Guide to Wedding Day Timings
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Your wedding day is one of the biggest days of your life, both in terms of significance, emotion and also, planning! It's unlikely that before this day, you've experienced this amount of planning, co-ordination and organisation that are needed to pull together the wedding day that you dream of. But have no fear, I'm here to give you some helpful tips about how to work out your wedding day timings!
First of all, I want to stress that this guide is based on my experience as a bride, and working in the wedding industry. However, your day should be as personalised and tailored to exactly what you want, and you should definitely adapt your wedding day timings to suit you as a couple.
So ladies, whether there is one bride or two, here are some tips that will help figure out how long to leave for getting ready.
Hair and makeup can take between 30-60 minutes per person, and typically the bride(s) will be assigned a little extra time compared to bridesmaids or relatives.
Unless being done by the same person, hair and makeup can be going on simultaneously, so one bridesmaid can be having her hair done while another is having makeup done.
The bride typically goes last, in hair and makeup, so that they last as long as possible through the day.
If you are doing your own hair or makeup, I would advise still using these timings to give yourself plenty of time.
Aim to be ready to get into your dress(es) an hour before your ceremony time, so you have plenty of time for pictures, to take in the moment, speak to the registrars etc. If you are getting ready at a different venue from your ceremony, remember to factor in travel time (with a bit extra for potential traffic) to this as well!
Gentlemen, whether there are one or two grooms, here are some tips for you!
If following a more 'traditional' wedding format, you will want to be at the ceremony venue at least 60 minutes before the ceremony, and will be helping to greet guests when they arrive, typically 30 minutes before the ceremony.
Allow more time that you think for getting into your suits, and don't forget that your photographer will want to get a few snaps of the finishing touches!
Please PLEASE look up how to attach buttonholes and tie a decent tie/bowtie before the morning of your wedding. Most weddings I have worked at, I have had to step in to give some advice or physically help the groomsmen get ready, which I don't mind helping with buuuuuut, it's really helpful and will make the morning go a lot smoother if you know how to do this in advance.
Don't forget to factor in travel time to the ceremony location if not getting ready at the same location, and allow extra time in case of traffic!
For a civil ceremony, the actual ceremony can go pretty quickly! If you want to make it a bit more of a celebration, opt for some readings, poems, reading your own written vows, or songs. We had two readings and my sister-in-law sang a song - all of which were beautiful and added to the special emotion of the ceremony. This made our ceremony last around 30 minutes.
After saying your vows and becoming officially wed, you'll need to sign the official documents and there will likely be some pictures. This can take a little while so have a think about whether you would like some music to be playing to entertain your guests during this time.
Another option could be to opt for a celebrant-led wedding (I'll likely cover this in another blogpost), and this option will allow you to work a bit more closely with the celebrant to personalise your ceremony, and timings. For church-based weddings, the ceremony tends to last a little bit longer, with the inclusion of a few readings, hymns and prayers. A church wedding ceremony can last around 45-60 minutes.
The drinks reception
If you're having a drinks reception after your ceremony, prior to your wedding breakfast, I recommend allowing 1.5-2 hours. This might sound like a lot of time, however, there can be a lot to fit into this time!
Confetti throw - this always takes a bit longer to organise than anticipated! While you have a quiet moment together as newlyweds, I'll be getting everyone to file out of the ceremony room and into position ready to welcome you with a shower of confetti! This can take as long as 10-20 minutes in total, depending on the number of guests.
You'll then be surrounded by all your guests who want to congratulate you both and tell you how amazing you look! It's a lovely time, but depending how many guests you have, you'll find this takes quite a while if you want to say hi to everyone at this stage.
Couples photoshoot - My FAVOURITE part of the day! We sneak off to a quiet location or two to get some gorgeous pictures. It's a fine balance of making it a special time and not taking you away from your guests for too long, so I work with you as a couple in advance and on the day to make sure we get the balance right - we often end up taking around 20 minutes.
Traditional photos - Now, it's entirely up to you whether or not you opt for traditional group photos. They are not for everyone! But if you do want some more traditional group shots, I always say allow 5 minutes per picture, and prepare a list of which pictures you want in advance. Try to be strict to these if you can so they don't dominate your drinks reception, and assign someone like a groomsman or bridesmaid to help run around and find people in advance of it being time for their picture!
As you can imagine, all of these different elements can make your drinks reception fly by! And next up is the wedding breakfast a.k.a your first meal as a married couple!
If you're having speeches, it's up to you whether you have these at the beginning or end of the meal, or in the middle. As an approximate timings, I suggest allowing 10 minutes per speech!
Depending on whether you're having a three course meal, a buffet or something else entirely can affect how long the meal lasts. From experience, I would allow 1.5-2 hours for the meal, so with the speeches, this can typically last 2-2.5 hours.
The evening of your wedding day can look however you want it to! But here are some different components that can affect some key timings such as cake-cutting and first dance.
If there is gorgeous golden-hour light as the sun sets, this is another great time to have a quiet moment together (well, and with me) to have another little photo session. I love this second session because after the first one, you see that being in front of my camera is not as scary and much more fun than you expected, so you can really relax into it, and with the evening light, we can get some magical pictures! As before, this can take around 20 minutes.
Greeting evening guests, if you are inviting additional guests, also comes after the wedding breakfast, and gives you more chance to finish those conversations you were having earlier in the day. Some couples opt for some additional entertainment at this point, which could be a photo booth, magician, caricaturist, or lawn games (who doesn't love a bit of tipsy limbo or giant Jenga!). For the evening drinks reception, I suggest allowing around 1.5 hours.
I recommend planning your cake cutting for 15-20 minutes before your first dance, but 30 minutes before, start getting your guests to gather around the cake table. Trust me, this takes longer than you might think!
And finally, you're at the moment of your first dance! Whether you are having a DJ or a band, the evening entertainment timings don't tend to vary too much. A wedding band tend to perform two sets with a break in the middle, and these are usually around 40 minutes a set. I recommend serving your cake or evening food around 30-45 minutes after your first dance. That way, the dance floor will be buzzing for the start of your evening. You don't want the dance floor to immediately empty after your first dance because everyone is rushing to get a bit of cake or get in line for your evening pizza truck!
And a final bit of advice, if you're not staying in accommodation at your reception venue, remember to book your taxi to your hotel in advance. If you're big partiers, you might want to book this for the end of the night so you're on that dance floor for the very last banger! However, it can also be nice to leave just before the end while the lights are still down, the music is reaching the final songs and you don't have to deal with the drunk stragglers!
However you decide you want your big day to look like, don't worry - it will be the perfect day! And if you have any questions or concerns about your wedding day timings, don't be afraid to reach out to your vendors, planner, photographer or anyone else to give you some advice. I love helping my couples work out their timings and give guidance, and I work super flexibly on the day so that if things don't run exactly to time, you don't need to worry or stress - I got you!
I hope this guide will be useful to you during your wedding planning! If you want to get in touch about booking me for your wedding photography, fill out an enquiry form here.