Designing your perfect DC wedding day timeline

Filed in:

How much time do I need? Five questions to ask yourself when designing your perfect DC wedding day timeline.

DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | Union Station DC Wedding by Sarah Bradshaw Photography

Almost every vendor a bride meets with will ask about her timeline— so many details of the day hinge on this important document! But where do you start? How do know how much time to plan for your wedding events?

I’m not a wedding planner, but after photographing 160+ weddings, I’ve seen wedding day schedules that add stress, and ones build relaxation! I want to help you design your perfect DC wedding day timeline. Of course, this advice is coming strictly from a photographer’s point of view, but I hope it’s a helpful place to start.

Let me first say that I highly suggest working with a wedding planner! Hiring a good planner makes all the difference on your wedding day— they reduce stress, ease decision-making, and save your budget!! Seriously! Whether you want a hands-off planning experience or a want to be deeply involved in the process, it’s worth the investment to hire a professional to help you plan your perfect day. If nothing else, hire a wedding coordinator so that you, your bridesmaids, and your parents can relax and enjoy the wedding weekend without worrying about running a ceremony rehearsal or managing vendor deliveries the night before your wedding!!


Five questions to ask yourself when designing your perfect wedding day timeline.


1. Where will my wedding day events take place?

Weddings with all events in one location (getting ready, portraits, ceremony, & reception) generally require less time than weddings that involved transit from one location to another. With multiple locations, a timeline has to allow for the unpredictability of DC-area traffic, as well as the “chaos factor” involved when moving large numbers of people (aka, your wedding party and guests) from place to place. Happy people tend to move just a little bit slower, and wedding parties are some of the happiest people around! It’s like herding a group of very happy, finely-dressed cats— it’s a beautifully joyful chaos.

In simple terms, weddings with all events in one location generally need about 8 hours of photography coverage. Weddings that involve multiple locations for wedding-related events, generally need 10 or more hours of photography coverage.

Designing your perfect DC wedding day timeline | Lincoln Memorial Wedding by Sarah Bradshaw


2. How large is my wedding party?

In addition to the time factor involved with moving large groups of people, larger wedding parties take more time to photograph. A larger wedding party (like Thomas & Christie’s), require about twice the amount of time allotted for smaller wedding parties (like Mike & Amanda’s). Not a reason to cut your wedding party down, just something to keep in mind!

DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | Columbia Country Club wedding by Sarah Bradshaw


3. Do we plan to see each other before the ceremony?

Buck and I chose to do a first look on our wedding day, not because our timeline needed it, but because I did— as an introvert, I wanted the chance to connect with him privately before spending the rest of our day surrounded by people. It’s not the best choice for everyone, but was absolutely the best one for us, and we both look back on it as one of the sweetest moments of our wedding day.

If you decide to do a first look, it does require some additional time, but results in a more relaxed wedding day timeline overall, and allows you enjoy time with your guests during cocktail hour.



4. What time does the sun set on our wedding day?

This one of the most important considerations for me as a photographer— good portraits are all about good light, so I want to know where the sun will be at any given point throughout a wedding day, so I can take advantage of it! If you’re planning a winter wedding with an early evening sunset, we’ll want to build a timeline that allows us to capture at least some of the good light earlier in the day. For summer weddings, we usually take advantage of sunset for a few private portraits of the bride & groom.

Want to know exactly what time the sun will set on your wedding day? Search for your date on!

DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | National Cathedral wedding by Sarah Bradshaw


5. Are we planning a special departure at the end of our reception?

I rarely photograph departures any more­— most of my couples prioritize photos earlier in the day over dancing photos— so I usually leave right after cake cutting and the first dance set. However, if you’re planning a dramatic departure from your reception, you’ll want it captured! Be sure to factor that into your wedding day timeline when talking with your vendors!

DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | Mayflower Hotel wedding by Sarah Bradshaw


Of course, there are a million other factors that go into a perfect wedding day timeline, and each couple’s day is as unique as they are, so there isn’t a one-size fits-all timeline. Some other elements that could influence your wedding day plans are time of year, weather, the type of ceremony you’re planning, any cultural traditions or ceremonies that you’re including, and the type of reception you’re planning.


Two sample timelines from real couples


Omar & Laura

Omar & Laura got married at the historic and iconic Hay-Adams Hotel, and hosted all of their events there, from getting ready to the reception. Their photography timeline looked like this:

2:00pm – Photography coverage begins
3:000pm – First Look, followed by couple portraits
3:50pm – Family portraits
4:30pm – Bridal Party portraits
5:30pm – Ceremony begins
6:00pm – Cocktail Hour
7:00pm — Dinner reception begins
9:00pm – Cake Cutting, followed by parent dances
10:00pm – Photography coverage complete

DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | Hay-Adams Hotel wedding by Sarah Bradshaw


Ryan & Brooke

Ryan & Brooke had a small wedding party, but we traveled all over the city throughout their wedding day— getting ready at The Madison Hotel, portraits at Tudor Place in Georgetown, ceremony at St Domonic on Capitol Hill, and reception at Washington Golf & Country Club in Arlington… and then back to the Capitol after their sparkler exit for some late night portraits!

10:30am – Photography coverage begins
12:00pm – Brooke & father first look
12:15pm – Depart for Tudor Place
12:35pm – First Look and Wedding Party Portraits
1:55pm – Depart for Ceremony
2:25pm – Arrive at St Dominic, hide away before ceremony
3:00pm – Ceremony
4:00pm – Ceremony complete, begin Family Formal Portraits
4:30pm – Depart for Reception (Cocktail Hour begins)
4:50pm – Arrive at Washington Golf & Country Club
6:00pm – Guests invited into Reception
6:35pm – Dinner & Toasts
7:00pm – First Dance, then Parent Dances
7:45pm – “Golden Hour” portraits outside
8:15pm – Cake Cutting
10:30pm – Sparkler Send Off
11:00pm – Portraits by the Capitol
11:30pm – Photography coverge complete

 DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT DC WEDDING DAY TIMELINE | Washington Golf & Country Club wedding by Sarah Bradshaw

comments +

  1. […] “The quieter off-season is the perfect time to dig into educational content.” (Sarah Bradshaw) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Romantic candlelight and traditional Italian fair in the iconic Andrew Mellon Auditorium.

a few favorites from


Love by Candlelight

Tips for planning the perfect timeline for your dream wedding day.

For Brides

Designing your Timeline

A fashion editorial drenched in the colors of summer!


Marigold Color Theory

I would love to tell your story.