good time to jump in to the next part of the horse-and-pony. You’ll cut the cake or share the dessert, and then we can do the bouquet/garter if you’re doing that tradition. After that, you can do a special wedding party dance to get things going again – we recommend this be something upbeat and energetic and that your wedding party knows about before it happens.
Then it’s time to dance and party again around 8:30. You’ll dance, hang out, make memories. If you’re not doing a special exit, we would plan to leave around 9pm. But if you are doing a special exit, and your venue rental time is like normal (12 hours), this would be when we would want to do the special exit so that your team can have the venue broken down and cleaned up by 10pm (usually takes an hour to clean up). You are not going to help clean up. You need a (sober) team that you trust to do this. If you have a wedding planner/coordinator, they usually manage this, or you can hire event staff to do so.
So there you have it – this is a typical day. Your venue rental is 12 hours, 10am to 10pm. Your photography team would be there from 11am to 9pm, so 10 hours (this is why we throw in an extra hour for free).
The formal timeline for the typical wedding day we laid out here would look like this:
10 Access to Venue
10 Bride/Bridesmaids/Moms start hair and makeup (multiple artists, so on-site)
11 Photographers arrive (usually the videographers would start now too)
1145 Bridesmaids and moms hair and makeup done now.
12 Hair and makeup done for bride
12 Bridesmaids and moms get dressed
12 Groom and Groomsmen and Dads start getting dressed now
1230 Bride dressed
1 First Look with Dad
115 First Look with Groom
130 Wedding Party Photos
2 Immediate Family Photos
230 Couple Photos
315 Hide the Bride
4 Ceremony starts
430 Sign Documents
5 Extended Family Photo
515 Couple Photos
530 Enter Reception
6 Table Touches
630 Special Dances
7 Open Dance Floor/Mingling
740 Sunset Photos of the Couple
8 Cake Cutting, Bouquet, Garter
9 Special Exit
910 Wedding Photographer & Videographer leave.
10 Cleaned up and Out of Venue by now