October 19, 2023

Wedding day timeline tips

Tips for planning your wedding day timings & sample timelines

One of the top factors that can cause stress on a wedding day is lack of time. Things are often running a little behind schedule, or sometimes it was planned too tightly to begin with. Having reasonable expectations can make a huge difference to your comfort levels and your photos. Factoring in travel times between each location for yourselves and photographer / videographer is important and will of course vary. Helicopter flights usually take 45 minutes – 1 hour for shut down time, plus your flight time each way.

Here’s what an ideal full day coverage photography timeline might look like:*
*With a single photographer

A Summer wedding timeline — based on a 8.30 -9:30pm sunset

12:30pm-1.15pm — Guys getting ready & details
1:30pm-2.30pm — Girls getting ready details, special items, friends & family
2.30pm-2.45pm — Bridal dress on, final touches & any first looks
3.00pm — Photographer arrives to venue
3.00pm — Capture reception set up before guests arrive
3.10pm — Guests arrive
3:10pm — Bride leaves for ceremony (subject to travel times of course)
3:30pm — Ceremony
4:00pm — Ceremony Ends
4:30pm — Group Photos & Canapés
5:30pm — Wedding Party & Portraits on site
6:10pm — Guests start to be seated
6:30pm — Wedding Party Enter & Cake Cutting
6.35pm — MC House keeping / opening speech
6:45pm — Speeches set 1
7:30pm — Mains served
8.00pm —Speeches set 2
8:45-9.00pm — Sunset Portraits
9:00pm — First dance & dance floor opens
9.30 — Photography Finishes

Summer months weddings are the most popular time of year to celebrate a wedding, and for good reason. Think longer days, warmer & more settled weather, however these months still come with their own challenges. I recommend setting the time for your ceremony first, aim for 3:30pm or 4:00pm (work forwards & backwards from here with appropriate timings). This means you will avoid the hottest time of the day (11am-3pm). Resulting in less squinty photos, much less chance of the groom over heating in a suit, or the bride copping an unwanted sunburn. Another massive advantage is that you’ll have better lighting, and direction of the sun is lower – ultimately resulting in dreamier images of one of the most important parts of the day.

If you can help it, please avoid scheduling bridal party photos or portraits before your ceremony. A bright mid-day can cause a lot of harsh shadows & squinty eyes – much harder to achieve the photos we all love. Finally, if things do run a little behind (wedding days often do) then you will avoid the added pressure of trying to ‘rush’ through photos. After all we just want you to be relaxed on the day, looking back through the photos at the end and remembering that you had a fun time taking them too.

An Autumn wedding timeline — based on a 5:30pm – 6.30pm sunset

11:30am-12.15am — Guys getting ready & details
12:30pm-1.30pm — Girls getting ready details, special items, friends & family
1.30pm-1.45pm — Bridal dress on, final touches & any first looks
2.00pm — Photographer arrives to venue
2.00pm — Capture reception set up before guests arrive
2.10pm — Guests arrive
2:10pm — Bride leaves for ceremony (subject to travel times)
2:30pm — Ceremony
3:00pm — Ceremony Ends
3:30pm — Group Photos & Canapés
4:30pm — Wedding Party & Portraits on site for sunset
5:30pm — Guests start to be seated
6:00pm — Wedding Party Enter & Cake Cutting
6.05pm — MC House keeping / opening speech
6:15pm — Speeches set 1
7:00pm — Mains served
7.30pm —Speeches set 2
8.00 — First dance & dance floor opens
8:30pm — Photography Finishes

My favourite season of the year to get married. Your timing allowances would be the same for an Autumn wedding, it’s when everything commences that is the big difference here. Morning prep & photography coverage will naturally start earlier, followed by the ceremony start time due to the shorter days, as well as the mountains surrounding the Central Otago areas. The biggest shift you’ll notice is the portrait and sunset timings. Scheduling these earlier in the day, means if everything is running a little behind, we don’t miss the sunset for your bridal party & portraits while your still half way through family photos, or enjoying a cocktail with your guests . If things are running completely to plan, you’ll of course get to soak up the buffer time with your crew before I take you away for photos. Keep in mind that daylight savings finishes on the first Sunday of April, so if your wedding day is before that, then just push everything back an hour.

7 hour & half day packages:

7 hour packages will be the same as above, less an hour each end or the 2 off one end. This option is more suited to couples who aren’t bothered as much about having the full morning or prep captured (so brides party only), or maybe you want less coverage into the evening reception. 7 & 5 hour packages can be started at whatever time you prefer.

Timings explained:

Getting ready  ~  variable 
The best people to give you an accurate estimate on your prep time will be your hair stylist & makeup artist. You should aim to have everyone finished with hair & makeup 20-45 minutes before you want to leave for the ceremony, depending on the dress timing.

Dress ~  5 to 30 mins
Some wedding dresses can go on within 10 seconds. Fantastic. Please still give it a test try before the wedding, and time yourself. If possible, have whoever is going to be there with you on the day help out – they’re the one who really needs to know what they’re doing. Many dresses are easy in-store when you have the professional fitter to help you out, but can take a little longer if you forget the precise way if it buttons or laces together. Have your bridesmaids or who ever is helping you to get dressed ready before this begins. Brides – if you are taping your boobs to sit right in the dress – please allow ample time / factor it in with your hair and make up timings – it takes longer than you think 😉

Photos  ~  15 mins before leaving for ceremony
Once the dress is on, before we leave for the ceremony, I love to squeeze in a few photos, especially if you have family around. These won’t usually take the full 15 minutes, but having a little buffer time is always helpful.

First Look ~ Variable 
Some couples like to include a first look before you walk down the aisle- something less traditional but a nice way to soak each other in , just the two of you in private for a few moments before you meet again at the ceremony. This will normally take place at the bride or grooms place of prep or at the venue in a private area. Please chat to me if this is something of interest to you. Allow 20 minutes.

Travel to the ceremony
Take your regular transit time and add 20% for potential traffic/delays. If you’re in a vintage car, Kombi etc – remember that they’ll probably travel a little slower than usual as well.

Ceremony  ~  30 mins
If the ceremony is particularly religious or cultural, this may be longer. Chat to your celebrant/priest/official marriage-maker to confirm. If your ceremony is held in a church, also ask if they have any restrictions on photography. Some don’t allow flash, some don’t allow photographers to stand in certain areas, and a limited number don’t allow photography at all.

Hugs & congratulations  ~  15 mins per 100 guests
One of my favourite parts of the day!

Family photos  ~  3 mins per group
If you’re after a big group photo, please do this one first! I usually end up shooting around 10 smaller group combinations for the offical photos, which means about 20 minutes. Any more groups than this, I have found in my experience that the couples get over standing around for these photos pretty quickly – no one likes melting in a suit for 45 mins in blistering hot sun, because there are so many group photos to get through or Aunty Susan snuck off to the loo and can’t be located. I find most people are after the more candid shots of their guests enjoying the day anyway.

Bridal party / Location photos  ~  45mins – 1 hour, plus any travel
Ideally I like to only use one location, as travel time is dead time. Loading/unloading, finding a park etc is a significant time sink, more so ideally we try to do the bridal party photos somewhere onsite of the venue if it allows. Allow 30-40 minutes for these. Following these, we’ll focus on getting some shots just of the two of you. Again, usually 20 minutes, sometimes less if you’re keen to get back to your guests, and we know sunset is likely to be a banger. It can be nice to add some time to hang out and have a snack and some drinks – it’s often just about the only time you’ll have to yourselves through the entire day. If we are taking a helicopter flight with just the two of you, please remember this will usually be a 45-60 min shut down time, plus the flight time each way. Please discuss this further with me if this will be a part of your day.

Sunset photos  ~  10-15 mins
I can’t emphasise enough how much the sun affects the look of outdoor photos. Unless it’s raining or overcast, 99% of the time the best light will be at sunset and just after. I’d rather have 5 minutes of photos at sunset than 10 hours in the rest of the day. Making sure you’re available at this time is the single best thing you can do to help your wedding photos look awesome.

Please note Google’s sunset times are not accurate for the Central Otago areas. Due to the mountains, we do loose the sun anywhere between half hour to 45 minutes earlier that what it says, and also depends on the location of your venue. If your wedding falls in April to September, daylight savings is not in effect. That means that these will probably be combined with your location photos before you enter the reception like you’ll see in the Autumn timeline. Super easy.

If your wedding is in October to March, daylight savings probably is in effect. With receptions often starting later and sunset not until 8.30-9.30pm, you’ll have to carve out a little section of reception time to get the best possible photos (depending on your venue). If you’re having a three course meal this is usually between entree and main. If you’re serving cocktail style, just try to avoid scheduling your speeches across sunset. If you have a set of speeches directly before your sunset photos, let your MC know what time you need to duck out so they can postpone speakers if necessary. I love listening to speeches, but they can happen at any time – if you miss the sunset, it ain’t coming back.

– Please be sure to chat with your caterer about my recommended timings to make sure things go smoothly and everyone is on the same page.

– Cake cutting – not everyone has a cake, however if you do and its a large one, ideally the cake cutting will happen upon entry to reception, or at least half an hour before dessert is due to be served – this allows your caterers time to cut it up and presented to your guests.

– If you’re having more than 4 speeches, consider breaking them up into multiple sections. A good tip if you have lots of speeches going ahead, is to ask your speakers to keep them under 5 minutes each.

– If you’re running your own music, have someone other than you assigned to manage it. It’s common in this situation to have music run across speeches, play at the wrong volume, commit the cardinal sin of changing song mid-track etc. Having a charging station for the dedicated device is also key….Having a DJ solves all these issues if you can fit it into budget.

– It may sound obvious, but if your reception is largely outdoors, make sure there is adequate lighting.  It helps your guests out, and also means I don’t have to pop my camera flash right in guests’ faces! Having speakers in a well lit area is especially helpful, although please try and avoid a backlit situation for these. If your wedding is outside of Nov-Jan, it’s worth considering some heating options as well (fire or portable gas heaters).

– If you’re planning a sparkler exit, get the double-length sparklers and make sure to grab em at Guy Fawkes this November.