Ceremony Timing Tips: First Look + One Location | Wedding Planning

Today we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of setting the time of a HUGE moment on your wedding day timeline— your ceremony. To be honest, I originally started writing a blog post all about my recommended ceremony timing tips, and one thing lead to another, and I soon realized that this was going to become a REALLY long blog post if I kept it at one. You see… every wedding day is different, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to planning your ceremony time. Some ceremony times are locked in, some ceremonies are shorter or longer and some have to play off of the availability of location. There are SO many different types of ceremonies and wedding days that keeping this at one blog post would really be doing y’all a disservice, so… this month, we’re diving into the depths of ceremony timing with a bit of a blog series, packed full of all of my top tips for scheduling your ceremony. This is definitely more of an advanced approach to wedding planning and will only apply if you have any flexibility on the timing of your ceremony. If that sounds like something you are interested in, hang with me, take notes along the way, and reach out if you have any questions! There are SO many things that go into planning a wedding day, so if something feels confusing or needs clarity, that’s why I’m here!

You can expect the following over the next FIVE weeks!

  1. Ceremony Timing Tips: First Look + One Location (Today!)
  2. Ceremony Timing Tips: No First Look + One Location (Next week!)
  3. Ceremony Timing Tips: First Look + Church Ceremony/Two Locations
  4. Ceremony Timing Tips: No First Look + Church Ceremony/Two Locations
  5. Ceremony Lighting Tips

(Aren’t ya glad I didn’t do that all in one post?!)

Now… before we fully dive into the good stuff, I wanted to clarify: I’m not really going to be sharing any specific times or timeframes throughout this series. Even with these tips and tricks and general recommendations, each wedding day is unique and timing will be dependent on so many things! (You’ll see in a minute!) I recommend consulting with your team of vendors to determine the actual time your ceremony will occur!

So… let’s dive into it! If you will be sharing a first look and have your ceremony and reception at ONE location, today’s blog post is just for you!

Determining sunset

I find that a lot of couples are dreaming of a gorgeous, glow-y ceremony happening right before sunset! While I am ALL for this, there are a few considerations to ensure you are able to have the ceremony of your dreams AND the gallery of your dreams. Keep in mind, once the sun goes down, it’s dark! You’ll always need to keep a window between your ceremony end time and the time of sunset to ensure we are able to wrap up any portraits that need to get done.

All that said, let’s start with the basics: determining sunset where your ceremony will occur! It’s so important to realize that there are seasonal and altitude considerations that will determine the sunset time where your ceremony will be, so you’ll need to determine the actual time that the sun will be setting where you’ll be getting married. To do so, I typically type in the following into Google:

Example: VENUE CITY Sunrise/Sunset on DATE (Change italics to specifics)

If that doesn’t work, you can use Sunrise/Sunset (Linked here!). Now that you have that nailed down, let’s start moving through a few key considerations!

Ceremony length

Before determining your ceremony start time, you’ll want to work on determining your ceremony length. This may sound totally backward, but once you have the overall sunset time, start here! How much time do you hope to spend on the altar? By setting your ceremony length, you’ll know exactly how long you’ll need to reserve for your ceremony and can back-track from your anticipated end time to determine the start time after considering the portraits that you would like to occur post-ceremony.

Portrait Timing

I tend to build timelines from the inside out, so before starting to solidify your ceremony start time, you’ll want to consider a few other things: what portraits are you taking pre-ceremony? What portraits are you taking post-ceremony? How much time do you want to enjoy at cocktail hour? All of these will have an overall influence on when you’ll have your ceremony in relation to sunset! Having a solid feel for what you want the overall layout of your day to be is a foundational place to start when it comes to determining ceremony start time.

Y’all know I love and highly recommend first looks for a multitude of reasons… we’re not going to dive into that here… but honestly, sharing a first look opens up a host of opportunities when it comes to the timing of your day! If you were able to get all of your portraiture taken— think couple’s portraits, wedding party, and family portraits (With the exception of a few just-married photos) taken pre-ceremony, that would be what I would recommend, and a first look helps get you there! There are a few key timeframes to consider when it comes to scheduling portraits in relation to your ceremony:

Family Portraits: 30 minutes (maybe more depending on family size) | Full Wedding Party: 30 Minutes | Couple’s Portraits: 30+ Minutes

The reason these timeframes are so key is that you’ll either need to account for the time pre-ceremony or post-ceremony! Portraits take time— there is no way around it. When you look into scheduling your ceremony time, think about the portraits that you would like to occur after your ceremony as well as the length of time you’ll need. If we are backed right up to sundown, we won’t have an opportunity to take the dreamy, natural light photos I know you’re picturing. That said, if you leave a buffer for the portraits that you would like to occur after your ceremony, you can work backwards from there AND from your ceremony end time to determine when your ceremony will begin.

Here’s a quick example! Keep in mind, I’m working backwards here!

Sundown time, 15-minute buffer, 15 minutes for just-married portraits, #minutes ceremony length= ceremony start time! This example would apply if the 90 minutes of portraits occur before your ceremony! 

Ceremony Time + Sunset

Y’all know I love me a golden hour moment and would highly recommend having your ceremony within golden hour if you can swing it! I typically consider light to be “ideal” and shifted a bit more towards a golden hour feel in the two hours following sunrise and in the two hours before sunset when possible.

Now… this is where your ceremony length comes into play as well as your portrait and first look timing— You can see that in action in the section just before this! All that said, it’s important to note that there are so many things that can determine the glow we get at golden hour— from clouds to altitude, geography in the surrounding area, foliage, buildings, season, and more, I recommend keeping a little buffer between actual sunset and the end time of any post-ceremony portraiture. Typically, I recommend keeping about a 15-20 minute buffer from the END time of any portraiture to sundown to ensure we’ll have light all the way up to the last moment we need it. (So… if sunset is at 6:15, I would encourage you to have photos completed by 6:00, latest!)

So… when it comes to your ACTUAL ceremony start time, I want you to focus less on the two-hour window and MORE on the other things we’ve chatted about already! If you can get *close* to the two-hour window pre-sunset, that is a dream! That said, it may not be possible with every wedding day, and it’s okay! We’ll be going over lighting and ceremony positioning tips and tricks in just a few weeks, so hang tight and stay tuned!

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