Your photographer’s guide to planning the perfect timeline for your destination wedding
- What is a Wedding Timeline
- Why Creating a Wedding Timeline is Important
- Why You Need a Photographer’s Opinion on the Wedding Timeline
- Wedding Day Timeline Blocks
- How to Create a Wedding Timeline
- Day-Before and Day-After Timeline Ideas
- Download Your Wedding Timeline Template
1. What Is a Wedding Timeline
A wedding timeline is a detailed schedule of events for your wedding day. A starting timeline includes all classical elements of a wedding day (see the Wedding Day Timeline Blocks), and it can be customized to match your desires. In order to make it simple for you, I am making a distinction between the wedding day timeline and the destination wedding timeline. A destination wedding timeline typically also includes a day-before and day-after timeline.
Wedding Day Timeline
Creating a wedding day timeline means planning the day of the wedding in detail. The wedding day timeline includes getting ready, ceremony, couple portraits, just to name a few elements. Breaking down every moment will keep everything in check, make you aware of what is realistic to expect on your wedding day, and will also be helpful when planning vendor deliveries, as well as setup and breakdown times.
Finalize your wedding day timeline a month before the date. This will give you enough time to share the details with your vendors. You should then confirm the timing again about a week out from your wedding day.
Destination Wedding Timeline
The destination wedding timeline usually includes the full wedding weekend plans: welcome party, rehearsal dinner, day-after brunch and anything in between. Planning something like a rehearsal dinner or a day-after brunch is a way to make sure you enjoy all of your guests company in a more quiet and relaxed setting than the wedding day, turning your destination wedding into a true holiday for everyone.
It is important to also offer guidance and optional activities to your guests possibly coming to Italy for the first time. You can even make a wedding itinerary for your guests to put in their welcome bags, and share the most interesting things to see in the area.
2. Why Creating a Wedding Timeline is Important
According to legendary wedding planner Mindy Weiss, the wedding day timeline is the lifeblood of your big day.
“An organized couple is a happy couple.” — Mindy Weiss
A destination wedding has a lot of moving parts, and as a couple you can’t possibly take care of everything yourselves. That’s why I absolutely recommend having a wedding planner for your destination wedding. Even with a planner, it is essential to understand the basics of a wedding timeline.
Especially when it comes to planning a destination wedding, the timeline is the backbone of all the planning process and it usually extends to multiple days. I wrote a full article on why you need to make a wedding timeline first thing when planning a wedding, you can read it right now if you are not persuaded yet.
3. Why You Need a Photographer’s Opinion on the Wedding Timeline
Even with a wedding planner by your side, the photographer is still an essential reference for you in preparation to the wedding day. While the wedding planner will be checking in on vendors to make sure everything runs smoothly, on the wedding day I am (almost) always by your side, together with my second shooter.
This is one the reasons why I have a lot of experience in timelines: I see it from the vendors perspective – but also from your perspective.
As a destination photographer I also study the location and the position of the sun during the day, before making any decision on when and where to photograph you. Especially when it comes to couple portraits. I know what works and what doesn’t.
I know what creates the conditions for extraordinary, standout photography.
I am here to guide you through the process of creating a wedding timeline and, based on your dreams for the day, recommend what is best for you.
4. Wedding Day Timeline Blocks
If you are not a wedding professional you have probably just a vague idea about what goes into a wedding day. There a few standard elements that constitute the structure of a wedding day and even if all weddings are unique, knowing about these elements can help you start the process.
Use my experience to learn how long each wedding day activity typically takes. This will help ensure that you allot enough time for each activity. As a destination wedding photographer I mostly photograph couples coming from the US, the UK, Australia and all over Asia. I might be leaving something out that is crucial to your culture (if you are Chinese, you probably want to have a tea ceremony).
So feel free to add whatever is important to you. Just remember to be realistic about the timing: if you have 300 guests, moving from a place to the other will surely take a lot of time. It is a lot different to have group portraits with a wedding party of 300 guests or 20 guests. Be ready to add time on the schedule if you are planning a big wedding, or keep it as it is here presented if you are planning an intimate wedding.
Wedding party getting ready (2 hours)
Start off your wedding day by giving yourself plenty of time to get ready with your wedding party. It could be just a small group, or not. In any case, make sure that everyone is ready to have fun and be photographed in the process. Throw on your custom robes, put on a getting ready playlist, pop a bottle of prosecco and enjoy the glam process. The hair and make-up usually takes 2 hours, so you will enjoy having friends and family around. If you are more of an introvert and you prefer peace and quiet, you can invite just a couple of people, or nobody – it is your choice but you will still need about 2 hours for the glam.
Bride getting dressed (15 minutes)
If you’re wearing a traditional wedding dress, you’ll want to give yourself enough time to get dressed and accessorize. The last thing you want is to feel rushed while slipping into your wedding outfit. As your photographers, we will direct and photograph the process. Your wedding party helping you with the dress, putting the shoes on, the earrings, and so on.
Solo portraits (45 minutes)
It is the time for me, your photographer, to capture you in your full splendor. More time with your photographer means plenty of chances to get every single detail of your carefully curated wedding look, in the best spots your location offers. If you are staying in a luxury hotel or a historical villa, there will be plenty of spots to use for stylish solo portraits, for both partners.
Photos with your wedding party (30 minutes)
Gather your closest friends for the wedding party photos. These photos are sometimes difficult because you can feel the tension of the ceremony approaching. Try and enjoy them as much as possible and don’t rush them: I will let you know if we late with the schedule, so don’t worry about it.
First look and photos with the couple (15 minutes)
The first look is very typical in the US but not as popular in other cultures. It is a time for bride and groom to meet before the ceremony, in private or with bridal parties. If you decide to do it, as a photographer I will pick the best location for it, considering the weather and the time, and help you plan it seamlessly. Photographing the first look doesn’t take very long, so after deciding how and where it is going to happen, you will only need a few minutes.
Wedding party travels from getting ready location to ceremony venue, prelude music (30 minutes)
If you’re getting ready at your ceremony venue, this isn’t a necessary time block. But it becomes one if the number of guests is over 100 people: everyone will take their time to find a seating and chat with other guests. If you will be traveling to the ceremony space, give yourself ample time to avoid travel mishaps. Having music play as guests arrive will set the mood, and create a space for the bride to make her entrance.
Ceremony (1 hour)
This time block can be very different depending on the type of ceremony you are planning. A secular wedding ceremony can take just 15-20 minutes, while a religious ceremony will take closer to an hour (if not more).
Family photos (1 hour)
When it comes to family portraits, it is best to prepare a generous amount of time. As a photographer I always ask a few questions about your family, to understand the dynamics and prepare a list of family portraits to follow on the day. Doing so will help everyone stay focused during this time. With only a short block to capture a variety of groups together, it’s necessary to remain on task and move quickly. These photographs are the ones that most family members will want to print and frame later, so I recommend to absolutely never skip them (ask your friends: you will surely find someone who skipped them, and regretted it immensely).
Aperitivo time (1 hour)
While you take family portraits, guests will fill their time with cocktails, light bites and music. This is one of the most important time blocks to focus on, so be sure to touch base with all relevant vendors to create a seamless transition between the ceremony and reception. Ask your planner to greet guests, usher gifts and direct them to the bar, guest book and seating arrangement display.
Couple portraits (1 hour)
While your guests are looked after by your wedding planner and are getting to the aperitivo, it is time for your couple portraits. These are arguably some of the most important photographs of the day. I always study the location well before the wedding day to make sure I can give you options on where to shoot. In places like Venice or Lake Como, we can take a boat ride and enjoy the water. In Tuscany, Rome or Puglia we can take a ride on a vintage car and create the perfect set for stunning images.
Newlywed introduction and Reception (2 hours)
Once guests find their seats, it’s time to make your grand newlywed entrance. You’ll be announced as a married couple and the reception will begin. Within the reception a few things might happen: a welcome toast for example. The hosts traditionally give a welcome speech as the first course is served. Parents can speak during this time, or you can thank your guests for attending. Do what feels right for your wedding.
After that, there are the wedding party speeches. The best man is traditionally the first to speak, followed by the maid of honor. What matters most is that each speech is approximately two to three minutes, otherwise it can become too much.
Parent dances and First dance (10 minutes)
Once dinner wraps up, it’s time for parent dances. Though they’ll be brief, both are emotional (and special) moments for parents to enjoy with their children. After this, the dancefloor is usually open for all guests.
Cake cutting ceremony (30 minutes)
This is one of the moments usually chosen to indicate the end of the photography service. After the cake cutting, the night will be full of drinks and dancing. The cake cutting is important for your wedding album and a chance to end with a bang – sometimes this means with actual fireworks, or with a song you really love.
Wedding exit (15 minutes)
Time for your wedding exit song. You can leave your reception with a grand departure. Give your guests sparklers to wave, arrange a fireworks display or deck out your getaway car with extravagant decorations. Some couples skip this segment, and that’s ok. If you are planning this, be sure to hire your photographer long enough to capture it.
5. How to Create a Wedding Timeline
The first draft of your wedding timeline will not be perfect. And there is no universally good wedding timeline. You will end up writing dozens of options, before you get to the perfect combination. Here is my recommended process to creating your wedding day timeline.
– Choose what kind of wedding you wish to have, and write down all of the elements that are most important to you.
Start with the general idea and your non-negotiables. When you think of your destination wedding, what do you see?
Do you envision an intimate ceremony at sunset and a simple buffet dinner or a 250 guests three-days-kind-of-celebration? Do you want to dance until sunrise the next day? Have fireworks? Do you want to focus on the location and plan activities for your guests staying multiple days? Do you want an intimate celebration under a tree in Tuscany? Write down all the main elements of your destination wedding.
– intimate wedding (40 guests)
– August 18th
– garden ceremony
– overlooking the Mediterranean sea
– party all night long
– Be mindful of the season and sunset time.
First rule of a successful wedding day timeline is to take into consideration the natural elements. If you wedding in Italy takes place in August, for example, you will most likely have high temperatures, so you absolutely cannot organize a garden ceremony at noon, because it is just too hot. It is also essential to know sunset time and always plan couple portraits before sunset. Sunsets in Italy are very slow in the summer, and this gives you time to plan a ceremony in the late afternoon and have an aperitivo and couple portraits at sunset with ease.
Sunset in Positano, Amalfi Coast, on August 18th is at 7:56 pm.
– Start with the ceremony.
Some locations will offer you a time slot, especially churches and city halls, and you will have to work around that. If you can choose your ceremony time, I suggest a morning ceremony for a wedding with over 100 guests. That way you can enjoy the whole day, especially if the wedding takes place in Spring or Fall and temperatures are good.
I recommend an afternoon ceremony for intimate weddings, Summer weddings and destination weddings with multiple days of activities where you don’t need to pack everything in one day.
Sunset in Positano on August 18th is at 7:56 pm, temperatures are high in the afternoon and a good time for the garden ceremony is 5 pm, when the sun slowly starts to set.
– When you have your ceremony time, go back three-four hours for the getting ready.
The first things you will have on your wedding day is a good breakfast and the getting ready with hair and make-up. Depending on the complexity of your look, the time devoted to hair and make-up can vary between 2 and 3 hours. A groom is usually much faster, but this doesn’t mean he should get ready much later. The groom in fact takes on a different role and usually gets to the ceremony earlier to greet the wedding guests. With same-sex couples, this role can be negotiated or left to the best man, the maid of honor or a family member. This means that the getting ready starting time will be similar for both bride and groom.
Sunset in Positano on August 18th is at 7:56 pm, ceremony should be at 5 pm -> Getting ready starts at 2 pm.
– Photography starts when you are doing hair and make-up.
This doesn’t mean that we want to document the make-up process- don’t worry! As photographers, we need to be there early in order to photograph the location, plus take some candid photos of the people around you getting excitedly ready for the day, and of course the wedding details. We don’t want to rush this part of the day, so both photographers (one photographer for each partner) should always arrive at least two hours before the ceremony. One hour is for details and location, one hour is for you.
I get to your hotel in Positano at 3 pm and explore all possible angles for the couple portraits we will take later during the day. I will confirm my theories on which spots are the most stunning to capture and at what time. Together with my second shooter I will get to your room and collect all details to photograph (dress, shoes, invitations, a selection of flowers, bouquet, etc).
– Once you put on the dress, we need some time (one hour is good) to capture both the classical elements of the getting-ready and the candid moments.
Classical elements of the getting ready for the bride are: putting on the dress, close friends and family helping you, wearing your shoes, make-up final touches, putting on the veil. We take some bridal portraits with your most important people, and some of you on your own, focusing on the beauty of your dress and the elegance of your look. The same goes for the groom.
As photographers, we spend some time finding the best spot to take these very important portraits. This is the last moment of peace and quiet before the wedding truly kicks off. These portraits are usually delicate, intimate, and full of raw emotion. I advise you take your time here to bring home images that stand out and give you all of the feelings.
Example: Starting from 3.50 pm we spend about 30 minutes in your hotel room with your family and friends, capturing all of them helping out with the dress and taking part in the preparation. Then we step outside to the garden for a few intimate portraits with a view over the sea, the wind caressing your hair while you take one profound breath in the peaceful silence of this Mediterranean garden (30 more minutes).
– Take your time to get to the wedding ceremony and slowly walk down the aisle. The ceremony is usually about 1 hour long.
While you get to the ceremony location, photographer and videographer will capture the moment and ask you to walk slowly if necessary – this will generally take about 10 minutes or more. Your father or mother will be by your side. We need time to make sure we have good images, while you may feel like crying or be too tense to smile. When the ceremony starts, it usually lasts about 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the kind of ceremony.
Example: You leave your hotel room at 4.50 pm and walk to the garden with your father by your side. I ask you to slow down and breathe for a moment. You feel the salty Mediterranean air and all of the emotion and expectation growing. You walk with the bouquet in your hands and finally meet your partner down the aisle, locking eyes with you, and nothing else exists. You are finally getting married – for real!
– After the ceremony magic, it is time to receive a few hugs and kisses from family and friends. Then, it is time for family portraits.
Depending on how many guests you have, this process can last from 40 minutes to an hour. When a group is done with photographs, they will go the the aperitivo area.
Example: Ceremony is done by 6 pm, family portraits by 6.40 pm.
– Couple portraits take at least one hour.
If you flew all the way to Italy for your destination wedding, you want Italy to be in your pictures. This means renting a boat on Lake Como, the Amalfi coast or Venice for half an hour, or a vintage car in Tuscany. This is your time to shine and create the portraits you were dreaming about when you first started planning. Depending on how far from the wedding location you want to go, this could take 40 minutes or 1 hour. Don’t worry about your guests: once they are fed and have a drink in their hands, they really don’t care.
Example: You hop on a vintage car by 6.45 pm, we take a few shots on the road, then reach the marina where you take a short boat ride in the bay facing Positano. What a dream! By 7.45 you are back to the hotel, ready for your dinner.
– Dinner can be very variable depending on how many courses you choose. Within the dinner time you can consider the newlyweds introduction, speeches and first dance.
Example: Dinner starts at 8 pm and goes on until 10.30 pm. You have the mother/father dance, and your own first dance.
You change into a glamorous second wedding dress, then you cut the cake in the most amazing position, overlooking Positano bay at 11 pm. Your band plays some Italian classics and your guests are ready to dance all night long.
Does this sound good? If you like this plan, and you want to adapt it to your location and your own destination wedding, click down here to download my wedding timeline template. This will make your first draft so much easier!
SEND ME THE WEDDING TIMELINE TEMPLATE TO FILL
6. Day-Before and Day-After Timeline Ideas
Beyond the ceremony and the reception, there are many opportunities to bring family members and loved ones together in celebration, and they sometimes begin the very day you get engaged.
You have the engagement party, the shower, the bachelorette and bachelor parties, the mehndi, henna and sangeet party for South Asian weddings, the Jewish aufruf. I will break down here everything you need to know about the most common pre and post-wedding events for couples planning a destination wedding.
Timing: 1-2 night before the wedding
For couples hosting a destination wedding, this party is the festivities official kick off. Hosted by the couple or their parents, it’s usually done as a cocktail party that all guests are invited to attend. It is a great way to express your gratitude to your guests, traveling all the way to your destination. Thrown one or two nights before your wedding, this event can occur after or even in place of your rehearsal dinner.
If you won’t be providing a full meal, schedule the event for later in the evening—around 7:30 or 8 p.m.—so guests have time to grab dinner beforehand. Hosting duties typically fall to the couple or, in more traditional circumstances, the groom’s family or the family not hosting the wedding.
You’ll want to extend an invitation to anyone that’s in town that night and attending the wedding, and it’s totally OK to keep this event more casual in nature—maybe it’s drinks at a bar or on a reserved patio at a hotel—or to go with a fun theme. If the group is small, you can even have some kind of activity that connects you to the location you chose for the wedding, such as a boat tour in Venice or a wine tasting in Tuscany.
Timing: 1 night before the wedding
The rehearsal dinner occurs the night before the wedding, typically after the ceremony rehearsal. Traditionally hosted by the groom’s parents, but just as often co-hosted with the bride’s parents or solely by the couple themselves, this dinner is a great opportunity for speeches and toasts. For destination weddings all guests are usually welcome to attend or are at least invited to a welcome party after a more intimate dinner.
Private rooms at restaurants are a common venue choice for rehearsal dinners. The purpose of this fête is to allow for more bonding time between the couple’s innermost circles, a night of special memories, heartfelt toasts, and, yes, maybe even a roast or two.
Timing: day after the wedding
What about a relaxed post-wedding brunch? It is a great way to gather everyone one last time, extend the celebration and say goodby to your guests before they head home. Luckily, the etiquette for a post-wedding brunch, or a farewell brunch is more relaxed than the wedding day’s etiquette. You have the creative freedom to play with everything, i.e. invitations, dress code, and menu.
A post-wedding brunch is typically held the morning after the wedding. Heather Piland, founder of The Charleston Brunch Co. and an expert in brunch-themed weddings and events, adds: “If you had a Friday wedding and know guests plan to stay through the weekend, I would hold off on the post-wedding brunch and let them enjoy their additional time away”.
Most after-wedding brunches begin at 11 a.m. or noon and last about 2.5 hours, allowing guests to stop in at their leisure. If your wedding is a late-night affair, consider holding your brunch from 1 to 3 p.m. so your guests can rest in the morning.