A Guide To Your Wedding Day Timeline
Updated: Jan 6
Here is a little guide I've put together to try and help you get an idea for how to plan the timing of your big day.
This is purely a guide and can be changed to suit your day, I'm a big believer in doing things your own way and that a wedding should be about the couple and not about trying to please 100 different guests which is an impossible task! If you don't want a certain part of the day you don't have to include it just because it's traditional.
In this guide I've tried to include all the possible elements of a wedding day and a practical order in which they take place together with rough estimates of how long each part of the day may take. This of course can vary a lot depending on how many guests, bridesmaids & groomsmen you have. Another thing that will vary individually is travel times between ceremony and venue etc.
Winter weddings may need some further adjustments to timings as you will need to think about when you will fit your photos in while it is still light, I would not recommend trying to do couples portraits and group shots after dark if you want to get the best images possible.
Between golden hour and Sunset is the best time for those gorgeous golden light couple portraits and I like to take my couples for a second couples portrait session during this time (this only need take 20 mins). If you want those gorgeous golden light pictures then remember to factor in what time sunset will be taking place at the time of year you are getting married. Those images can even be achieved in the middle of winter if you are lucky enough to get a sunny day. If not don't fear, overcast days provide an even flattering light and even rainy days can make for some super cute umbrella & rain pictures.
9am – Hair and makeup artists arrive, preparations start.
Talk to your hair and make-up artists about how long they will need, the number of people they have to work on will change the times quite drastically.
10am – Florist arrives to deliver and set up flowers.
10.30am – Photographer arrives.
I like to arrive about 2 ½ hours before the ceremony (earlier if travel time needs to be factored in) as this is usually enough time to get photos of all the details such as the dress, shoes, flowers, jewellery etc while allowing a bit of time to shoot the actual getting ready. Ideally, I’ll capture some of your hair & makeup being done and some of you. This means that you are already in make-up for the photos but not completely ready so we can show some of the process.
If you are both getting ready in the same venue, it is nice to pop across and see the groom for a little while and get a few photos of him and the boys getting ready. Guys tend to take much less time to get ready at weddings than the girls so this usually doesn’t take very long. If you want to get photos of all of the morning with the guys, it is worth considering a second photographer.
12pm – Get into the dress.
Once you are in your dress and ready to go, I think it’s nice to take a couple of bridal portraits so that you have a record of how you looked on your wedding day before the fun of the day takes its toll on your hair and makeup.
12.40pm – Dad’s first look.
The first time your dad sees you in your dress can be quite an emotional time for many a father. A lot of brides want a photo of the look on their dads face when they first see them. I will stand in a position where I can see him when he first walks in but out the way enough that I don’t get in the way. There are often a few tears and plenty of hugs.
12.50pm – Registrar meeting.
The registrars will need to have a quick chat with you just before the ceremony. They walk though what will happen during the ceremony and make sure they have all the details correct. It is expensive and inconvenient to get your marriage certificate altered after the ceremony so it’s important they spell you name right!
While this is happening, I normally nip over to the ceremony to get a few shots of everyone finding their seats and catching up with each other.
1pm – Ceremony.
The ceremony length can vary quite a bit depending on what kind you have. A typical civil ceremony is usually about 20 – 30 minutes depending on how many readings you have and how long they are. A church / religious ceremony is usually longer – about 45 minutes. Although that can be more like an hour even two for couples who are very involved with the community. Basically, the better you know your vicar / priest / whatever the more they will talk about you!
Humanist ceremonies tend to be about 45 minutes, the celebrant will interview you both before and include a reasonable amount of back story on how you met and what you like about each other as part of the ceremony.
During the ceremony I like to keep an eye on the guests as well as the two of you as there can be some lovely reactions which you are likely to miss.
1.30pm – Drinks reception.
After the ceremony everyone files out and grabs a drink and some canapes. This is a great opportunity to grab a few candid shots as everyone is generally milling around in the same place making it reasonably easy for me to hide in the crowd.
1.45pm – Formal photos.
I usually give you twenty minutes or so for hugs and kisses straight after the ceremony, but it is sensible to get on with the formal photos fairly soon afterwards. There are a few reasons for this;
1. Everyone is all in one place meaning we don’t waste lots of time trying to find the random relative that has gone walkabout.
2. It gets the photos done and out of the way nice and early so that you can get on with enjoying your day and
3. Nobody has had a chance to get too drunk yet! The smashed uncle at the back isn’t the look most couples want in their photos and he is infinitely more difficult to direct, making the whole process take significantly longer.
How long your formal photos take depends on how many you go for. 10 is a good number as this won’t take over your day but is usually enough to get a shot of all the important people.
I won’t go into too much detail about the formal shots – I have a separate blog post about this which is definitely worth a read if you want to get the most out of your group photos.
Below is my suggested list for formal group photos which I can usually get done in about 20 minutes. This is:
Brides extended family
Brides immediate family
Grooms extended family
Grooms immediate family
Bridesmaids & Groomsmen
2.15pm – Couples portrait shoot
Most couples want a few stand out images from their day, the couples portrait shoot is the time to get them. This is when the 3 of us go for a walk around or near the venue and we get some pictures of just the pair of you together.
This is often the first chance you will have had to spend any time alone together so I usually give you a bit of space. My posing guide here is a good read to help you feel at ease
3pm – Guests seated for wedding breakfast.
It normally takes about 15 minutes or so for everyone to find their seat and settle down.
3.15pm – Couple announced into the room.
This is the first time you will be announced as a married couple. Normally either the best man or the event organiser asks everyone to stand and welcome you into the room.
3.20pm – Wedding breakfast is served.
After getting a few shots of you both entering the room I would normally take a break at this point. I need to eat too, and nobody likes photos of themselves eating! In between courses I often pop in for a few candid shots and I usually ask to borrow your rings for a little while at some point during the meal to get a nice detail shot of them.
5.30pm – Speeches.
These can go before dinner, but the tradition is to have them afterwards. The traditional order is Father of the Bride, Groom then Best Man. Just because that is traditional doesn’t mean you have to do it that way though, recently it has become much more common for either the couple to do a speech together or both to do a speech. I also see a lot more mums giving speeches now, who says it has to be all about the men?
The speeches are a great opportunity to get some reaction shots, not just of the happy couple but of the guests reactions too. Since the best mans speech is essentially a certain amount of ritual humiliation for the groom there can be some pretty good reactions!
6.15pm – Coffee / evening drinks reception.
After dinner is probably the most flexible part of the timetable. Generally, everyone has had a good few drinks by this point and are just hanging out. It’s a good time to catch up with some guests you might not yet have had the chance to do so with yet. Again, this is a great time to get plenty of relaxed candid photos. You probably won’t even notice me for most of this bit!
6.30pm – Band / DJ start setting up.
It usually takes about an hour for the band or DJ to set up. Often this is in the same room that you had the wedding breakfast so the guests need to be cleared out so the room can be turned around for the evening.
7pm – Golden hour couples shoot / evening guest arrive.
Obviously, the time of this varies depending on the time of year but between the meal and first dance is usually a good time to get some photos as the light is softer which makes for better photos and sunset looks great on camera. Even if it’s winter and dark, there is still plenty we can do with cool photo techniques like light painting or double exposures.
7.30pm – Cake cutting and first dance.
Normally the cake cutting happens just before the first dance. This means you already have all your guests rounded up and in the same place so saves doing that twice.
Most first dances come under what I call the ‘stand and sway’ category. That’s totally fine, we can still get some nice shots, I set up lights before hand which allow me to create a few different effects in camera. If you chuck in the odd twirl, all the better ?
Most couples ask their guests to join them on the dancefloor a couple of minutes into the first dance. A couple of tips here, first off, talk to your bridesmaids and groomsmen beforehand and tell them to be ready to join you when you gesture for them. Most people don’t want to be the first to come up so agreeing with several people before hand will make this much smoother. It’s also worth talking to the DJ / lead singer and getting them to say over the sound system that you would like everyone to join you.
7.45 – Dancing / party.
From now on it is basically a big old party, your evening guests will have been arriving for a while and there will be loads more people who want to have a chat.
I always stick around for a few songs after the first dance to get a bit of the party. What happens after that depends on what you have booked, if you have gone for the normal all-day option then I’ll shoot a few songs then pack up and go. If you have gone for the longer into the evening option, I spend a couple more hours getting the dance floor action and candid shots of the party.
9pm – Evening food.
Your daytime guests will be getting hungry again by the evening, some kind of food is very well received and with the amount that is sometimes drunk over the day, very necessary! Pizza vans, hog roasts, burger platters whatever you like. Often the venue will be able to cater for this too.
12am – Finish.
What time you can party until will depend on the licence at the venue.