Some schedules can be very simple and others more complex. For this post I’m going to assume three things. First, you’re getting ready at a local hotel. Second, you’re marrying in a church. Third, your reception is at the hotel where you’re getting ready. Your schedule is going to be much simpler if your ceremony and reception are in one location but let’s start with this first.

Keep in mind that everything you expect to do on your wedding day must be accounted for. Develop a rock-solid timeline of your wedding day to create a great wedding schedule.

Bridesmaids in monogrammed bathrobes in the bridal suite at The Broadmoor.
Barrell’s bridesmaids see her in her wedding dress before her wedding at Shove Chapel on the campus of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Start with your ceremony time and work backwards

Start with the planned ceremony time and work backwards. Everything else will neatly fall into place if you start here.

If your wedding ceremony is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at a local church you should be at the church and in your waiting area 1/2 hour before the ceremony. Most couples don’t want to be seen by their guests especially if they’re being photographed before the wedding. Guests usually arrive at least 1/2 hour beforehand and sometimes earlier.

Sample Timelines

The first timeline, below, is for the couple that decides not to see each other before the ceremony. The second is for the couple that decides to see each other before the ceremony and do most of their pictures beforehand.

Later, I’ll go over what happens after the ceremony if you don’t see each other.

Note: I’m  not including in these sample what is essentially a duplicate schedule for the groom. The times are a little different for the groom and the groom usually arrives at the church before the bride.

Finally, if you don’t see each other, consider two photographers; one to photograph the bride getting ready and the other to photograph the groom getting ready. But an experienced wedding photographer can do both.

Wedding timeline (working backwards) where the bride and groom DO NOT see each other before the wedding:

4:30 p.m. Wedding ceremony
4:00 p.m. Bride and bridesmaids arrive at the church and goes to waiting area
3:50-4 p.m. Bride travels to the church
3:20-3:50 p.m. Dad sees daughter + pictures with family and bridesmaids at the hotel
3-3:20 p.m. Bride receives her flowers + bridal portrait in her suite
2:30-3 p.m. Bride puts on her dress, bridesmaids must be dressed and ready to help.
12:30-2:30 p.m. Hair and makeup. Bride should be the first to do both!
12:00 Bride and bridesmaids check into the hotel. Lunch is delivered to the room.

Wedding timeline where the bride and groom DO see each other before the wedding:

4:30 p.m. Wedding ceremony
4:00 p.m. Bride and groom arrives at the church. Bride goes to a waiting area. Groom greets guests.
3:50-4:00 p.m. Wedding party travels to the church
3:25-3:50 p.m. Immediate family photos
3:00-3:25 p.m. Wedding party pictures
2:40-3:00 p.m. Bride and groom pictures around the hotel grounds
2:30-2:40 p.m. Private moment
2:15-2:30 p.m. Dad sees daughter + pictures with Mom and Dad
2:00-2:15.p.m. Bride receives her flowers + bridal portrait in her suite
2:15 p.m. Bride puts on her dress, bridesmaids must be dressed and ready to help.
12:15-2:15 p.m. Hair and makeup.
12:00 Bride and bridesmaids check into the hotel + lunch is delivered to the room

The timeline covers 4-1/2 hours. Plan for this time and you won’t go over.

Bride, groom, flower girl walk on the south lawn of the Garden of the Gods Club with Pikes Peak.
Kimberly and John walk with their daughter at the Garden of the Gods Club before their wedding ceremony. Kimberly and John decided to see each other at the hotel where Kimberly was getting ready.

Make A Shot List

The main pillar of a good wedding schedule is a shot list. Making a shot list is not difficult. If you’ve hired a good photographer, then you can count on them. Your shot list is meant to identify groupings to be photographed either before or after the wedding and will make things go quickly and smoothly. Here’s an example, not a suggestion. Make your own. This is just to give you an idea.

Wedding shot list:

4:30 p.m. Formal photographs in the church
• Bride w/bridesmaids
• Groom w/groomsmen
• Entire wedding party
• Bride and groom with bride’s immediate family
• Bride with bride’s parents
• Bride and groom with groom’s immediate family
• Groom with groom’s parents
• Bride and groom w/bride’s grandparents
• Bride and groom w/grooms grandparents
• Bride and groom with both immediate families
• Formal of bride and groom in the aisle
• Bridal portrait in the aisle

Pro tip: Break these groupings into two or even three time periods throughout the day. For instance, wedding party and immediate family before the wedding, extended family for the cocktail hour and a 15-20 minute portrait session for the couple either before or after the wedding.

At the top of your timeline, list all of your VIP’s. Often, your wedding day is the first and only time I meet them and by addressing them properly the experience will be more memorable for everyone.

Pro tip: Ask your photographer to attend your rehearsal so they can get to know your cast of characters and make a proper introduction before the wedding day. It might be extra, but it’s worth it.

Bride Bailey and groom Nick sing together during their wedding reception at The Broadmoor.
Bailey and Nick dance the night away at their wedding reception in the Lake Terrace Dining Room at The Broadmoor.

Common Mistakes

Mistake #1 

Forget to tell people exactly when and where to arrive. A good florist, for instance, should ask you about the location and arrival time for your bouquet. But if they don’t? Then make sure to tell them. When I have to photograph the bride without the flowers it’s disappointing. Avoid these kind of mistakes with a good timeline and good communication with all of the professionals you work with whether it’s the florist, the caterer, the DJ or the band. Everyone should be on the same page when it comes your timeline.

Pro tip: In your timeline, include a list of cell phone #’s for all of your wedding professionals

Mistake #2

Running late. Catching up always lands in the photographer’s lap. Avoid this mistake. Phone a friend or a planner! Find a friend or hire a wedding planner to help keep things on time and to gently remind you where you need to be next. Having a friend or planner – who knows the timeline – keep an eye on things is huge.

Pro tip: Since you’ve already created your schedule, hire a planner for the day-of only.

Group photograph of all wedding guests at Stewart House
Beth and Jake with their wedding guests at the Stewart House on the campus of the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

More Simple Tricks To Create A Wedding Schedule

Remain calm. Start your wedding day in neutral. Allow yourself to let the day build instead of running out of the gate. You can still be excited, but have an inner dialogue of appreciation for the time you’re spending with your family and friends.

Breathe. Focus on your breath when you find yourself panicking. Keep it slow and relaxed and you will find yourself quickly calming down and ready to move on to the next thing.

Listen to your photographer. It may sound trite, but a good photographer is worth their weight in gold. Trust them and let your photographer be your guide. They’ve been here before and will spend more time with you than anyone else on your wedding day.

Create a great wedding schedule that accounts for everything you do on your wedding day. If you take the time to do this, you will be guaranteed a smooth, relaxed and memorable wedding. And when something goes wrong (and it always does) your schedule will be your guide through troubled waters:)

May You Have A Happy And Joyous Wedding Day!

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