500 + weddings in, I can confirm that yes they ARE all different….but I can also assure you that there is standard advice around timings that is well worth listening to if you want a chilled out day and great photos! Here are some of my top tips.
On your wedding day, pretty much everything will take longer than you imagine. Nervous fingers struggle to lace up dresses and buckle up shoes. Table plans need tweaking at the last minute. Even walking across a room can take half an hour, wading through the happy guests eager to congratulate you. Factor in plenty of slippage time to ensure everything stays relaxed.
Decide what time you NEED to be ready for (at least 30 minutes before the ceremony not including any travel time) and then give yourself an extra half an hour. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve photographed where the chilled out morning suddenly descends into panicked chaos in the final 30 minutes and visions of perfect photos of prosecco with the girls are swapped for trying to find Belinda’s flipping wrap and why has Ellie got two left shoes and oh look the zip is stuck….
I love to get a few shots of at least the bride all ready, beautifully calm and a teensy bit nervous, and as I’ll need to dash to the ceremony at least 15 minutes before you we need to make time for this.
When planning your getting ready schedule have the bridesmaid’s pop their dresses on before you get into yours. This makes the shots of them tweaking you look far nicer in my opinion.
The Getting‑Ready‑Room is nearly always total chaos by the end of the morning. This is part of the fun and doesn’t bother me at all. I do think though, that if possible, it’s nice to find a quieter, calmer room to pop your dress on. it’s much easier for you to leave the chaos than it is to uproot everyone else to a different location, and it gives a nice “next stage” look to the flow of your images. You’ll also avoid people knocking on the door every few seconds looking for a phone charger/pair of scissors/child.
“They won’t start without you”
Ooooh if I had a pound for the number of times I’ve heard this! I mean it is partially correct ‑ “they” ‑ the registrars ‑ won’t start without you….but they may well just up and go entirely.
We have an absolutely brilliant team of registrars here in Cumbria, but they work their socks off and often have several ceremonies to cover in a day. They will wait as long as they can, but they will never want to let down their next couple ‑ so DON’T BE LATE!
Consider what season you are getting married in, and how this will affect the amount of natural light. If you’re going for a 4.30pm ceremony in December, you simply won’t get any natural light shots of you both in the grounds or on the lakeside afterwards – it gets dark around 4.00pm – which can be all too easily forgotten during the long summer days!
Think about what is important to you as a couple. A later ceremony will mean a more relaxed, pampered morning and more time for detail shots and portraits of both of you and any attendants.
An earlier ceremony can mean more time in the afternoon for informal shots of your guests, group shots and portraits of you both together, perhaps in a number of different locations outside of the immediate venue.
I bloody love confetti. Not only does it look great in photos, but it’s one of those traditions that acts as a great mechanism for getting crowds of people (remember them?!!) from one place to the next. I usually help to organise people to hand out confetti and form a tunnel, and will then give you the nod when it’s time to make your entrance. This also gives you a few minutes to enjoy a drink together before you face the masses.
Most venues/planners will work on around 90 minutes ‑ 2 hours for this part of the day. This gives time for confetti, a few group shots, portraits of you both and then, ideally, time for you to chat to a few folk before everyone is seated for the speeches/meal. Any venue worth it’s salt will make sure you (the couple) get a constant top of of drinks and your own plate of canapés ‑ but if you are organising your own celebrations then appoint someone to bring you these every now and then or you’ll miss out (well you won’t because I will get them for you, but that’s not really what you want to pay me for!)
Most couples book me for my unposed, documentary style approach to the day. I will always, however, encourage you to have at least a few, slightly more formal, group shots. There is a risk with a purely documentary style approach that certain people will be missed, and this makes sure you have your nearest in dearest in some nice shots together. It also allows me to quickly see who is who and try to prioritise these people in the candids for the rest of the day.
There are only two things I ask for before the day (well three if you include the money!) ‑ these are a list of timings and a list of group shots. I suggest keeping the list short, as the more time spent on these the less time you get for candids and portraits. I also always ask you to nominate a couple of assertive guests who know everyone and can help to gather up the right people. I will bring copies of the list for them too so we can boom out those groups.
I always ask couples for a minimum of 20 minutes for portraits before their meal. Ideally we will also do a short portrait session later on too, but it is this one where you are likely to look your most perfect (given the food, drink, tears, sweaty hugs, speech nerves etc that are to come!)
It’s also really nice for you to have this time together (with me hiding in a bush nearby) to have a some time apart from the crowds to catch up. If you’d like to go offsite for photos at this point then we will need to work it carefully into the timings ‑ it is possible, but if there is still natural light after your meal this may be a less pressured option.
Most photographers hate these! I have mixed feelings. To be honest I’m not sure we’ll ever feel the same about them after the pandemic has made us so aware of germs!! They can take a LONG time and you will get a lot of fairly similar pictures, but I do also love that chance to get so many happy faces congratulating you. If you think it’s for you then go for it, but don’t underestimate how long they take and factor it into your timeline generously or the catering staff won’t be happy with you!
The timing of speeches can be a tricky choice. Go traditional and have them after the meal and you have the benefit of a full, happy, tipsy audience. On the downside, it can be a long wait for a nervous speaker, and your beautifully laid tables will be covered in tommee tippees, scrumpled napkins and half‑drunk/half‑spilled wine…probably not what you had on your Pinterest board!
Personally I would go for speeches before the meal, but in careful consultation with the venue and speakers, to ensure that people don’t go overrun their timings and cause problems for the caterers. Most venues will advise against speeches between courses ‑ it becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare with large numbers and all feels rather jolted.
Next comes the quietest part of the wedding day. With many venues this time will be used to turn around the main celebration space ‑ clearing away dining tables to allow room for the evening entertainment to set up and sound check. This usually takes 90 minutes at least. With a summer wedding ideally everyone will spill back outside and play lawn games, have a wander about etc. In winter I think it can be a bit of a harder time to manage ‑ I always describe it as being like Christmas Day, when everyone can suddenly feel very full and sleepy ‑ not great for photo opportunities! If you have some budget for extra entertainment then this is a great time to use it ‑ a magician, cartoonist, photo booth, sparklers…something to inject a bit of fun and stop people disappearing off to their rooms for a snooze!
This time is also when I’ll probably grab you for another short portrait session. With most of the formal parts of the day complete you’re likely to be nice and relaxed, allowing us to make the most of the change in light and atmosphere.
I always think of my friend Tim Dunk when it comes to sparklers, his horror as we “give the drunken people sticks of fire” ‑ and he’s right, when you’re the sober, working one, it can feel like a bit of a health and safety nightmare!! Managed correctly though it’s a lovely thing to do, doesn’t cost a lot and brings a completely different, magical element to your photos.
Prepare well in advance ‑ don’t just buy sparklers and don’t just put pretty labels on them (in fact these are usually the things that catch fire!!) ‑ you’ll also need at least a couple of buckets of water or sand, a lot of lighters (long gas lighters are safest) and a few more sensible people appointed to organise the lighting of them so that they are all sparkling at vaguely the same time. Timing wise I like to avoid having to shepherd everyone around any more than necessary so I’d recommend a swift flow of:
💫 outside for sparklers
🎂 inside for cake cut
💃 straight into first dance
Be Organised but Flexible
There’s no doubt that it’s a good idea to have a detailed itinerary and to make sure key people have a copy of it. Equally, however, it’s important to delegate the watching of the clock to others to allow you to fully enjoy your day. Being flexible with timings, where possible, will enable your photographer to make the most of the light when it’s at it’s best. You should be able to trust an experienced photographer, knowing that they will constantly be liaising with all the other suppliers on the day – to find out what is and isn’t possible – and follow their lead.
Grabbing even 5‑10 minutes to get outside in perfect light can give you shots you will treasure forever.
Worried about the weather? Check out my advice for Waterproof Weddings.