The key to a successful and stress free wedding day lies in realistic timings.
As a wedding photographer, I’m at the couple’s side from the bridal preparations right through until the evening party so I know how long things take and what pitfalls arise when timings are vague or unrealistically set out.
Every bride and groom wants their wedding to look great, to feel great and to run smoothly. Your aim in planning a wedding is to surround yourself with people you have complete faith in and then TRUST THEM to do their jobs. I have seen too many brides who don’t enjoy their days because they spend so much time worrying about whether the canapés are exactly the way they wanted them or whether or not their guests have enough champagne. I’ve even had a bride leave her formal photographs to go and make sure the kitchen was supplying enough wine to her guests.
By the time you get to the wedding day, the planning is over and you should be savouring the day with your partner. If the guests run out of champagne you can bet someone will go and ask the kitchen for more and if you don’t think they should have to then assign someone you trust to keep an eye out on certain things that are important to you so that you don’t have to.
Surround yourself with wedding services you trust.
Make sure that everyone you book speaks confidently about their service and about their plan for your day, like they’ve done it a few hundred times. Every service will have needs that need to be worked out but there is no reason why every service can’t have a level of flexibility to accommodate another service who is also trying to do what you’ve asked of them. This, again, really comes down to timings which I’ll get to later, but in order for timings to work, everyone needs to be willing to work together. Once you have that, trust them to do their jobs and remember what’s really important about your wedding day to you.
Your friends and family will want to help, let them.
Everyone wants to have a good time at a wedding but they will be willing to jump through fire for you if you ask them to. Most hotel venues will have someone who is responsible for making sure the day runs smoothly and for being the liaison between you and the kitchen on the day. If you don’t have someone like that, then ask a friend to keep an eye on the food for you, or to liaise with the kitchen or hotel staff. Ask someone to come a little early to check on the cake when it arrives or the venue decorations so that any problems can be sorted out before you even get there.
Timings, timings, timings.
The most valuable real estate in terms of time for your wedding photographer and your videographer is the bit between the end of the ceremony and when you sit down for your meal. That is the only chance that these two services have an opportunity to get all of the formal requests that you have made of them. It is also quite often where the wheels come off the wagon if not enough time has been allocated. Most venues will suggest 90 minutes, which is a good amount of time to get your formal and couple photographs done and still have nearly an hour to mingle with you guests before dinner. Any less than that and you will feel rushed, no matter how prepared you are. As everything is connected you need to think through all these things right at the start so that if you think there is time you can still change the start time of the meal or perhaps even start the ceremony half an hour earlier. The earlier you think about all this, the more you are able to change without rocking the boat.
It’s better to slightly over estimate so that you have a cushion for unexpected things to happen.
‘Fashionably late’ and ‘bride’s prerogative’ are often an excuse for brides being late to the ceremony and at times it’s a good opportunity for a little joke. Obviously a few minutes late won’t make any difference to anyone but I’ve seen brides turn up 40 minutes late and I’ve overheard bridesmaids tell the bride to relax and take her time because they’re not going to start the ceremony without her. While this is true, civil ceremony registrars often book more than one wedding a day and if you’re 15-20 minutes late there is a good chance they will have to cut your ceremony short or leave before you even get there. Churches can sometimes book more than one wedding as well but more often than not that won’t be the case. That doesn’t mean the minister won’t be getting antsy. It just comes down to good manners. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the dress, have any photos you want and also time to just sit for five minutes before getting into the car and making your way to the ceremony. There is nothing worse than rushing from pillar to post on your wedding day.
For church weddings you will need to let your minister know that there will be a photographer or videographer present and he may want you to pass on any rules and regulations that he has. I am very discreet during the service and if he has any serious concerns I would be very happy to give him a call to allay those concerns. Civil service officiants are happy to go with what you want though I would always have a quick word with them before the ceremony to make sure I don’t get in anyone’s way and upstage the couple!
Reception venues will want to chat with you closer to the time of the wedding to nail down some timings and to tell you how long you might have for each part of the day once the ceremony is over. You’re in charge of your day though so be sure to get in early with your requests so that they can be easily accommodated. Asking the venue a week before your wedding to delay dinner by an hour won’t go down well because that will have a knock on affect with the kitchen and waiting staff’s shifts. There is a balance which most couples struggle to strike between having the photographs they want, spending time with their guests, and sticking to the venues timings in terms of when to sit for the meal. I wrote earlier about 90 minutes being the ideal amount of time between ceremony and meal, but if that’s not possible a sacrifice will have to be made and it’s usually the time with the guests. A lot of couples quite rightly realise that they have plenty of time with their guests in the evening and opt to have a more relaxed formal and informal photo session before the meal rather than trying to squeeze everything in and ending up as a ball of stress and nerves.
The group shots are the photos we all love to hate. You know you need them, I know you need them and mom and dad are certainly expecting them. So how to get through them quickly and without fuss? Well, it depends on how long your list is. I always provide a suggested list of 10 formals that clients can then tweak to make fit into their family dynamic. They can add shots to it or take shots away. Those 10 shots I estimate at taking around 15 minutes. Less if your guests behave 🙂 From that information my clients can make an informed decision about how many formal group shots they want based on how much time they want to spend on them.
Always have a clear list sorted out with your photographer.You can add to it or take away from it on the day, but if you think you’ll remember someone important on the day, you won’t. Make sure your list is comprehensive but sensitive to the timings of the day. If there is someone special who may be leaving early, make sure your photographer knows so that a plan can be made to include that person.
Receiving line or no?
I’m not a fan of receiving lines, and here is why. Firstly when time is always so tight during a wedding day, a receiving line can take up to an hour to complete. A wedding with 50 guests is likely to take at least 30 minutes if not more. That’s a lot of time for people to stand in a queue to say something to you that they will already have said or will be planning on saying to you at some point in the evening. So often I have been hovering around a receiving line taking pictures and have overheard people saying things like “I don’t know what to say, I just saw them and congratulated them….do I just say it again?”
Parents will sometimes insist on a receiving line because they want to meet your friends but in reality, with so many people there is not enough time to say anything more than “Hello and nice to meet you” It’s a tough one. A lot of people insist on them, but I can’t think of a single wedding where it looked like the guests or the bridal party were doing anything but “getting through it” and it’s a shame to waste the time that could’ve been spent just wandering around chatting to them informally beforehand.
“BEFORE” Having been married myself, I can tell you that I didn’t eat a single bite of my dessert because my nerves got the better of me. So if I were to do it over, I would have the speeches first. However, there are other things to consider . Your guests have already been drinking for up to 2 hours by this point. You’re then going to serve them more champagne on an already empty stomach and ask them to hold off on eating for another 40 minutes. I think in some cases, depending on the start time of the ceremony, it’s a lot to ask, especially for couples with children in attendance.
“DURING?” What about doing the speeches during the meal? This has become more popular of late. One before starters, one after starters and one before dessert. There are complications associated with it though. It may be an additional burden on your catering staff in terms of trying to time the meal to an indeterminate speech lengths. Your reception as a whole will take longer because each course needs to be cleared before a speech can commence and champagne served all at the same time. This has a knock on effect to your evening guests who are likely to turn up and find you all still eating or listening to a speech.
“AFTER?” So then what about the more traditional post meal speeches? You don’t have the problem of empty stomachs and lots of alcohol. People may be more jolly and relaxed and more inclined to laugh at your jokes having had a hearty meal and some relaxed conversation. The only thing about doing the speeches afterwards is those darn nerves.
There is no right and wrong. You need to plan your day according to your friend and family dynamic. What works for you may not work for someone else, but as long as you listen to the hopefully honest advice of those suppliers around you, you will find a way to make the day work for you without compromising too much.
Choosing a DJ is difficult. If you’re paying good money and you trust your DJ then don’t be too prescriptive about the music he plays. He’s a professional for a reason. More often than not at weddings the dance floor is all but empty after the first 3 songs. I don’t profess to know why that is, but I can guess. My first guess would be that couples have overestimated the silliness of their friends or underestimated the pull of the bar. My second guess would be that the DJ has been given a strict list of the songs to play and the order in which to play them. This gives him no freedom to change tack if he finds some songs aren’t working. To go in another direction, if you have the budget for a band, and it’s a good one, then I’ve not often seen an empty dance floor with a band. There is just something about live music that gets people onto their feet.
So there you have it. I’ve covered nearly 500 weddings and I can confidently say I’ve seen it all. If not all, I’ve certainly seen a lot. Timings seem boring and restrictive but in reality, having realistic timings will give you more freedom to relax and enjoy your day. I hope this has helped.
Best wishes, and I hope to see you at your wedding!
Greg James I have been a full time professional Wiltshire wedding photographer and videographer since 2004 and have covered hundreds of weddings in that time. As one of only two wedding services that spend all day with a wedding party I am uniquely placed watch the major players as they prepare for one of the biggest days in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.