How to create a wedding timeline & runsheet
And why you should have a draft in place BEFORE you send out your invitations!
When couples first get in touch with me they typically only have a vague plan in place, the date is set and maybe the venue is booked. Then I ask the inevitable question – “how long do you need me for?” but without a timeline in place it’s really hard to know! (for the record, I often take bookings with couples and allow them to work out the duration later! No pressure!).
So, I thought I'd pass on some handy tips when planning the first draft of your timeline. I thoroughly recommend running the first draft past your photographer, as we are the vendors who are with you for most of the important bits and can offer the most advice based on our experiences.
So, let’s open up a good ol’ spreadsheet and get started!
First, create your draft spreadsheet
Use whatever you’re comfortable with, whether that be paper and pen or in an excel spreadsheet. I typically list the times in either 15 minute or 30 minute blocks eg:
3:00 3:15 3:30 3:45
If your reception or ceremony space has curfews or time restrictions put these into the spreadsheet now!
First things first, when is sunset?
The first thing to consider when you’re creating your wedding timeline is establishing what time the sun is going to set. Ideally we want to maximise daylight hours for photography and important moments, and also make sure the potential for an epic sunset isn’t happening smack in the middle of speeches, missing a golden photo opportunity!
If I’m helping a couple create their timeline from scratch, the sunset time is always the first thing I put on there and we work our way back from there. Take into consideration spaces with lots of trees or hills/valleys will lose the light quicker than at the beach or in an open space.
Which brings me to the next question…
What season are you getting married?
Each season has its pros and cons when it comes to temperature, weather and scenery, but also available daylight hours. Are you having a summer wedding where the sun is setting at 7.30pm and there’s the potential for a really hot afternoon? Or are you having a winter wedding when the sun is setting at 5.30pm and there’s the potential for some cold afternoon winds?
HOT TIP: Check out my blog post on planning your ceremony around the Noongar Seasons.
Also, you should always factor in bad weather (hot or rainy!) with a backup plan no matter what time of year you’re having your wedding!
HOT TIP: Check out my blog post on bad weather backup plans.
What is important to you?
Make sure you factor in everything that is important to you and make sure you leave space for these things. Something I like to ask my couples at the start is “how do you want the day to feel?” if it’s really important to feel calm and relaxed, then plan accordingly. If getting epic photos in a specific location is important then make sure you’re choosing a time that offers great lighting conditions. If you value spending more time with your favourite people then have a pre-ceremony portrait session so no time is wasted with your VIPs after the ceremony!
What time should the ceremony be?
Don’t pull a random time out of a hat, season and sunset time should factor into your ceremony time so that it’s the perfect time for the beauty of the space and the comfort of yourselves and your guests. For example, you don’t want a 2pm outdoor ceremony in the heat of summer, nor do you want a 5pm ceremony in the middle of winter when the temperatures drop the moment the sun sets.
Also consider the ceremony space and type of light you get at different times of day. You don’t want to be standing in or being blinded by the hot sun in summer (and neither do your guests). Consider shadows from buildings and trees too.
This is one of the last things you’ll put in the timeline as you’ll pretty much work back from the ceremony start time, allowing for travel and parking etc. If you are organising any sort of hair & makeup they’ll typically want to know what time you need to be ready by. Save this one for last!
When do you want to see each other for the first time?
Something to consider right from the start is whether you will be getting ready together or separately, which will establish how and when you will arrive at the ceremony (see travel tips below!).
Depending on how the day pans out, sometimes it’s easier to have a ‘first look’ (i.e. creating a special moment where you both see each other for the first time, whether it be in private or a public place, before the ceremony). The benefit of having a first look is you can also take your time getting portraits before the ceremony, leaving plenty of time to celebrate with your favourite people right after the ceremony.
Is there any travel involved?
All travel needs to go on the timeline so you leave enough time to travel between places. I suggest using Google maps and the “Remind you to leave on time” feature which will estimate travel time for the traffic conditions on the right day and time you need to be there (for example 5pm midweek city traffic is very different to 5pm weekend city traffic). The same consideration needs to be made for parking and walking!
Don't get hangry!
Put meal times on your timeline so you don’t forget to factor in eating! Sounds silly but it’s easy to forget this when you’re in the middle of getting ready, having the ceremony or getting portraits! Order a platter if it’s a mealtime when you’re getting ready and pack a snack box and drinks for your portraits!
What vendors are involved?
Your photographer isn’t the only person who is interested in your runsheet! Florists, caterers, furniture hire and venues will all want to know the same information. You could always create a draft runsheet and send it to your vendors for feedback before you finalise anything.
It also helps if you keep one master runsheet so each vendor can keep track of the plan (bonus points if you create a Google doc that keeps everyone up to date with any changes!). If the idea of managing vendors and set ups is stressful, budget for a wedding coordinator who does it all for you! I’ve got a great list of people who can help.
How much time do you need for photos?
This completely depends on the couple! Definitely chat to your photographer before you allot the time. Personally, I don’t think a couple needs to spend hours getting portraits taken - a great photographer will make the best of any situation and location and make sure you get amazing portraits in whatever time you’ve allocated. My couples tend to prioritise spending time with their guests so portrait sessions are anywhere between 30 – 90 minutes.
A top tip is choosing a space that is both a ceremony and reception venue so there is minimal travel required. That way all photos can be taken on site (or close to it) and guests can wait in comfort!
The easiest time to get this done is straight after the ceremony. Write down all the combos that you want and provide that list to your photographer so they know how much time to allot. Your celebrant can announce your plans to the guests so they know where to go.
Post ceremony guest experience
It’s easy to focus on getting your portraits taken straight after the ceremony and forget about the rest of your guests! Consider their experience and what they might like to do while they wait. You could organise lawn games or entertainment, and let’s not forget food and drinks! You can always organise a little picnic basket of food and drinks for yourself so you don’t miss out!
Special moments and formalities
There are a few traditional reception moments that you might consider. Things like cake cutting, first dances, speeches etc. Don’t feel that you have to do any of these things, but if you do then decide when you’d like to do them. You can mix things up by arriving back from portraits and walking straight into your first dance, followed by speeches. Or maybe you could leave the ceremony and go straight into cake cutting so everyone can enjoy a slice with coffee and tea options while you’re getting portraits. You’ll definitely want to work with your venue and the caterers on this.
How is your timeline looking now?
At this stage you should have a pretty good idea of how your day can pan out, and you can visualise spaces in your timeline that can be swapped around or need further input. Send this to your photographer for some input and advice, they’ll be more than happy to help!
Need more help?
If you’re interested in more detailed information then hit me up for my Wedding Guide! It’s a digital PDF that you can keep and has example timelines and more detailed advice.
I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned for your wedding day, or maybe you have a completely blank canvas and would like some help getting started? I love helping couples find the perfect way to celebrate their love story that is unique to them!