Something I chat to my couples a lot between them booking and their wedding is their timings. I routinely send out timings forms (as most photographers do) ahead of the wedding to check and confirm locations, ceremony time, meal time, when the speeches will be.. you get the idea. The weddings I cover each year are really varied in that a lot of my couples are having weddings at venues with co-ordinators, and a lot are organising a lot of their own timings and their days have a more 'DIY' approach. Some of the weddings I cover are structured, and some aren't. Every wedding is different.
Hopefully this blog post will help cover any questions and give some advice that I've picked up along the way over my years shooting weddings.
I usually arrive around two hours before the ceremony time, depending on the logistics of your day and how much travel time between locations there is. Any hairdressers and make up artists will usually already be there and will have organised their own timings depending on how many of your party they are doing hair and make up for that day. It's rare that I can cover both of you getting ready, and only really works when you're both getting ready at the same location (i.e. different rooms of the same hotel). If you would like photographic coverage of you both getting ready before the ceremony I would consider a second shooter.
Ideally, I would advise that you are ready 20 minutes before you are due to leave before the ceremony. Also take into account how long your outfit takes to put on - some take longer and are fiddlier than others!
You'll be surprised at how soon time suddenly flies before the ceremony, and aiming for 20-30 minutes before you're due to leave can easily turn into 15 or 10 or even 5.. aim for 20-30 and you should have time for a few pictures and a few moments to take a deep breath before you leave.
Be generous with how much time you leave to get to your ceremony - often the person conducting the ceremony will want a brief chat before it begins, and they should brief you for when they'd like you to arrive ahead of the day. I aim to leave 10 minutes before you do (again, depending on the logistics of your day) so I can arrive at the ceremony in good time, chat to whomever is conducting it, and capturing the moments before it all begins.
TIME ALLOWANCE - 1.5-2 hours
The person conducting your ceremony will advise you of how long it's expected to last. This is, of course, depending on whether it's a religious or non-religious ceremony and whether you have hymns or readings. You should allow 10-15 minutes after your ceremony for greeting guests and possibly confetti. This time can make for some lovely natural shots, so allow time here to ensure you're not having to rush off immediately for your reception.
TIME ALLOWANCE - it depends!
GROUP / FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS
Personally, I advise my couples to allow time for group photographs as early into their reception as possible. As soon as guests have arrived at the reception venue is the best time to get these shots ticked off the list for a number of reasons; people don't typically like being bothered by the photographer when there's a bar and canapés being handed out (I don't blame them), when people have had a drink a few hours' in it becomes much more difficult to round people up for photographs, and this way, it frees up guests early on to leave the formal stuff and go and enjoy the day.
I usually suggest that we do group photographs at the reception location, unless couples have a specific request for them to be immediately after the ceremony at the ceremony location.
I usually ask couples to nominate a helpful person who knows people from the group shot list to help round people up - it helps things run smoothly and is generally the most efficient way to move through these formal shots. You'll have better things to do on your wedding day than stand in line-ups for hours on end.
As standard I cover immediate family on each side and the bridal party. There is space for you to add a few group shots; I like to have shots done and out of the way in around 20 minutes - 30 max - and I may advise you if I think that a long shot list is going to affect and compromise how I cover the rest of your day. Your wedding is for celebration and seeing your family and friends, after all.
TIME ALLOWANCE - 20-30 minutes max
BETWEEN THE CEREMONY AND RECEPTION
I love this time, after your group photographs and before the meal time, because it's a wonderful opportunity to capture you and your guests taking the day in and enjoying yourselves. I love the natural moments when you're all mingling and clinking glasses, hugging and kissing.. I capture all of these moments from the sidelines and weave between guests searching for these sorts of interactions. I'll also find time to capture any details and stylings of the day at this point.
Allow time to see everyone before you go and sit down, between arriving at the reception and sitting down you'll need time for group photographs, some couple portraits and time to see everyone who's come to celebrate with you. I would personally advise 90 minutes as a minimum, but ideally between 2 and 3 hours.
One consideration here would be thinking about what time your ceremony was and how hungry your guests are likely to be - if you're having a lunchtime ceremony and a 3pm mealtime, there will most likely be time to relax and mingle with your guests after the meal before the evening celebrations begin too.
TIME ALLOWANCE BETWEEN ARRIVING AT RECEPTION AND SIT DOWN - 1.5 - 3 hours
For couple photographs, most times we'll stay on site at the venue, but occasionally there's a wonderful opportunity that's too good to miss either en route to the reception from the ceremony or a short drive away. It depends what your priorities are (obviously I love when people prioritise a bit of extra time for couple portraits) but I'd advise leaving around 20-30 minutes at this point in the day so we can make the most of this time. I'll scout the venue during the time after group photographs and work out where would work well for couple shots and I usually suggest that I take you away about 15 minutes before your guests start to move and take their seats; this way you're not spending too much time away from everyone as people are moving from one point to another at this time anyway.
I may well grab you for a handful more photographs after the meal depending on the light (and the weather!) because sometime's it just too good to miss. Sally and Stephen's portrait (at the bottom of the photos below) was taken after their meal and before their evening do - trust me if I say it's worth nipping out for another five minutes!
TIME ALLOWANCE - 20-30 minutes
MEAL AND SPEECHES
Timings for your meal and speeches varies depending on what you've organised for catering and how many guests you have - a three course sit down meal often takes much longer than a buffet/informal meal. Your co-ordinator or caterer will be able to advise you in more detail about how long they expect the meal to take. From my own experience, mealtime - not including speeches - takes 1.5-2 hours on average.
Time for speeches can really vary too! If you're having speeches before the meal, it can be a good idea to ask those speaking roughly how long their speech lasts, and then you can advise your co-ordinator or caterer accordingly (they may suggest sitting down for the speeches and meal a little earlier), but if speeches are after the meal then things can often be a little more flexible. Again, from my own experience, speeches with three speakers tends to last around 30-40 minutes.
TIME ALLOWANCE - varies!
EVENING / TURNAROUND TIME
Often there is an hour or so after the meal and speeches before the evening reception starts and any additional guests arrive. As I said before, if the light is beautiful I may quickly grab you for a few photographs in this time, and it's also another chance for guests to relax after eating before the night-time celebrations begin. Usually, unless there is a separate space for your evening reception, this is when rooms will be 'turned around' for the evening - meaning that tables and chairs will be moved to create room for dancing and bands and/or DJs will set up. If you've had an earlier ceremony this time after the meal may be slightly longer.
My coverage covers everything from pre-wedding preparations to the first dance - but as an add-on you can have me for a few extra hours to capture some serious shape-throwing and dancing into the night.
TIME ALLOWANCE - 1 hour +
As a side note, but one worth considering, there will be factors that can affect your timings throughout the day; one of the most common being the weather. I'm very, very used to working around our changeable weather conditions (as well as other factors that can affect how the day runs) and moving timings around - what I've outlined and suggested above is ideal, but weddings always mix with reality and sometimes things don't go exactly according to plan. Don't worry about what you can't control, but it really helps to be a little bit generous with timings to allow for these other factors.
As I always tell my couples - it's all part of the story!
Embrace your wedding and don't worry too much on the day; it's time to celebrate!
I hope you've found 'How to plan your wedding timings' useful and that it's helped you consider your timings in greater detail - if you've already booked and have any questions I'm always just an email away. Happy planning!