How to Create the Perfect Small Wedding Timeline to Ensure Candid Moments

February 9, 2024

A serene setting where bridesmaids in pastel dresses watch a bride admiring herself in a mirror, reflecting a moment of tranquility before the wedding.

Planning your dream small wedding timeline can seem like a daunting task with so many details to coordinate. You have to be strategic with your planning to fit everything in. However, with the right amount of planning, you can ensure all the important moments are captured while still maintaining an intimate, stress-free (or at least as stress-free as possible) celebration.

While photographing weddings in Pennsylvania, I’ve had lots of experience first-hand capturing all sizes of wedding days, both big and small and everything in between, all with the goal of still capturing those candid moments through documentary-style photos.

In this blog post, I’ll break down exactly what documentary-style/candid photos are, as well as share some of my best tips for creating your own small wedding timeline. From the ceremony to the send-off, this blog post will help you to plan your micro wedding schedule and feel confident that all of your favorite wedding traditions have a spot in your celebration. 

What is documentary-style photography?

So, before you dive in, you may be thinking… what the heck is documentary-style wedding photography? Well, Every moment on your special day has raw emotion and unscripted narratives that the documentary-style of wedding photography works to encapsulate.

Unlike the more staged and manicured snapshots that are often shown in popular wedding magazines, this style is about genuineness and spontaneity. It’s all about photographing moments like laughter-filled teary eyes, the sudden outbursts of your uncle’s dance moments, and the stories that are whispered between families, friends and other guests.

Truly, by keeping this style of photography in mind when planning your micro wedding timeline, you can ease the stress because it means that no matter what’s going on during your day, it’ll make for great photos.

Tips to Create a Small Wedding Timeline

Wondering how to create a relaxed wedding day timeline that allows for candid moments to be genuinely captured? Here are my best tips so you can stay present on your day.

Don’t pack your schedule to the brim

A black and white photo capturing a tranquil moment at an outdoor wedding reception, with guests gathered around a table, softly illuminated by string lights on a tree.

You may have heard this tip before, but I’m going to say it again to you in this post: don’t pack your schedule to the brim! Creating a small wedding day timeline should be as thoughtful as selecting your venue or even your menu. While it’s important to have some type of game plan for the day, resist the urge to fill every minute with activity. 

Overcrowding your schedule can lead to unnecessary stress for you and your guests, which can take away from the intimate, joyful day that you’re trying to create. Instead, allow moments of spontaneity and relaxation – this makes for better photos, too!

A less-packed timeline means when those unexpected, laughter-filled moments with family and friends occur, you’ll actually have time to enjoy them without feeling like you need to be glancing at your watch or asking what time it is. These are the unscripted, candid snapshots that usually become the most cherished photos, brimming with authenticity and love.

Give yourself more time than you need

A reflective moment as a bride in a white gown and a young girl in a white dress admire their reflections in a grand, ornate mirror.

Your wedding day honestly will go by so quickly, so to avoid a day that feels rushed, try to pad your schedule with extra time wherever possible, particularly when it comes to getting ready. 

If your best estimate is 10 minutes to slip into your dress or suit, allocate a full 20 minutes instead. Those extra minutes can be a buffer for last-minute adjustments, any spontaneous emotions, or even just a chance to simply take a deep breath and savor the excitement.

By giving yourself more time than you think you need, you’re setting a calm and collected pace for the day, ensuring that you remain on schedule without feeling rushed. Remember that it’s far better to find yourself with a few spare moments to relax and spend with your partner, family, or friends than to be racing against the clock from the get-go.

Consult your planner and photographer

An exuberant indoor wedding dance floor scene, where a bride in a white dress joyfully sings into a microphone, surrounded by guests in celebratory attire.

Don’t forget to consult with your planner and photographer, too! This is such a crucial step when planning a small wedding timeline that is often overlooked. Your planner is adept at coordinating the day’s events in the best way possible, while your photographer will have valuable insights into the timing and logistics of photographing the moments throughout the day.

They will each advise you on how much time is needed to get those perfect group photographs without feeling rushed. For example, golden hour, right before sunset, often provides such a magical light for photography, but only your photographer can guide you on making sure these opportunities are seamlessly added to your day’s schedule.

By collaborating closely with any professionals that you’ve hired for your wedding, you can make sure that every important moment is beautifully documented and that the day happens with ease.

Block out time to mingle

A lively outdoor wedding reception with guests mingling and chatting by a table adorned with a floral centerpiece.

This one may seem like a funny tip, but hear me out! Be sure to block out time to mingle and connect with your guests, wedding party, and family. This is also one of the best ways to make sure that your photographer can capture genuine moments and candid interactions. 

Again, while traditional posed photos have their time and place, the unscripted moments of hugs, laughter, and happy tears are the ones that truly embody the spirit of your celebration.

Consider setting aside time during cocktail hour when you can be present with your loved ones, allowing your photographer to snap those emotions and interactions. 

Have 30 minutes pre-ceremony for you

Allotting 30 minutes of quiet time away from your guests, just for you, can serve as the perfect time to catch your breath, sit down, take it all in, and hydrate. Water is your best friend on a day filled with emotion and lots of moving around!

Whether you choose to reflect alone or with a few closest friends or family members, this pre-ceremony time allows you to center yourself and approach the celebration without feeling super frazzled. It will also help you to be a lot more present when the day officially begins!

Keep family photo groups to a minimum

A candid moment where a small child in a dress shirt and bow tie sits on a wooden floor, looking up with a curious expression.

To ensure an easy day with more candid photos than scripted ones, limit the formal family photo groupings to no more than 10. Focus on just getting your immediate and closest family memories.

Those post-ceremony moments are some of the best from your wedding day, and if you’re spending a lot of that time trying to round people up for group photos, it can start to feel very time-consuming. This is even more true when everyone runs to cocktail hour after your ceremony – it’s so hard to pull everyone away from their cocktails and snacks!

Larger, more extended group photos can always be taken in a more casual setting, too, like your reception.

Have a breather before your reception

An intimate moment at a rustic wedding venue, with a bride and groom seated and sharing a kiss, surrounded by the warmth of wooden interiors and soft lighting.

I know, I know – I just told you to have 30 minutes pre-ceremony for you. But, you should also give yourself some breathing room before your reception, too, even if it is just a 5-10 minute breather.

Once you enter the reception and the festivities start, so many guests will want your attention and will want to come up to you, chat, and congratulate you. It can be a lot! So, if you need some time to unwind beforehand, I highly suggest doing that.

Plus, giving yourself this breather will allow you to enter your reception in a very calm and relaxed mood instead of just rushing into it. This can ensure that even more candid and documentary-style photos are taken during this part of your day.

Final Thoughts: Small Wedding Day Timeline

Crafting a small wedding timeline can feel very strategic, but hopefully, these tips will help you. The intimacy of small weddings allows for a more tailored and personal experience, but it doesn’t lessen the importance of a well-thought-out schedule.

By incorporating essential moments like pre-ceremony relaxation, blocking out mingle time, and more, you can create a more hassle-free day for yourself. Remember, a successful wedding timeline is one that truly reflects your and your partner’s desires. It’s your day, after all! If you’re still looking for a photographer to capture your wedding day in documentary-style, I’d be honored to learn more about your love story. Click here to get in touch!

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