Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline

Most weddings follow a similar kind of flow, so I’ve broken each part of the day down into sections below. However, you’ll notice that I haven’t given any times as this guide is about making your wedding day unique to you. If you’d like to mix it up or do something different – please do!

What you do in the morning depends on your plans and how many people are getting ready together. I like the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready together, popping the prosecco or having a couple of beers is all part of getting ready.

If you’ve got a lot of people who are having hair & make-up done, then speak to your hair & makeup team to see how long it’s going to take them. This is important because depending on your ceremony time it could mean a really early wake-up call.

If you plan on swapping presents, then I’d recommend doing this before you start getting ready, or at least before you start your make-up. The last thing you want is for your partner to write something totes emosh in your card and smudge your make-up. 😳

It’s also a good idea to open cards / presents early, because that’s when you have the most time and when you’re likely to be most relaxed. If you can, make sure you’re photographer is there for this! As I’m sure your partner will want to see the look on your face when you open their present.

If you can, spend the night before at your wedding venue to avoid travelling on the morning of your wedding. Alternatively, see if your venue has a room you could finish getting ready in. That way you can arrive early, travel in normal clothes and finish getting ready at the venue. Unless of course you’re planning on making a grand entrance!

First Look

A “first look” is when the couple get ready separately but arrange to see each other before the ceremony. I’ve photographed a couple of these now and think it’s a really nice idea.

It’s a very intimate moment between you and your partner. You’ve actually got the time to tell them how good they look, show them some affection and have a conversation! If you’re nervous about all those eyes on you, then this is a nice way to help relive some of that pressure.

I think it also gives you chance to get rid of some of that nervous energy so you can relax and enjoy the ceremony. It’s a cliche, but weddings really do fly by, so anything you can do to slow down and extend your day is a good idea in my book.

Ceremony

What you’re allowed to do or not do during your ceremony will be determined by the type of ceremony you’re having. Generally though with all ceremony types you’ll be able to decide who walks down the aisle and in what order.

Personally I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t make your entrance however you want to.

The vast majority of opposite-sex weddings I photograph, the bridesmaids walk down the aisle first, followed by the Bride. It’s obviously traditional for the Father of the Bride to walk with the Bride. But that isn’t always possible or appropriate, so walk with whoever you like – or no one at all.

I generally prefer the bride to follow the bridesmaids as that seems like the logical order to me. Having the bride come last builds the suspense and excitement too. Also, I think it works better from a photography point of view.

I always make a point of chatting through the plans for walking down the aisle with the couple so we’re all on the same page. That way, I can make sure I’m in the right place at the right time. I also remind people to slow down, adrenaline kicks in and it’s all too easy to leg it down the aisle and not see anyone or remember anything!

If you’d like to do something that strays from tradition, then I say go for it. I’ve had couples walk in together, some have got ready together and some have get ready separately and had a first-look before the ceremony. Some couples have a first look, and then still walk down the aisle separetly. One couple walked down two aisles without having seen each other at all. I’ve even had a couple wait in the ceremony room to surprise and welcome their guests as they arrive – completely flipping tradition on it’s head!

So if you’re wanting to do something a little different don’t let tradition stand in your way!

Readings

Readings are a good way to involve other important people in your life in the ceremony. Traditional readings are generally about love, or marriage. Google wedding readings and you’ll see lists and lists of the same readings over and over again.

I’d like to encourage you to try and find something that isn’t on one of those lists!

If you’re having a alternative wedding, then you can have anything you’d like as a reading. If you’re having a registrar, it cannot be religious in anyway, and they’ll need to approve it first.

Of course your reading could be a peom, or perhaps an extract from a novel. It could be inspired by one of your favourite films or TV shows.

Generally it’s you, the couple who choose the readings. But what if you asked one of your best mates, to choose something that sums you up as a couple (with your approval obviously), and explain why they chose that. All of a sudden you end up with something deeply personal and that is very unlikely to be on a “top 30 wedding readings” list.

One couple asked their friend (who is a screen writer) to write something specifically for them. It was a amazing and completely unlike anything else I’d heard at a wedding.

Alternatively, why not skip the reading all together and have a sing song instead. Spend a bit of time and find the perfect songs to sing along to. I’d recommend something that everyone knows, that’s easy enough to sing along to and that fits with your vibe.

You could even go for something completely different and ask someone close to you to make a mini speech, or share a few funny stories about your past or how you met.

Confetti

Confetti always makes for a good photo. Although some venues have restrictions on where you can throw it and some even charge a clean up fee.

The traditional time to throw the confetti is straight after the ceremony. Depending on how you’re going to make your exit, this could be as you walk down the aisle. You might have to sneak into a side room while your guests gather outside, or it might make more sense to do it after the reception on your way back into your venue.

I think the trick is to try and keep it as natural as possible. If you’d like it as you’re walking down the aisle, I’d get an usher or bridesmaid to hand it out while you’re signing the register.

Congratulations

Immediately after the ceremony is all about congratulations! I don’t think there’s any need to do much more than give people drinks and possibly some canapés. Drink, celebrate and relax!

Live music is always a great choice instead of plugging your phone into a speaker. Alternative bands such as Funk, Soul, Brass or Jazz Bands add to the atmosphere and can provide great entertainment too.

A Singer / Pianist is a great option for elegant background music. Also, quite a few bands offer acoustic, singer songwriter style options for the daytime which can be cost effective.

As a documentary wedding photographer, I’m always trying to tell your story and capture the atmosphere. This part of the day is perfect for that, because there’s so much happening. It’s the first time your friends & family will get to congratulate you! It’s quite possibly the first time friends & family have seen each other for some time.

Once the congratulations have calmed down, I use this time for family photos, if you’d like them. As it’s also (most likely) the first time you’ll have a minute to talk to your partner since you got married! I normally suggest you two sneak off and have a catch up just the two of you. I’ll tag along and get some beautiful photos of the two of you, being you. No awkward poses, no fake smiles, just genuine moments full of personality.

It’s totally flexible though, if you’re having fun and would rather keep doing that then that’s absolutely fine with me. I’ll always keep an eye on the weather and time, and let you know if I think we’re going to miss an opportunity so you can make the final call. It’s your wedding after all, not a photoshoot.

Should we have Formal Family Photos?

I think most couples should have some formal family photos of some sort. I’m being deliberately vague because every family is different and what works for one family, won’t work for another.

Most photographers hate them and say that you need to keep your list to less around 8. And while that’s plenty for most families, if you’d like more that’s cool with me.

I actually think they are relatively important. Because as times goes by and people are no longer with us, those family photos take on a different meaning. Obviously I aim to capture important moments naturally, but sometimes a whole family isn’t in the same place at the same time.

I keep the group photos nice and relaxed. I’ll get a Best Man / Bridesmaid / Someone-Who-Likes-Bossing-People-Around to help me gather people up. And we’ll smash through them in 15-20 minutes. Personally, I’m a fan of people bringing their drinks, standing wherever they feel comfortable and having a bit of banter between each other. If you’d prefer something a bit more formal, that’s cool – I’ll let you tell people the rules. By taking a step back and not having a stranger boss people around keeps things relaxed and stress free – although I’m happy to step in if required!

As a basic list, I’d suggest something along these lines:

Couple + Everyone
Couple + Extended Family
Couple + Immediate Family
Couple + Parents
Couple + Grandparents
Couple + Wedding Party

Wedding Breakfast, aka Dinner, aka Tea

It’s called the wedding breakfast because it’s the first meal you have after your married. Little bit of trivia for you there – you’re welcome.

There’s nothing to say that you have to have a 3 course, sit down meal. The food and style of “wedding breakfast” you choose is completely up to you. Go for something that fits in with the feel and style of your day.

When we were getting married someone told us “no-one remembers good food at weddings, it’s only if it’s bad they’ll remember it.” Their advice was to go middle of the road and stay safe with the menu. And do you know what, it worked. We had decent food, but I don’t really remember what it was.

However, having been to a lot of weddings since then, it’s an absolute lie. I totally remember good food!! I have dreams about The Pantry’s sharing ham hock starter and Kalm Kitchen’s beautiful trio of pork. Plus a load of other’s that I’m not going to list, but feel free to get in touch – I’m happy to talk food anytime!

I’m a big fan of informal bench seating, for more a casual vibe. It gets people talking, joining in and creates a great atmosphere. Tapas style platters or family-style sharing dishes work really well with this kind of set-up.

Round tables work well for almost all situations, simply dress the tables and choose food to match your style.

Creating a seating plan is the most surprisingly stressfull jobs you’ll probably have to do. And family dynamics can make it even worse. So, my advice is to do whatever you want to do – easy to say I know. And the top table can be a particular pain point. Trying to stay away from family complexities – there are two options that you may not have considered.

No top table.

We opted for all round tables and we sat with our best mates. My parents are still married. My wife’s not so much. So a top table was proving to be tricky. This solved a top table dilema and we had a great time!

Table for Two.

Another option could be a top-table of two. I like this idea because you get to spend a bit more time with your new partner and actually talk to them.

Once everyone is eating, that’s when I sit down and grab some food too. Nobody wants photos of people eating, that ain’t pretty. Although I quite often get photos between courses or if something exciting is happening.

I normally try and take photos of the food to share with your catering suppliers too. Feel free to tell them this, so they can upgrade my meal – the nicer the food, the more photos they get 😉

Speeches

Ah, quite possibly my favourite part of the day. I really like hearing more about you as a couple, and learning more about your story. Plus there are so many emotions and reactions to photograph!

They’re also possibly the most stressful part of the day for anyone who’s making a speech. A bit like most people don’t like having their photograph taken, most people don’t like public speaking. Although, I think the build up is much worse than the actual event.

When to have speeches?

The short answer is… Before or after. Never, never ever, in-between courses. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea but it definitely wasn’t a caterer or a photographer! Trying to serve a beautiful hot meal when you don’t know what time is a nightmare. Plus, you loose momentum between speeches. Making it difficult for the next person to bounce off or follow on from the previous speech. Also, it fills me with dread that I’m going to miss a speech!

Here’s a rather unhelpful list of potential reasons for and againsts having your speeches before or after your meal.

Before Positives:

  • Gets them out of the way.
  • Nice clean tables for photos.

Before Negatives:

  • Slightly trickier for caterers to know a service time.
  • Less time to build up dutch courage.

After Positives:

  • More time to build up Dutch courage
  • No issues for caterers.

After Negatives:

  • Messy tables.
  • Nervous all through your meal.

The longer answer is… Before or after or before desert. If you’re having a three course meal, it’s sometimes nice to have a little break before pudding. If opting for this, speak to your caterers and make sure the tables are clear before you start.

Or why not mix it up a bit? If you’re going down the alternative wedding route, you could build them into your ceremony Quaker style. Also, you don’t have to be sat around at tables, why not take your speeches outside or to a another more relaxed space?

TOP TIP: When giving out thank you presents, don’t stick a massive bunch of flowers in front of your mum! It makes it tricky to get photos showing her face when people do that 😬

Afternoon / Evening Reception

There is a large variety of “wedding” entertainment available, so if you’re looking for a little something to spice up your wedding you’re in luck.

I’ve seen fun activities from Laser Clay Pigeon Shooting to Crazy Golf. You could organise a space hopper race or a game of tug of war. Lawn games are always popular, as are bouncy castles and a good Magician goes down well too.

A Camper Van Photobooth creates quite the stir and a DIY Polaroid photobooth is a more rustic alternative.

A silent disco is a great option for a fun warm up to the party!

First Dance

The first dance can be one of those points of the day that couples dred, especially if you don’t particularly like being the center of attention.

So, do you need to have a first dance? No of course not – it’s your day, do what you want. People do kind of expect it though and it is quite a good way to open up the dance floor. So here are a few ideas for the non dancers.

Drop The Announcement

A more spontaneous first dance might feel more natural. You could have a pre-agreed song / time, but no announcement. When your song gets played – go grab your partner! It’s worth letting your photographer in your plans if you’d like photos though!

Smash A Piñata

Why not suspend a piñata filled with glow sticks, above the dance floor. Smash it and let everyone go wild – pick a killer track to get the party started!

Learn A Short Routine

Unless you are a dancer I’d definitely recommend keeping your first dance simple. If you’re a little self-conscious about the first dance, because you can’t dance.

Knowing a short, simple routine might make you feel more at ease – maybe? But if you’re going to learn a routine, then just make sure that you can do it in what you’ll be wearing on the day. A wedding dress with a train is really hard to walk backwards in! I’ve seen a few couples do a short (1 minute) routine, then get everyone else to join in and that seems to work well.

Last Dance

There’s no reason why you can’t have your first dance later on in the night. If you’re having a band, perhaps your first dance, could be the first song of their second set. Or if you’re really not keen, you could have a last dance instead!

The Dance Floor Is Open

If you’re going to skip the first dance all together, I’d recommend announcing that dance floor is open – especially if you’re having a DJ.

Sparklers & Fireworks

Sparklers can be a bit of fun, but make sure you buy the long ones and think about how you’re going to light them.

If you’d like photos of your sparkler exit then make sure your co-ordinate with your photographer. Some photographers will refuse to photograph sparkler exits or sparklers in general. This is due to health & safety combined with insurance issues. I’m quite happy to photograph them but can’t co-ordinate or help set up particular photographs due to insurance 🙄

I tend to find that fireworks go one of two ways… Either they’re really impressive, or a bit of a let down. If you’re thinking about fireworks make sure you consider the time of year. As getting 100 drunk people from the warmth of the dancefloor out into the freezing cold can be a challenge. If it’s mid-summer, it won’t get dark until much later, so you won’t legally be allowed to set them off after 11pm.

 

THIS IS JUST ONE CHAPTER...

In the rest of this guide, I explain the different ceremonies including, humanist, celebrant & non-legal wedding ceremonies. I also cover how to choose your wedding venue, wedding photographer, entertainment and plan your timeline. Plus there's wedding advice from real couples and top tips from industry experts.

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