Wedding Timeline Tips from a Northern Michigan Photographer

October 31, 2023


Champagne toast with bridesmaids shot by Northern Michigan Photographer, Stephanie Baker.

Timeline tips from a Northern Michigan Photographer

You have booked the venue, your Northern Michigan photographer, planner, hair and makeup, cake, flowers, band, invitations, and now its time to start really planning! One of the things you will need to come up with is a wedding timeline.

As a wedding photographer who has been shooting for over 16 years, I’ve learned how important a timeline can be. It can literally ruin your wedding day if not done properly. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to create a loose and relaxing timeline. Plan for things to run late, and make sure that you are giving yourself adequate time to enjoy the most important parts of the day.

Here are a few tips to help you get started on creating your wedding timeline.

Use this first list if you are not doing a first look

1. Start by writing down what time the big events happen. (Usually the ceremony and dinner are two times you will have locked in pretty early)
2. Generally photography starts 1.5-2 hours before the ceremony depending on logistics. Is the ceremony is taking place at the same location as where you are getting ready or is there drive time included? That will impact start time.
3. Usually family portraits take place immediately after the ceremony and last around 30 minutes depending on how long the list of portraits is. After family portraits, we generally go into wedding party photos and then portraits of the couple. You can plan on this whole portrait segment taking about 90 minutes, maybe less if we can be quick. (Down the road, I will ask you to send me a list of the various groupings you want to capture at this time)
4. Send your photographer a list of any other times you might know now. (Hair and makeup, grand entrance, dinner, dancing, cocktail hour, etc)

Use this list if you are doing a first look:

1. Start with what time the big events happen. (Usually the ceremony and hair/makeup are two times you will know pretty early)
2. The first look usually takes place about 1.5-2 hours before the ceremony. The first look only takes 5-10 minutes, and then we will move into portraits of the couple and then wedding party portraits. This whole segment will take about one hour.
3. Generally photography starts 1.5 hours before the first look depending on logistics of where events are taking place.
4. Family portraits can take place after the first look and wedding party portraits and before the ceremony, or we can do them after the ceremony. They last around 30 minutes. (Down the road, I will ask you to send me a list of the various groupings you want to capture at this time)
5. Send your photographer a list of any other times you know of now. (Hair and makeup, grand entrance, dancing, cocktail hour, etc)

This wedding at the Inn at Bay Harbor was just stunning! They have the perfect bright rooms for getting ready!

I find it really important to create a loose timeline so you can really relax and enjoy yourselves on your wedding day. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your day so you don’t feel like you are being rushed:

Some helpful tips

  • First, always plan for hair and makeup to run late. Do not plan anything down to the 5 minute mark or you are setting yourself up for a cascade of lateness. It can be hard to make up time on a wedding day as most things take a bit longer than anticipated. It’s better to plan for more time and find that you have extra, than to be optimistic and set a timeline that is potentially unrealistic.
  • I do not feel strongly about doing a first look, but it can help open things up time-wise, if you want to attend cocktail hour. A first look eases anxiety, but also takes away from the magic of walking down the aisle and seeing your sweetie for the first time. Pro of a first look and doing portraits before the ceremony: more time with your guests after the ceremony. Con: the sunshine can be bright. If you want to see examples of portraits at 3pm vs 7pm, click here.
  • As I mentioned above, always plan for more time rather than less. Most things take longer than anticipated.
  • Last, and my absolute favorite post-ceremony tradition: Consider adding in a post ceremony toast for 20-30 minutes where you can hug and kiss and celebrate before you get swept away into portraits for a while. If you don’t do this, your photographer will be gathering you immediately following the ceremony to start family portraits. I do not like to rush you, but it is always my goal to keep you on track. If you get swept away celebrating with your wedding guests, your family portraits will run late, so build all the time you want right into your timeline!

All of this info is just basic guidelines to get you thinking about how you want your wedding day to go. It’s really important for you and your sweetie to sit down together and make a list of things that are important to you. The wedding day will fly by, and I don’t want you to look back and regret not prioritizing certain events.

Did you land here before you have your Northern Michigan photographer booked? Check out this article on how to pick the perfect photographer! Looking for more tips for success? Check out this article to read Eight Tips for Wedding Day Success!

If you are a client: after you read through this and send the approximate start times back to me, we can schedule a call to go over everything together and create your ideal timeline!

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I have been photographing weddings in Northern Michigan for 16 years now and have found some spots really stand out.  I have compiled a list of my favorite locations and would love to share it with you to help in planning your Northern Michigan wedding!

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Nerves be gone!  I'm here to help your day feel joyous and stress-free.

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