As a wedding photographer, I go to a lot of weddings (I know shocking right?!). So I have a pretty good idea of what typically happens during a wedding day timeline. When you are planning your wedding, it can be helpful to know what to expect to happen and to have an idea of how long each bit takes.
What I describe below is a rough guide to the typical, traditional wedding day. For your day you can do whatever you choose – it’s your wedding after all. This is meant to simply give you an idea of what to expect if you do follow this order of events. Your times will of course vary depending on what time your ceremony is as this is usually the fixed point for the day with everything else working around it.
Why a 1pm ceremony?
I’ve written this wedding day timeline based on a 1pm ceremony as this is probably the most common ceremony time. However, the same timeline can be applied to a 12pm, 2pm or 3pm ceremony by simply moving everything an hour or two.
Once you start getting more than about an hour or two out, timings start getting squeezed or stretched a bit. This is usually the time between the ceremony and the meal or the time between the meal and the first dance. If this applies to you, think about when you will fit in your photos and if it will still be light. You can absolutely do photos after dark but it is a lot easier to at least do the group shots before sunset.
As a wedding photographer I am writing from the perspective of how long each section takes and what photos you can expect from me. I’m also writing this timeline for a wedding where everything is at the same venue. Not much changes if you are at several venues but you do need to factor in travel time. Add 15 minutes for faffing time, there is always someone who is late.
9am – Hair and makeup artists arrive, preparations start.
Talk to your hair and make-up artists about how long they will need for your specific case, 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 arrive when your makeup is already done and you are still having your hair done. 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.
It is good to get a few pictures of you getting into the dress. As I am a man, I stand just outside while you get into the dress and ask to be called back into the room before the back is done up. This allows me to get a few photos of the dress being done up while preserving everyone’s modesty!
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 15 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. As a rule of thumb, about 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 wrote an article on this exact subject some time ago, it’s worth a read if you want to get the most out of your photos in the shortest possible time allowing you to get on with your day. If you use my formals list I can usually get these 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. I’ll give simple directions on what to do but other than these, I like to let you be yourselves so the photos reflect who you are as a couple.
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.
If you are getting married and are looking for a photographer I would love to hear from you.