The ultimate 11-step wedding day timeline from a wedding photographer of 14 years

You’re engaged! I’m dead chuffed for you. Your head is probably fizzing with big ideas for your dream wedding, and your Pinterest boards are heaving under the weight of all your wedding outfit ideas already. It can be really fun planning a wedding, and having a timeline laid out can make it all run smooth.

In my 14 years of being a wedding photographer, I’ve learnt that the average wedding is around 8-9 hours from just before the ceremony to just after the first dance. However, this can differ massively on things such as the type and time of your ceremony.

People who are planning their weddings generally haven’t done it before, so they’re not sure what should be happening when, and how long things take. Wedding planners can be super helpful for this, but that’s not always an option if you have a tight budget.

Here’s my idea of a perfect wedding day timeline, from the perspective of someone who has attended a frankly outrageous number of weddings in both a professional and personal capacity.

 

9am-12pm: Morning wedding prep

There’s nothing worse than being rushed, especially when you are just about to get married, so I recommend being ready at least 20-30 minutes before the ceremony for photos and to calm your nerves. You want to feel (and look) cool, calm and collected.

Trust me, so much happens in the last hour before the ceremony, and from a selfish point of view, it makes my job of capturing those perfect shots filled with nervous joy difficult if you’re not ready, so make sure you’re all fixed up, looking sharp and ready to roll. I tend to arrive around 2 and a half hours before the ceremony time, this gives me enough time to capture everything before the ‘I do’s!’.

 

 

1pm: Your marriage ceremony

Have you decided what type of wedding ceremony you want to have?

Civil ceremonies – aka legal but non-religious ceremonies – require you to arrive 15-20 mins early to chat with the registrar for an old-school interview to say you know the person you’re marrying – it’s very old fashioned. Religious ceremonies differ, but usually last around an hour.

Celebrants and humanist celebrants are for couples who want a more personal wedding, free of restrictions. They like to get to know the couple before the wedding, and because their ceremonies aren’t legally binding in England – *cries* – you don’t need to arrive early.

All kinds of ceremonies are of course beautiful and heartwarming, but I love the flexibility of a celebrant ceremony – you really get to see the different personalities and love between two people in a way that you don’t otherwise. What could be better than having your wedding your way?

 

1:30pm: All the wedding confetti

The more confetti the merrier. Whatever amount you were thinking of buying, double it – you can never have too much. Actually, triple it. I love [insert confetti supplier] for super fun and colourful confetti. Maybe buy 4x more than you originally planned. Trust me, the wedding pics will be worth it.

I love Flutter, Darlings! for colourful confetti, and Shropshire Petals for natural petal confetti – they even have a confetti calculator to help you figure out how much you’ll need

I always recommend doing the wedding confetti toss as soon after the ceremony as possible – it’s a lovely way for you to see all your guests and celebrate that you’ve just said ‘I do!’.

It can take up to 20 minutes for your wedding photographer to set up your guests for that perfect joyous confetti toss shot, but I usually nail it in about 15 (if I do say so myself). If you’re throwing confetti on the way out of the ceremony – that doesn’t need setting up, so can cut down your wedding timeline.

It also depends on how many guests you have – 30 guests or less will take less than 10 minutes, for more than 30 guests it usually takes about 20 minutes.

 

1:45pm: Fizzy drinks, finger food and fun

Time for your guests to mingle with a glass of something fizzy and a canapé or two. Aren’t canapés great? They’re food, but like, smaller and fancier. As your wedding photographer, I subtly snap away, avoiding those less flattering mid-chew shots. I know no one wants those.

 

2:15pm: The dreaded group photos

Those staged family wedding photos are always an awkward interlude – I like to call them Granny’s mantlepiece photos – but they don’t need to be a total dreadfest.

Your professional photographer will usually have sent out a questionnaire in advance (I send mine out 2 months before the big day) with a whole section where you can list your VIPs for those group photos. I recommend a maximum of 8 group photos, any more than this and you will probably get very bored.

On average, they take me about 5 minutes per photo. If you want a big group photo featuring all of your wedding guests, I’d recommend getting this done straight after confetti – it can take me about 10-15 minutes to organise everyone.

 

2:45pm: Just the two of you

This is often another bit that people cringe over, but it’s actually a well nice part of the day – the couple can be really excited together, have fun and catch up one-on-one. Everyone wants to talk to you on your wedding day, and it’s hard for the couple to find a minute for themselves.

Couples portraits take around 20 minutes, and I always suggest planning for two separate, short photoshoots – the light varies massively during the day, and the majority of the time you’ll feel a lot more relaxed later on, so these photos have a totes different vibe. Plus, in spring and summer, the light is always so much nicer later on – I mean, they call it golden hour for a reason.

 

 

3:30pm: Wedding speeches

I’m about to be very controversial, because I always recommend that you do your speeches before food. Whoever is making a speech at your wedding will probably be incredibly nervous, so having to wait a further 2 hours before speaking means they’ll be too anxious to eat.

Sometimes venues don’t clear all of the plates away before someone shakily stands up and decides it’s time to get their speech out of the way. Messy plates look really bad in photos, and you or your guests will have made a bit of a mess scoffing their tea after a few drinks.

Personally, I would never recommend speeches between courses either (I know, I’m the wedding rebel right now). Your venue might recommend it, but I think speeches between courses are from The Bad Place. There, I said it.

 

4:30pm: Wedding breakfast

It took me 12 years to realise they call it the wedding breakfast because it’s the first meal you eat as a married couple. I always wondered why it wasn’t called ‘wedding tea’, which then sparked a rage inside me, as I realised not everybody calls food after 5pm ‘tea’.

Anyway, timings are key here – are you having a traditional 3 course bonanza? Or are you thinking picky bits/tapas/chartering grazing boards galore? A 3 course meal tends to take around 1.5-2 hours.

For a little behind the scenes look at what your wedding photographer will be up to while you eat – at this point they will have been on their feet running around for about 5-6 hours, so this is a great time for a sit down. I use the 1-1.5 hours during your meal to start backing up to my MacBook, and start editing your sneak peek photos to send you the next day.

 

6:30pm: Greet your evening guests

When the rest of your mates and distant relatives turn up for the evening do, your wedding photographer will lurk around taking sneaky shots of everyone interacting and having the loveliest time. There’s not much to plan here, just make sure you have some proper bangers playing and that your guests know where the booze is.

 

7:20pm: Cutting the wedding cake

Cake cuts tend to happen just before the first dance. It’s always easier if you get someone to announce it, so if you have a DJ/band with a microphone that’s great but something this is where I get to use my really loud ‘listen to me’ voice.

See, you’re not just hiring a wedding photographer, you might also be getting an adequately bossy compère.

It’s a good idea to give everyone a 5 minute warning, then the photos take about 5 minutes. Once you’ve smiled away at all of your guests while wielding a big knife, you can go straight into your first dance, if you’re having one.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait to actually eat that delicious wedding cake.

 

 

7:30pm: Your first dance as a married couple

You don’t need to have cold feet over your first dance – all you need to do is stand and sway with each other, or pick a fun song that means a lot to you that you can dance around to in a silly way.

Most of my couples invite all their guests up to dance with them about 30-60 seconds into their first dance. If you’re feeling really awkward about a first dance, this is a fab option to have less attention on you.

Or, just sack off your first dance entirely and just have a first dance with all of your guests. It’s your wedding, and if you hate the focus being on you, bin it.

 

The rest of the evening will look like a lot of dancing, singing, hugging and probably munching on some kind of delicious buffet food.

This is the ultimate wedding timeline from a wedding photographer’s POV, and if you want great wedding photos, it’s really worth bearing in mind the timings of each part of your day. Once you’ve got the times set out, you can go forth and plan the amazing wedding of your dreams.

 

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