Tips for planning your wedding timeline

March 8, 2020

Everything you need to know to get your wedding timeline right (and why it’s so important!)

I work with natural light, so to get those bright and colourful photos we need to be outside while there’s daylight. This is why it’s so important to make time for all those photos I know you want (fun confetti photos, a handful of group photos, relaxed portraits, candid mingling photos…) without feeling rushed and without worrying that we may not have time for some of this.

I will ALWAYS be able to adjust to timelines that go differently than planned, be indoors if we can’t be outside, and use artificial light if we don’t have daylight, but it’s important to know that my style is based on natural light so if that’s what you like and want, then we need daylight. Weather is one thing we can’t control, but we CAN control the timeline. Below I’ve written about how much time you’ll need for each part of the day, with a few example wedding timelines at the end!

How much time do you need to get ready in the morning?

This often takes longer than you think. I recommend adding one hour (minimum 30 minutes) on top of the time your make-up artist and hairdresser say they need for you all to get ready. This is important to avoid getting rushed at the end, and allow for some time for a few beautiful portraits before we leave – especially if you’re there with your bridesmaids, friends or family.

Always factor in travel time from bridal prep to your ceremony location on top of everything else. If it’s a 10 minute drive on a normal day, make it 15-20 on your wedding day.

Gorgeous bridal prep photos

How much time do you need for your ceremony?

Ceremonies vary in length depending on type. Catholic ceremonies last up to an hour, whereas a city chamber ceremony can last as short as 15 minutes. I recommend you open the doors to your ceremony venue 30 minutes before the ceremony starts. Add on 30 minutes after the ceremony for hugs, kisses and mingling, or moving on the next location (or as a buffer in case it runs over) before you plan anything else on your wedding timeline. Ceremonies usually last from 30-45 minutes, but I know for a fact that religious ceremonies tend to last longer than humanist ceremonies.

Wedding ceremony - Get your wedding timeline right!

After the ceremony

There are a few options for what to do after the ceremony:

  1. Make time for mingling and greeting your guests immediately after your ceremony, and then get away for your portrait photos or group photos after a little while
  2. Hide away for a moment immediately after the ceremony, while I in the meantime organise your guests for a confetti lineup. After the confetti lineup we can go straight to your portrait shoot or you can mingle with your guests
  3. We run away immediately for your portrait photos (useful for a very strict timeline where you are determined to go to a separate location for your photos).

“Mingling” is that part where you say hi to everyone, have a drink and chat with friends and family. Make sure you make as much time for this as you want, but I recommend up to 30 minutes straight after the ceremony (and more later). If you want more than 30-45 minutes for this it’s a good idea to hire entertainment, live music, top up the fizz or have some lawn games lined up for all the guests you’re not speaking to at the mintue!

Mingling with your guests - Get your wedding timeline right!

Make time for your group photos, but keep them to a minimum

I need adequate time to gather your guests and to get the group photos right. I recommend doing this straight after the confetti shot as everyone will be in one place, but we can do these photos at any time. The most important thing to remember is that it takes time and it MUST be scheduled in or it won’t happen! Sorry for being harsh, but this is very important. You’ll regret not making a plan for this when you spend the entire mingling time waiting for a lost family member or smiling for you 1-millionth group photo!

I recommend up to 6 group combinations. A list of 10-15 group combinations usually take 30-45 minutes (depending on if people are around and responsive!), or 3-4 mintues per group (if we are organised and quick). Often it’s practical to do this straight after the ceremony/confetti when everyone’s in one place. It’s a good idea to start with a BIG group shot of everyone, and then straight into the smaller groups. I recommend getting the groups done before your portraits.

Confetti Group Shot - From my best wedding photos from 2019

How much time do we need for couple portraits?

I always try to take you away for a bit of alone-time and some pretty portraits. Usually, I ask 30 minutes for this after the mingling part/after your ceremony. If we get 20, great, if we get 10, that’s possible but I really wish for a bit more time to make sure you get enough photos you’ll love. I may take you away for a few minutes later in the day as well.

If you want to go away to a specific location for your portraits, make sure you factor in travel time and maybe a bit more time for walking around. If we have up to 1 hour for locations other than your venue grounds, that’s great.

Depending on your timeline and the time of year, I try to take you out for another 10-15 minutes before or after your cake cutting/evening guests arriving as well, but I’ll let you know on the day!

Wedding portraits - Get your wedding timeline right!

How long do we need for speeches?

After your portrait shoot you can either be piped directly in to your wedding breakfast where all your guests will have found their seat and waiting for you, or you can go back to your guests mingling for another hour or however long you wish. From there, allow 5-10 minutes per speech and enjoy! If you think they will last longer than 5-10 minutes each, then make time for that (although, please don’t let them go on for longer ?). You can of course have speeches after the meal, but just let your speakers know how much time you expect them to speak for.

Norwegian weddings are quite different that the Scottish ones here. Speeches in Norway are often held throughout dinner. The same 5-minute rule apply though, and let your toastmaster/master of ceremonies follow a timeline so that the meal doesn’t drag out or affect food preparation, time you have left for partying later, of even that your evening guests arrive before you’re done with your dinner!

Western House Hotel Ayrshire

How long does the wedding breakfast last?

Your venue will let you know how much time you need for this, but generally allow 2 hours for a three course meal without breaks or speeches. I usually have a break and/or photograph details, venue exterior and so on during this time.

Wedding breakfast - Get your wedding timeline right!

How much time do we need after the wedding breakfast, and before the first dance?

If you sit down for pre-dinner speeches at 5 pm, it’s ideal to have you evening guests arrive at 7.30. Mingle with your evening guests until 8 pm and have a cake cutting directly followed by a first dance. Then invite all your guests on the dancefloor and dance the night away. I will join in as well, camera in hand, and usually leave you in peace from 9 pm. However you want to do this is fine, but make sure you just have enough time to actually speak with your guests! Too tight a schedule can be stressful, but too much “hanging around” can be a bit of a buzz kill too ?

Planning is important because it makes sure you get all the photos you expect

Of course, I can just hang out in the background of your wedding day and capture everything that happens (which I do most of the time), but if you have certain expectations for photographs you want, you will have to factor in time for this.

The more time we have for any part of your day, the more variety and creativity is left for photography. The way you lay out your timeline can affect the amount of daylight we get to photograph portraits and groups outside, which is essential for those lush natural light photos. Photos of a stressed couple look different from photos of a relaxed couple – and most importantly, I know you want time to enjoy the company of your guests! So make sure you give your wedding timeline some proper thought.

Fill empty space with music, nibbles, entertainment and fizz!

If you’re worried that all the free time will be boring or feel like a waste, don’t fret! Everyone will be happy if you provide music, canapes, light entertainment (photo booth, a magician, lawn games…) and fizz and won’t bat an eyelid if you spend an hour with just mingling time. It’s always better to have too much time between ceremony and wedding breakfast, than too little.

Fizz & entertainment - Get your wedding timeline right!

Example wedding timelines for Scottish weddings

This is only a suggestion, and depends on your venue, time of year, traditions and priorities. Norwegian weddings are also quite different from Scottish weddings, which is why you should look at how much time you need for each part of the day, rather than an example wedding timeline ? but here goes anyways:

Example (Scottish) wedding timeline with a 3 pm ceremony and everything in one venue

12.30 pm: Photographer arrives for bridal prep
2 pm: Guests start to arrive
2.30 pm: Wedding dress on
3 pm: Ceremony
3.30 pm: Ceremony finished
3.45 pm: Confetti & large group photo
4 pm: Group photos
4.30 pm: Mingling with guests
5 pm: Portraits
5.30 pm: Speeches
6 pm: Wedding breakfast is served
7.30 pm: We sneak out for some evening portraits
8 pm: Mingling with guests & evening guests arriving
8.30 pm: Cake cutting & first dance
9 pm: Ceilidh!
9.30 pm: Photographer leaves and you party more

For a winter wedding you can aim to put your wedding dress on an hour earlier and go for “first look” photos at 1.30 pm (before all your guests are starting to arrive). You could also do family group photos before your ceremony so we can make use of the daylight then, and go straight into mingling and party after the ceremony.

An earlier ceremony is perfect for winter and late autumn weddings as it will be dark sooner. Simply just “skew” the timeline above to suit you, and you can add in more mingling time in the day or evening. Since I thrive on natural light, an early start can give us time for group photos and portraits after the ceremony while it’s still light outside.

Example (Norwegian) wedding timeline with a 2 pm ceremony and everything in one venue

11.30 pm: Photographer arrives for bridal prep
1 pm: Guests start to arrive
1.30 pm: Wedding dress on
2 pm: Ceremony
2.30 pm: Ceremony finished
2.45 pm: Confetti & large group photo
3 pm: Group photos
3.30 pm: Mingling with guests
4 pm: Portraits
4.30 pm: Dinner is served with speeches throughout + breaks
7.30 pm: Mingling with guests & evening guests arriving
8 pm: Cake cutting & cakes for everyone!
9 pm: First dance
10 pm: Photographer leaves and you party more

Party - Get your wedding timeline right!

Hope that was helpful! Let me know how I can help with your wedding timeline. If your venue is rigid with the way they do things, we can always work around it. I’m just here to provide my humble advice based on experience photographing many weddings in the past few years.