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Planning a wedding can be mega stressful – you have probably never had to plan a wedding before; you probably have loads of questions and everyone you ask, seems to have different opinions, some that are welcomed, others not so much. It can be easy to lose sight of what matters the most and before you know it everything is going a little bit crazy. So I thought I would share a little insider info with you when it comes to timings.

Now I must stress, no weddings are ever the same so this is by no means ‘HOW IS IT MEANT TO BE’ it is just a guideline on how to maximize time on your day. One thing I will say when you sit down to start working out what will come where you have got to keep a realistic view on how long things take. Very few weddings run exactly to time, and where timings are massively out it’s usually because of unrealistic expectations.

So here we go…

Prep:  1 – 1.5 hours
This is a mega special time on a wedding day. I think it is so important to cover the preparations as it tells the whole story. The time you spend with family and friends is so important and it goes so fast. I normally recommend that I arrive 1-1.5 hours before the ceremony starts.  Prep is always a bit manic with lots of people around so think about where you are getting ready.

  • Light and space are your friends…. If you are getting ready in a hotel ask for the lightest room they have and make sure the curtains are open.
  • Get ready with your nearest and dearest, don’t let anyone that could be difficult get in the way it will only stress you out.
  • Have the bridesmaids get into their dresses ahead of time. When they help you into your dress, everyone looks fab.
  • Practice doing up your dress- dress shops are pros. They can do it easily and quickly, your family and friends won’t be as fast!
  • Aim to be in your dress 30 minutes before you need to leave. This allows time to take photos of you and your bridesmaids beforehand.
  • RELAX and enjoy the time. Smiley people are the best!

wedding dress haning up on wedding day bury court barn bridal prep bridal prep RHS Wisley bride checking the time on wedding morning

The ceremony: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Be it a civil, humanist or religious the service is pure documentation. I want to capture the looks on your faces when you see each other for the first time. Happy smiles in the crowd, tears and your first kiss.

  • Check and check again with whoever is conducting the service that they are happy to have the photographer present.  I never use flash, I am very discreet,  nevertheless, some officiants will banish me to the back of the room and some put a ban on photos all together. It is best to know the restrictions beforehand so you are not disappointed after. If this does happen there is usually nothing that can be done about it which is why it is important to tell them how important the photos are to you before the ceremony.
  • Think about having an unplugged ceremony – ipads, phones and people leaning in the isles does not make for a pretty picture from my end and they can get in the way. Have the people you love present in the room watching you marry the person you love the most with there own eyes, not through a screen.
  • Walk s.l.o.w.l.y and smile / Look at each other
  • Speak loudly, speak clearly, don’t panic, I messed my vows up totally and all I could do was laugh. Everyone laughed with me and I remember it because I messed it up.
  • Walk  s.l.o.w.l.y back down the isle *married* with a huge smile. High fives and whooping are hugely encouraged!

curly haired boy with here comes the bride sign bride waving to guests inside church bride walking down the isle in churchBoho flower crown bride walking down the isle with groom holding a glass of red wine

Straight after the ceremony: 10 – 20 minutes

  • You are what the day is about so people are going to want to talk to you, they will want to hug and kiss you and take pictures – This is a perfect time to capture smiley faces.
  • This is also a good time to do confetti – Check beforehand if the venue is happy for you to use it. Some places are a bit funny and also get creative with your confetti shots – Confetti cannons / traditional
  • Think and factor in any travel time that you may need to get from the ceremony to your reception.

autumnial confetti throw at Ufton Court bride and groom just married stanlake park wedding mother of bride greeting a friend with a smile bride and groom showered in confetti bride hugging her best friend after ceremony

Group shots: 30 minutes
I find that it works best to do group shots as early as possible. Either at the ceremony venue or quite soon at the reception.  If you leave it until later it can make things a little more tricky especially when a few drinks have been drunk and people start to unwind a bit more.

  • I recommend keeping it to no more than 8 groups as the longer it takes to do these photos, the less time you have to do the candid natural shots. As a guide, each photo should take no more than 5 minutes to pull off.
  • I work super quick and keep the shots quite informal and relaxed. No height arranging or all hands on lap. Group shots do not need to be boring, they should include all your favourite people, so feel free to hug away.
  • It is worth having someone to help round people up (usually an usher or bridesmaid) They know who uncle tony and great granny pat are, I don’t.  They can help make the process a lot quicker.

Example of shoot list

  • Everyone
  • Brides family
  • Grooms family
  • Brides parents
  • Grooms parents
  • Grandparents
  • Friends

boho bridal party walking through fieldbest friends with bride and groomwedding group shot at old basing barn alternative wedding group in hay barngroom in blue suit and tweed waistcoat with friends bride and bridesmaids standing in barngroup of guys drinking beer at wedding wedding group shout

Portraits – 30 minutes – 1 hour
This is my absolute favorite part of the day, but it is often the hardest to fit in with everything that is going on. I understand that you wont want to be away from the party for too long but you MUST take the time to have these photos done so block this time out when you are putting the timings together. Build the rest of the day around it.

  • I try to keep it short: 20 minutes is enough to get some amazing photos before you sit down to eat. This is the one chance you will have in the day when it is just the two of you, away from everyone else,  use the time to say hi and really take everything in.  YOU JUST GOT MARRIED! I like to take you off away from prying eyes and ask that it is just the two of you so you can fully relax.
  • Ideally, I would then like to do another 20 minutes after dinner, around sunset, when the light is golden (in the summertime)  or for some cool night shots if you’re getting married in autumn or winter when it is dark.
    If you are getting married late or you have a really busy schedule you might want to consider the idea of a ‘first look’ these are very popular in the States and they can really help if it will be dark by the time the ceremony finishes. It is not for everyone, but it is something else to think about.

 boho bride and groom in tweed suit cuddling on wedding day bride and groom wasing park bride and groom holding hands in front of horse cart bride and groom holding hand on wedding day bride and groom sitting, watermill thearter bride and groom walking through corn field in summer lightstylish bride and groom in blue suit sitting holding hands on wedding day bride and groom just marriedBride and groom kissing on wedding day at The Olde Bell, Hurleybride and groom sitting by river in golden hour bride and groom laughing on wedding day bride and froom standing in new forrest wedding(Shooting for Heart Full Of Tea)

Drinks reception: 1.5 – 2 hours (or more)

  • The reception is a brilliant time to shoot lots of candid images of your guests – I prefer natural shots, shots of things as they happened not just everyone smiling at the camera.
  • If you have lots of guests or are tight on time I would highly recommend having a second photographer. This just ensures that you have continuity. Whilst you are having your photos taken, the other photographer can be with your guests. Nothing gets missed
  • This is also the time to capture all the details that you have worked so hard putting together.

fun group of kids throwing hay in the air in field on wedding daysheep and petting zoo at wedding groom being liefted in the air by wedding guests alternative pub wedding, jericho, oxfordman telling wedding guests joke woman holding herself laughing at wedding girl drinking shots with friends at wedding
Getting bums on seats: 15 – 45 minutes

  • If guests are sitting down straight away – great. People will be sat down in less than 15mins, ready for you to join them soon after.
  • If you are having a receiving line it will take 30 – 40 mins to say hello to everyone (I strongly advise to avoid this… spend the time getting natural photos!)

tropical themed wedding at RHS wisleyOld Basing barn set up for a wedding

Dinner: 30mins – 2 hours

  • Work with your caterers to get an accurate idea on timings. Obviously a 3-course meal will take a lot longer than a hog roast.
  • No one particularly likes being photographed eating, so when the food comes out, that is when I disappear and get some food too.

fathog and big pan catering food platterwedding guests enjoying street food at froyle park table full of curry, wedding food autumnal wedding food, pie and mash

Speeches: 30 minutes – 1 hour

  • I know it is the most dreaded part of the day, but try to keep to time. Speeches are the main thing that tends to throw timings out the window.
  • Venues often have an area that they always recommend putting the top table but consider the backdrop and try not to have the speeches in front of fire extinguishers or exit signs.
  • Consider decorating the area behind you, bunting, photos anything will make it look much nicer are more personal in photos.
  • Think about the room, can people see you and where the speeches are coming from?
  • Maybe think about doing the speeches before you eat. This way everyone is more relaxed and can enjoy the food.

bride and grooms reaction to wedding speechbridesmaid reaction to old school photo in speech mother and daughter cuddle during speeches 3 womens reaction to wedding speech2 men doing vodka shots at wedding RHS Wisley crowds reaction to wedding speech

The calm before the storm: 30 – 45 minutes
After dinner but before the dancing is sort of limbo time. Some people go and freshen up, or get changed. Some grab a coffee and others start the Jager-bomb congo (true story!)

  • If dancing takes place in the same room as the meal the venue will need time to clear down the tables and have a little spruce up.
  • Use this time to re-do makeup, hair etc.
  • Grab people for a few more group shots etc.

Cake Cutting and first Dance: 10 minutes each

  • Know where you are cutting the cake – get someone with a loud voice to tell people you are cutting the cake and then cut the cake. It really is as simple as that.
  • The first dance is often dreaded. Don’t panic, dance your socks off and don’t be scared to do more than just move in a circle. A few spins every now and again often get a ‘whooooo’ from the crowd.
  • Give me time to get a few pictures of you before people join you on the dance floor.
  • Really consider what the first song is going to be after your first dance. In my experience, it is best to kick it off with a bang, a song that will keep people dancing. Check out my Wedding Playlist on Spotify

bride and groom laughing cutting cakebride and groom alternative choreographed first dancebride and groom first dance old basing barn

Dancing: 30 mins – 1 hour

This is normally when things get really, really messy and the shoes get kicked off, ties become headbands and people start to throw some serious shapes and all the shots get drunk!!!!!!! I always like to allow around 30mins – 1 hour to capture some of that craziness.

girl in blue dress dancing at wedding wedding guests having a dance off

Get creative 15-20 mins
Think about how you can add some extra creative shots in Confetti cannon in the middle of the dance floor. Winter weddings are perfect for sparkler shots as it gets dark early. Or maybe even a smoke bomb or two?

bride and groom confetti cannon, bury court barn Cripps Stone Barn winter wedding with sparklers bride and groom in front of smoke bomb, watermill theater

So that is it. Those are my top tips for wedding day timings.

Do you have any questions about wedding day timings and how they work, drop me a line if you do and be sure to check out my other articles about wedding photography and planning here.