Timeline Prep Like A Pro: Ceremony + Cocktail Hour

It’s time for your ceremony! Depending on what elements you are incorporating, your ceremony may be anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 minutes (or up to an hour for Catholic ceremonies). Once you have the details in place (prior to the wedding day), that will give you an idea of how much time to allot for your ceremony. I’ve photographed weddings where the ceremony itinerary includes the walk down the aisle, words of wisdom from the officiant, vows, ring exchange, a song, first kiss, pronouncement, and recessional. Other weddings I’ve photographed have included numerous songs throughout the ceremony, a sand ceremony, a 10 minute break to greet all of the other guests in attendance, a gospel choir, jumping the broom, and even a recessional where the couple came down the aisle in a chariot that the groom made himself! And recently, I got to photograph a fusion Hindu/Muslim wedding where they performed the bride’s Muslim faith’s rituals and exchanged vows on the stage before going over to a mandap to perform the groom’s Hindu faith’s rituals.

Following your ceremony, everyone is going to want stop you so they can hug and talk to you. And understandably so! You just got married and everyone’s wanting to share in your joy. But to stay on schedule and be expedient, I like to advise my couples that when they walk back down the aisle for their recessional, to exit the ceremony space and go to a nearby room for a few minutes. This way, they’d be able to have a few moments alone and to be out of sight from their guests. Guests will quickly move to the cocktail hour and not linger around if they don’t see you. After a few minutes, I would bring the couple back out to the ceremony space for family formal photos (or wherever they may have chosen). During this portion, if you’ve done a first look, this would pretty much consist of larger group shots, or additional groupings that may not have been captured prior to the ceremony. This should take up 30 minutes or so (depending on how quickly we can get the family members in position). If you opted to not have a first look, this is the portion of time where all of the photos happen–full wedding party photos, both sides of the family photos, and couple alone photos. These sets of photos can take around an hour and a half. Something that I do find to be helpful is immediately following your ceremony (while you and your love are getting your few moments of alone time) having someone who knows who your relatives are and gather them so they can be ready to go the moment photos start. There is almost always that one relative that wanders off after the ceremony and no one can locate them. This can easily set your time back quite a bit if this occurs.

Cocktail hours are typically anywhere from 1-2 hours (but usually 1 hour). During this time, there are hors d’oeuvres and other finger foods being served. Music, games, and drinks, and generally a time for your guests to enjoy themselves and mingle while you are away from them (usually taking photos or changing into a second outfit, if that’s what you choose to do). I’ve photographed a wedding where there was a mariachi band performing during the cocktail hour. It was SO COOL. If you do a first look, you’re usually able to attend your cocktail hour and have fun with your guests following your family photos. If you decide to not do a first look, you will most likely not be able to attend your cocktail hour if it’s immediately following the ceremony. I have seen where some couples will delay the start of the cocktail hour so they will be able to attend a portion of it for the guests. This is your wedding day–you can do whatever you want to do! You set the rules for your day.