How to create a relaxed Wedding Day Timeline

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

Most brides scroll through wedding websites and fall in love with the few frames captured of the couple during sunset. These are also usually the frames which secure a booking with a client, but a day has so much more to it.

From a storyteller-perspective, we actually really enjoy documenting all the aspects of your wedding day! The reward of the long hours of planning, selecting colors, designing your reception decor and layouts, the food tastings, the special lighting setups and the sentimental elements made by friends and family, will be documented in your wedding photos. To ensure your love story is told with utmost care, structuring your day according to a timeline is crucial.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

In the words of Franklin, 'Failing to plan, is planning to fail' and this is one of the reasons why many brides feel rushed and afterwards, unhappy, with their final images. Planning your formalities to allow for documenting all the details and in-between moments will allow for a more relaxed wedding day.

As a natural light photographer there is nothing worse than having average light conditions or insufficient time to cover certain aspects of a wedding day. Be sure to check with your photographer regarding their individual requirements for timing and preferred light setups. The best way to start is to determine when golden hour is on your wedding day, and then plan everything around the best light. With that in mind, the following guidelines will assist in creating a relaxed wedding day timeline which allows for spontaneous moments as well as ample coverage of the more traditional wedding day formalities.

Disclaimer: These suggestions are based on my personal shooting style and my minimum requirements and may vary for another professional. Feel free to add more time according to your specific needs.


I usually start my shooting hours by setting the scene at the reception venue. This allows for numerous establishing shots of your gorgeous venue, decor, and if you are getting married on this premises as well, your ceremony setup. Best is to arrange with your planner / decor team that the reception area’s setup is completed by the time I arrive. Alternatively, one completely set-up table close to window light should be available for decor close-ups. Ill then do the overall venue interior shots during canapé hour with all the candles lit.

  • Provide 30 - 45 mins for your photographer and videographer to document the venue as well as all the decor details.


To avoid your photographer / videographer getting stuck in traffic or lost due to inaccurate GPS coordinates (this happens more frequently than you’d expect!) choose a venue for your getting ready photos which is close by to your reception venue (if there is an option to have everything take place on the same premises as your ceremony + reception, even better!). Limiting travel times between venues, allows for a more relaxed day (especially in summer!) No one wants to sit in traffic in sweltering heat.

  • I require a minimum of 40 - 60 min to document the guys prep, getting dressed, formal portraits.

The ladies, generally speaking, have more details during the prep to document. When a large bridal party (more than 4 a side) is present, time allocated for the pre-ceremony portion of the day should rather be on the generous side. Don’t forget to allow for the appropriate travel time and arrange enough transport (if required for the full bridal party) from your guest house to the ceremony area / church! If you’re a tad early, we’ll use the time to quickly freshen up before walking down the aisle.

  • Scheduling 60 - 90 mins for the girls has proven to be sufficient.


Nowadays most wedding ceremonies have been condensed to be a bit shorter than a normal church service. For summer weddings in South Africa, due to high afternoon temperatures, it is advised to start your ceremony at 16h00. For winter weddings, the start time is earlier, around 15h00, to ensure we won’t miss the earlier golden hour.

  • 30 - 45 mins is a good guide to ensure you’re guests observe your vows and are not dreaming about the canapés ;)


The portion just after you said 'I Do', is usually filled with so many emotions and I adore capturing the candid hugs, smiles and confetti-in-the-face frames. Allowing 20 mins after the confetti for some people to congratulate you adds another level of emotion to your final images.

Instead of losing some members required for your family photos, hold back on the canapés, so we can quickly document the formal family photos just outside the ceremony area in the shade. Keep your formal family photo list and combinations to immediate / direct family only. This should be a quick process so you can join your guests for canapés.

  • A photo per minute is a good guide and the general time required for formal family photos is 20 - 30mins.


I want my clients to enjoy all the delicious snacks and drinks at their wedding, and this includes mingling with your guests during canapés. In summer, due to the sun setting much later, mingling with your loved ones will be a tad longer.

Having a snack and a bit of bubbly also calms your nerves and gets everyone fired up for the bridal party group shots. During the course of the day I will take an array of candid photos of your bridal party, but for the formal group photos, they will start off being a bit more posed. We’ll group up, hug, laugh and put or best foot forward for these. I’ve found 30 mins for this is enough, unless you have a very large bridal party, then work on 40 mins just to be safe.

  • Provide for 20 - 30 mins in winter | 30 - 45 mins in summer


You know the golden hour frames I was talking about earlier? Well this is when the magic happens! This is the portion of the day where its just you and your spouse and your moment to take it all in. We'll venture away from all the hustle and bustle and just enjoy the sunset. It's also a time to reflect on your day - YOU JUST GOT MARRIED! Now you can stop worrying if the food is on schedule, or if everyone has been helped at the bar, let's have some fun creating beautiful portraits of you together.

I would recommend 45 - 60mins for golden hour. If you do however want a shorter Golden Hour time, the minimum I would suggest is 30 min (Especially if you have booked a second shooter, then we can capture frames faster). Remember, it takes a few minutes to warm up to being photographed. Also factor in 10 mins afterwards, just before you enter the reception venue, to freshen up.

  • Minimum of 30 mins, but best to provide 45 - 60 mins.

  • More time scheduled is better if you also have a videographer on the day.


Your photographer would be able to assist with more in depth details how to structure your evening to ensure all the formalities are photographed. A fun way to make your entrance, is to have your MC announce the new mister and misses and to cut your cake after you've entered. Not only are you killing two birds with one stone, it prevents a wedding guest accidentally cutting it before you ;)

The key things to consider is if you'll be having a buffet / sit down served dinner. With the Buffet set-up if you have more than 100 wedding guests, enquire if your venue can provide two serving stations. This shortens queuing and cuts down the time need for all to be served. An alternative option is to request plated buffet.

  • Starters - plan for 20 mins eat and clear

  • Mains - plan for 30 - 45 mins eat and clear

With regards to speeches, a great guide is limiting each speaker to 5 mins per speech, especially if you have more than 4 speeches planned.

After a few years, I have found that if you are planning to toss the bouquet / garter, to do this before the first dance. This encourages people to already be on the dance floor and prevents us from having to break up the party to photograph this formality at the end of the evening.

  • 10 mins per toss (bouquet / garter)

  • 5 mins First Dance

  • 5 mins Father + Daughter Dance

  • 45 mins Dance Floor / Party


With over 5 years of full time experience in the industry, I've seen it all :) I'm here to help my bride's as much as possible, so get in touch and let's start planning something extraordinary together.

I cannot wait to hear about all your plans for your big day!


#elopesouthafrica #documentaryweddingphotography #capetownweddingphotographer #marlikoenphotography #shesaidyes #justmarried #letsgetmarried




Cape Town, South Africa  |  |  @marlikoenphoto

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