Tips for a relaxed wedding timeline
Other than refining your guest list and sorting the seating plan, deciding on your timeline is likely to be the thing that will cause you the most stress. But it really needn’t be the case. Being a Kent photographer, I am sure to have been to lots more Weddings than you (unless you are a serial wedding crasher of course) so let me take some of the anxiety away and share my thoughts on how to help make your wedding timeline as relaxed as possible.
Time of year and light
This has to be your starting point. The time of year you want your Wedding in will have a huge bearing on your timeline as the hours of daylight you have available to you varies hugely. You want to make the most of the light you have to play with to get the best wedding photographs – they are the most important thing right? For example, say you have booked a venue with stunning views and landscaped gardens and you imagine your group shots on the lawn and your portraits with the gorgeous garden features as the backdrop. You need to allow enough hours of daylight after the ceremony for these shots or quite simply, it will be too dark. A winter wedding ceremony will need to be much earlier than a summer ceremony. Sunset in mid December is around 3.45pm whereas in July you have until 9pm.
TOP TIP A photographers favourite time is golden hour which is the hour of gorgeous, soft, warm light which takes place about an hour before sunset. If you want those images in your gallery, why not find out this time and work out your timeline backwards from there?
I love photographing preparations and it adds a real richness to the story of your day in your final gallery. I like to arrive about 2 or 3 hours before the ceremony but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your hair done or your make up started until I get there. I can pick up from wherever you are in the ‘making you look and feel amazing’ production line. Remember though, I will leave the about 20 minutes before you so I can also capture what is happening at the venue so plan to get your dress on and have finishing touches done in time for a few portraits of you before I have to leave.
Ceremonies generally last around half an hour, church services maybe slightly longer. A 12pm or 1pm ceremony in winter months will allow you time after for your photographs and give you the best light during such a short day. In the summer though, you will want this to be later, 2 or maybe even 3pm. This way I can get some bridal preparation shots starting at about 1pm and I will still be there for those golden hour pictures we already mentioned at about 9pm.
I like to leave my couples alone for the first 5/10 minutes after the ceremony. This is when all the hugs and congratulations from your guests happen and I love the happiness in these images. But I like to quickly move on to the group shots. This means that no one has yet disappeared to move the car, to change into their comfy shoes or made their way to the bar ( yep – these things all actually happen! )
I advise not to have too many group shots on your list, between 5 and 7 is a great number. They can be more time consuming than you’d think, probably 3-5 minutes to gather large groups and your guests will not thank you for expecting them to hang around for any longer than they have to. Let’s face it, they’d rather be enjoying the drinks reception, and so would you.
TOP TIP Group shots can be a bit like herding cats! Enrol the help of someone who knows all the important people and can be a runner to help me. We all have that one friend or family member that is a bit of a control freak, that likes to take charge and is happy for their voice to be heard – I know that you already have the person in mind right now! Give them this job – it can be their moment to shine and will help to move this bit on.
If I were selfish, I would whisk you both off for hours and it would be us three for an all afternoon portrait session, making gorgeous images of you kissing, laughing and holding each other until the sun sets. BUT I can’t because actually the day isn’t about me, it’s about you and your gorgeous family and friends. So in reality I will settle for about 20/30 minutes. Plenty of time for me to do my thing and for you to take time out away from everyone else and excitedly acknowledge that you just got married!
TOP TIP You may just be spoilt with an awesome sky or really romantic light at some random or unexpected point in your evening. If you do, be up for sneaking out and taking advantage of it. Not all couples will get this and you won’t get another chance at it.
About 1 ½ hours for a drinks reception is a great length. This means that you can have the hugs, the group and your portraits and still have time to have a drink and hang out with all your guests before sitting for your dinner. Do check with your venue how far in advance they like guests to be seated before your wedding breakfast though. This can sometimes be up to 15 minutes earlier than service starts and you don’t want that to eat into the end of your drinks reception time.
Yes, traditionally these used to be at the end of your meal but these days anything goes. Believe me, so many people have them at the start of their meal so that those having to make them can relax straight after. I’m not going to lie, I have heard some painfully long speeches. Don’t be afraid to give the speakers a rough time limit to work to. They may well be grateful for it and guests certainly will be too. ( I am not dissing speeches, I have heard some awesome ones but who wants their wedding to be remembered for the 2 hour long speeches – not you)
Evening guests, cake cut and first dance
These events usually go hand in hand but if you plan to have cake as your dessert, it would be much better to do the cake cutting shot before sitting down for your meal so the caterers can portion it for you in time for the service.
Also, remember to allow enough time after dinner for your evening entertainment to set up, particularly if the venue has to clear from dinner and move furniture about a bit.
7pm is a popular time for evening guest arrival but you don’t want everyone milling around for too long before the party gets going. Plan your first dance about 15 minutes after their arrival to kick the evening off.
TOP TIP Don’t just think about your first dance song. Picking an awesome second song is just as important. Make it a banger to really start the party! I usually stay just a few tracks past the first dance so you want as many guests as you can to stay on that dance floor to capture that fun atmosphere before I leave.
There is an important thing to say about all of this! Your wedding day is YOUR day. These are just tips that I have learnt from my experience and if you have something else in mind, don’t be afraid to speak up and that goes for all your other suppliers too. I am 100% up for my couples making new traditions rather than conforming with old ones but just be sure to talk openly with everyone to make sure that it can be fitted in and you are not left disappointed or stressed by running out of time.
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I'm a Kent Wedding Photographer for happy, relaxed, loved-up couples who want to look and feel amazing on their wedding day. I also cover Surrey, Sussex, Essex and beyond.
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