How to plan the perfect timings on your wedding day
I have photographed over 300 weddings and witnessed all sorts of wedding days, from sunset ceremonies to early morning ‘I do’s’, from outdoor blessings to legal ceremonies a week before the big day. And I’ve also seen what a huge difference the timings can make to your enjoyment of the day which is why I wanted to write this blog post about your wedding day timeline.
I am keen on being organised, but even if you’re not naturally inclined that way, I do recommend planning as much in advance as possible as it will ensure your day is as relaxed as possible. In fact, in order to have a relaxed wedding day where you can enjoy spending quality time with your guests, it’s worth planning the timings.
You want to be able to have time for yourselves, get relaxed photos of the two of you, get lots of natural light photos, not be rushed from one place to the next and be in the moment to take it all in so it doesn’t feel like it flew past.
Related: How to stay organised and stress-free when planning your wedding
Here is a guide for perfect wedding day timeline.
The wedding day timeline – The wedding morning – getting ready
Start the day as you mean to go on with a special breakfast with your friends or something to get you feeling relaxed and excited about the day ahead. Your hair & makeup artist will help guide you on their start times as it will depend on how many people are being made up. In order to capture the main events of the morning and all the excitement and buzz of the getting ready time, I like to allow for between 90 minutes to 2 hours. This makes for a relaxed morning and plenty of time to make sure everything is photographed. If your wedding is more intimate or you are getting ready in the same place as the ceremony you might not need so long.
If the groom is getting ready at the same place then it’s possible for me to capture photos of both of you. If you have chosen to have a second photographer for the day then they are with the groom in the morning, so there is no need to split my time and I stay with the bride.
Your wedding day timeline – the wedding ceremony
A civil ceremony will generally last about 20-30 minutes, while a church ceremony will generally be 45-60 minutes. An early afternoon ceremony time works very well (2 pm), this way you have the whole day to celebrate with your guests. If you are choosing an early wedding then make sure to have some canapés to go with the Prosecco, or you may have a few guests who are worse for wear before the meal! If your ceremony is in the winter months (October to March) I would recommend not starting your ceremony later than 1 pm so as to ensure an hour of daylight after to get your portraits and group photos done.
wedding day timeline – the confetti
There is one golden rule for confetti… There is no such thing as too much confetti! If you are having confetti check about any restrictions as to where you can throw this. After the ceremony, it takes about 5-10 minutes to arrange your guests so they are ready to throw that confetti. A couple of options that makes this easier is for you to either wait at the exit to greet your guests as they leave and then line up for confetti. This is nice for you to say hello to everyone but does take a little longer. Otherwise, you can tuck yourselves away somewhere after walking down the aisle and stay hidden while all your guests leave the ceremony. This way you can then exit to confetti and big cheers from your guests (always fun)!
Related: How to get great wedding sparkler photos
wedding day timeline – the wedding reception
This is the time when you get to hang out with your guests, have a drink, a canapé or two and enjoy the celebrations on your big day. This is the perfect time for me to mingle and get lots of lovely natural, candid photos of you and your guests. During this time we do your group photos, photos of the two of you and its also time to capture all the details in the room where you are having the wedding breakfast. I recommend allowing a minimum of 1 hr 30 minutes but ideally 2 hours from arrival at the reception to calling for dinner.
Related: How to get the best out of your group photos
During winter it’s useful to find out what time the sun sets if you are wanting photos in daylight. If we time it right it’s possible to get beautiful winter sunset shots earlier in the day.
One of the things I do with all my couples is to send out an online final information form about a month before the wedding day. This helps me to put together a schedule for the day to ensure the best use of time during the reception.
wedding day timeline – the group photos
I put together a blog post about wedding group photos made easy. They don’t need to be overly formal, I like to work quickly and make them fun and easy. There are things you can do to help with this, firstly agree on the group shots before the day, so you know who is needed for the photos. Secondly, nominate a family member (or two) and a couple of people from the wedding party to assist in rounding up those who are needed in each photo. Allow enough time for these shots. For groups of 6 people or less, you should allow 2-3 minutes to round up, arrange and take the photo. For larger groups allow for 4-5 minutes. A photo of everyone at the wedding can easily take 10-15 minutes to sort out. It is also a good idea to allow another 5 minutes for any unexpected things, such as family members going awol! It happens…a lot! I recommend 10 group setups, which should take about 30 minutes (or less hopefully).
Depending on your plan for the day we can either do the group photos straight after the ceremony or during the drinks reception.
wedding day timeline – the couple’s portraits
I love this time! It’s an opportunity for you to escape the hustle and bustle of the ceremony for a short while and spend a little time together. This is often the first chance you get to really chat and let it all sink in that you are married! I often like to do two portrait sessions, one during the drinks reception and another in the early evening, hopefully capturing some beautiful sunset photos during golden hour. For Winter weddings this isn’t always possible to capture a sunset, but I’m always happy to do a second little portrait session around your venue or outside with a few lights. For each session, it’s nice to allow about 15-20 minutes. Sometimes it might be a little longer depending on the venue and how much wandering we do. There’s nothing to worry about with these photos, there isn’t loads of posing or anything overly formal. We will walk, chat and I will guide you so as to create the lovely, natural photos you see on my website.
wedding day timeline – the details (flowers, cake, table plan, favours)
During the drinks reception, I take the time to pop into the room where you are having the wedding breakfast to photograph the room set up and all the details, such as flowers, cake, table plan, favours. All the things you have spent the time planning, making and creating will be captured before your guests sit down. You want the photos before there are drinks all over the place and coats on every chair! I normally like to allow about 10-15 minutes for this to ensure capturing everything. If you have other decors throughout the reception venue these bits will normally be photographed while you are eating.
wedding day timeline – the speeches
The speeches are a great time to capture candid photos of you and your guests. These generally happen before or after the meal, which time you choose is up to you, both have their pros and cons. It normally takes about 30-40 minutes for 3 speeches. If it’s before the meal it’s worth trying to keep the speeches short, or your guests may be thinking of food and not listening!
wedding day timeline – cake cutting & first dance
After the meal and speeches its time for the evening part of the celebrations. Depending on your venue set up they may have to turn the room around and make ready for the evening and the dancing. Even if they don’t have to do this you will generally have about 30-40 minutes to relax and chat with your guests. This is also the time when we can squeeze in a second little portrait session and get that early evening light at it’s best. Most people are milling around, getting drinks and letting food go down, so its a natural time to slip off for 15 minutes.
Related: How to get the best photos out of your wedding reception
You can cut the cake straight after speeches or wait until just before the first dance. Either way, it will only take about 5 minutes, to give your guests time to get their cameras ready. Its then time for the first dance. This is the bit that kicks off the evening party and is the last of the ‘official’ parts of the day, after that its time to relax, let your hair down with your guests and party!
You can probably work out from this there is a lot that goes on during the wedding day! If your wedding day is short on time it can end up being stressful and not the fabulous, fun and relaxing day you would like. Without enough time it can really limit the photos that can be captured, especially the natural and candid ones of you and your guests. These are the ones most couples want, but without plenty of time during the reception, it’s hard to do justice to these images.
Most couples will never have organised such a large event, so feeling in the dark about the wedding day timeline and how to plan the day is normal. Hopefully, this gives you some guidance on perfect timings on your wedding day and an idea of how to make the most of your day and your photography. If you want more information I’m always happy to help, just ask! You can find more top tips by checking out my wedding planning guide page.
Thanks for popping by,
Taking the newlyweds out for sunset photos serves two purposes, getting the couple away from their guests to have a moment by themselves and getting them some amazing sunset photos.
Great post and beautiful images Fiona!
Thanks so much x
Excellent post and some great tips for planning a wedding day and wedding photography! Thank you for sharing!
Cheers graham, great to hear you find it helpful