May 18, 2017

Having photographed micro weddings, non-traditional weddings, and elopements for the last dozen years now I realized one common question I get from these couples is how to schedule their wedding day. Alternative wedding timelines aren’t a super commonly-discussed topic, and non-traditional weddings are all so unique that it can be hard to dream about the best way to lay out your day. Let’s talk about what makes an alternative wedding day timeline different from traditional ones, things to consider as you plan your timeline, and examples from past couples I’ve worked with!

What Makes an Alternative Wedding Day Timeline?

If you’ve been to a more traditional wedding day, you probably have an idea of how the timeline works for those events. There’s getting ready, then either a first look or the ceremony, group photos, couple’s portraits, and a reception. Easy. Standard. But what about alternative timelines?

These non-traditional timelines can be on the more typical side, with some changes just being that you do all the photos before the ceremony, join cocktail hour, and call it a night at 9pm… or it can as off-the-wall and feel more like an elopement with some guests along (which is also an option!) I have helped hundreds of couples plan alternative wedding day timelines now, most often with micro weddings or couples eloping with guests, and there are some common foundational things to consider as you begin.

Bekah & Reno | Crested Butte Micro Wedding

What to Consider When Making an Alternative Wedding Day Timeline


It might sound weird to start with meals as a topic, but it’s honestly one of the most under-considered parts of a non-traditional wedding day. If you plan a sunset ceremony in the summer, that either means you’re eating dinner beforehand, or you have a very late reservation at a restaurant. If you want an afternoon ceremony so you can make dinner plans after, you won’t get that golden hour glow and there could be more people around if you’re getting married outside of a venue. It’s just a balance between what works best for your group! Sometimes couples will opt to have a private ceremony at either sunrise or sunset, and involve the group for photos and dinner instead. Remember, you don’t have to share every moment of your day with the guests! There are no rules. 


Sometimes the main timeline is centered around activities you’re planning to share with everyone. If we’re all jeeping in to a location that takes 45 minutes to reach, and exploring an area for a while before your ceremony, and we have a 7pm dinner reservation to hit, that begins to create the timeline of the day for us. Similarly, if there’s a train schedule we need to work around, limited hours that an attraction is open, or other timeline restrictions that is a good start for forming the timeline too.

Getting Ready

Are you much more of a night owl than an early bird? Do you feel alive before 6am? Determining if you would want to be up for getting ready early in the morning or you’d rather have a slow day and get ready after lunch can be a good place to start when you think about planning the timeline.

Time of Year & Light

The time of year you’re getting married makes a big difference in planning your ceremony time. Generally speaking, I advise my couples to avoid 11am-3pm for a ceremony as that is the busiest time of day for tourism in the areas I work, and the light is also a lot harder to work with. You’ll end up squinting in the images no matter which way you’re facing as the sun is too high in the sky. That changes, though, for late fall through early spring when the sun sets between 4:30-6:30! The best light of the day is sunrise and sunset, followed closely by the few hours after sunrise or before sunset. 

Planning your wedding day timeline around what photos you want to have the best light for can help you build a timeline if nothing else has felt right yet. If you want your ceremony photos to be that beautiful golden light, you can always do activities and group photos before that! If you’re worried about making a dinner reservation work for that, consider getting married in spring or fall when the sun sets at a time that works best for that schedule. Photographing activities is a lot easier at “non-ideal” times of the day since people will be more candid and in-the-moment enjoying themselves, versus trying to do portraits during harsher light might be frustrating if you’re sensitive to sunlight.


If you’re planning a micro wedding but also looking to keep some tradition in your timeline, that’s great! You’ll probably be sticking to a similar timeline schedule as mentioned before, with some slight adjustments. You may have a much smaller reception time, especially if you have a much smaller guest list. Perhaps an after party, pub crawl, or game/movie night to follow is the vibe! There’s also a good chance you don’t have a wedding party, or you have a much smaller one, and there is almost certainly fewer family members for photos. Plan for those parts of the day to take much less time.

Another common element I see for couples with micro weddings that keep some tradition in their timeline, is that they love to incorporate private vows. Whether you have a first look and then exchange your personalized vows then, or you just have your own little ceremony before the more public guest-included ceremony, having the chance to express those promises and personal feelings alone without an audience is a huge relief for couples who are hosting a micro wedding to avoid all the attention. Consider adding that in and giving yourselves some time to just be alone together before everyone else gets involved.

Alternative Wedding Day Timeline Examples

These are some timelines past AMP couples have had for their non-traditional wedding day or micro wedding celebrations. I’ll try to explain how we ended up deciding on certain parts to help you see behind the scenes and get an idea for how to create your own alternative wedding day timeline:

Brittany & Tyler’s Micro Wedding in Ouray

These two had only a handful of loved ones along for their micro wedding in Ouray. They got ready at a vacation rental, shared a first look and ceremony with a mountain backdrop (set up with Leave No Trace on durable surfaces!) followed by some portraits in the area. We ended the evening at a wedding venue called the Beaumont Hotel that allowed the group to gather for food, dessert, and dancing. The timeline was more similar to a traditional wedding, and it went like this:

2:00  –  Getting ready at VRBO

2:30  –  Head to mountain overlook

2:45  –  First look

3:00  –  Ceremony

3:30  –  Group Photos

3:45  –  Guests head to Hotel

3:45  –  Couple’s Portraits

4:30  –  Head to Hotel

4:45  –  Announced into reception

5:00  –  Dinner

5:30  –  Toasts

5:45  –  First Dance

5:50  –  Cake Cutting

6:00  –  Photographer leaves, group parties on

Casey & Emily’s Micro Wedding in Moab

Casey & Em had around 20 guests for their intimate wedding at Arches National Park. The park has rules for how long your ceremony can be, and your permit is for a certain time – these both influenced the timing of the day. Another big consideration was that their wedding was in winter! The sun sets much earlier in January, so we adventured in the park much earlier than you would other times of the year. They got ready and also had their “reception” gathering at a large vacation rental with catered food brought in in warming trays. Their day went like this:

12:30  –  Getting Ready Together

1:20  –  Head to Arches National Park

2:10  –  Reading Love Letters & Portraits at Sand Dune Arch

2:40  –  Drive to Double Arch

3:00 –  Ceremony with Guests at Double Arch

3:15  –  Pictures w/ Family, then guests leave

3:45 – Couple’s Pictures around the Windows

4:00 – Em & Casey Have a Moment Alone

4:30 – Leave for Rental

5:00 – Reception Begins

5:25 – Welcome Toast by Casey

5:30 – Dinner

6:15 – Toasts

6:30 – Board Games & Hanging Out

7:30 – Dessert/Cake Cutting

8:00 – Unity Ceremony with Group

8:05  –  More chilling

8:30 – Photographer leaves

Makenna & Jason Non-Traditional Wedding

These two had a non-traditional wedding with a larger number of guests on the Grand Mesa, but planned a rather alternative wedding day timeline that was perfect for them! They are big rafters and wanted to spend some time on the water on their wedding day, so we made that work with their schedule. The day went like this:

2:00 –  End of getting ready and head to lake

2:30 –  First look

2:40 –  Raft across lake

3:00  –  Vows on the shore & Couple’s Portraits

3:30  –   Back across lake & Head back to venue

3:50  –  Whiskey shot with Makenna’s dad

4:00 –  Ceremony

4:30  –  Dinner buffet – group photos mixed in

5:00 –  Toasts

5:30  –  More group photos as folks mingle

6:00  –  Dancing and yard games

7:00 – Photographer leaves

Bride climbs out of the jeep in Yankee Boy Basin

Courtney & Clayton’s Jeeping Micro Wedding

Courtney & Clayton brought some close loved ones on a wild adventure in Ouray, hiring a jeep tour company to show them around the more remote side of the area. Jeep tours are a great way to transport guests to harder to reach areas, places that might have limited parking or access, or if you just don’t want anyone to stress about getting to a more off-the-grid area. It’s also a great option for a built-in activity for the day! Enjoy the tour, and stop along your journey to exchange your vows and get amazing portraits with some grand backdrops. Be sure to build in buffer time and ask the tour company how long the journey takes. Google Maps is not an accurate guide on back mountain roads for how long the drive will take. There can be waits to go through narrow parts of the road, wildlife to let pass, and other unforeseen things that add time on to your journey too, so build in that buffer time. The mid- to late-afternoon is a great time for light in the mountains – but you do run into the possibility of rain. Be sure you have a backup plan just in case or embrace the weather, come what may!

1:30 – First Look at vacation rental courtyard

2:00 – Load onto Jeeps & Head into the Mountains

3:30 – Ceremony

3:50 – Group photos at Ceremony Site

4:00  –  Head to waterfall

4:25  –  Group Photos at waterfall

4:45  –  Guests load onto Jeeps for jeep tour

4:45  –  Couple explores the basin for Couple’s Portraits

6:00  –  Jeeps head back to Ouray

7:30 –  Group heads to dinner reservations & Photographer leaves

I’ll add some more alternative wedding day timelines as this year goes on – I have a bunch of fun ones on the docket! For now, I hope this has been a helpful post for those of you with unique celebrations looking to switch it up! Even if your event isn’t going to be quite so non-traditional, these kind of alternative wedding day timelines can help you see just how many ways there are to plan your big day. You don’t have to feel boxed in to certain expectations! You are allowed to plan a wedding day your way.  If you’re interested in learning more about my micro wedding services click here, or contact me here to set up a consultation!


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