Preparing a workable day-of-wedding timeline is a key element in planning a stress-free and enjoyable wedding day — not only for the couple, but also for the families, wedding party and guests. Once a timeline is prepared, sticking to the plan can also be challenging.
“Time can slip away as family, friends and other guests are swarming the bride and groom with congratulations and well wishes,” says photographer Stacy Jacobsen, owner of Love Study Photo. “Hiring a coordinator lets the couple enjoy this time with loved ones, as the coordinator is working with your DJ, caterer and photographer to keep everything on track.”
Here are a few additional timing tips that will ensure the wedding day flows seamlessly from beginning to end:
“The wedding party will appreciate a pre-ceremony timeline that lets them know when and where they need to be on the wedding day,” says Lauren Guy, coordinator at Manette Gracie Events. “Delivering the schedule to them in advance will help avoid any scheduling conflicts, thus allowing time for those involved in the wedding to make any arrangements necessary.”
Include all location addresses, as well as a day-of contact person such as a wedding coordinator, maid of honor or best man.
Specify when the bridesmaids will arrive; make sure to allot sufficient time for hair styling. Most wedding stylists request about an hour for the bride’s hair. A trial beforehand is highly advised. This not only gives an idea of how much time will be needed on the wedding day, but also makes sure the bride is satisfied with the stylist’s work and the hairstyle she has chosen.
Photographing your wedding day
Many couples schedule the majority of their photography before the wedding ceremony, allowing them to enjoy their reception.
“We can get some of the most beautiful and meaningful images during the getting-ready portion of the day. It seems that emotions are at their highest during this time,” says Jacobsen.
Many couples plan a special “first look” portrait session before the ceremony, where the photographer can capture the first moment the bride and groom see each other.
Wedding party and family portraits can also be taken prior to the ceremony. A list of desired family photos can help ensure the couple gets all the shots intended. A general estimate of three to four minutes per portrait grouping makes eight to 10 poses ideal for a couple who has scheduled 30 to 45 minutes for family photographs. Couples should use their photographers as a resource when preparing the day-of schedule.
“An experienced professional photographer will be able to keep things on a tight schedule. They have done this many times,” says Jacobsen.
Preparing for your ceremony
The wedding rehearsal is the place to iron out any kinks in the day-of plan. The ceremony, and the hours leading up to it, can be the most emotional part of the big day. Knowing the details are squared away “relaxes the couple” and “brings confidence to a wedding party and family and friends,” says wedding officiant Annemarie Juhlian, of Northwest Ceremonies & Celebrations.
Music is another element of the ceremony to practice during the rehearsal. “Ceremony music is the most critical as there is a fixed window of opportunity when the wedding party is walking up, so the music needs to sync perfectly in the allotted time,” says Kevin Olson, owner of Disco Royale Entertainment. Practicing not only helps the wedding party relax on the day of the wedding, but also helps resolve any timing issues with the music or any other ceremony components.
Let the party begin
Working with a wedding coordinator ensures not only that the ceremony will run smoothly, but also that the reception will have a natural flow and will stick to the schedule prepared with the couple.
“My best experiences have all included a wedding coordinator or planner,” says Jacobsen. “Keeping open communication between the coordinator and photographer keeps everyone on the same page and makes wedding day goals clear.”
A wedding coordinator not only helps the bride and groom include all the components they want on their wedding day, but also enables them to relax and enjoy their special day.
Suggested day-of ceremony timeline for an evening wedding
Noon - Bridal hair styling and makeup begin at venue.
1:00 - Photographer begins getting-ready photos. Make sure to have the photographer arrive before the bride is dressed if you would like any images of the dress hanging, the bride dressing and so on.
2:00 - Bride and groom dress.
2:30 - First look and couple portrait session.
3:10 - Wedding party (dressed and ready) meets at predetermined location. A coordinator or photographer’s assistant helps gather the wedding party members.
3:15 - Wedding photography begins.
3:45 - Relatives (dressed and ready) who are part of family portrait photography meet at a predetermined location.
3:50 - Family portraits begin.
4:20 - Bride freshens up. Groomsmen prepare to seat guests.
5:00 - Ceremony begins.
5:10 - Processional begins.
5:40 - Ceremony ends. Bride and groom, two witnesses and officiant sign license, if not signed as part of the ceremony. Cocktail hour begins.
6:30 - Guests find their seats for dinner. Newlyweds are reintroduced. Bride and groom lead first dance.
7:00 - Dinner is served.
7:45 - Best man and maid of honor offer toasts.
8:00 - Newlyweds cut cake. Dessert is served.
8:15 - Bride dances with father. Groom dances with mother. This can be done as two separate dances or as one dance.
8:30 - Dancing begins for all. The bouquet toss, garter toss, anniversary dance and other elements should all be timed at the discretion of the DJ.
10:00 - Last call at bar is announced.
10:15 - Last dance begins.
10:30 - Newlyweds depart.
11:00 - Events ends; coordinator/catering staff begin clean-up.
Midnight - Venue access ends.
Click on a photo to enlarge.
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