I should start this post with a caveat: every wedding is different and this time line and the wedding day timings within it might be completely at odds with yours plans.
When photographing a wedding my main aim is always to blend into the background, photographing unobtrusively and not impacting on events, rather than dictating how the day should flow. Having said all of that it’s always useful to have a realistic idea of how long things take. I have experienced very few weddings that run on time, and where timings are out it’s usually because of unrealistic expectations.
The majority of weddings have a large number of guests and moving a large number of guests around, especially when they’ve had a glass or two of champagne, can take a little bit of time!
If your wedding is following a fairly standard timeline (what ever that means!) this post gives you an idea of how to structure your day and where photography fits in to your wedding day timings.
Getting ready: 1 – 1.5 hours
If one or both of you are having your preparations photographed, I usually recommend photographic coverage starts around 1 – 1.5 hours before you get dressed.
The likelihood is that will start getting ready before that, especially there are people having professional hair and make up done too. Hair can take 45 minutes to an hour per person and so can make up. There’s really no need for you to have every single minute of that time photographed though and 1 – 1.5 hours is plenty of time to get the tail end of preparations, as well as taking detail shots of outfits and shoes if you want them.
If you do want still life shots (outfits / jewelry / flowers / accessories) I’d suggest you need at least 1.5 hours of coverage of this part of the day. If you don’t have any desire for still life shots then an hour’s coverage is plenty to get a good sense of your preparations.
For more detailed information about the getting ready part of the day, check out this article.
Putting on your outfit: 15 – 30 minutes
If you’re not wearing anything too complicated, you should be done pretty quickly. If you are wearing a dress with a lace up back or a lot of buttons, you should allow at least 20 minutes to be on the safe side. People who work in bridal shops are used to getting people in and out of dresses all day long and they’ll be able to do it much faster than your friends or family will.
If your outfit is complicated it’s a really good idea to have a practice run with the person who’ll be getting you into it.
Waiting to leave for the ceremony: 20 – 30 minutes
This time isn’t really essential but it’s great to have a buffer in case your preparations run over. It’s also really lovely for you to have 15 minutes just to chill out and drink a glass of champagne. Some wedding photographers like to do some portraits during this time but I prefer to let you chill out and take some time to relax before everything starts to happen.
Unless I am travelling with you I generally like to leave a little before you do, to get to the ceremony and capture guests arriving and the other person waiting for you. It’s also great to have some time to chat to your ceremony official and find out about any rules/requirements for the ceremony.
Travelling to the ceremony: as long as you need and longer!
It goes without saying that you need to allow enough time and more for travel. Obviously the wedding can’t happen without you but if you’re having a civil wedding ceremony the registrars may have other weddings booked in after you, so they often can’t wait around if you’re seriously delayed. Don’t be late!
Straight after the ceremony: 10 – 20 minutes
If you exit the ceremony before guests they will (understandably!) want to say hello, congratulate you and give you a hug on the way out. This can take around 20 minutes, depending on the number of guests.
If you exit after your guests (to confetti, for example) this can cut down your exit time to 10 minutes or so but you’ll still need to allow time to say hello to everyone. This is a great opportunity for me to get some great shots of people hugging you.
Group shots: 30 minutes
If you have between five and seven group shots it usually takes me around 25 – 30 minutes, assuming we’re able to get them done directly after the ceremony. If you leave them until later, other factors impact on the time they take. People are harder to coordinate once they’ve had a drink ( it can be like herding cats. Seriously!) and there’s a chance you’ll find it way more stressful than me. I’m used to waiting with a serene smile on my face, while someone goes to find aunty Margaret!
Group shots usually take place during the time allocated for your drinks reception, as do portraits.
Read about group shots and why I think they’re important here.
Portraits: 30 minutes – 1 hour
As your wedding photographer, I’m always going to push for as much time as I can get for portraits. The more we’re able to relax and enjoy the portrait session, the better the results will be. Shorter times will mean being restricted to the area immediately surrounding your venue. If you allow even longer than an hour you can think about heading out to find an even better backdrop.
Ideally I like to do around 2o minutes of the portrait session just before you sit down for dinner. If we start around 5 minutes before guests start to sit down, by the time they are at their tables, we’ll be finished and you can sit down too. This is a really efficient way of maximising your time to relax with guests during the drinks reception.
I then like to do another 20 + minutes after dinner, either around sunset if you’re having a summer wedding or for some cool night time shots if you’re getting married in autumn or winter.
You can read a little more about couples portraits and how they work on the day here.
You might also want to check out this post about light and how it impacts on the sorts of portraits we can create.
Drinks reception: 1.5 – 2 hours
So in light of the fact that photography (30 minutes for group shots and 30 minutes minimum for portraits) will take 1 – 1.5 hours, your drinks reception ideally needs to be at least 1.5 hours long.
If it’s 1.5 hours or less I’ll usually suggest we save portraits until after dinner, so that you get a chance to chat to your guests. If it’s 2 hours long we’ll do your group shots right at the start and your portraits just as your guests sit down for dinner, giving you at least an hour of mingling time.
During this time I also need to get candid coverage of guests, shots of your venue and shots of details like centre pieces, so it’s great if the time isn’t too squeezed.
Sitting down for dinner: 15 – 45 minutes
At this stage guests need to find your table plan, work out which table they’re on and find their seats. This can take 15 – 20 minutes if you have an average number of guests and often up to 30 minutes if you have a large number. If you’re having a formal receiving line it will be more like 30 – 45 minutes, depending on numbers.
This will depend on the number of courses and the format of the meal. Allow longer for a buffet or anything else involving queuing. It’s best to discuss this with your caterers to get an accurate time estimate.
Most people allow 30 – 45 minutes if they’re having the traditional three speeches. As a rule of thumb 10 – 15 minutes per person is a good guideline and it’s worth speaking to your speech makers to ensure they know exactly how much time they have.
In my experience the speeches are one of the main events that cause things to run late. Especially best man speeches. Especially slightly tipsy best man speeches…
Turning the room around: 30 – 45 minutes
If your dancing takes place in the same room that dinner did, the venue staff will usually need to clear down the tables and often rearrange the room a little. During this time guests will often have coffee or drinks in another area.
Cake cutting and first dance: 10 minutes each
Again you’ll need to allow a little bit of time to get guests into position. The actual cake cutting will take no more than 3 minutes and your first dance will be as long as your song takes to finish or as long as you take to invite other guests on to the dance floor.
The first dance is a pretty pressurised part of the day to photograph, as you have a very short time frame in which to get your shot, and you’re usually working in low light. If you are planning on inviting your friends and family on to the dance floor half way through the song do give it at least a full minute before you do.
Dancing: 30 mins – 1 hour
I usually suggest that around an hour’s coverage after the first dance is long enough to get some great shots of your friends enjoying themselves. Of course if you want me to stay later, we’ll often get some blackmail worthy shots of your friends dancing with wild abandon!
Night time/sunset shots: season dependant
If you’re hankering after some beautiful sunset shots in the summer, you’ll need to check the sunset times. It can be as late as 9:30pm in the summer, with the best light happening around 15 – 20 minutes before and just after. If you’re having an autumn or winter wedding, chances are that beautiful sunset will be taking place just as you’re sitting down to dinner.
It’s the same with night time shots. If you have your heart set on sparklers, you’ll need to wait until it’s dark for the best (read: not completely rubbish!) results.
So that’s how it works on the day. As I said at the start, every wedding is different but this is a good, general over view of how long things can take and how much time you should allow.
Do you have any questions about wedding day timings and how they work?
Do check out my other articles about wedding photography and planning here.
Read more about planning your wedding photography.