So today we are going to have a look at the all-important timings for your wedding day.
No matter how “chilled out” and “relaxed” you’d like your wedding day to be I would highly recommend having a plan in terms of what times things happen.
The most stressful weddings I have been to (not for me) have always been the ones promising to have no time-line, that will just go with the flow. It’s a recipe for disaster.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that things won’t always go to plan, expect to have some flexibility in all of the timings and once you’ve made your plan, pass it on to your suppliers and bridal party then you as a couple should be able to forget about it.
Appoint a head-Bridesmaid, an Usher, Best-man or MC to keep things on track, some venues have wedding planners and of course you can always hire your own independent wedding planner.
So here goes.
The first time you will have to decide will be the ceremony time. This will have to be a time that the priest, vicar, celebrant or registrar also has available.
Choosing this will also impact the rest of the day so give it a lot of consideration.
Things to consider.
How long will it take to get ready? Check with the professionals, your make-up and hair artists will be able to advise, based on how many people there are to get ready how long that will take.
Don’t be surprised if based on your 1pm wedding they are looking to arrive at 6am though! In terms of what time to ask your photographer to arrive, from experience I would recommend around 2 hours before the ceremony (plus any travel time). Having a photographer from 8am for a 1pm wedding would give you a disproportionate amount of time for “getting ready” photos to the rest of the day. You would have over four hours of make-up and hair photos and only 90 minutes of a drinks reception. The photos during this time can be quite repetitive as well. You will be sat motionless for quite some time have hair/make-up so there isn’t much to photograph up to the last hour really. Also consider at what point you are happy to have photos from, are you happy to have pics pre any make-up? Quite often I arrive at the pre-arranged time for “getting ready” photos only to be informed that they are “not ready” ?!
Consider also the time of the year, what time you have light until and what time is sun-down.
In the summer it can be light until 10pm but in winter it’ll be dark by 4pm
And finally work backwards from the time you ideally want your evening to kick off, getting timings right is a balance between not feeling rushed but not having long gaps in the day.
So, let’s say you both decide 1pm is the best time to get married.
Your other-half will have to be at a civil ceremony 30 mins beforehand for his/her interview.
A civil ceremony in a licenced venue (inside or outside) will take no more than 30 minutes. Even with two or three readings and the signing of the registers it’s 30 minutes maximum.
A humanist/celebrant led ceremony can be as long or as short as you want but isn’t currently a legal marriage in England, you would have to have a legally recognised wedding as well.
A church of England wedding would normally take around 45/60 minutes depending on how many readings and hymns you have,
A full catholic ceremony can take between 90-120 minutes
Other cultural weddings such as Hindu ceremonies, or Islamic ceremonies can take anything up to two or three hours.
Based on a civil ceremony being at 1pm you should begin seating your guests at 12.40/45
When you arrive for the ceremony you will also have to have a short interview with the registrar and a brief talk-through with the celebrant leading the ceremony. There will be two members of staff, one to do the talking and one to do the writing.
There is no rehearsal with a civil ceremony as there is in a church.
During the 20-minute ceremony if you decide to hold it outside, law dictates that you must say these words under a permanent three-sided structure
The declaration –I do solemnly declare, that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (your name) may not be joined in matrimony to (your partner’s full name).
I call upon these persons, here present, to witness that I (your full name) do take thee (your partner’s full name) to be my lawful wedded wife/husband.
Any part of the ceremony before or after these words can be said outside of the structure including the ring exchange.
After 20/30 mins you will be married and will have signed the registers. (you will need at least two witnesses to do this. They do not need to be over 16 and you can have more than two if you so wish.
Next, your drinks reception will begin from 1.30pm
Normally a venue would allocate around 90 mins for this. This includes a meet/greet, drinks, canapes, group photos and photos of the two of you. It is not advisable to try to cram this into one hour!
As a photographer I always make sure that the guests and couple are ready to be seated for the wedding meal at the pre-determined time. However, if you have taken your prerogative as a Bride and arrived 10/15 mins late it is good practise to have this relayed to the kitchen, especially if the starters are hot. A good wedding planner will have already sorted this, if the Bride walks down the aisle at 1.15 then it would be a good idea to inform the kitchen immediately of a 15 minute delay to the breakfast (meal). Chef’s have big knives and don’t like delays.
I have however personally experienced a Bride who was 30 minutes late for the ceremony and the hotel staff still expected the party to be seated at 3pm, making the reception/drinks time only an hour long.
Some venues even allow a two-hour gap between the end of the ceremony and start of reception which does make everything a lot less rushed, just make sure your guests have plenty of canapes as I have also seen guests sloping off to ‘spoons for a quick lunch during a two-hour drinks reception! You also run the risk of guests having slightly too much to drink!
With everything and everyone running on time your guests will be seated by 3.15pm (make sure you allow 10 minutes for everyone to be seated), differentiate between being called in for the meal and the meal starting. Ideally you want to be called after 90 mins with the service to begin 15 mins later.
It was very popular in the 1970’s-1990’s to have a “receiving line”. This is when the Bridal party would line up by the door to the wedding breakfast and each guest would greet each member, Bride, Groom, Parents, Bridesmaids and Best-man. Some would condense this into just the couple but depending on how many guests you have it can take between 20-40 minutes. At its most lengthy I have seen 150 people lining up to kiss, greet, and shake hands with 5 Bridesmaids, 2 Best-men, 8 parents and a Bride & Groom, pity the poor work colleagues at the back who’ve waited an hour for a shake of the hand and a peck on the cheek from the Bridesmaids!
Thankfully this tradition seems to have fizzled out with the introduction of more relaxed weddings and in the post-pandemic world that weddings are opening up into it seems even less likely.
A wedding breakfast will typically take between 90 mins to two hours depending on how many tables and courses you have.
Our 1pm wedding is now running on schedule, a few glasses of wine in and its speech time at 5.30pm
Normally three speeches will take around an hour…but I have also had a father of the Bride whose speech was an hour and the same for a Best-man. There is also the option of Bridesmaids giving speeches, father of groom, mother of Bride and as at one wedding, an open mic policy.
As an average though they should be complete in time for a 6.30pm cake cutting.
This will give you about an hour to freshen up, or have a few more photos in the evening light before evening guests start to arrive from around 7.30pm
If you invite evening guests to attend from 7pm they will arrive from 7.30pm-8pm
Aim to have your first dance around 8pm and you will have a straight four hours to dance the night away!
In terms of photography. I would normally allocate 20 mins for any group shots and 20/30 mins for photos of you both.
This will really only need extending if you have a huge group list (I advise trying to keep group photos to around 10-12 maximum if at all possible) or if you have a venue with extensive grounds and you would like to make the most of them.
Prior planning can avoid this taking too long, a good photographer will have put the group list into a logical order so that family are not coming in and out of photos, and will have pre-planned the areas you will have your “couple” shots.
If you have video as well, maybe factor in a little time with the videographer as well.
90 minutes should give plenty of time for all of that as well as plenty of time with your guests, but don’t forget that you have the whole meal time and evening with them, you don’t have daylight forever!
I hope this has helped. It’s really only a guide based on 20+ years of wedding photography and you should always consult your own suppliers but it should give you a starting point!