Arriving late for your ceremony: fashionable or risky?

The implications for your wedding photography if you don't arrive on time

“The ceremony started on time today!” is a newsworthy tale to tell my hubs when I get home from shooting a wedding.  

I’ve photographed hundreds of weddings and can count on one hand the number of ceremonies that have started on time. It’s rare. Rarer than an open bag of giant chocolate buttons in my desk drawer.

But it’s traditional to make a late entrance, isn’t it?

No-one actually expects you to arrive on time. It’s all part of the fun. Right?

Well, kinda. 

Sure, it’s a familiar and smile inducing sight (not to mention a great photo opp!) to see your beau checking their watch and starting to look nervous as time ticks on. 

Meanwhile, the growing sense of anticipation amongst your guests, with everyone silently competing to get the first glimpse of you, will make your arrival all the sweeter for being a little late.

And as for the rest of your day, any seasoned wedding supplier will factor you running a tiny bit behind schedule into their plans and timelines. 

So whilst it’s bad etiquette for your guests to be tardy, you won’t go to Debrett’s hell for being five minutes late. 

No sweat. A few minutes won’t hurt. (Unless you’ve booked a flypast to happen as you leave the ceremony.) 

But there’s a world of difference between being fashionably late and actually late

Bride laughing in wedding car

So how late is too late? What’s the cut off point?

There’s no firm answer to that. Soz! 

It will depend on your wedding and what your plans are after the ceremony. But typically, if a few minutes turns into double figures, the hold-up will affect the rest of your day, and your photography with it.

Sounds like a fine line, huh?

It really is! 

And it’s a line you need to draw.

Here’s why…

Five ways being late for your ceremony can affect your wedding photos

1. If you start the day feeling stressed because you’re late, that feeling will stay with you. If you’re not relaxed it will show in your photos, and the pictures will only remind you of how tense you felt.

2. Your guests might get bored and uncomfortable. There’s a point where the waiting becomes awkward. And that will be heightened if people can’t make themselves at home. 

If you’re having a church wedding, everyone will be sitting on hard uncomfortable pews and wondering if it would be acceptable to use the tapestry kneeler as a seat cushion. If you’re having a civil ceremony, your guests might be packed in like sardines, in a room (albeit a beautiful one) without air con, on a hot day. 

There’s a knock-on effect from that for your photography: If your friends and family feel frazzled, it will be hard for me to find happy faces for your photos. Put yourself in your guests’ shoes to ensure everyone has a great time and you’ll get a jubilant and joyful set of photos.

Bride walking to church with parents and bridesmaids

3. This is a biggie. Ready?

Although it’s your day, you’re working with other people’s schedules too. Your church/venue, officiant and other suppliers (like bell ringers, choir and musicians) might have other weddings booked on the same day. 

I could dine out for weeks on stories about this!

At one wedding, the bride was around 20 minutes late. Nothing specific happened, it was just a (very typical) case of things taking longer than planned. Whilst 20 minutes doesn’t sound like much, the vicar had a second wedding at another church in the diocese to get to. And to get there on time, he left immediately after the signing of the register, leaving the final hymn and recessional to his assistant. Thank goodness he had an assistant; most don’t.

At another wedding (a Friday one), the Groom’s father got lost on the way to the venue where the bride was getting ready … with the bride’s hairstylist and wedding dress in his car. The ceremony was delayed by 50 minutes affecting everything for the rest of the day. For example, the voluntary bell-ringers, who came out of work in their lunch hour to ring for their wedding, had to return to their day jobs without ringing. 

At these weddings, and many others I’ve photographed over the years, the officiant vetoed any photos that would delay things further. 

So that shot you have in mind with your dad in the back of the wedding car, the photo with your bridesmaids before you go in, the picture with your witnesses for the signing of the register … you might miss out if you’re late.

This is closely related to …

Bride holding sunflower bouquet and walking into church grounds

4. If you start the ceremony late, you’ll never get that time back. It will put pressure on the rest of your day. 

Your wedding planner, venue coordinator, toastmaster, photographer, caterer and band will have every minute of your wedding accounted for. There’s always a small buffer but time isn’t a luxury on a wedding day so you won’t have much leeway. 

So once at your reception, there will be further pressure on your patient photographer to bring the drinks reception back on track so that the food, the timing of which is precisely planned, doesn’t spoil. That will mean at least one of the following: less mingling time to enjoy yourselves, fewer pictures of the two of you, no photos of your dinner set-up before your guests take their seats and/or cutting some group photos.

I feel anxious just writing about it!


Groom checking his watch as the bride arrives

And last but not least…

5. When time is tight, your photos will be rushed. Which means compromising on quality and creativity. There’s so much packed into a wedding day schedule that something will have to give.

So often, I sit at my desk downloading photos from a wedding where the ceremony started late, and grieve for the photos that could have been but never had a chance. 

This may seem dramatic. But it happens at pretty much every wedding. 

Bride taking her dad's hand to walk into church

These things happen

Don’t get me wrong here. I know you wouldn’t plan to be anything more than a few minutes late.

If your hair has a hissy fit you’ve got to rescue it. If you have a wardrobe malfunction, and need to break into the emergency sewing kit you took from the hotel on a work trip for such an occasion, there isn’t much you can do. Or if you get stuck in traffic coming out of London, at rush hour, with roadworks … it is what it is. 

Two late wedding guests running past the bride as she arrives at church

And even once you arrive, there can be delays in actually making your entrance. You might decide to wait while some latecomer guests take their seats. Or take a little time to give a worried flower girl having a last-minute wobble a chance to gather herself before walking down the aisle. I’ve even known the wedding car to be sent around the block, delaying the start, because the vicar was stuck in traffic and hadn’t arrived! 

I think everyone would understand those things.

C’est la vie.

But they don’t have to hold up proceedings. 

There are things you can do to prevent setbacks from delaying your ceremony and affecting your photos.

Bride arriving at Shustoke Farm Barns

Here they are:

Six ways to make sure you’re fashionably late, not catastrophically late

1 . If you take only one point on board, make it this one: 

Allow more time than you think you need to get ready. 

Aim to be ready 30 minutes before you need to leave. Or if you want some posed photos before you go, be ready to do those 45 minutes before. This might need to be even earlier if you have one photographer and want photos of guests arriving for the ceremony too.

It’s much more fun to be ready early and enjoy some bubbles, than it is to be rushing around fretting at the last minute and arriving in a funk.

2. Unpack and prepare your outfit the day before. Remove tags and labels, and put your shoes, undies, perfume and accessories together in one place ready to put on. Also pack your overnight bag. And make sure any thank you cards are written and gifts wrapped.

3. Hire professional hair and make-up artists rather than doing your own, even if you’re good at it day to day. That way you can enjoy being pampered and let the pros work their magic rather than flapping if something goes wrong.

4. Make sure everyone who’s getting ready with you is aware of your timeline and the importance of sticking to it. It’s also a good idea to nominate someone to keep an eye on the time for everyone.

5. This one’s important; it’s where so many schedules are scuppered and timelines thwarted. 

Wedding dresses can be tricky to do up. Simple zips are usually pretty quick, although they can break. But lacing and tiny buttons can be troublesome and take ages.

I see it frequently: whoever is helping you on the day goes to the final fitting, they have a practice, you video it, it all seems really easy … but come the day, there’s the extra pressure of it actually being THE day, everyone is feeling anxious, your helper isn’t ready themselves, dad hasn’t had a shower yet … Dressing someone under these conditions is HARD.

So double the time you think you need to get into your dress. Clear the room of anyone who doesn’t need to be there. Stay calm when the going gets tough! 

Better still, ask if your dress shop offers an on-the-day dressing service. It’s worth the ease and peace of mind. 100%. If you want your mum or bridesmaids to be in your photos helping you get dressed, you can always get them to take over the last few buttons or tying the bow, or help with your shoes and jewellery. 

6. When working out your wedding schedule, factor in time to get out of the car, walk down the path and adjust your outfit; or walk from the wedding suite to the ceremony room. Your ceremony start time is the time you should be at the top of the aisle ready to walk down it. 

All in all, with a little pre-planning and preparation, most lateness can be avoided.

Bride arriving at church with bridesmaids and dogs as flower girls

But if something does catch you out and you can’t help being late…

Try to stay calm :)

*manic cackling in the background*

I know that’s easier said than done! 

But remember: No-one can start without you.

And if you’ve chosen a strong team of experienced wedding suppliers trust them to help you through and do everything they can to minimise the disruption and make sure you still have a great day,

As a wedding photographer, I’m well used to plans going awry and finding the best way through to deliver great photos whatever happens.

However, for your sanity, and to get the photos you’re dreaming of, please don’t rely on that.

The day goes so fast anyway. Plan to spend it celebrating, not chasing your tail.

Bride walking to Fawsley church from Fawsley Hall

Being on time will always be fashionable …

… and give your wedding photos the best chance for success.

Go on, let’s shock my hubs with the tale of how you arrived on time and everything went to plan when I get home from your wedding!