It has to be said, we do love a good schedule. Wedding day timings are possibly one of the hardest things to gauge, especially if you've never planned and organised a large scale event before. We've been to a lot of weddings now and have helped all of our couples with their timings. Whilst there's no one-size-fits all template, we wanted to give you a rough guide of how long to allow for each part of your big day. If you’re struggling to put together your schedule and don’t know how long to factor in for each element of your day then don’t worry, you are not alone!
The wedding morning - Getting ready
What time you start your bridal prep and the amount of time you allow for this will ultimately depend on several factors including:
- The size of your bridal party
- The complexity of your hair and makeup
- How much you prepare in advance
- The time of your ceremony
- The distance between where you are getting ready and your ceremony location
- Whether you plan on having any photos with your bridal party prior to your ceremony
The best starting point when it comes to working out how much time to allow is to ask the expert! If you are having your hair and makeup done professionally then ask your hair and make-up artist how long they think they will take (as a general rule, I would allow a couple of hours for bridal hair and make-up and an additional 45 to 60 minutes for each member of your wedding party).
Work back from the start of your ceremony and factor in travel, putting on your dress (this takes longer than you think so give yourself at least 30 mins!) and timings from your hair and make-up artist. This will give you a rough idea of your starting time!
- Remember to factor breakfast and lunch (and of course a glass of bubbles!) into your bridal prep!
- If your bridal party are doing their own hair and make-up then ask them how long they think it will take them to get ready and then double it. Overexcited bridesmaids will always take longer to get ready than they think.
- Leave a margin of error of around 1 hour… This will ensure that you are ready in plenty of time and can enjoy the morning. We've seen all kinds of things from missing ipods (with the ceremony music on) to the Groom leaving his cufflinks at home.
- If you want jewellery and other trinkets photographed, save time by gathering them up in one place prior to my arrival. That way, I know I've photographed everything you want and I can take detail photos that all look consistent.
- Space! If you feel you might be prone to stress or likely to feel claustrophobic, make sure you think about the rooms and space available in the morning.
- If you're not much of an early riser and you have a large Bridal party, see if your hair and makeup artists can bring a larger team to get things done quicker.
- Make your Bridal party have their hair and makeup done first, especially if it's a Summer wedding. The day is all about you and you want to be as comfortable as possible, the least amount of time you're spent done up before the Ceremony, the better.
And what about our Groom? Well it's not unusual to find the chaps having a full English breakfast, wandering about in shorts then a five minute dash into suits before racing off to the church... but do remember there are usually some jobs left to the Groomsmen, often decorating at the venue, moving things around, remembering presents etc. A smart Groom gives this some thought and shares out the tasks so that he has some time to relax and enjoy the process.
When it comes to your ceremony and timings there are three elements to consider:
Firstly, what time should everyone arrive at the ceremony? How long should you allow for your ceremony, and how much time to allow after?
As a general guide we usually advise the following:
Groom, Best Man / Men and Ushers – 45 minutes before the ceremony
Guests – 30 minutes before the ceremony
Groom’s parents – 15 minutes before the ceremony
Mother of the Bride and Bridesmaids – 10 minutes before the ceremony
Bride and Father of the Bride – 5 minutes before the ceremony
How long should you allow for your ceremony?
This will depend on whether you are having a Religious Ceremony, a Non-Religious Ceremony, or a Civil Wedding / Partnership. Ultimately, this is a guide, and the person leading your ceremony should be able to give you a rough estimate.
Non-Religious Ceremony – 20 to 45 minutes.
Civil Wedding / Partnership – 30 to 45 minutes.
Religious Ceremony – 60 to 90 minutes.
After the ceremony it takes about 5-10 minutes to arrange your guests in a couple of lines to do the confetti. We often suggest you tuck yourselves away somewhere after walking down the aisle and stay hidden while all your guests leave the ceremony (it save you having to do the 'cuddles and congrats' phase in the door of the venue whilst everyone tries to get out!) . This way you can then exit to confetti and big cheers from your guests. Allow 20 minutes for confetti overall.
If your ceremony is in the Winter months (November to February) we would recommend not starting your ceremony later than 1.30pm to ensure at least an hour of daylight to get your group photos done. We will happily work in the dark and often do for photos of just the couple, but with guests of all ages present, for health and safety reasons, and general comfort, we advise doing family photos in the daylight. If it's not possible to allow time for this, make sure there is a suitable space indoors for taking large group photos.
There is definitely a right and easy way of doing group photos and a wrong and more complicated way of doing them. If you want easy, stress free group photos that don’t take forever, here are our top tips to keep things running smoothly.
1. Decide a location
You don't need to worry about finding the backdrop as we'll take care of that (although if you have your heart set on something, let us know!). If you have an all in one venue, this bit is easy but if you have a church followed by a reception venue, you will need to decide which you would like you formals taken at.
Most of our clients either want their formals at the church because they feel this is traditional or holds sentimental value to them or they want their formals taken at their reception venue because they've picked it for it's stunning scenery. Both options have pros and cons. If you want to get through the formals as quickly as possible and move on to the party, we strongly recommend taking them outside the Church. We often find when we take them at the reception venue, guests drift off to explore, use the loo and settle in to conversations and make themselves at home (as they should!). It often takes much longer at a reception to get people together. If you want your formals to be a bit more fun, pick your reception venue. There'll often be more space and your folks can access a loo or grab a drink etc. If we take them at the reception venue, we'll let guests settle in for 20 - 30 minutes before announcing the pictures phase.
2. Keep the number of shots down
We recommend no more than 10 individual combinations, although 6 is the magic number. Do you really need all 20 of the groups you initially considered? Are you really going to print all of them? Prioritise which shots you really want within the formal photo time e.g. immediate family, bridal party, parents. Don’t forget, we will be there for most of the day so there will be time to grab us for more spontaneous photos of other groups and people. It's also true that your work/school/uni mates will make better pictures later when they've had a few drinks! The formal photo time should be kept for the closest and most important groups.
3. Allow enough time for each group shot
Not allowing enough time for the groups is the most common mistake made when working out the wedding reception timings. For groups of 6 people or less you should allow 3 minutes to round up, arrange and take the photo. For larger groups allow for 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 missing to the toilets etc!
As a quick rule of thumb, multiply the amount of photos you've selected by 3 and add 10 minutes to give you a rough idea of how long it will take (so 6 formals will take around 30 minutes).
4. Be specific
Who is included in the ‘family’ shot? Parents, siblings, cousins, siblings other halves? Is friends classed as everyone who isn’t family? It can be a bit of a minefield if you leave things open so it helps to be specific. Write the names of the people in each shot so you know who is needed. It will help your ushers or those allocated to help round people up for the groups. Which nicely leads me to point 5...
5. Allocate a couple of people the responsibility of helping round people up
Let the ushers 'ush', or something along those lines! Choose someone who will be happy to help and who is responsible enough to be useful. I say this from experience of having ‘helpers’ who have vanished to the bar when they should have been collecting Aunty Mavis. Often its useful for one of the people to be a family member so they will know who the guests are. Some people are naturally better at this job than others. We are able to and have gathered guests by ourselves, if you know the Ushers and Bridesmaids might be more of a hinderance than a help, it might be best to leave this job to us. But do give us a well laid out list to work from.
Here is our recommended wedding group shot list:
This photo is an absolute must because it gives us a chance to introduce ourselves to all your guests, brief and get them in good spirits for the photos (Neil, I have to say, is the absolute king of this).
2. Bride's family
3. Groom's family
4. Bride & Groom's parents
6. Ushers and Best man/men
We love this time! Its an opportunity for you to escape the hustle and bustle of the festivities for a short while and spend a little time together. This is often the first chance you get to really chat after the ceremony and let it all sink in that you are married! We like to do two portrait sessions if we can, one during the drinks reception and another in the early evening, hopefully capturing some beautiful sunset photos during golden hour. For Winter weddings it isn’t always possible to capture sunset, but maybe we'll make some night portraits instead?. For each session it’s nice to allow about 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 we will guide you so we create the high impact photos you see on our website.
This is the time when you get to chat to your guests, have a drink, a canape or two and enjoy the celebrations on your big day. This is the perfect time for us to mingle and get lots of lovely natural and candid photos of you and your guests. This is also the time we do your group photos, photos of the two of you and it's the time to photograph 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 sitting for food. To get the best from candid photos its important to have the time to wander and let your guests relax.
During Winter it’s useful to bear in mind what time the sun sets, if you want photos in daylight. The good thing with this is its possible to get beautiful winter sunset shots earlier in the day, or maybe a cool Brolly shot?
Allow up to 30 minutes for guests to move from the drinks reception to the location of your Wedding Breakfast and for them to then find their seats. If you are planning on having a receiving line then allow an additional 40 minutes on top of this.
At Ieast a month before the wedding day we will be in contact to check final information and plans. This helps us to put together a schedule for the day to ensure the best use of time during the reception.
Top Tip ...
Designate at least a couple of your Bridesmaids or Ushers to direct guests, assist with the receiving line and speed up any loitering guests!
This is a perfect opportunity for you and your new husband/wife to steal some time together, whether that’s using this for a little one-on-one time or to capture those couple’s shots.
During the drinks reception one of us will make 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! We normally like to allow about 15 minutes for this to ensure we capture everything. If you have other decor throughout the reception venue these bits will be photographed by one of us whilst the other takes pictures of you and your guests relaxing before being seated.
Speeches and Wedding breakfast
The speeches are a great time to capture candid photos. These generally happen before or after the meal, which is up to you, both have their pros and cons. If you have nervous speakers, it is often a good idea to do them before the meal so they can enjoy their food. If you have guests sitting together that haven't spoken before, this gives them something to talk and giggleabout. However, speeches often over run, which means guests might be left a bit hungry (So add a few extra bread rolls to the table for those with the munchies) which brings us onto my next point, timings....
It normally takes about 30-40 minutes for 3 speeches (father of the bride, groom and best man). It is important to try and stick to these timings as speeches that take any longer normally result in fidgety guests and your evening may lose momentum!
The best starting point when it comes to working out how much time to allocate for your Wedding Breakfast is to once again ask the expert.Your caterers will be able to give you a guide on how long they think their service will take depending on the number of guests, choice of food, number of courses, number of catering staff and type of venue. Of course seek their advice, but don't forget, you're paying for their services, have things the way YOU want them.
As a general guide allow 2 hours for a 3 course meal. Whilst you and your guests are eating, we will take our break as no one wants photographers lurking about making everyone feel self conscious!
Evening - cake cut and first dance
After the meal and speeches it's time for the evening part of the celebrations to kick in. Depending on your venue set up they may have to turn the room around and make ready for the evening and the dancing. If you've invited evening guests ask them to turn up at least 30 minutes after your wedding breakfast – if for any reason your wedding breakfast overruns the last thing you want is to have evening guests turning up whilst people are still eating! During this time 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 about 15 minutes (providing speeches haven't overrun).
You can cut the cake straight after speeches or wait until just before first dance, depending on whether you want to wait for the evening guests. Either way it will only take about 5 minutes, to give time for your guests 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 and let your hair down with your guests. Maybe throw some shapes?
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 lovely, 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 your guests.
We hope this blog has given you some guidance and an idea of optimum times to make the most of your day and your photography. Happy wedding planning! :)