Mastering how to plan your wedding day timeline can be a tricky beast to tackle. There’s several moving parts to come together, and very often you need the benefit of experience to know how long a specific part of your wedding will take. And that’s where I come in! As a wedding photographer I get the privilege of observing in great detail about 30 weddings a year – and lots of those weddings are very different and unique in their styling and format. However the one thing that binds them all together is how long each individual part takes. So here’s my mix and match guide to mapping out your wedding day timeline!
The Average Wedding Day Timeline
From my experience, the average wedding lasts about 8 hours from just before the ceremony to just after the first dance. It probably seems like a long time, but quite a few different things happen in that time which break it all up. Plus that old saying really is true – time flies when you’re having fun.
Get Started with a Wedding Day Schedule
Working out your wedding day schedule starts with marking out the main event – firstly, what time is your ceremony? This is the main anchor to your wedding day schedule. If you are having a civil ceremony then you will be required to arrive at your ceremony venue between 25 and 15 minutes before your ceremony start time for an interview. Your registrar will tell you what time they need you to arrive.
If you are having a religious wedding ceremony then the person leading the ceremony will tell you what time each of you need to arrive. There is generally no need for an interview – but the religious leader may need you to complete other formalities before the ceremony takes place.
For any kind of wedding ceremony, either civil or religious, I would recommend telling your wedding guests to arrive 30 minutes before it is due to start. This allows time for your guests to chat to each other, be greeted by one of you (or one of your wedding helpers) and get themselves settled before the ceremony starts.
For example, if your civil wedding ceremony is due to start at 2pm, then tell your guests to arrive at 1.30pm. One of you (or one of your wedding helpers) will need to be at the ceremony venue at the same time to meet everyone. You will also need to have your interviews before, which could start at 1.45pm and then 1.50pm.
Timing the Wedding Day Preparation
Once you know what time you need to arrive at your wedding ceremony, you can begin to work out what needs to happen before the ceremony. This part of the day can be fairly hectic, so it’s really helpful to have it planned out in the same way that you plan the rest of the day. The wedding morning works really well when it’s planned backwards. Start with the time that you need to arrive for your wedding ceremony and take off how long it will take you to travel to the ceremony – remember to leave some wriggle room for bad traffic.
For example if you need to be at your wedding ceremony at 1.45pm, for a 2pm start, and it takes 30 minutes to get there, you need to leave at 1.05pm (allowing for 10 minutes of delay contingency time – it’s better to do a couple of rounds of the block rather than risk being late).
There is generally quite a lot of excitement in those moments before you leave. So give yourself some time to enjoy that moment. I would aim to be completely ready 15 minutes before leaving so you can enjoy the fizz (or even some fizz!). Plus, if you want any photos of your family and friends seeing you for the first time, you will need some time for that. The last thing on your getting ready action list should be putting your outfit on – and this can be quite a production! If you are wearing a wedding dress, or equally anything that needs to carefully put on, give yourself at least 15 minutes to do so, more if you are also having a veil. Tiny buttons can take a long time to do up! If you are having a make up artist and / or hairdresser to help you get ready for your wedding, let them know what time you want your hair and make up to be finished. They will be able to advise you on what time you will need to start.
For example, if you are scheduling to leave at 1.05pm, you need to aim to be completely ready to leave by 12.50pm. If you are wearing a wedding dress, you will need to put that on at 12.35pm. This means your hair and make up needs to finish by 12.30pm, and your wedding helpers need to be completely ready by the same time (to help you!).
Wedding Ceremony Timings
Now that you have a good idea of how the wedding morning all fits together, you can start thinking about your wedding in a normal chronological order. The length of a wedding ceremony is dictated by what kind of ceremony you are having – and ceremonies come in all shapes and sizes. Below is a rough guide to how long each kind of ceremony takes:
- Civil ceremonies – Between 20 and 40 minutes depending on how many readings and music you have
- Religious ceremonies – At least 45 minutes, depending on what kind of religious blessing you have and if there is any readings or music.
- Humanist ceremonies and celebrant led ceremonies – Usually between 20 and 45 minutes, again depending many readings and how much music you want. These kind of ceremonies are the most creative and allow you to really craft something that works for you as a couple. Check out Nat Rayboulds Weds for more info.
For example, if you are having a civil ceremony that starts at 2pm, with two readings, then it will take approximately 30 minutes and finish at 2.30pm.
How Long Does Confetti Take?
I absolutely LOVE confetti – so if your wedding venues allow you to do it, I would highly recommend planning a confetti moment. In terms of your wedding day schedule, adding confetti to the occasion depends on how many guests you are having. The more guests you have, the longer it will take them to move around between locations (and this is true for all elements of your wedding day – large volumes of people move slowly). Confetti moments are orchestrated by getting everyone in to two lines, getting the confetti distributed and ready to throw. Here’s my rough timings guide for organising the confetti moment right through to you and your beau skipping down the tunnel of fluttering glee. These are based on the number of guests that you plan to have, and can be considerably squeezed by having a team of wedding helpers who are absolutely ON IT in terms of ushering your guests along.
- 20 or less guests – maximum of five minutes
- 20 to 80ish guests – Approximately 10 minutes
- Over 80 guests – between 15 and 25 minutes
For example, if you are getting married at a registry office and have around 50 guests, and will have you confetti immediately after your ceremony finishes at 2.30pm, then your confetti will be finished by 2.40pm
How Long Do Wedding Group Photos Take?
I tend to let couples decide how many family group arrangements they want. The most important thing to remember is that group photos take time, you will need to allocate enough time for all the group photos that you want. I find it takes me an average of 4 minutes to take one group photo arrangement – and this is usually with the help of your wedding helpers sourcing the various people for me.
For a big group photo of all of your guests together, again, this takes longer than 4 minutes and entirely depends on how many guests you have.
- 20 or less guests – approximately 5 minutes
- 20 to 80ish guests – approximately 10 minutes
- Over 100 guests – approximately 20 minutes
For example, if you want 5 family group arrangements then I would recommend to start these after you’ve had 15 minutes to hug and kiss your guests (and give yourself a break!). They would start at 2.55pm and finish at 3.15pm.
How Long do Couple Portraits Take?
I am yet to meet a couple who is really excited about having their photograph taken for the couple portraits. And I can completely understand! However I tend to find that the couple portrait part of the day is a really nice way to step away from the energy of your wedding and just have some 1:1 time. You can make your couple portraits as epic and adventurous, or as simple and intimate as you like. I generally recommend that couples schedule about 20 minutes for some couple portraits to be taken during the day. If you fancy taking advantage of a beautiful sunset, then it’s well worth setting aside an additional 10 minutes during golden hour on your wedding day.
For example, if you wanted to have you couple portraits on the way to your reception venue (which is both time efficient allows for a variety of portrait locations) then you should schedule to leave your ceremony venue at 3.15pm and arrive at your reception venue at 3.45pm – assuming that it takes 10 minutes to travel between the venues and giving yourselves 20 minutes for couples photos and the chance to have a breather.
Wedding Breakfast Timing
Your food is usually one of the big focal points of your wedding day. Your caterer will be able to advise you on how long the food service will take from start to finish. They will also need to know roughly what time you want the service to start. So if you want to have a lot of activity (like group photos) between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of the food service, let them know so that they can help guide you on what time the food service should start.
It’s worth remembering that some things wrap around the food service also take up time. If you want to have a receiving line to meet all of your guests as they go in to dinner, then you should allocate about 30 seconds per guest to estimate how long a receiving line will take. Guests also need a bit of time to actually find their seats at a wedding – they need to find their names on the seating plan, find their table and then their seat. I would recommend to allocate between 15 and 30 minutes for guests to be fully seated after being called for dinner.
For example, you many want to schedule the start of your wedding food after all your guests have had a chance to settle in to your reception venue and enjoy a drink. If everyone has arrived at the venue by 3.45pm, has 30 minutes to settle in and are then called to dinner at 4.15pm and are then fully seated with the first course on the tables at 4.30pm.
How Long Should a Wedding Speech Be?
There’s no strict rules with how long a speech ‘should’ be, and this is one part of the day that you fully control! From hearing many wedding speeches over the years I would recommend to ask your speakers to keep their speeches to a maximum of 10 minutes long. Especially if you are having a lot of different speakers. While the speeches are very often the most entertaining part of the day (and what gets talked about as people reminisce about your wedding), guests can get a bit fidgety and distracted if an individual speech goes longer than 10 minutes.
For example, if you have your speeches after the main course has been cleared, but before the dessert is served, then you may want to schedule the speeches to start at 6pm. If three people speak then they should finish by 6.30pm, after which the dessert is served.
Cake Cut and First Dance Timings
If you’re cutting a cake, or a stack of cheese, then that actual moment doesn’t take very long at all – usually between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on whether you want your guests to crowd around and cheer, or whether you want it to be a simple and intimate moment. The lengthy task is actually the cutting up of the cake / cheese – which is thankfully done by your catering team!
If you are having a first dance (not everyone does!), it’s another speedy ritual that takes less than 5 minutes. But it can be a great way to mark the start of the most fun part of the wedding – the party!
For example, if your dessert is cleared away at 7pm, then you may want to mark the end of dinner by cutting the cake at 7pm. Then clearing the dining room and meeting your evening guests from 7.30pm, and getting your party started with a first dance at 8pm.
Other Wedding Day Schedule Considerations
This schedule won’t suit every wedding, but hopefully it gives you a rough idea of how long individual elements of your wedding actually take. If you are getting married at one venue, where single rooms will need to be turned around by venue staff, then you should also build that turnaround time in to the plan for the day (you will thankfully save time and money by not having to travel between venues!). Getting married at a single wedding venue generally means that you have the help of a wedding coordinator who will able able to assist with timing. Alternatively you can also hire in help just for the day, and an ‘on the day wedding coordinator’ is a really effective use of your money to assist in everything running smoothly while you concentrate on having fun!
Don’t forget that you will need to manage your guests expectations on what will happen while they are at your wedding. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing a wedding stationer to help you produce signage or orders of service.