Creating a well-thought-out wedding timeline is crucial to ensuring your special day in Central Oregon flows smoothly and leaves ample time for unforgettable moments. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you plan each part of your wedding day:

Buffer Time

To start things off, let's talk about building in buffer time. You should include this at every single step of the day. There's a common thought in weddings that goes like this: anything that takes you 5 minutes on a normal day will take you 30 on your wedding day. Buffer time is essential in any wedding timeline, acting as your safeguard against unexpected delays. For instance, if your makeup artist estimates an hour, schedule an hour and a half. This extra time can help manage stress, and promotes a relaxed atmosphere, which is crucial for you and your guests to enjoy the day fully.

Getting Ready / Preparation Time

The preparation phase is not just about physical appearance but also setting the emotional tone for the day. Allocate at least two to four hours (depending on wedding party size) for both sides to get ready. PRO TIP: the bride should always go first and makes sure she's ready for the photographer or to get going as soon as it's time to move. This period is perfect for capturing candid moments, such as applying makeup, styling hair, and getting dressed. It’s also a good time for close friends and family to share intimate moments and provide moral support. Having ample preparation time ensures that everyone looks their best and feels relaxed, with moments of anticipation beautifully captured.

First Look

A first look is a modern tradition where couples see each other privately before the ceremony. This moment can significantly ease the day's emotional tension and provide a special, quiet moment amid the whirlwind. Schedule 15-20 minutes for your first look to take in each other’s presence and snap some serene photos. The first look not only calms nerves but also allows you to enter the ceremony more relaxed, with genuine reactions captured at first glance. One of the most common questions I get asked about doing a First Look is, "but won't this take away the magic at the ceremony?" The answer is NO! I promise you that ceremony will be just as incredible... just as unforgettable.

bride smiles at her makeup as her friend is overjoyed with her beauty

Wedding Party Photography

Dedicate 30-45 minutes to photograph the wedding party before the ceremony. This timing helps to capture dynamic group photos in a less hurried environment. By doing this earlier, your wedding party can enjoy the cocktail hour later without interruption. Discuss with your photographer about having a mix of posed and candid shots, which can add variety to your photo album and capture the personality of your closest friends.

Family and Group Photos

Organizing family and group photos efficiently can be challenging but planning ahead can streamline the process. Allocate 20-60 minutes for these photos (depending on the size of the families), preferably before the reception begins. Provide your photographer with a list of essential family shots to ensure no important combinations are missed and give them this list at least 3 to 4 weeks before the wedding date. This list also helps in quickly organizing groups, reducing waiting time, and allowing more time for your guests to enjoy the event.

Ceremony Length

Consider the type of ceremony you desire when planning its duration. A traditional religious ceremony might last longer, typically around an hour, whereas a non-religious or civil ceremony could be shorter, about 10-20 minutes. Discuss the sequence with your officiant and ensure there's enough time for readings, vows, and any special traditions without feeling rushed. Proper timing here sets a relaxed pace for the day and ensures that the significance of the moment is honored.

bride and groom at ceremony site with guests at their wedding

Cocktail Hour

The cocktail hour serves as a bridge between the ceremony and reception, offering guests a chance to mingle and enjoy appetizers and drinks. Ensure your cocktail hour has an assortment of activities and refreshments to keep guests entertained while they await the reception. This hour also provides a perfect opportunity for you to finish any remaining bridal party or family photos (but in my opinion this is only because there truly wasn't enough time earlier). My personal belief is this: you spent a lot of money to bring your best friends and family together to witness your marriage. The cocktail hour is the perfect time for you to socialize and celebrate with these people... it is not the time to do photographs unless we have no other choice.

Reception Entrance

The reception entrance is your moment to make a grand debut as a married couple. Keep it brief yet impactful, typically lasting about 5-10 minutes. Energize your guests by choosing an upbeat song and maybe even a fun dance routine to kick off the celebrations. This sets a festive tone for the evening, signaling to everyone that it’s time to celebrate.

Speeches and Toasts

Speeches and toasts are a highlight of any reception, allowing loved ones to share heartfelt messages. Limit speeches to 2-5 minutes each to maintain the pace of the reception and keep guests engaged. Plan for about 15-20 minutes total, depending on the number of speakers. This helps in preserving the event's flow and ensuring that guests remain attentive and entertained.

groom laughs along with his friends standing in an orchard

Meal Timing

Dinner typically spans about an hour, depending on the style of service (buffet or plated). If you have multiple courses, adjust the timing accordingly. Communicate clearly with your catering team to ensure the meal is served promptly, maintaining the evening’s momentum. Timely meal service is crucial to keeping the event on schedule and ensuring guests are fed and happy.

First Dance

Schedule your first dance immediately following dinner, marking the transition into the formal celebration phase. This dance usually lasts 3-5 minutes and is a beautiful moment for you and your partner to share. Choosing a meaningful song and perhaps adding a few dance lessons can make this moment even more amazing.

Parent Dances

Following the first dance, parent dances offer an emotional tribute to the bond between parents and their children. Each dance should last around 2-3 minutes. These moments can be deeply moving, creating lasting memories for both the couple and their parents.

bride and groom hold hands and walk underneath the wedding party's arms

Special Performances or Events

If you plan to include special performances, allocate specific time slots within the timeline. Whether it’s a live band segment, a cultural dance, or a surprise act, each should be planned to maintain high energy levels and guest engagement throughout the evening.

Cake Cutting

The cake cutting is best scheduled after the speeches and before the dance floor opens. This event typically takes about 5-10 minutes, providing a perfect transition into the more relaxed and festive part of the evening. It’s also a cue for older guests or those with children that they can leave soon without missing major events.

DJ or Band Breaks

Plan for breaks for your DJ or band to ensure they remain energetic and at their best. Coordinate these breaks with quieter moments or during speeches and meal times, so the absence of music isn't noticeable. Each break can last about 15-20 minutes.

two brides kiss while laying in a field of green grass during golden hour sunset

Golden Hour Photos

Golden hour—the last hour before sunset—offers the best natural light for romantic wedding photos. Discuss with your photographer the best time and place to sneak out for these shots. This brief 20-45 minute session not only captures stunning imagery but also provides a private moment for the couple during the bustling day.

Vendor Meals

Providing meals for your vendors keeps them energized and attentive throughout your long event. Schedule a time for them to eat when there is less activity, such as during the main meal for guests. Ensuring your vendors are well taken care of reflects well on their performance and your appreciation of their hard work. Pro tip: make sure the photographer is provided a meal near the start of dinner service: this ensures they are done eating and ready to photograph before the next important moment of the day arrives.

Last Dance and Exit

Plan a memorable last dance to signify the close of your wedding celebrations, followed by a structured exit strategy. Whether it’s a sparkler send-off or a classic car departure, end on a high note to leave a lasting impression on your guests.

Post-Wedding Transport

Arrange transport options for your guests, particularly if alcohol has been served. Providing shuttles or taxis ensures everyone leaves safely and marks a thoughtful end to your splendid Central Oregon wedding.

By integrating these elements thoughtfully, your wedding timeline will not only be structured but also flexible enough to adapt to the day's dynamic nature, ensuring a seamless and memorable experience for everyone involved.

a bride and groom kiss underneath a blanket of green trees

Frequently Asked Questions About Building a Wedding Day Timeline

1. How early should hair and makeup start on the wedding day?

Answer: Start hair and makeup earlier than you think. Many hair and makeup specialists have multiple commitments each day so getting it done earlier helps them AND you out. Plus it's typically the first big thing done on a wedding day and there's no sense in feeling rushed if you don't build in enough time. And like it was mentioned earlier, ALWAYS start with the bride. She's the most important and should be ready first... this will also make photography that much easier as typically the photographer will be the next vendor to show up after hair and makeup.

2. Is it necessary to have a rehearsal before the wedding day?

Answer: Yes, a rehearsal is highly recommended. A wedding is a very special moment and there are a lot of "moving parts" to a ceremony. Take the time to walk through it with your wedding party, key family members, and officiant. It's always smart to go through the entire ceremony from processional to recessional 2 to 4 times.. It helps ensure everyone knows their roles and timings, reducing stress on the actual day.

3. How should we schedule time for speeches at the reception?

Answer: Schedule speeches during the meal, typically starting with a welcome toast from the host and followed by other key speakers. It's best to limit each speech to about 5 minutes to maintain the flow of the evening and keep guests engaged.

Contact me to arrange your wedding photography experience

Fill it out.

Fire it off.

Get ready for fun. :)