So you’re engaged and ready to start planning your dream wedding, but where do you even begin? Planning your wedding day timeline feels like a great way to begin – you can work backward from there! We’re lucky enough to have some more expert advice from none other than Josh Withers on this topic! In this exclusive feature for The Planning Issue, Josh shares his best tips and insights on working out your wedding day timeline in a way that truly captures your love story. With Josh’s insider knowledge, you’ll be able to step out your wedding day, down to the smallest details, with ease and confidence!

Image: Luke Fletcher with The Elopement Collective

If you’ve ever tried to fold a fitted sheet by yourself, you’ll understand the simple yet oddly complex task of creating a wedding day timeline. There are four corners that seem to be easy enough to take into your hands, but also a piece of elastic fighting against you, and then you realise that the actual queen bed sheet you’re folding is the size of a queen bed, which is bigger than your arm’s width. This is all to say that a wedding day timeline is an easy and complex task.

There are three tent poles to the whole plan. 

The first is actually the last! The time you need to finish up at the venue. What’s the latest you can go, or if that time is quite late, what time do you want to party too?

The second is sunset. There’s a 98% chance that the photos and videos which inspired you to choose your wedding documentarians were taken close to sunset. Sunset, if you haven’t noticed, changes from day to day, season to season, in different locations around the globe, and in different locations in that region, affected by forests or mountains.

The third is ceremony time.

Image: Bulb Creative with The Elopement Collective

Venue Time

Every venue has a different range of packages and prices as to how you can access and utilise their venue, and almost all venues will have a fairly hard closing time, more than often imposed by a tax-collecting government official-looking guy with a clipboard and a clock.

If you’re booking the five-hour package, and the venue has a 10 pm curfew, then simple maths tells us that the package starts at 5 pm. Does that package include a ceremony, or does it start when the ceremony finishes? Are you starting your wedding with a ceremony or is the ceremony going to be 30, 60, or 90 minutes after the wedding starts? Despite your celebrant, your photographer, and the sun all feeling like they’re quite important, the government-enabled clipboard-holding fine-issuing person imposes on your timeline a bit, and as a result, your venue will have very clear ideas about what times you can start and finish doing things.

In some regions through summer when the sun sets late and daylight savings time is enabled (because we have to keep on storing that daylight away for a rainy day) you might find the venue has a 9 pm curfew and an 8 pm sunset. On days like these, you’re going to want to get creative with the timeline, and also consider that at the height of summer, it will probably be hot as well.

Image: Christan Marc Photography from Tegan & Mahatia’s Colourful Garden Wedding Party

Ceremony Timing

I recommend scheduling an hour for a ceremony, not because it takes an hour, but because everything around it can take an hour.

For example, if it’s a 4 pm-5 pm ceremony hour, by 10-past your uncle has finally arrived with his new partner, by 15-past your makeup artist has finished, by 30-past you’re walking down the aisle, 20 minutes later you’re signing marriage paperwork and seconds after that your parents are giving you a hug.

If you’re running a tighter ship, I recommend an arrival time before a ceremony time on the invite. For example “3:30 pm for a 4 pm ceremony” clearly communicates to your dear uncle that he should aim for 3:30 so that by 4 pm he’s seated and at 4 pm people are hitting the aisle.

If your ceremony is going to take longer than 20 minutes, I recommend getting your celebrant to research why the TED Talk organisers limit TED Talks to 18 minutes. They chose a talk length based both on neuroscience and strategy, understanding that 18 minutes was long enough for a speaker to flesh out an idea but short enough that a listener could take in, digest, and understand all of the important information.

The ceremony length is a controversial topic amongst celebrants but this is a hill I’m willing to die on.

Images: Joey & Jase with The Elopement Collective 

Sunset Time

Every single day of our life we humans are granted a golden hour. It’s a magical time every day, in the final moments before the sun goes to sleep under the horizon when the sky puts on a colour show and the temperatures become mild.

This is an optimal time for a) gathering friends and family together for food, drinks, and lawn games, b) taking photos of the sky, landscapes, and people who might have just gotten married, and c) marriage ceremonies.

The art of a good wedding timeline is meeting the venue’s curfew and package schedule, the photographer’s and videographer’s desire to make epic photos and videos of you both, and the celebrant’s desire to create an amazing ceremony in nice light, in a comfortable temperature.

Image: Christian Marc Photography from Tegan & Mahatia’s Colourful Garden Wedding Party

Everything Else

Obviously, outside of these three issues, there’s a whole range of other things to consider, but they all hang off these three tent poles.

Getting ready for your wedding obviously happens before the ceremony, so get your hair and makeup people to be realistic about timing so you can plan accordingly. The same goes for any transport or travel to get to the ceremony. You might also consider first-look photos before the ceremony, so this is another thing that pushes hair, makeup, and travel out earlier.

Your photographer is going to have so many opinions – rightly so – on these topics so consult them along the way if you want them to be able to deliver on what they’ve promised you.

Image: Captured by Kate from Rob & Dee’s Autumnal Wedding at Kalinya Estate

After you’re married there’s everything that happens in celebration of that. Whether there are canapés and drinks, lawn games, food, catering, speeches, entertainment, music, performances, ice sculptures, jumping castles, a circus, or a Foo Fighters concert (yes that’s a real thing I’ve done for a post-marriage ceremony celebration and it was as good as you could imagine, so so good).

All of that has to get scheduled in between the ceremony finishing and the DJ playing Semisonic’s Closing Time, with your catering and food team having to also get food out for all your guests as well, so consult the kitchen on timing there.

Image: Common Studios from Gretel & Matt’s Modern & Moody Wedding

A common theme you might have picked up is consulting with your wedding creators. Like all creatives, we need to set up and prepare and get ready, and then the actual thing you’ve asked us to do for you needs time. The best advice I can give you for all of your wedding planning, and on your timeline in particular is to make your expectations known to your creators, and in return, they’ll let you know their expectations. That is the secret to a great wedding, and a great marriage: communication.

Images: Tessa Shannon with The Elopement Collective

About Josh WithersJosh Withers creates epic marriage ceremonies for adventurous couples. He is a fun-loving, cheeky, and creative wedding celebrant who loves to make weddings memorable and meaningful. Josh believes that weddings are not just about signing papers and saying vows, but about celebrating the unique story and personality of each couple. He crafts a ceremony that reflects your style, values, and sense of humour. Josh is based on the Gold Coast, Australia, but travels around the world every week to officiate awesome weddings.

He has performed weddings in New Zealand, Fiji, Bali, Canada, Iceland, Europe, and the USA. Josh is also a podcaster, blogger, speaker, and author on all things wedding-related. He is passionate about helping couples plan their dream weddings without stress or drama. If you are looking for a wedding celebrant who will make you laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time, look no further than Josh Withers.