Wedding timeline advice from a creative wedding photographer

I know there are a lot of people out there in the beginning stages of planning a wedding, but panicking because they have absolutely no idea where to start! If you would like a relaxed and fun wedding day with time for photos but also time to hang out with your loved ones I’m hoping this wedding timeline advice will be helpful. On your wedding day you will want to chill out and enjoy yourself without being rushed, stressed or feeling like you have abandoned your guests. Following my advice below will allow you to get the photos that you are hoping for, as well as being able to spend time with your friends and family.

Consider the time of year

My first piece of wedding timeline advice is that you need to think about what time of year you want to have your wedding, and what implications that will have for your timeline.

If you are having a winter wedding, for example, you are much more restricted in terms of the hours of daylight you have available. What do you need to fit into those hours? One option is to have an early ceremony, so there is plenty of daylight time afterwards for confetti, group shots and couple portraits. Alternatively you could have a “first look”, which means that the bride and groom have a romantic private meet-up (with me!) before the ceremony and do their couple portraits then.

If you have a winter wedding ceremony later in the day and decide against a first look you need to be aware that the photos after your ceremony (or even during the ceremony if you have a dark venue) will need to be lit by flash or video light. This means you won’t get the natural light portraits that you will have seen in your photographer’s portfolio. Flash lit portraits can look fantastic and so unique, but they will have a completely different feel to them so you should be prepared for that.

A summer wedding of course has plenty of hours of daylight, so you can be very flexible with your timeline. It comes with it’s own challenges though. If the sunlight is too harsh during the part of the day when you would usually have your portraits done then your photographer might suggest doing them later when the sun is lower in the sky. This could mean popping out between wedding breakfast courses or after the speeches.

How long do you want the wedding to last?

Next up in my wedding timeline advice is to think about how long you want the timeline to be from start to finish. Perhaps you would like to swan around at a day-long soirée which carries on into the night? Or maybe you would prefer something short and sweet to get to the crazy-party-time quicker? It’s totally up to you of course, but I have some recommendations below for the minimum amounts of time you should allocate for each section of the day.

Bridal preparation and ceremony times

The first thing you are likely to organise is the actual date and time of your ceremony. This may depend on the availability of your chosen venue, or the dates the registrars are free. Once you know your ceremony time you can start planning the morning preparation timings. If you are planning to have your hair and make up done then you can discuss how long everything will take with your hair stylist and make up artist. It will depend on how many people are having hair and make up done, e.g. bridesmaids, mums, other family members.

I generally arrive at bridal prep a couple of hours before the ceremony time (dependant on the distance between the getting ready and ceremony venues) and will leave 20-30 minutes before you. If you want photos of you getting into your dress, or any group photos with bridesmaids/family once you are all dressed, then you will need to take these timings into consideration.

My main wedding timeline advice for the morning is to leave PLENTY OF TIME. It’s better to be ready early and have time for one more prosecco (or two!) than to be rushing and stressed and risk being late.

The ceremony itself will probably last around half an hour. Some registry office ceremonies are shorter and some Church ceremonies are longer, but half an hour is standard.

Group photos

After the ceremony I would advise making a start on the group shots straight away while everyone is already gathered together. However you may want to have some time to say hi to your friends and have a bit of a chat and a mingle first. Either way is fine, as long as I have some helpers to gather people when we start the group shots it will all run smoothly.

I recommend allocating about half an hour for group shots. If they take 3 minutes each to organise (sometimes it can be longer if it’s a large wedding and people have wandered off!) and you have 10 group shots then that is exactly how long it will take. Often we can get through them quicker than that, but if there are restless kids involved, or older people who need a bit more time to make their way over, it can take longer.

Drinks reception

As well as doing the group photos during the drinks reception, I also like to take you away for 15-20 minutes of couple portraits before you sit down for your food. Usually 1.5 hours between the end of the ceremony and being called in to sit down is a sufficient amount of time, but if you want to relax a bit more and be able to mingle with your guests I would recommend 2 hours.

You can guarantee that as long as there are some canapés, drinks and perhaps some games or entertainment, your guests will have a fabulous time for that couple of hours.


The speeches can either take place before the meal (this could be preferable if anyone is particularly nervous!) or afterwards. If they are before, you will need to ask the speakers to keep to a certain length of time, because the caterers will be working with a serving time in mind. You don’t want the best man talking for 20 minutes longer than promised and for all the food to get cold.

You can speak to your caterers about how long the meal will last, but in my experience it is usually 1.5-2 hours for a 3 course meal.

Evening guests

My wedding timeline advice for evening guests would be to ask them to arrive 30 minutes after the meal and speeches are due to finish. Make sure there will be somewhere they can wait and get a drink if things happen to run significantly later than planned.

Cutting the cake and first dance

I always recommend doing these at the same time. Well, not at *exactly* the same time unless ‘danger’ is your middle name. In all honesty, cutting the cake tends to be a bit of an anti-climax if there’s nothing happening straight after. However, if you then go straight into the first dance it works really well. This has the added bonus that you don’t have to gather everyone together twice.

My wedding timeline advice would be to do this perhaps 15-30 minutes after the evening guests arrive. This keeps things moving and gets the party started.

I will usually stay for 30-45 minutes after the first dance to get some awesome dancefloor shots!

Wedding timeline advice – example timeline

Obviously I know that everyone’s wedding is different and you may have decided to go a more non-traditional route with your wedding. If you have decided to cut out some of the traditional aspects to make way for more fun stuff then that is great! This wedding timeline advice is purely a guide. Here is an example wedding timeline based on the advice above.

11:30am – hair and make-up artists arrive and start
12pm – photographer starts
1:15pm – bride puts on wedding dress
1:30pm – photographer leaves for venue
2pm – bride leaves for venue
2:15pm – ceremony starts
2:45pm – ceremony ends, confetti outside
3pm-3:30pm – group shots
3:30-4:15pm – mingling
4:15-4:35pm – couple portraits
4:45pm – called in to sit for wedding breakfast
5pm-5:20pm – speeches
5:30pm – food is served
7pm – coffee
7:30pm – evening guests arrive
7:45-8pm – gather everyone for cutting the cake and first dance
8:30-8:45pm – photographer finishes

Other wedding advice

I hope that you have found this wedding timeline advice helpful. I have written a few other tips and advice blog posts which you can find linked below. Do let me know if there is anything else you would like me to blog about that would be handy to know! I have plans for a few more blog posts of this type in the next few months so stay tuned.

Tips for getting fantastic wedding photos
Tips and advice for your wedding group photos
How to prepare for your bridal preparation photos
Engagement shoot ideas and advice

I’m Nikki van der Molen and I’m a creative wedding photographer based in Redhill but covering weddings in London and the rest of the UK. I’d even consider letting you fly me out to an exotic location abroad if you’re really set on it. If you would like to discuss your wedding with me please do send me a message via my contact page.

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