I have wanted to write a blog post about wedding day timings for a while but it is such a big subject with so many variables it is a little tricky to put into words!

Having shot hundreds of weddings it becomes incredibly obvious where timing has been planned perfectly and where timings simply don’t work leaving the day feeling rushed and the couple less able to relax and enjoy. A less relaxed couple clearly impacts on the photos and actually from a practical level timings can be really pushed to get all the photos you would like. !

Around 4 weeks before the day I always send out a ‘timing sheet’ for my couples to fill in. This has a few small tips written in to the sheet and when I receive it back (no closer than2 weeks before) I can have a look through and make suggestions for the day. Obviously though by this point timings are harder to tweak so this post is designed to help you plan the correct amount of time for each section of the day.

For a photographer the timings are the most important part of the day; simply the more time there is the better the photos will be. This all may seem a little regimental BUT sorted out before the wedding it means you have time to relax and enjoy the day knowing the timings are planned and I will be getting the very best photos for you.

It is a little sad to rush through your couple shots as your meal is planned a little too early or to whisk you away for group shots straight after the ceremony when it would be nice to have a few minutes to be congratulated by your guests.

At this stage the timings below may seem excessive but one thing I have learnt from shooting weddings is that the day FLIES by! The more time you have between the main ‘event’s’ of the day the more time you will have to take it all in and enjoy.

So I have split the day in to categories to make it a little easier, I will give you a rough idea how long things take but mainly this is written from a photographic point of view so do check with your other suppliers how long they will need.

At the end of the post I have created a fictional timeline for you to really see how my suggestions work in practice and of course there are lots of images chosen to demonstrate each point!

Getting ready ~ {Photographer needs 2 hours}

Getting ready…. Always the most fun bit of a night out right?!

I have to say when I am getting ready for a night out it really doesn’t matter how long I have, I am ALWAYS the one my friends are shouting for as the taxi pulls up and the one who is NEVER ready!

You really don’t want to feel rushed on your wedding morning. This is part of the day with your girls, your mum or grandma, a lovely few hours drinking champers getting excited for the day with your ladies. This is also one of my favorite parts of your wedding to capture.  Being a lady too I can blend in, chat to the girls and have some fun while you all get ready. These images are full of excitement and anticipation and to me should not be full of stressed faces and worry if you are running late!

As a guide I usually arrive approximately 2 hours before you are due to LEAVE for your ceremony.  This is around 1-1.5 hour for me to shoot your details (dress, shoes, flowers) and hair and makeup and then 30 mins for me to capture you getting in to your dress. This is always the minimum I like to capture but if time it is lovely to capture some shots of you ready, perhaps Dad or bridesmaids ‘seeing you’ in your dress and again if time shots with the girls or mum and dad.

Hair and makeup usually take 1 hour each (for YOU) and you need to plan to put your dress on 1 hour before you are due to leave for the ceremony. This is because I need to leave 30 mins before and this final 30 mins to touch up makeup, find your garter and have a glass of champers with your girls as this is what its all about.

A few tips here:

  • Create ‘buffer time’ in case your hair or makeup over run. 15 mins between the 2 and 15 mins before you put your dress on as no doubt you will want to nip to the bathroom or change your underwear etc!
  • Get all your details ready for me to shoot. I usually shoot dress, flowers, shoes and then if there is anything special you would like to be captured I can get that too. If they are all together and ‘ready’ then I don’t need to disturb you to go hunting round for them.
  • Try to arrange for your bridesmaids to be ready and in their dresses before you are due to get in to yours. That way they can help you in and we may have time for some shots with them afterwards
  • Plan who will help you in to your dress, if its mum she needs to be 100% ready ideally too so she looks made up and glam in the photos (she will thank you for it later!)
  • Think about whether you would like an ‘unveiling’ if there are bridesmaids who haven’t seen your dress or you would love me to capture Dad’s reaction then let me know and we will arrange a ‘time’ for dad to arrive and be ready. As beautiful and natural as these shots and expressions are they DO need to be set up so I can be in the right place at the right time.
  • If you have a gift for the groom or some gifts for your bridesmaids again it is lovely to capture you/them opening them so add 10 mins in to your timeline for this too.
  • I will always ‘Try’ to capture some shots of you ready, with bridesmaids and mum and dad if you want them too but I need to leave 30 mins before you so do be aware if you are not ready in time I will need to shoot off.
  • If everyone is ready nice and early why not arrange a bottle of champagne and some glasses to have a toast with your ladies before I leave, these can be a lovely fun moment and is particularly nice shot in the garden.

Boys getting ready ~ {Photographer needs 30 mins}

The boys getting ready usually only takes 20-30 mins, they can be a little more unorganized than the ladies so time occasionally can overrun here! This can be just the groom, groom and best man (which I think is a lovely option to have these photos the 2 of them) or all the guys, really its up to you.

I don’t shoot the boys at every wedding typically I say they need to be getting ready at the SAME venue as you or less then 10 mins away. If they are at the same venue then we can arrange time before you put your dress on for me to nip over and shoot them. If they are a drive away then I usually recommend that I meet them before I come to you and they do a ‘mock up’ of getting ready.

Ideally when I arrive they need to be in trousers (I have arrived to boxers!) shirt and socks, I will shoot everything else going on. Again organization is key it takes less time if they have ironed the shirts and aren’t hunting round for cufflinks! If you have a gift for him or he has one for hi best man/boys again it is lovely to capture them being opened before I head off.

I have been known to meet the gents at the pub! This always gets great photos but does mean you need to be in your dress 30mins-1 hour earlier so I can capture this before heading to meet the gents at the pub.

Ceremony ~ {30mins to 1 hour}

Typically a church ceremony takes 45-60 mins and a civil ceremony 20-30 mins, if it is an outdoor ceremony this usually goes up to around 40 mins to do both the outdoor part and the legal part inside.

I like to arrive 30 mins before the bride as I have lots to do when I arrive; find parking and gather my equipment, capture guests arriving, groom and best man, speak to the vicar about their ‘rules’, test the light and angles in my ‘spot’, capture church details and be ready to capture you as you get out the car, as you can see this is one of the busiest parts of my day!

When a bride says she is planning to be ‘late’ my heart sinks a little as often there isn’t time later to make this up and things get pushed back. As your meal always has to be on time so that it is not spoiled the timing that suffers is your photos. If you would like to be late just make sure you add in that time after the ceremony.

Once the ceremony is finished you will exit the church.  One thing that couples don’t often think of is simply how long it takes to move around 50, 60, 100 people! I have known it take 40 mins just for the guests to exit the church/venue. My tip here would be to move away from the doors and allow people to spill out this generally then takes round 10-15 mins to get everyone outside and in this time it’s lovely for me to capture you being congratulated, hugged and greeting people so do encourage them to come forward and mingle!

You may also like a confetti shot so time in 10 minutes for this to be given out and arranged outside the church or at the reception venue.

Group shots ~ {Photographer needs 40 mins}

I recommend around 5-8 group photos, if you think each one takes approximately 5 minutes (longer for larger groups) then you can see very quickly how 6 is 30 minutes 8 is 40 etc. As my style is very relaxed and natural you are likely to have chosen me because you want more fun, natural, candid images rather than hundreds of group photos. I do feel it is important to get some family images for posterity so don’t totally leave this section out but also bear in mind that after 30 minutes you and your guests really will just want to get back to the party and enjoy it!

If you would like some ‘fun’ bridesmaids and groomsmen shots add in an additional 15 minutes for these.

If your ceremony is in church it is always a great idea to get your groups done at your church.  Guests are generally ‘expecting’ the photos and quite often waiting for them to take place.  They are gathered together in one place. From experience once we are back at the reception guests ‘go missing’! I have know guests stop for petrol, nip home to feed the dog, check in to their hotel, nip to the bathroom or the bar, change the babies nappy trust me there is always someone missing at the wrong time! I am always happy to wait for them but it leaves other guests standing waiting and the groups often take much longer than planned.

If your ceremony and reception are all at the same venue then I would always still do them first for all the reasons above!

Should it be raining then large groups are usually impossible indoors due to light and space so try to keep your groups to a max of 10-12 people. Lighting also needs to be set up and tested so indoor group photos can take a little longer.

Again it is all about creating buffer time, that 10 minutes extra in case it rains or a family member is missing, it makes all the difference!

After ceremony drinks, canapés and candid Photos  ~{Photographer ideally needs 15-30 mins}

Whilst you are having your photos your guests will be milling around having drinks and canapés. Like I mentioned earlier you are likely to have chosen my photography style based on those gorgeous natural images of you and your guests having fun, relaxing over drinks, those candid hugs and spontaneous laughter.  In any ‘buffer time’ you create this is what I will be striving to capture, the essence and atmosphere of your day. If we move from ceremony to group shots to couple shots to meal there is sadly no time in-between for me to capture this. Creating 15 minutes of ‘buffer time’ between each part of the day will allow you and your guests to have some fun and me to capture it!

Couple shots ~ {Photographer needs 30-40 mins in total}

I recommend 30-40 minutes for your couple shots. The more time you give to this simply put the better the photos.

Generally I say there is around 1 photo per minute of your couple’s shots that you will receive after the day. Photographers like 2 things, light to create beauty and time to be inspired. If we have 10 minutes for your couple shots you are likely to get 10 lovely images. If we have 40 minutes you are likely to get 40 incredible images.

If you have a sunny day it is a great idea to plan 2 sessions of 20 minutes; one set before your meal so we have some gorgeous images in the bag should the heavens open and 1 set at sundown in that gorgeous low golden light. Chat to me before the day about when this is likely to be. If it is during your meal we can nip out for 10 minutes between courses if you like. Ideally consider your speech time more than anything else. This is one part of the day that cannot be disturbed but often I see incredible golden hours come and go while you are sitting in an hour of speeches and knowing what could have been captured it is a little heartbreaking! We can nip out just before them if the light is getting low or if your wedding is in the summer perhaps just before or just after your first dance.

Occasionally for a winter wedding there may be a fabulous venue interior we could incorporate or some evening shots with some creative flash.

Your couple shots are the images you will want on your walls and my romantic, fun style again is likely to be one of the reasons you booked me so do set time aside for me to create some magic for you.

Bear in mind if you are having a summer wedding shots in the dark or with sparklers etc are likely to not be possible as it simply stays light long after we will have left for the day.

If you have children it is always lovely to get some of all of you as a family away from the ‘crowd’ so I suggest the first 10 mins of your couple shots we take them too!

Table details ~ {Photographer needs 15 mins}

After your group and couple shots I will run in to shoot your table details before everyone sits down. I usually just need 10-15 minutes for this but it is much better shot without guests in the room so do make sure there is time in the schedule for this. It is a great idea to ask your wedding coordinator to just check with me before she starts to seat people to make sure I have managed to get everything. Also a fab idea to make sure any fairy lights or tea lights have been switched on/lit 20 minutes before guests are called to sit as these look gorgeous in the photos!

Wedding Breakfast  ~ {Usually approx. 2 hours}

Your wedding breakfast depending on how many guests its for usually takes around 2 hours. It could be a little more or a little less and I tend to find both couples and venues often under-estimate this so again do leave plenty of time. I have been at lots of weddings where evening guests have arrived during the speeches and stood at the back!

Speeches ~ {20 – 60 Minutes}

Speeches take anywhere from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours. I would say on average they tend to be about 45 minutes.  If you want to make sure they don’t overrun just give each speechmaker a time limit!

Cake cut ~ {Photographer needs 5 minutes}

The cake cut usually just takes 5 minutes (max) some couples do this before the meal, some after or during but most seem to do it in the evening before the first dance.

If you are choosing to do it in the evening before your first dance then it is a good idea to do it ‘just’ before. All your guests are assembled to watch you cut the cake and then simply have to move over to the dance floor for your first dance. When there is a ‘gap’ between everyone has wandered off again and needs to be re-assembled to the dance floor. Your DJ/band are usually happy to announce your cake cut and then for people to move over to the dance floor for your first dance.

First dance  ~ {Photographer needs 5 minutes}

Clearly your first dance takes as long as the song so usually about 5 minutes. As its dark we need to set up some lighting for this so always need 10 minutes minimum at the end of your meal to set things up (we have usually done this before your cake cut). Lots of couples like to invite guests to join them but my biggest tip would be to do this on the second song rather than the first. It is tricky to get gorgeous first dance images in such low light so you are far more likely to have something beautiful if we had had 5 minutes rather than 2!

Dance Floor ~ {20-30 minutes}

Although I am only ever booked to the first dance I always like to stay 20-30 minutes for a little party action afterwards! Stay on the dance floor and encourage your guests to get up with you the more people on the floor the merrier for some awesome dance floor photos! My biggest tip here would be to make sure you have a minimum of 30 minutes dance floor time before evening food is announced as generally this clears the dance floor!

Mock timings:

The best thing to do with your times is start at the ceremony as this can’t usually move then work backwards and forwards.  In the mock timings below I have assumed the day is all at ONE venue so also don’t forget to plan in travel times including additional time for old cars or traffic.

In these times I haven’t included the groom so if you would like those shots too then remember to plan that in.

10.30am Photographer arrives

10.30-11 Photographer shoots ‘details’

11-12pm photographer shoots ‘getting ready’ images of bride and girls

12.20 brides gets in to her dress

12.35-12.45 shots of bride ready and with bridesmaids

12.45 ‘Dad’ sees bride

12.50 Champagne with the girls in the garden

1pm Photographer leaves for ceremony to shoot groom waiting etc

1.15 registrar speaks to bride

1.30 Ceremony


2pm ceremony finish

2 – 2.15pm guests mill out of the ceremony and have a few mins to congratulate the bride

2.15-2.45 Group photos

2.45-3pm candid shots

3-3.30pm Couple shots

3.30-3.45 candid shots of guests

3.45-4 table shots

4pm guests called to sit

4.15 starter served

6pm -7pm speeches

7-7.30 Buffer time, room turned over and time for second set of couple shots (if golden hour or evening images if dark)

7.30pm evening guests start to arrive

7.55 cake cut

8pm first dance

8.30pm photographer leaves.

Clearly the above is a ‘mock up’ of the day but gives you a good idea of the running order of a wedding.

I would say 95% of weddings don’t run on time and things can and do go wrong on wedding days! Rain, waiting for guests to arrive, even the brides car breaking down I have seen it all! If in doubt add 10 minutes to your plans here and there, if you don’t need it on the day then it is more time to enjoy yourselves but if you do, you will be very glad of it!

I hope this helps you plan the perfect stress free day with oodles of time for gorgeous images! If in doubt feel free to drop me an email or give me a call to talk through your wedding day timings.

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