How to Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline

Visualize and plan your wedding day timeline from the perspective of your photographer. Essence can help you plan for your wedding to capture all of your favorite moments to remember forever!

Below you will find the iconic moments that we feel best represent a full wedding day story. In each moment ask yourself what do you want to see and feel when you look at that photograph 5-10-25 years from now?

We wrote this article because we want you to have a great wedding experience and know what to expect on the most memorable day of your life. We want you to love the work your photographer does for you. This is just a part of how Essence can serve you like family.

It's All in the Details

Advice: By details, we mean artful photos of your dress, rings, invitations, and flower bouquet. If you have hand-made items or family heirlooms make sure you point them out. Have a wedding invitation on hand so we can photograph your rings over your names for a lovely personal touch. If you’ve been wearing your rings have them cleaned & polished so they really shine. Even big bridal suites can get pretty messy so ask your crew to keep the living area free and clear of debris for photos for when your photographer arrives.  We love the quality of light a big open window gives to pictures of your dress.  Think about what hanger you want to use to hang your dress, and whether the bridal suite has somewhere to hang it.  If you don’t know, bring a command hook so your photographer can hand your dress in the best light in the best environment. 

Time Needed: 30 minutes

Getting Ready Photos

To help everyone look their best have everyone ready except the bride before the photographer arrives. From experience I can tell you that nothing can mess up your wedding day timeline more than hair and makeup running over so be sure to make it clear to your hair and makeup artists when they absolutely must be done by. Assuming you’ve had a test with the same artists this shouldn’t be an issue.

Be sure to point out gifts like robes, t-shirts and other details. Champagne and bourbon toasts need proper glassware so please no plastic cups! If you don’t want to buy them just let the hotel know how many you need. Personalized robes are a classic gift and look great in the lens.

Time Needed: 1 hour

The Guys

Advice: Most men don’t take as long as women to get ready but many struggle with bow ties and boutonnières so here’s a video on how to properly knot your bow tie and another on how to pin that boutonnière. After sharing these videos with your crew it’s a good idea to have a mini-workshop at your bachelor party so your boys don’t delay the wedding day timeline by getting themselves into a knot.  Get it?  😉 

Time Needed: 30 minutes

Into the Dress

Advice: Know in advance who will help you into your dress. We like to show the friendship you have with your mom, sister or best friend while you’re busy getting buttoned up so don’t rush. (Tip: If your dress has a million buttons, bring a crochet hook to help!) After all the buttons are done exhale and hug it out. These moments can get emotionally charged so give yourselves a second afterward. If you have a bouquet give yourself a deep inhale for some aroma therapy.

Time Needed: 20 minutes

First Look With Your Partner

First look photos rock. You get to share a private moment with your partner, shake off some pre-ceremony jitters and enjoy more time with your family and friends at cocktail hour. But while they look completely effortless, there’s a little more thought behind all those sweet, candid shots you’ve seen and love.

The last thing you want is to feel rushed on your wedding day. Doing a first look is supposed to calm your nerves and prompt happy feelings—not stress you out. Make sure your first look is even better than you imagined by planning the logistics in advance.

You’ll want a private moment together so don’t bring your wedding party with you. Choose a private spot so you can experience a personal moment with your partner. 

A first look definitely does not spoil the ceremony. You’ll be overwhelmed with emotion no matter what. It’s a whirlwind once guests arrive so having a few moments together before all of your family and friends surround you can be really special.

Another great reason to do a first look… you get your pictures done before your ceremony!  After some alone time with your partner, your wedding party joins in for their turn with pictures, and then your family!  Everything is done with time to refresh before the ceremony, and then you get to enjoy your cocktail hour, guests, and party with everyone else!

Time Needed: 15 Minutes

Planning Your Creative Photos

Most couples want to maximize time with their guests so be smart when planning locations for your creative photos. If you’re bouncing between hotel, park, church and reception venues be mindful of travel times. If your wedding is during the summer months remember that festivals like Lollapalooza literally shut-down Millennium Park so stay clear and keep your wedding day timeline on track.

  • Time Needed:
  • Couples Portraits: 45 Minutes
  • Wedding Party Portraits: 45 Minutes

Family Photos

Family photos are not only important for you, but your family as well.  If it’s imperative that you get a photo with your Aunty Shelly and Uncle Mike, remember this, your photographer won’t know who they are, and on your wedding day, you don’t want to stress about trying to handle everything on your own. Make a detailed list of every photo combination you want. Then print that list and give it to a designated photo wrangler – someone who knows your family members on sight and by name who can help gather them up. That list should look like this:

Photo 1. Mary, Sam, Couple, Alex, Susan.

Photo 2. Other people.

Photo 3. You get the idea.

I can’t stress enough to couples to have this list make in advance and to communicate with everyone on it where to be. Family portraits is the #1 moment that can delay your wedding day timeline.

Time Needed: 30-45 Minutes

Sample Timelines

Think of your timeline on wedding in a backwards terms, not like…what time do I have to be ready, but…what time is the ceremony and HOW MUCH time do we want for everything plus travel?

First Look Timeline

If the ceremony begins at 5, it could look like this…

  • 12:30 Photographer arrives at dressing location
  • 1:45 first look
  • 2:00 bride\groom\bride & groom and bridal party pictures
  • 3:30 bride\bride family pictures
  • 3:45  bride&groom\bride family pictures
  • 4:00 bride&groom\groom family pictures
  • 4:15 groom\groom family pictures
  • 4:30 done with pictures, relax
  • 5:00 Ceremony

Church/Reception Timeline

We want you in your dress for an hour before the photographer has to leave for the church, so that we can get pix of you, your family and your bridesmaids. We want to be there about half an hour before you get in your dress, for detail shots and stuff. We want the groom at the church about an hour before the ceremony, so that we can get pix of him, his family and the groomsmen. long does it take to get to the ceremony site from your dressing location? For example sake, lets say half an hour?

Working backwards from a 3pm ceremony looks like this…

Photog arrives at ceremony site at 2, so must leave your house by 130. You must be in your dress for an hour before he has to leave, so you must be dressed by 1230. Add a half an hour to that, means that photog should arrive to your dressing location by approximately 12pm.


A little extra planning and communication can make you a smooth operator on your big day and keep your wedding day timeline on track.  Remember, teamwork makes the dream work.

Congratulations on finding love and taking your commitment to the next level.

-The Team at Essence