So you've chosen your date and found a fabulous venue, the next task is to consider the timeline of your day. As most new brides and grooms have never organised a gathering for 100+ people this can be the most daunting part of the planning. Having often been been to hundreds of weddings your photographer can help you with designing a timeline which will make the most of the day from a photography perspective.
1. Getting ready
It always takes longer than you think! Try to build in extra time so you are relaxed and having a glass of champagne in the final half an hour rather than cutting labels, unstitching protective dress covering or finding flowers in the garden for your hair! I tend to arrive a couple of hours before the ceremony time and will want to be departing ahead of you so that I can get to the church so plan to be getting into your dress half an hour before you want to leave.
2. How long will your reception be?
The usual length of time for a reception (from when the champagne is opened) through to the time you will be seated for the wedding breakfast is around 1.5 - 2 hours. During this time group and couple shots will usually take place. Sometimes speeches can take place during this time. Lawn games can be fun especially if you have children around. Keep the champagne flowing and lots of canapés and this will be a really relaxing opportunity to get round and see as many guests as possible before the meal.
3. Time for group shots
We've all been to weddings where the group shots have seemed to drag on for half of the reception time - that's no fun for anyone. Ultimately (if you want them at all) you want them to be pretty snappy so you can get back to your party. I always recommend around 20 minutes if you want to have up to around 8 combinations including the bridal party and both sides of the closer members of the family. Start bringing in cousins and aunties into the equation and you will spend half an hour chasing down great aunt Mabel who's disappeared into the loos. Appoint someone authoritative to round up stragglers and it can be a relatively painless experience! I usually time this to take place soon after everyone has arrived at the venue, so enough time to have found a drink but not so long that everyone has scattered!
4. Couple shots
Now this can vary tremendously. Having photographed a wedding in New Zealand I discovered that the venue packs you a picnic of beer and snacks and you take at least an hour to do group and couple shots around the venue. In the UK things are a little different and most of my couples don't want to be leaving their party for any great length of time. I don't blame you to be honest. It's a balance between enough time to get some beautiful shots, and not so much time that you are itching to escape. I usually ask for 20-30 minutes assuming we are staying within the immediate vicinity. And I try to time this towards the end of the reception and the time at which the coordinators are moving everyone in for the meal. You'll be the last one to be ushered in so that works well. Most couples really relish having this time together to go for a walk and catch up on the day so far.
5. When is sunset?
The first thing I do when discussing a schedule with a client is to check what time sunset will be on the day of the wedding. Whilst I am happy to use flash where necessary I think the most beautiful images come from natural light. Ideally the more natural daylight on your wedding the better. A lovely sunset is perfect for couple shots - although finding any sun can be hit or miss in the UK. Even if you are planning a later winter wedding it's great to be coming out of the church with a little bit of dusk so that we can get a few couple shots before darkness falls.
6. How long do you need a photographer for?
My usual length of day is 8-10 hours. This seems to cover most weddings sufficiently starting with prep shots a couple of hours before the ceremony through to the first dancing. Of course it's possible to have the photographer with you through to the messy end and I will happily discuss individual requirements. Or maybe you are planning to have activities in the morning for guests at a destination wedding which is great to have captured.
7. When to have your speeches?
Traditionally speeches take place at the end of the meal starting with the father of the bride, followed by the groom and lastly the most anticipated speech; the best man. However, most traditions have been discarded in favour of allowing speakers to get it out of the way early so they can enjoy their meal. Brides are speaking more frequently (hooray!), bridesmaids are getting a say and speeches are being spaced throughout the meal or even happening during the drinks reception. The last wedding I shot the father of the bride made a very moving speech during the ceremony itself. Basically, it's your day and there are no hard or fast rules although I would say that your audience is always more receptive with a full tummy and glass of something cold.
8. What is your end time?
Wedding days are LONG! And you need to keep everyone fed, watered and entertained for all of that time. Working backwards is a good idea. If you want your party to be going on late into the night then a 5pm ceremony works well. If your venue has given you a curfew of midnight then you probably want a 1/2pm ceremony. Consider the temperature too - if you are getting married outdoors mid-summer in France spare a thought for all the men in their full wedding gear and don't schedule the ceremony for when the day is hottest!
I hope that's helped! Good luck with your planning and if in doubt - chat to your photographer!