What Time Should Our Ceremony Start?

Planning your wedding timeline can be really stressful – but don’t fret, I’ve got you!

Figuring out how to schedule the day when it comes to photos is one of the more difficult parts of my job as a wedding photographer (huge shoutout to all the wedding planners out there who can do this in their sleep)!

What I’ve learned is that the best place to start is to set your ceremony start time and then build the rest of the timeline around it. But then you ask – what time should our wedding ceremony start?!

Here are a few tips to help you decide your ceremony start time!

First – things to ask & be mindful of:

  • Are you having an indoor or outdoor wedding?
  • Do you want indoor or outdoor portraits?
    • If outdoor, what time does the sunset?
  • What time of year is your wedding?
  • Are you having a morning, afternoon, or evening wedding?
  • How long will your ceremony be?
  • Are you planning on doing a first look?
  • How long is your venue rental?

Okay, so let’s first talk about sunset and how that plays into what time your ceremony should start.

1. What time is sunset?

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With the increasing popularity of outdoor ceremonies, cocktail hours, and portraits (and the need for daylight to create light-filled, vibrant images), it’s important to look up the sunset time on your wedding date before choosing your ceremony start time. If you google “October 10, 2020 Sunset Washington DC” for example, you’ll see that the sunset is 6:35pm.

If your big day is in the fall or winter, you will have much less daylight to work with, which could mean compromising on photos and activities with natural light if your ceremony isn’t early enough.

If the sunset is at 6:35pm, you schedule your 30 minute ceremony for 6pm, and you aren’t planning on doing a first look, all of your portraits will be taken with flash (which means they won’t be those natural light portraits you’ve been liking all over Instagram). 

So this leads me to…

2. Are you having a first look?

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First things first! If you’ve followed me any length of time, you know that I’m a huge fan of first looks! It’s one of my favorite parts of the day—and I often hear that it’s my couple’s favorite part of the day, too! The first look is one of the only moments of the day where it’s just the two of you together, savoring each other’s company and the excitement of the big day.

If you are planning to do a first look, this gives you more flexibility when it comes to the timing of your ceremony. Working a first look into the timeline will help ease your mind because the majority of photos would be done after the first look and before the ceremony. With a first look, you build in time for wedding party, family, and couple’s portraits — which if done before the ceremony means you only have a few formal portraits left after the ceremony (and then you get to go to cocktail hour)!

If you don’t want to do a first look, that’s okay too! Just remember that ALL photos that include you two as a couple—family portraits, wedding party, couple’s portraits—have to be done after the ceremony, which means you need to have a bit of extra time between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception.

3. How long is your venue reserved?

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While the ceremony is probably the most important part of the day, the reception is certainly what people look forward to the most! It’s a time when you can greet your guests, eat some yummy food, and get down on the dance floor! When planning the start time of your ceremony, keep in mind how much time your venue is reserved. You don’t want the reception to be too short because you’ll want as much time as possible to celebrate with your family and friends.

When scheduling your ceremony, consider the whole picture of your day! Hope these pointers about what time your ceremony should start help!

Are you looking for more wedding planning tips? If so, you might like these posts!

Top 5 Wedding Trends for 2019

Should I Hire a Wedding Planner?


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