It’s no mean feat to organise a wedding, especially your own! So if that’s what you’re doing (well done!) you might be feeling a little swamped and wondering where to start, and you’re almost definitely asking yourself what’s the best timeline for your wedding day?

If I’m your wedding photographer, please know I’m here to help as much as I can. And my first answer to most questions like “should we do X, Y, or Z on our wedding day?” is usually that it’s your wedding and you should do what YOU want to do – I don’t put much store by traditions if they don’t make sense for you!

But there’s one thing I don’t recommend getting too creative with if you can help it, and that’s the basic running order of your wedding day.

Most ‘all day’ weddings follow the same basic timeline – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Of course, every wedding’s different and there’s often good reasons to move things around a little bit.

But doing something drastic like, for example, moving all the portraits and group shots to before the ceremony instead of after it, can have knock-on effects you might not have thought of yet. So if you’re moving things around it’s a great idea to check in with all your suppliers as early as possible, just to make sure they’ve got the time they need.

For now, here’s…

My ideal wedding day timeline

For the purposes of this imaginary wedding let’s assume:

  • it’s an all-day wedding with a 2pm ceremony,
  • and the ceremony, reception, and party are all taking place at the same venue,
  • with pre-wedding prep about 20 minutes drive away,
  • and around 100 guests, give or take a few dozen

And let’s assume a heterosexual wedding with a bride and a groom – the logistics are the same for everyone, all that really matters for now is where you want me to spend the time before the ceremony.

And similarly it doesn’t really matter if you have 60 or 160 guests, all that matters is the more guests involved the longer it’ll take whenever we need to move, gather, or arrange them.

I’m also going to be fairly liberal with some timings, especially group shots, portraits, and the first dance, which have the most potential to fall behind a bit. This just gives us the best chance of fitting everything in without much, or any, stress about the time – but without leaving things too ‘baggy’.  Then if we do get ahead of ourselves on the day it’s a bonus!

Along the way I’ll answer a couple of ‘questions’ about alternative ways of doing things. And all my suggestions here are based on having seen ‘worst case scenarios’ with my own eyes, at actual weddings. I don’t have to speculate about what could go wrong, because I’ve seen it happen many times!


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1. Pre-wedding prep: 11:30am to 1pm

Typically I’ll arrive to capture some pre-wedding prep around 2 to 2.5 hours before the ceremony, depending where you are for that. The goal is to have some relaxed time capturing what’s happening, and then get to the ceremony venue with at least half an hour to go.

I’d like to capture as much of the ‘goings on’ as possible – it’s not all about closeups of people getting their makeup done. In fact it’s mostly wide shots taking in the general atmosphere, and some details that help build the story.

Whatever you do, don’t rush to get ready and tidied up before I arrive, or they won’t be much of a story for me to capture! 🙂

1a. Start putting the dress on: 12:30pm

If there’ll be a bridal dress moment it’s best to plan putting it on around 40 minutes before I have to leave, and definitely no later than 30 minutes beforehand. This gives you some time in hand to fall a bit behind schedule or for the dress to take a little longer than expected to put on. It’s all perfectly normal, just allow time for it!

Once I’ve got some lovely snaps of the buttons being done up and your family or wedding party seeing you all dressed up for the first time, I’m off to the ceremony!

1b. Photographer to ceremony venue: 1pm to 1:30pm

For this we’re assuming a 20 minute drive – but don’t forget a few minutes for you to be a bit behind getting the dress on, plus a few minutes for me to pack up and get to my car, and a few more to find parking at the other end. Or if I’m getting a taxi allow for it to be a bit late!

What if you both want ‘getting ready’ coverage?

This is pretty simple if you’re both getting ready at the same venue or very close by (i.e. five minutes walk or so), I’ll just bounce between you both, having planned what time you’ll be doing the important stuff (groom’s suit on, bride’s dress on, etc).

If you’re at totally different locations I can probably only be with one of you, unless we book a second photographer. This can add several hundred to the price for just a few hours, so it’s not always worth it, but happy to discuss.

What if you’re getting ready at the ceremony venue?

As there’s no ‘travel time’ to the ceremony venue after prep I can either spend a bit more time with both of you, or start a little later. Once we’ve seen how the end of the day looks it’ll be easier to decide about when to start and finish.

What if we don’t want prep coverage at all?

Basically we’ll have more time to spend either at the ceremony venue as guests arrive, or at the party that night. Although, there’s not always much benefit to staying later than 90 minutes after the first dance, it can all get a bit messy and repetitive.

Personally, I think it’s a shame not to have at least a few scene-setting shots as you all get ready that morning. I approach wedding photography like telling a story, and stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Even if you’re all sitting round having cups of tea, that’s the beginning of the story and I think you’ll value those photos a lot more than you think once a few years have passed and memories start to fade.


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2. Ceremony guest arrivals: from 1:30pm

I’ll want to be at the ceremony venue at least 30 minutes beforehand. I use this time to say hello to the officiants, check out the space, and start capturing guest arrivals, greeting the groom and the families, etc.

Then I’ll try to be outside ready for the bride’s arrival just before 2pm.

3. The wedding ceremony: from 2pm to 2:35pm

Most non-church ceremonies take about 30 minutes, maybe 40 at the most. It depends if you’re having any readings or if there’s some cultural or religious elements to the ceremony. Let’s split the difference and get you hitched by a slightly-awkward-but-realistic 2:35pm – congratulations!

What if our ceremony is longer?

Most church ceremonies, for example, take about 60 minutes as they usually feature multiple readings, sermons, and choir performances, plus some additional religious elements.

If your ceremony will definitely be longer than 30 minutes just add that extra time on to the subsequent timings in this suggested schedule.


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4. Confetti & congratulations: 2:35pm to 2:50pm

Where you do the confetti has a big impact on how long this part of the day takes, because we have to get all of your guests out of their seats and out to that spot, all lined up for you, and all armed with handfuls of confetti to throw (OVER you, not AT you…).

For these timings I’ve assumed it’s a 1-2 minute walk for one person, so more like 5-10 minutes for 100 people.

Keep an eye on ‘travel time’ details like this one – just getting 100 guests out of the main doors and into position right outside (at a church for example) can take 5-10 minutes on a good day, but if you have to walk them out the room, down some stairs, through a building and outside to a garden space (at a hotel, for example) it could be more like 15 minutes.

So this is a great time for your best man and ushers to take charge again and keep people moving – in the right direction ideally. Seriously, guests don’t really know what’s happening so they really appreciate some nice loud voices telling them where to go and what to do.

Also, we’ll want to hide you away after the ceremony so that there’s no distractions for guests as we walk them to the ceremony spot. Then once guests are arranged (two lines forming a ‘corridor’ is ideal) out you come, and enjoy the moment!

It only lasts a few seconds, and then everyone will crowd round you for congratulations and hugs as it’s the first chance they’ve had. There’s lots of lovely moments here so I’ll capture as much of that as I can before we probably need to move on to…


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5. Group shots: 2:50pm – 3:20pm

Group shots are your best opportunity to get all your favourite people together for a photo with you, especially as you probably won’t have them all together like this again for a while, and especially this well dressed! So we want to do these no matter what.


This part of the day has the unique potential to suck up tons of time just standing around asking people to go and find such-and-such, wondering where the people who were right here a minute ago have gone, and so on. It’s a bit like herding cats, especially when there’s 100+ guests looking for champagne. Fun!

Some of these group shots will end up on mantlepieces for decades to come so it really pays to get them right. But we want to balance that with getting you back to the party ASAP. That starts with arranging your VIPs into as simple a list of groups as you can.

For best results I recommend around eight to ten at most, and I’ve got a starter list I can share you with. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll shoot whatever you want! But the more people involved the longer it generally takes.

In fact, I’ve written a post with all my tips for easy group shots – check it out here.

Here’s the highlights:

  1. eight to ten groups works best for most couples, and can take about 15-20 minutes if everything goes without a hitch, or much longer if we have to look for people
  2. ask your best man/maid of honour/groomsmen/bridesmaids to help gather everyone – it’s what they’re there for, but make sure they’re up for taking charge in advance
  3. avoid fiddly variations with minor differences – fewer photos with more people in them is simpler and often just as good. Every second counts when there’s champagne being poured!
  4. accept that kids often don’t like posing – being asked to stand still, smile, or even look at the camera typically results in the exact opposite happening!
  5. add extra time for an ‘everyone’ shot – maybe about 10 minutes to move and organise people, unless we can do it where we did confetti
  6. and another 20-ish minutes to make some great portraits together – and a tentative plan to sneak out of your wedding breakfast for one last portrait during sunset, if there’s a good one (when the best light happens it usually lasts about five minutes)

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6. Couple portraits: 3:25pm – 3:45pm

This is much simpler than group shots! It’s just you two and me and a nice spot to go for a wander and make some lovely portraits together.

You don’t need to be posers. Some of the best portraits are the couple having a snuggle on a secluded bench, or walking along a tree-lined avenue. Or if you’re getting married in the city there’s always some striking urban locations to make a portrait in.

Occasionally I’ll stop you and pose you a little bit, give you a bit of direction, ask you to whisper something rude in his or her ear, and then capture the result – even if you fall apart giggling that’s a great moment!

And after about 20 minutes (it flies by!) we’ll get you back to that party.

7. Reception drinks coverage: 3:50pm – 4:45pm

The drinks reception really kicked off around 2:45pm for everyone that wasn’t in group shots, including you two unfortunately*! But let’s say it’s two hours long from when the ceremony finishes (i.e. before confetti), which works out about right for our imaginary wedding.

Once we’re back I’ll use this time to capture as many candid moments between your guests as I can, as well as keeping an eye on you guys so I can get some of the hugs and congratulations you’ll be enjoying.

But I’ll also nip off to the wedding breakfast room in the last 15 minutes to capture it all set up and looking stunning before guests arrive.

* By the way, because you’ll miss some of the reception it’s great to arrange for your venue manager or wedding planner to bring you glasses of champagne to enjoy right after confetti while we gather people for group shots. And maybe another one after group shots? And don’t forget to save a plate of canapés for yourselves! Most venue managers or planners will do all this for you anyway but doesn’t hurt to ask.

Thinking about squeezing the drinks reception down to 90 minutes?

Don’t. Stop it. Stick to the plan! Your guests really won’t struggle to entertain themselves while you’re away, and I want you to have enough time to enjoy it properly once you’re back. If we’re held up doing group shots you could easily end up with just 10 minutes here, I’ve seen it before.

What if we did group shots and portraits before the ceremony?

Sure, if we’ve done all the groups and portraits beforehand then you can probably safely cut the reception drinks down to, say, 90 minutes, as you’ll be there for all of it.

8. Call to be seated: 4:45pm – 5pm

Even if the dining room is literally right next door to reception drinks, it just takes time for that many people to get the message, find their name on a seating plan, then find that table, and actually sit down ready to welcome you in. Especially if they’ve had a few drinks already!

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9. Wedding breakfast & speeches & cake cutting: 5pm – 7:15pm

Timings all get a bit wobbly from here on out but it’s less of a concern than the group shots, where we’re potentially eating up your reception drinks time. The only thing to consider is if my ‘official’ finish time gives me enough time to capture the party but we’ll look at that later.

Just a three course meal alone would usually take at least 90 minutes to serve and clear for 100 people. Including 3 or 4 speeches easily gets us to two hours, and cake-cutting slows things down a bit too, especially if you’re doing it after the mains, for people to have as dessert.

When’s the best time to do speeches?

Personally I like it when there’s one before the first course, then the last two after the main course, and nothing between the starter and main.

That way everyone gets to enjoy the meal properly, and the caterers will love you too! In fact a lot of wedding venues I’ve worked at recently won’t allow speeches between the starter and mains, for these reasons.

I find that bunching them all together can lead to people getting restless by the last one, especially as that’s often the longest. But putting one speech between each course means the meal is always being interrupted, and can make it hard for the caterer to keep the main course fresh. Plus it’s much more likely I could miss a speech that starts earlier than expected as I’ll take a half hour break when my meal is served.

10. Some spare time: 7:15pm – 7:45pm

Like I said, timings around here get wobbly, and there’s lots of different ways to do the whole meal/speeches/cake bit of the day. So, having some time in hand here allows for lots of stuff to happen that might otherwise cause an stricter schedule to run late anyway.

For example it can be filled with: longer speeches; cake-cutting, slicing, and serving; comfort breaks; smoke/vape breaks; stretching legs outside; chatting to other tables; fixing makeup; changing outfits/shoes; getting away from it all with your new spouse for a ten minute breather, etc.

Or, if you’re on time and everything’s done, you can use it to invite everyone to join you in the bar, or wherever you’re serving drinks for the party that evening after the first dance.

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11. The first dance: 7:45pm

So, even though this is my own ‘recommended schedule’, I’d be surprised if we got to the first dance on time, and that’s totally fine, by this point nobody’s really thinking about timings.

Your guests aren’t going anywhere, a bar just opened up, there’s cocktails to try and cake to eat and they just found the photo booth and everyone’s having such a good time! So you’ll probably sail clean past the time you planned. Truth be told, I’ve only seen the first dance go off ‘as scheduled’ three times ever. So let’s try again…

11a. The first dance: 8pm

That’s more like it. Whether you’re having a nice slow shuffle for a minute or two, or you’re got a full choreographed performance up your sleeve, enjoy it!

Oh, but, if you DO choreograph something PLEASE let me know if there’s a cool moment to be ready for – like the one in that cracking first dance photo above!


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12. The party: 8:02pm until…

I like to have at least 60 minutes left with you after the first dance, ideally 90 minutes, or even more if the party is really raging. So for this imaginary wedding my ‘official’ wrap up time would be around 9:30pm. And would you look at that, I’ve got 90 minutes left. Perfect!

Every wedding party is different though, so I’ll play it by ear. Generally after the first tracks a lot of people hit the bar until another absolute banger drops, but there’s there’s always a few hardcore party animals throwing shapes on the dancefloor. So I’ll go where there’s interesting things happening that I’ve not already got – there’s only so many shots of Auntie Jess doing the Running Man you need, right?

Once I feel like I’ve got everything I need that’s when I’ll come find you and say my goodbyes. It’s usually a bit emotional, but I know I’ll be speaking to you again soon!

What if we overrun and there’s hardly any time left after the first dance?

I’ll ask about this in the ‘final details’ questionnaire I’ll send you a month or two before the wedding. We can either arrange in advance that I’ll stay for a bit longer to get more of the good stuff, and send an invoice for the time later; or you can say up front that you don’t mind so much about party pics and to pack up ‘on time’. Either way, agreeing in advance means I don’t have to bother you for decisions on the night.

And that’s it!

That’s a fairly decent rundown of the average wedding day, and you’re welcome to copy it – with one major caveat:

No wedding schedule survives contact with reality (or your guests) unscathed.

Wedding day time isn’t like normal time, it goes so much quicker. Even this schedule could go out of the window – probably around the group shots, but who knows? Nobody! Weddings are magical mystical beasts and you cannot tame them, you can only climb on and enjoy the ride.

See you there!