Organising your wedding day timeline can seem a bit scary at the start. So much to think about, arrange and buy! We’ve been to hundreds of weddings now and have helped all of our couples with their timings.
There is no one-size-fits-all template but we wanted to give you a rough guide of how long to allow for each part of your big day. We’ve used ‘Bride and Groom’ descriptions throughout for simplicity so if you’re a same sex couple, please forgive us and adapt to suit.
If you’re struggling to put together your schedule or are planning an alternative wedding, don’t worry – we’re here to help. Honestly, mail us, we bloody love this stuff!
What time you start your bridal prep and the time you allow for this will depend on several factors including:
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, ask your suppliers how long they think they’ll take! As a general rule allow a couple of hours for bridal hair and make-up. You’ll need an additional 45 to 60 minutes for each member of your wedding party.
Work back in time 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!
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. 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 delegates out tasks so that he has some time to relax and enjoy the build-up.
A smart Bride leaves her Groom with nothing to do on the morning other than chill!
All that said, if you’re planning a haircut and shave at the Barbers on the morning or a round of golf etc, you’re going to need to factor in lots of extra time to avoid disasters. We reckon that a full English breakfast and banter are more fun anyway.
The wedding timeline start point really! When it comes to your ceremony and timings there are three elements to consider:
As a general guide, we usually advise the following:
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 an informed estimate. We’ve done a blog on how wedding ceremonies work if you’re new to all this.
This bit, right here, is wedding day timeline gold, so listen in! After the ceremony, it takes about 5-10 minutes to arrange your guests in a couple of lines to do the confetti. We usually suggest you tuck yourselves away somewhere after walking down the aisle and stay hidden while all your guests leave the ceremony. This’ll save you having to do the ‘cuddles and congrats’ phase in the door of the venue whilst everyone tries to get out!. You can then exit to confetti, big cheers and genuine smiles from your guests. Allow 15 minutes for confetti overall.
If your wedding day timeline is for a UK winter wedding ceremony we recommend not starting any later than 1.30 pm 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.
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, do 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’ll need to decide which you would like your formals taken at.
Some couples want their formals at the church because they feel this is traditional or holds sentimental value to them. Others want their formals taken at the reception venue because they’ve picked it for its stunning scenery.
Both options have pros and cons. If you want to get through the family as quickly as possible and move on to the party, we strongly recommend taking them outside the Church. Often, at the reception venue, guests drift off to explore, use the loo or settle into 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.
We recommend 6 combinations as 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. Remember, 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. In wedding day timeline terms, this period of the day can be smooth or (if you get it wrong) the bit everyone is whingeing about at dinner!
Not allowing enough time for the group shots is the most common mistake made when working out the wedding timeline. 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). We often manage all this in just 15 minutes, which gives you more time to mingle and grab a canape or three. Worth noting the we’re basically GB olympic standard Cat herders though so allow that half-hour and enjoy any spare time we create!
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. Never just use the word ‘immediate’ to describe family, it’s caused upsets before. This will also help your ushers or those allocated to help round people up for the groups. Which nicely leads us to point 5…
Let those ushers ‘ush’! Choose friends who will be happy to help and who are responsible enough to be useful. We say this from experience of having ‘helpers’ who have vanished to the bar when they should have been collecting Aunty Mavis. It’s 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 often do gather guests by ourselves of course. If you know the Ushers and Bridesmaids might be more a hindrance than a help, leave this job to us! We’ll be in contact to organise a well laid out list to work from.
Time to chat, have a drink, a canape or two and enjoy the celebrations on your big day. Also the perfect time for us to mingle and grab lovely natural and candid photos of you and your guests. We recommend allowing 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.
We love this time! Escape the hustle and bustle of the festivities for a short while and spend a little time together. Often the first chance you get to really chat after the ceremony and let it all sink in that you’re 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 the sunset, but maybe we’ll make some night portraits instead? You can calculate the sunset time for your wedding day here. For each session, it’s nice to allow about 25 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 very formal. We’ll walk, chat and we’ll guide you so we create the high-impact photos you see on our website.
During Winter it’s useful to bear in mind what time the sun sets if you want photos in daylight. It is possible to get beautiful winter sunset shots earlier in the day. Maybe a cool Brolly shot if it’s raining? You’ll need to shift your ceremony start time to suit the sun a little, depending on your plan.
Guests are called in and despite the meticulously thought out and easy-to-follow table plan, they’ll still take 15 minutes to find their seats.
There was once a tradition to formally greet each guest as they moved from the reception to the dining room. It takes about 40 minutes. Everyone hated it, so we all stopped. DO NOT be bullied into doing this, it really is dreadful. All the people you love will find time to give you a big congratulatory hug without being prompted.
The speeches are a great time to capture candid photos and can happen before or after the meal. If you have nervous speakers it’s a good idea to do them before food so they can enjoy their meal. If you’ve guests sitting together that haven’t spoken before, this gives them something to talk and giggle about over dinner. However, speeches often over run, which means guests might be left a bit hangry. Add a few extra bread rolls to the table for those with the munchies. All this brings us onto our next point, timings…
It normally takes about 20-40 minutes for 3 speeches (Father of the bride, Groom and Best man). You’ll know if you have a gifted speaker in the set, make a little space in the schedule for this.
For Wedding Breakfast timings, ask your caterers to give you a guide on how long their service will take. This’ll depend on the guest number, food types, number of courses and staff and type of venue. Don’t forget, you’re paying for their services, so have things the way YOU want them. (Important note, caterers have a habit of bringing stuff forward to give them an early finish – there, we said it! Be assertive, agree a time to start and insist on it)
As a general guide allow 2 hours for a 3-course meal. Whilst you and your guests are eating, we will take our meal break. Nobody wants photographers lurking about making everyone feel self-conscious!
After the meal and speeches it’s time for the evening part of the celebrations to kick in – woop woop! Your venue set may have to turn the room around to make ready for the evening and dancing. If you’ve invited evening guests ask them to turn up at least 30 minutes after your wedding breakfast. If your wedding breakfast overruns you don’t want evening guests turning up whilst people are still eating!
During this time we can maybe squeeze in a second little portrait session in early evening light. It can be fun to take your Bridesmaids and Groomsmen for a couple of shots too. Having done their duties, they’ll be much more relaxed than earlier in the day. Most people are milling around, getting drinks and letting food go down. It’s a natural time to slip off for about 15 minutes (providing speeches haven’t overrun). If you’re planning on using sparklers for post-dinner fun and great photos, go look at our blog for advice here.
We always suggest doing cake cut immediately before first dance. People have to be rounded up and this way you only have to do it the once. It only takes about 5 minutes for your guests to get their cameras ready for cake cut and 30 seconds for the shot. It’s then time for the first dance. This is the bit that kicks off the evening party.
Of course you’ll need to feed everyone in the evening. We’ve seen everything from chip buckets to waiting staff walking around with bacon butties on the dancefloor. Choose something you’ll know you’ll enjoy. Don’t forget to serve up the cake too for those with a sweet tooth.
It’s now the end of your wedding – didn’t that just fly by? What time your wedding ends will depend on your wedding venue. Make sure you check this with them when you’re looking around venues as some have to have early finishes due to the neighbours. If you’re partying on you may need to arrange taxi’s at this point to get you and your squad to a club.
Lots of thought needs to go into your wedding timeline. If your day is short on time it’ll end up feeling stressy rather than the lovely relaxing day you’d imagined. Time shortage can really limit the photos that can be captured, especially natural and candid ones of your guests.
We hope this wedding timeline has given you some ideas to make the most of your day. As we said at the beginning, we love helping out, so give us a shout if you’d like. If you’re getting married in Suffolk or Norfolk we wish you a Happy wedding day planning! 🙂