Ceremony Timing Tips: First Look + Two Locations/Church Ceremony | Wedding Planning

We’re already mid-way through the ceremony timing tips blog series… I can hardly believe how fast time is flying! This week, we’ll be chatting about ceremony timing if you will be celebrating your marriage at two locations and will be sharing a first look! Before we get rolling into the fun, remember: this is part of a 5-week series! So, if this doesn’t sync up with the type of wedding day you will be having, hang tight! Here’s what I’ve covered and what we have left to go.

You can expect the following over the next FIVE weeks!

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

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 based on YOUR day’s specifics.

So… let’s dive into it! If you will be sharing a first look while having your ceremony at one location and your reception at another, this post is for you!

Determining sunset

This sub-section is going to remain close to the same for each blog post you’ll find in this series! I find that a lot of couples that will be getting married at one location while celebrating at another are getting married in a church! In this case, sunset and sun positioning will play less of a role in your day when it comes to ceremony lighting, however, sunset time still matters a LOT! If you are getting married in a church and are dreaming of gorgeous, glow-y portraits happening at sunset, we need to make sure we bank some time for that! Keep in mind, once the sun goes down, it’s dark! If sunset portraits are a must, do make sure you allow for the time.

Let’s start with the basics: determining sunset where your celebrations will occur! It’s so important to realize that there are seasonal and altitude considerations that will determine the sunset time where your ceremony and reception 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 for your locations:

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

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 + timing

As you start planning out your timeline for the day, you’ll need to start with your ceremony length and ceremony start time. I find that churches tend to have a little less flexibility when it comes to overall ceremony start time and length. First start with: Do you have any ceremony start time flexibility? If not, no worries— we will build a strategic timeline around the layout you’ll have built-in! If yes, we can play with timing of your day a little more if necessary!

From there, how long will your ceremony be? If you are getting married in a church or temple, definitely connect with your contact to receive an estimate for the length of your ceremony. I find, on average, most religious ceremonies are somewhere between 45 and 90 minutes in length. Some are longer and some are shorter, so definitely ask!

I usually recommend adding an additional 5-10 minutes to the end time, just in case things get started late, run a little later than expected, or guests are slow to clear. In addition to this, be sure to connect about your overall rental time period. Some churches have a little more flexibility with how long you will be able to be on the property, while others are a little tighter on time. Collect all of this information from the start, so we can use it to plan out timing, where portraits will be, and more!

Location Availability

Before we start laying out portraits, you’ll need to consider when you have access to individual properties for portraits and where you would like your first look and portraits to occur. If you’ll have reception venue access all day, this is often a great option for getting ready, first look, and portraits if it is close to your ceremony site. If you will not have reception venue access, you’ll need to consider where you would like your pre-ceremony portraits to occur or could consider extending your venue rental period to include time earlier in the day.

Backtracking a little, this is where understanding your church property access becomes key! If you’ll have a decent bit of location access pre-ceremony and love the vibe of your church’s property, this could be a great option! If you do not have location access pre-ceremony, you’ll need to find a spot you would like to use for pre-ceremony portraits.

Overall Portrait Layout

With a first look pre-ceremony, you have so much flexibility when it comes to slotting portraits together on your wedding day! While scheduling out your day, we’ll need to decide when you would like portraits to occur and where. If locations are important to you, that’s where the above section comes into play! You’ll also need to consider when we’ll have access to specific spaces pre and post-ceremony.

Before we go further… a quick note: if you remember from the last couple of weeks, there are a few portrait timeframes that I do recommend you account for throughout the day: Family Portraits: 30 minutes (maybe more depending on family size) | Full Wedding Party: 30 Minutes | Couple’s Portraits: 30+ Minutes.

With a first look, you have a lot of flexibility! I always recommend knocking out as much as you can pre-ceremony so you can enjoy more of your party! If you DO have a gap between your ceremony and reception, I recommend chatting with your vendor team about how to appropriately utilize that time— this is where understanding location access and availability is key!

If you have a fixed ceremony start and end time, this is where sunset timing comes into play! Each day is different… travel time will differ, location access will differ, ceremony length will differ, but one thing remains the same: you’ll need light for post-ceremony portraits! If your ceremony will be ending within 30 minutes of sunset (I find this can be the case for many late fall and winter weddings!), I recommend planning to take all of your portraits pre-ceremony.

Travel Time

With multiple locations on a wedding day, we’ll need to make sure we account for the time it will take you to get to said locations… plus a little extra! When starting your timeline, be sure to calculate how much time it will take you to get from spot to spot before diving into making official plans. I recommend putting Location A and Location B into Google Maps for an overall forecast and then multiplying that forecast by 1.5-2x the amount of time listed. Yes, you want that much extra! (Rinse and repeat the process for all of the locations you will be traveling to!)

I find transit time often takes longer than expected… whether this comes from delays in loading your transportation piece when someone inevitably needs to use the bathroom or forgets a bag, a slower bus driver, traffic on the road, getting stuck behind an accident, or something else. If we DO have extra time once we all safely arrive, the time can always be used. That said, you can’t get time back, so give yourself the cushion. I have been using this formula for years and haven’t had one person regret having the extra time.

Also… for all wedding days, regardless of how many locations you’ll be visiting, I recommend holding a 30-minute window pre-ceremony for downtime! This acts as a buffer, just in case we do get behind on timing and also acts as a wonderful window to relax and soak in the day without feeling rushed down the aisle.

If you have ceremony start time flexibility…

I know this blog post has been filled with a lot of circumstantial things and high-level advice— that’s because I find that most ceremonies happening at a church or temple typically have a fixed start and end time. There is less flexibility for ceremony timing and the other events tend to hinge around the timing of the ceremony. That said, that isn’t true in every case! If you DO have flexibility with your start time, you have a ton of flexibility and can make some decisions about how you want everything to look!

To do so, I typically recommend starting with sunset time. What portraits would you like to occur before your ceremony? (I recommend knocking out some couple’s portraits, and all wedding party, and family portraits too!) After your ceremony? From there, review location access and your overall portrait layout. Where do you want portraits to happen? When will you have access to these locations?

From there, if sunset portraits are a priority for you, start at sunset (or your cocktail/reception start time!) and backtrack by the amount of time you’ll need for post-ceremony portraits, travel time x 1.5 + 5-10 minutes for settling in at the venue, and 10-15 minutes as a buffer for post-ceremony. Then… backtrack by your ceremony length and boom you have your ceremony start time! To determine the timing of pre-ceremony events, start at your ceremony start time, backtrack by 30 minutes for your pre-ceremony buffer, add in travel time x 1.5, and the timing for portraits you would like to occur pre-ceremony + 1.5 hours for details and time to get dressed.

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