Wedding timeline -perfect timings for a perfect day!

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's 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. If you’re struggling to put together your schedule don’t worry, you are not alone! Honestly, mail us, we love this stuff.

The wedding morning - Getting ready

What time you start your bridal prep and the time you allow for this will 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, just 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 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!

wedding day planning blog discusses bridal preparation in the morning.

Top Tips

- Remember to factor in breakfast and/or lunch (and maybe a glass of bubbles!) into your bridal prep! Don’t go up the aisle hangry 🙂

- 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. Over excited 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 trousers at home, even the Best Man and his Porsche missing…

- If you want jewellery etc photographed, save time by gathering them up in one place prior to our arrival. That way we know we've photographed everything you want and 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 more quickly.

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 nothing to do on the morning other than chill!

The Brides dress reveal to her Bridesmaids in our blog on wedding day planning


The wedding timeline start point really! When it comes to your ceremony and timings there are three elements to consider:
What time should everyone arrive at the ceremony? How long should you allow for your ceremony, and how much time to allow after, before drinks and reception stuff?

Perfect wedding day photos come from wedding day planning

Before (arrivals)
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 an informed estimate.

Non-Religious Ceremony – 20 to 45 minutes.
Civil Wedding / Partnership – 30 to 45 minutes.
Religious Ceremony – 60 to 90 minutes.

The best confetti comes from the best wedding day planning

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 (it’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 winter wedding ceremony we 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.

Group/Formal 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.

Advice on perfect formal wedding photos in our blog on wedding day planning

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, 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 will need to decide which you would like you 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 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. Often, at the reception venue, guests drift off to explore, use the loo or 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 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 whinging about at dinner!

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). We often manage all this in just 15 minutes, which gives you more time to mingle and grab a canape or three.

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. Never just use the word ‘immediate’ to describe family, it’s caused upsets before. It will also help your ushers or those allocated to help round people up for the groups. Which nicely leads us to point 5...

5. Allocate a couple of people to help round guests up
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 of a hindrance 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's our recommended wedding group shot list:
1. Everyone
This photo is an absolute must because it gives us a chance to introduce ourselves to all your guests, brief them and get them in good spirits for the photos (One of Neil's favourite bits of the day).
2. Bride's family
3. Groom's family
4. Bride & Groom's parents
5. Bridesmaids
6. Ushers and Best man/men

Wedding party are impressed by wedding day planning

Couple portraits - Wedding day timeline essential!

We love this time! It's an opportunity for you to 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 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 very formal. We'll walk, chat and we'll guide you so we create the high impact photos you see on our website.


bride and flower girls discuss wedding day planning

Now 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 some details of the room where you're having the wedding breakfast. We 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 if it's raining?

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 in your wedding timeline then allow an additional 40 minutes on top of this. Genuinely though, if you can possibly avoid a receiving line, do so, they aren’t any fun and steal a big segment of the day where you should be having fun! Seriously, just avoid the receiving line thing!

At least a month before the wedding day we'll 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.

Elderly wedding guest considers wedding day planning

Speeches and Wedding breakfast

Reception guests applaud wedding day planning

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 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 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, which 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 how long they their service will take depending on the number of guests, choice of food, number of courses, number of catering staff and type of venue. Don't forget, you're paying for their services, 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 break as no one wants photographers lurking about making everyone feel self conscious!

Evening Reception - cake cut and first dance

Bride and Groom dance romantically

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, so 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 some post-dinner fun and great photos, go look at our blog for advice on that here.

Bride and Groom dance wildly

You can cut the cake straight after speeches or wait until just before first dance. That may depend on whether you want to wait for the evening guests. It only takes about 5 minutes for your guests to get their cameras ready, and 30 seconds for the shot. It's then time for the first dance. This is the bit that kicks off the evening party and the last of the ‘official’ parts of the day. Now it's time to relax and let your hair down with your guests. Maybe throw some shapes?

Bride and Groom dance wildly

Lots of thought needs to go into your wedding day planning. 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 blog 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. Happy wedding day planning! 🙂

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