You can plan a perfect, amazing, totally stress free wedding

January 1, 2020 , Advice

Stress free wedding timelines

See this image above? That’s Jess and Martin on the happiest day of their lives. That’s how I want you to feel on your wedding day. I put together this guide because, above all else, you should ENJOY your wedding.

There are a handful of things you can do in the planning process to ensure your wedding day is perfect and exactly how you envisioned it. I’ve noticed that the most fun and stress free weddings that I photograph all have a few things in common. Here are seven tips to help make your wedding day perfect. It’s a lot to go through, but I think it’s really useful stuff you might not have thought about.

#1: Keep locations close

Honestly, one of the toughest parts of wedding planning is handling the logistics! There are a lot of moving pieces – people are coming and going, you need to be at X at Y o’clock and at Y at Z o’clock… and what happens when the officiant gets stuck in traffic?

The best advice for coordinating your day and ensuring everything goes right is to keep everything as physically close as possible. The absolute best thing you could do is to host your ceremony and reception at the same venue. This makes everything so convenient, not just for you, but also your guests.

OK I get it … That’s not always going to happen. Simply keep this in mind when you’re looking at venues and try to keep the driving distance to a minimum. (P.S. – did you see my huge list of 75 wedding venues in northwest Washington?)

This same rule applies to getting ready. If half the wedding party is getting ready 40 minutes away from the rest – it may cut into your plans. It isn’t a big deal if bad traffic makes a 5-minute drive to the ceremony venue take twice as long. It can be a nightmare if a 45-minute trip ends up doubled.


#2: Plan ahead for all the little things

It’s way more common than you might think that the ceremony doesn’t start on time. Once I was a guest at a wedding and the ceremony started an hour late, while all us guests sat in the hot sun without any shade!

If your ceremony starts late, it squeezes everything else for the rest of the day.

Take into consideration any extra time consuming details happening early in the day. Do you have a gift to open? Or a special moment you want to have with a loved one? Building in time for each of these things will help to keep you on track.

It’s also really smart to build in a little bit of buffer time before the ceremony. It’s so much better to have 30 minutes to relax with your loved ones than to be rushing at the last minute to get your dress on. Calm and relaxed vs. hectic and rushing. Stress free wedding vs. stressful wedding. Easy choice!

Wedding planners and photographers can give you great advice about how much time to schedule for each part of the day. We’ve seen it all!


#3: Hire quality vendors

Inexperienced vendors can cause problems of their own sometimes, adding stress, causing delays in the timeline, and negatively impacting the mood of the day. This isn’t to say that all new vendors are trouble – there are definitely some great, professional people out there just starting out! It will just take more time to find them and make sure you can trust them.

On the other hand, experienced vendors can reliably handle any situation, allowing you to focus on spending time with your loved ones on your most important day.

Think about this:
An amateur does great work when everything is going right.
A professional does great work when everything is going wrong.

That’s what you’re paying for when you hire an experienced vendor. It’s not their equipment or their time. You’re paying for their skill, ability to work under pressure, and ability to solve problems when necessary. You need to be able to trust your vendors or you’ll end up micro-managing your own wedding. Trust me, you do not want that.

Before hiring each vendor, do your research and read reviews. Ask around. And contact vendors and just talk to them to get a feel for their personalities. You need to like the people you’ll be working with!

#4: Put other people in charge

One of the BEST things you can do is avoid working on your own wedding day. How do you avoid working? By putting other people to work instead. Trust me, if no one’s in charge, you’re in charge, and when there are questions, you’ll get interrupted from whatever you’re doing to go handle it.

The best thing you can do is hire a day-of coordinator or wedding planner. They’ll coordinate vendors, make sure things start on time, get the venue decorated, and be the go-to person to solve any problems BEFORE you hear about them. A professional coordinator does this for a living – they’ve seen every kind of problem imaginable, and they know how to deal with them. They’re efficient and they know what works best.

If you can’t hire a professional (my wife and I couldn’t for our wedding), the next best thing is to put specific people you trust in charge of various tasks throughout the day. Pick one family member to wrangle everyone for family portraits. Someone else makes sure everyone’s on the bus before it leaves for the venue. Another person makes sure sparklers get handed out before it’s time for your grand exit. Give a couple people lists with all the vendors’ contact information. If there’s a job that needs to be done, put someone in charge of it. Make sure each of these people knows what their task is, and when they need to do it.

This is a great way to involve important guests that you weren’t able to include in the bridal party or ceremony. It will make them feel important. The downside is that they’ll be put to work for brief times during your wedding, so if at all possible I highly recommend hiring a professional day-of coordinator.

Bride and Groom portrait

#5: Two basic timelines for a stress free wedding day

Whether it’s you or your wedding planner, or maybe both, you’ll want to develop an outline and fill in the details for your wedding timeline as you go.

This can also feel daunting so I wanted to give you a bit of an outline to start with. Obviously, this will vary based on the specifics of your unique day and what you two want, but my hope is that this gives you some ideas to work from!

First off, I’ll start by saying that there are two main ways to schedule your day: “Golden Hour” or “First Look”.

Golden Hour

For a Golden Hour schedule, the couple does not see each other before the ceremony. The first time you’ll see one another will be at the ceremony as you walk down the aisle. All of your loved ones will be there to witness this truly emotional and powerful moment.

The reason I call it the Golden Hour timeline is because the majority of your portraits together will likely take place later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky providing the most beautiful, golden light for your photographs.

The Golden Hour schedule is pretty common but has some challenges that will need to be addressed. Prior to the ceremony, only photos of the bridesmaids and groomsmen separately will be taken. There won’t be any photos with the couple together in one place because you won’t have seen each other yet. Family formal portraits usually take place immediately after the ceremony. We then gather the entire bridal party for a couple group shots, and finally, the couple has their portrait session. In most situations, this is happening during the cocktail hour so everything has to happen within a much tighter time frame before heading directly to the reception. You will also be away from your guests during this time.

First Look

So what exactly is the first look? Simply put – it’s when you spend some time before the ceremony (yes, before) in a private moment where you two see each other for the first time on the wedding day.

Typically, I’ll scout out a spot that is private, romantic, and away from guests. From there, I’ll guide you two towards a secret rendezvous just for you. Not only does this make for some amazing memories and photographs, but you get to share in a private moment between just the two of you!

The main benefit is that you have a lot more flexibility with portraits because you can do them before AND after the ceremony. In a First Look timeline we usually will follow the First Look with some portraits of the couple, and then group photos of the bridal party and families. It’s possible to get all the formal portraits out of the way before the ceremony. We get to enjoy creating photographs without all the rushing, and you get to spend more time with guests after the ceremony. Doing a First Look offers a lot of logistical benefits and the First Look itself is a really romantic moment.

Which One Is Better?

Both options will give you beautiful results and it’s a near 50/50 split for my couples. It all comes down to the specifics of your day and what you personally value. I value what you value and your photographs will be stunning and emotional regardless!

#6: Plan out each part of the ceremony and reception

Here are some minute-by-minute breakdowns of a typical ceremony and reception:

Ceremony – Ceremony services are getting shorter and shorter. That’s not to say that they are less important, couples have just been focusing more on the aspects that are the most meaningful to them. Fewer songs and readings, more personal vows. Your officiant will give you more information on how long all this will take. Plan for 15-30 additional minutes to allow your guests to exit the ceremony, and 30-45 minutes if you’re planning on having a receiving line. If you’re having a religious ceremony, especially in a catholic church, the ceremony can be a full hour.

Total time: 30 mins -1.5 hrs

Cocktail Hour – This is the time between ceremony and reception when your guests typically have refreshments. Depending on the timeline structure you choose, First Look or Golden Hour, it can change how your timeline looks during Cocktail Hour. This could mean it’s time for formal family and bridal party portraits, more time for photos of just you two, or you go enjoy the refreshments with your guests.

Average time: 1 hr

Dinner – One idea is to sneak away with your photographer during a portion of dinner to do sunset photos (depending on the time of year) and capture that last glimmer of light. But more importantly, for you two to share a quiet moment. It’s a good chance to slow down to enjoy and cherish the day. Sometimes speeches occur at the end of dinner. It’s a good way to keep everyone’s attention and move into dancing earlier.

Average time: 45 mins

Speeches, cake cutting, etc. – Toward the end of dinner, or immediately after, there are often introductions, toasts / speeches, a cake cutting, special gifts, and other miscellaneous traditions.

Average time: 30-45 mins

First dances and open dance floor –  Typically after speeches and cake cutting, the couple will do their First Dance followed by parent dances. A good DJ will then jump into the perfect song to get everyone out onto the dance floor. The bouquet and garter toss, if you choose to have them, typically happens 45 mins into dancing. Dancing picks back up after and this is a great time to see and catch up with loved ones or just party the night away. A typical evening wedding ends anywhere from 10PM to midnight. If you’re thinking of having a grand exit, there are great options for your guests to send you off! This could mean sparklers, confetti, or anything you can dream of. If you plan a grand exit, make sure your photographer will be there until the end of the night to capture it! This might mean having longer coverage.

Average time: 2.5 hrs

Remember, this is just a guideline and the specifics will differ from wedding to wedding. When it comes to reception timeline, I work closely with your coordinator and DJ to make sure things flow smoothly and all you need to do is enjoy your party. Planning things out ahead of time is key to making sure everything goes smoothly, so be sure to use your wedding planner to their full potential if you have one! Otherwise, your photographer can be a huge help too.

#7: Don’t worry about photography

When I hand you your wedding album at the end of this, I want you to say, “WOW!”

Not because your photographs are simply gorgeous (which they will be) but “WOW!” from the story it tells. And that should be your story, not a story centered around photography.

  • If you want to get ready at home because that’s what’s meaningful to you, let’s make it happen.
  • If you decide not to have a creative portrait session because you want to spend more time with your guests, please do that!
  • If you and your fiance had your first date at a tiny little ice cream place and it means the world to you two, then by all means, let’s go take some photographs there!

Many people worry about where they want to take photographs, rather than thinking of why you want to have photographs taken at a certain location. They worry about getting the must-have shots instead of spending more time with their loved ones. When you view your wedding album 10, 20, 30 years from now, I want your images to trigger happy memories and stories. The absolute LAST thing I want is for you to remember how your photographer spent all day posing you.

I challenge you to dig deep and think about how you want your day to unfold and what the story of your day will be. Together, let’s come up with meaningful moments and locations that will tell your story perfectly.


Ok, that was a lot to get through! If you didn’t read it all don’t worry about it… bookmark this page and come back to it later. But in the meantime, here are the key takeaways for making sure you have a perfect and stress free wedding day:

  1. Keep locations close – or at least consider the logistics of getting from place to place.
  2. Build time into your schedule for all the little things. If you know you two will be exchanging letters, decide when you’ll do it. Don’t just wing it!
  3. Hire experienced vendors. If challenges pop up, they’ll deal with them easily and with great results.
  4. Put other people in charge. Don’t give yourself work on your own wedding day!
  5. Think about the timeline for the whole day. I gave two examples as starting places, and your planner or photographer can be huge helps.
  6. Think about how long each part of the day will take. See my examples for how long each part of the day will take.
  7. Don’t worry about photography: Focus on what’s meaningful to you and the photographs will take care of themselves.