Ceremony Timing Tips: No First Look + Two Locations/Church Ceremony | Wedding Planning

Almost there… I’ve been blogging ceremony timing tips for a full month now! This week, we’ll be chatting about ceremony timing if you will be celebrating your marriage at two locations and will be sharing your first look at the altar! 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 (Found here!)
  3. Ceremony Timing Tips: First Look + Church Ceremony/Two Locations (Last week!)
  4. Ceremony Timing Tips: No First Look + Church Ceremony/Two Locations (This week!)
  5. Ceremony Lighting Tips (Next week!)

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. That said, I’m always happy to offer general help, so let’s dive right!

If you will not 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 or other indoor religious institution! 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, outdoor portraits, we need to make sure we bank some time for that! Keep in mind, once the sun goes down, it’s dark! If 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

Ceremony length and timing will play a central theme in your day! I find that churches tend to have a little less flexibility when it comes to overall ceremony start time and length, that said, there can be a degree of flexibility, so let’s break it down.

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, temple, or other religious institution, 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! We will use your start and approximate end time (Plus travel and sunset times!) to slot your portrait timing.

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 things to occur. Keep in mind, even if you are not sharing a first look, you’ll need a spot to get ready and may also need a spot for portraits with each individual side of the wedding party + individual family sides.

If you’ll have reception venue access all day, this is often a great option 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 photography 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

Even without a first look pre-ceremony, you’ll still have so much flexibility when it comes to slotting portraits together on your wedding day! That said, it’s important to allocate the time necessary.

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.

When thinking about your overall portrait layout, consider your ceremony end time, your transit time, and your reception start time. Will you have time to designate a full 90 minutes to portraits at some point throughout the day? If not, I highly recommend incorporating a longer gap between your ceremony and reception or incorporating a longer cocktail hour.

If you have a shorter gap post-ceremony/pre-reception and have location access that you love, I highly recommend taking individual-sided portraits earlier in the day. This typically includes individual sides of the couple with their side of the wedding party + individual sides of the family, leaving just combined portraits + combined family + couple’s photos post-ceremony. This can save a decent bit of time and often makes the post-ceremony time feel just a little less packed.

This is just a note: while I never want to force a couple to share a first look, sometimes, it is important to consider all of the options. 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 portraits! If your ceremony will be ending within 30-45 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 which means sharing a first look. Again, I never want to force this on anyone, so this is where ceremony timing comes into play. If you have a chance to bump your ceremony to earlier in the day, this is also a great option too.

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.


I want to ensure I’m honoring your wishes to share your first look with each other at the altar. That said, I also want to ensure I’m honoring your investment in wedding photography and overall vision. The key to any stress-free wedding day is time, time, time. Too little time, and things will feel rushed, chaotic, and overwhelming. When we have enough time, suddenly things feel more cohesive, we can relax a little, and will have a lot more fun. As you design your timeline, I want to encourage you to prioritize time for portraits with each other and with your people— you will want these to look back on in years to come. I also want to encourage you to strategically design your reception timeline to allow for time with your guests— personally designate a time to visit and greet guests while also designating some time to enjoy your reception dance floor and merriment.

Oftentimes, when you share a first look at the altar, much of cocktail hour will be occupied with wrapping up portraits— this is fairly normal but there are also a number of ways to ensure you can enjoy some time at cocktail hour too (like incorporating a longer gap post-ceremony or knocking out individual sides of portraits pre-ceremony to name a few). I highly recommend chatting with whoever may be helping you create your timeline on how to strategize to ensure you are able to balance portrait time with time spent enjoying your day!

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