Wedding Tips: Creating the Perfect Timeline
Trying to work out how to plan your wedding day timeline? Fretting about having “enough time” for photos and mingling with guests?
Well I thought I’d put together this handy guide to give you some advice to help you maximise the most from your day.
I’m a big fan of couples making the most of their day and spending time with their guests. I try to avoid monopolising the couple post-ceremony for photographs. The ideal wedding timeline will give lots of opportunities for the couple to mingle and enjoy themselves with their guests, but still achieve all the amazing photographs you want from the day. It all comes down to planning.
It can seem pretty daunting to try and work out the perfect time line when you’ve not planned a wedding before. While many photographers will have slightly different ways of working, I thought I would explain a little as to what to consider to make sure your day runs perfectly.
My day starts with prep shots. What I’m focussing on is the camaraderie and the champagne. I love turning up and seeing the friends and family all getting ready together, ironing shirt collars, hair stylists and make up artists busy, and I like to photograph some still life photographs of details like jewellery.
If I’m photographing a bride putting on her dress, I like the bridesmaids to be dressed first, then the bride to start dressing about half an hour before I’m due to leave, as it often takes a lot longer than people anticipate to put a wedding dress on. Certainly bridesmaid outfits make for nicer photographs than old tracksuit bottoms, and it means they are ready to help with the brides dress. Final details – such as jewellery, shoes and make up top-ups – can be left until after I’ve gone.
Every photographer has a different prep-timeline, so have a quick chat with them about their preferred start time. It’s also worth talking to your hair and make up stylists as well about timings. If you’ve got a big wedding party being made up for the day, you may need to start a little earlier so you can make it to the ceremony on time. Having a make-up or hair trial is a useful way to work out how long they will take and can help it all run more efficiently on the day. It’s better to start this fairly early as it can impact the rest of the day if the morning is a bit slow.
As a photographer, I don’t feel a need to start at the same time as make up and hair stylists. I much prefer taking photographs later on than when they’re just starting up as it’s often the later photos that are more flattering.
I like to arrive at the ceremony venue at least half an hour before the ceremony. This gives me a chance to speak to the celebrant, meet family members and the rest of the wedding party, and the bride/groom. If parking is an issue where you’re getting married, then photographers need to factor in parking time.
If the bride/ groom is late to the wedding, then this affects the start (and finish) of the ceremony time. It’s worth discussing with your celebrant whether they have any other commitments after your wedding ceremony or if there are any other ceremonies, particularly with registry offices or religious locations.
If you’re travelling between your ceremony and reception venue, make sure you factor in a bit more time than you normally need for the journey. Aside from the usual traffic jams, occasional events (for example parades or sport events) and roadworks there are other things that can make the travel time take a little longer than normal. People often take a little longer to alight buses or other transport, there may also be parking to consider for guests who are driving. If you’ve hired a special wedding car – for example a vintage car or large vehicle – it may also have speed restrictions.
This is actually one of the busiest parts of the day for me. During the drinks reception, I’m doing four different types of photography: formal group photographs, couple portraits, candid guest photographs, and decorative detail photographs. I need time for each element. Any delays earlier in the day will impact the drinks reception and can affect the photos as a result.
Formal family photographs take longer than people anticipate. It’s worth chatting to your photographer about an ideal number of group photographs. I usually recommend no more than 8-10 group photographs, as it helps keep the reception flowing, stops guests (and the couple!) from having “smiling face fatigue”. It also gives you more time to chat to your friends and family. My advice is to think about the end use of the photograph afterwards. Most couples want some nice family photographs for their older family members to put on their wall, so I usually suggest that a “whole family” photograph will be more likely to be framed than 5 or 6 individual smaller groups of the same family.
The drinks reception certainly shouldn’t feel like a photo session, so keeping group photographs simple will help that. It will take time to round people up as well – speak to a few friends or family who know everyone in the photographs and aren’t required themselves to help the photographer round up people on the day. People inevitably disappear to toilet, to the bar, completely forget that they are needed, get distracted in the midst of a conversation, or simply don’t register their name being called out so it can take a lot longer to organise people than you realise.
Being in Scotland, I think we always have to consider our Scottish weather forecast. From my experience however, it’s rare that it will rain constantly throughout the day and occasionally a raincloud will pass by after half an hour. If a couple request specific outdoor photographs, then planning enough time during the drinks reception means that we may be able to alter the timeline a bit to achieve those photographs. If the timeline is tight, then that option may not be available to us.
Speak to your photographer about how long they need to do their job – and also factor in some additional time for you to enjoy your champagne, canapés and conversation with your guests. People often talk about the drinks reception in terms of having time for photographs, but you should have time to relax and unwind rather than feel you’re having to pack a lot in during this part of the day. You want a drinks reception, not a tea break!
Venues will often give you a time for the meal to start, but what’s important is to factor in anything you’re doing before the meal. For example, are you planning to have a receiving line? Are you planning to cut the cake before the meal? Will you have the speeches before the meal? All of these will impact what time you and your guests are called for seating. Again, this can impact on your drinks reception time, so it’s worth noting how much extra time you’ll require for these, and adding it on to the length of time you require for your drinks reception. If you run late, it may be worth discussing with your wedding coordinator whether you can remove the receiving line from the day, or rearrange cake cutting to prior to the first dance. This can add a considerable amount of time to your drinks reception without ruining your day.
This is usually the time you can relax a little, and wait for the evening guests to arrive! Sometimes it’s nice to pop out with the photographer for some evening couple portraits, particularly in the summer months during the golden hours around sunset. It’s a great time to slip out for some photos as your guests will be sitting round enjoying coffees and tea, and relaxing after their meal. I’ve taken some of my favourite portraits during this part of the day, particularly when it’s been a very sunny day and the light has been very strong and directional, which can lead to a lot of squinting! It’s time to relax and wait for the music to start. Speak to your band about what time they plan to start – bear in mind that they will need time to unpack, set up and sound check before the party can get underway.
Wedding Day Timeline
I thought I might be helpful to put things into some sort of context, so here’s an example of how I might work on a wedding day, with a couple who are having their ceremony and reception at the same venue. This is what a fairly typical Scottish wedding might be like, but remember every wedding is different.
A few notes however to accompany this timeline.
‘Bride/groom’ denotes one of the people who is getting married. References to ‘bridal party’ during the prep photographs denote whoever is there at the time – bridesmaids, groomsmen, page boys, flower girls, parents etc. I’ve used the phrase “bridal party” as a catch all term because it’s easier than listing everyone who may be there.
I don’t advise inviting people to attend prep purely for the purpose of having photographs taken of them at this point – it’s much better to include them in the group photographs later, and it only adds to the queue for the toilet! When I work alone, I generally only cover one ‘prep’. If you’d like both sides of the prep to be covered then I recommend booking a second photographer.
The times – particularly for the photographs – aren’t arbitrary in any way but simply a guide to give you an indication of how a wedding day can (and will!) go quickly. I like to give the couple some time between the end of the ceremony, the group photographs and the couple portraits, and as such I don’t run these parts of the day back to back. My intention is to give guests a chance to chat to the couple, allow for drinks to be topped up, make up refreshed, etc. I usually take candid photographs during these breaks too.
A final and very important note: if (or when) you’ve booked a wedding photographer, please do not give them a timeline breakdown based on this. Every photographer has their own way of working and this is for illustrative purposes only. In all instances, always discuss timings with your photographer first. Giving them a timeline based on what I’ve written below will result in them looking somewhat terrified.
I always start my calculations from the time of the ceremony. This means working backwards, and forwards from this point of the day.
11.00 am – I arrive with bride/groom for prep photographs – 1 hour 30 minutes
11.45 am – Wedding party in attendance get dressed
12.00 pm – Bride/groom gets dressed
12.20 pm – I take photographs of a first look between bride/groom and wedding party in attendance. Bride/ groom is fully dressed, this is the first time the wedding party have seen them dressed and ready for the big day.
12.30 pm – I leave the prep.
12.30 pm – Travel time and time to park at venue – 30 minutes
1.00 pm – I set up at venue, meet with celebrant, etc
1.30 pm – CEREMONY STARTS 30 minutes
2.00 pm – End of ceremony, drinks reception starts – I take some candid and natural photographs of guests
2.20 pm – Formal group photographs – approximately 40 minutes for 8 group photographs
3.00 pm – Candid photographs
3.15 pm – Couple portraits – approximately 30-40 minutes
3.50 pm – Detail photos of room set up – approximately 20 minutes
4.10 pm – Candid photographs – approximately 15-20 minutes
4.30 pm – Guests are called in to be seated for the meal.
4.50 pm – Couple cut the cake.
5.00 pm – Speeches start
5.30 pm – End of speeches, meal begins. I collapse in a quiet corner with a soft drink.
7.00 pm – Meal finishes
7.00 pm – I take the couple outside for some evening portraits (weather permitting) – approximately 15-20 minutes
7.30 pm – Evening guests arrive
8.00 pm – First dance
8.30 pm – I finish for the day and head home.
So I’m hoping this has been helpful for you to plan your day! Don’t underestimate how long things take, or assume elements of photography doesn’t take that long. The more time you have to spare, the more relaxed you’ll feel on your day.
And my final piece of advice about timelines – don’t let them dictate your day. The most important thing isn’t about sticking to a rigid schedule of what should happen and when, but enjoying the moments as they come.