If there’s one thing everyone will tell you about your wedding day, it’s that it’ll fly by. In a blur. In a flash. In a rollercoaster ride of nerves, excitement, laughter and dubious dancing (I’m looking at you Uncle Bryn). It’s true, every bit of it.
So, to make sure everything runs smoothly and you’re free to lose track of time, it’s a good idea to think about how long each part of the day will take – before it actually rolls around. Chances are, you’ve already got a couple of things you can’t move, like the ceremony time or the dinner, so they can be your starting point. And if it’s all still up for grabs, even better!
As a wedding photographer – and a human being with friends and family – I’ve been to a lot of weddings. A lot. They’re all different, but in almost every case, timings slip as the day unfolds. Which is why, if you’ve got a realistic idea of what you’re aiming for, you stand the best chance of fitting everything in you want, while still being able to relax and have an amazing day.
Here’s a quick guide to planning your time (and your wedding photos!).
Dressing up, making up.
Total time: 3-4h. Photo time: 1.5 – 2 hours.
Getting ready takes a bit of time, and it’s not something you’ll want to rush. If you – or anyone else – is having hair or makeup professionally done, you’ll need to allow about an hour per person. On top of that, leave yourself about half an hour to get into your outfit. The lady in the shop might have been a whiz with all those buttons and ribbons, but it doesn’t mean your mum will be.
Not everyone wants a photographer around for this part of the day, but most of my couples do. It’s a great chance to capture that pre-wedding excitement and get some beautiful shots while things are fairly quiet. You won’t need me there for the whole time, but about an hour and a half should give me enough time to get photos of you with your bridesmaids, best men and parents – or up to two hours if you’d like some shots of your dress, flowers etc too.
Before the wagons start rolling.
Total time: 30 minutes. Photo time: 15 minutes.
It’s good to give yourself a bit of breathing space before you set off for the ceremony. Time to grab a glass of fizz, spend a few moments with your folks and take a few portrait shots. If you can be all dressed and ready half an hour before you need to go, that’s perfect, and if you run late, it’s something you can skip without too much stress.
I’ll probably stay with you for ten to 15 minutes, then set off first so I’m there when you arrive. That also gives me a little time to photograph your guests arriving and talk to the person conducting your ceremony to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Total time: Ask Google maps + plenty to spare. Photo time: Usually none.
I wouldn’t usually take photos on the way to the ceremony, unless you were using some amazing mode of transport like a boat or a hot air balloon. It’s just a bit in your face and the light inside a car isn’t always the greatest. That said, if it’s something you really want, we can plan for it.
When it comes to allowing time to get there, be generous. Really generous. If your venue has other weddings booked that day, they won’t be able to wait forever, and the last thing you want is to be panicking all the way there. I know there’s a tradition of keeping partners waiting, but it’s so much better to do that while you have a few quiet moments – and photos – outside the venue than to do it because there was traffic on the ring road!
Total time: Up to 1 hour. Photo time: 1 hour
Ceremonies can vary a lot in length – from 20 minutes at a registry office to over 1.5 h at a church. The good news is, the person conducting your ceremony will have a really good idea of how long you need, so make some time to check with them.
I’ll usually take photos throughout the service, but sometimes the venue will have rules about when this can happen. For instance, they might only allow photos as you walk in and out, or during hymns, if you’re having them.
Confetti and hugs.
Total time: 30 minutes. Photo time: 30 minutes
Whether you go for the full-on confetti shower, or just hugs and kisses from your guests, those first few minutes of married life are really special. Allow yourself a good half an hour just after the ceremony to chat to friends and family, make your way out of the building and take it all in. I’ll be there to get some beautiful shots of everyone.
Group shots, portraits, drinks and nibbles.
Total time: Between 1- 2 hours. Photo time: 1 hour
This part of the day depends a lot on whether you’re travelling to another venue for your reception. If you are, you’ll need to think about whether you want group shots and portraits outside your ceremony venue, or once you arrive at the reception. You’ll also need to factor in travel time if everyone’s on the move. If you’re laying on transport – like a vintage London bus – you might even want some photos on the way.
It’s always good to get any group shots done before people get seriously into the fizz. The more tipsy they are, the harder they’ll be to find, position and photograph. My style tends to be more documentary, but most people still want a handful of group shots ( up to 6 miax), and I’d allow about half an hour for those (most of which we’ll spend waiting for Nanna to come back from the loo).
I’ll usually borrow you for half an hour or so to take some of your portrait shots while your guests are enjoying their first couple of drinks. This can take a little longer if you’d like, but I don’t want to keep you from your guests for too long. A good way round this is to start just before your guests sit down for dinner or right after ceremony and group shots. I often plan another half an hour of portraits after dinner, when the light is softer too.
Dinner and speeches.
Total time: Up to 2-3h. Photo time: 1h.
How much time you allow for dinner really depends on the kind of meal you’re having, so talk to the venue to get their advice.
I don’t take photos of everyone eating but of course, be ready to capture the speeches. They’re another area that can vary wildly in terms of timing, especially if your dad’s on the gin and feeling a bit sentimental! I’d allow ten to 15 minutes per speech and if you’re worried about anyone going on too long, give them instructions before they start writing!
Coffee and changing rooms.
Total time: 45 minutes. Photo time – 20 min.
At some venues, dancing happens in the same room as dinner, so you and your guests might have coffee or drinks in another room while the staff transform it into a boogie wonderland. I’d recommend allowing about half an hour for this to happen – I’ll still be around to take photos.
Cake cutting and slow dancing.
Total time: 20 minutes. Photo time: 20 minutes.
It doesn’t take long to cut a cake (if you’re having one), but there’s always a bit of jostling among your guests to get a good shot, so leave longer than you’d think. If you’d like some photos of your first dance, make sure you leave a little time before you invite people to join you on the dance floor. I’ll only have a short window, in tricky light, to get the perfect shot of the two of you, so it’s really helpful to have at least half a song to do it in!
Disco. Disco. Disco!
Total time: Until the venue kicks you out! Photo time: 1 hour.
I love dancing photos. By this point in the day everyone’s stopped worrying about keeping their hair tidy and they’re just going for it on the dance floor. It’s one, big happy mix of everyone you know, from Nanna to your little nieces to your mates from work. Amazing.
Talk to your venue about how late they’ll let you stay – they usually have a cut-off time when they’ve got to stop serving drinks. I can get plenty of party pictures in an hour but I’m always happy to stay longer if you need me to cover more hours.
Think about how these things fit in with what you want for your day – and talk to your venues to find out how long they expect things like your ceremony and dinner to take. Armed with all that, it’s time to grab a cuppa and get planning. If you’d like me on board, I’d love to help, so just drop me a line and we’ll find a good time. I promise it’ll be fun!