How to Choose Your Ceremony Start Time

How to choose your ceremony start time – It’s that time of year…where the days are shorter and it’s dark at 6pm (well at least here in Florida). When the time change hit, it got me thinking about weddings and ceremony start times. I get this question all of the time “what time should I start my ceremony?” so here you go – a blog post all about that exact question!

The time you decide to start your wedding ceremony is based on a few key things.

1. Sunset time.

2. The venue.

3. Photography schedule.

4. Your reception.


One of the biggest factors in determining your ceremony start time is the sunset. One of the first things I do when figuring out that time is to figure out the sunset. Once I have that time I can work my way backwards with the schedule and nail down the perfect start time. I use an app called Sunrise Sunset, but you can also simply use Google to figure out the time.

All you need to know is your location and date! It’s that easy. For example: say your wedding date is March 2, 2019 and you’re getting married in Orlando, I would find Orlando on the app and then put in your date and hit “display.” The app will tell me that your sunrise time is 6:49am and your sunset time is 6:26pm. I will then take that information and work backwards and that will look a little something like this:

6:30pm – Cocktail hour end time

6:26pm – Sunset

6:00pm – Sunset pictures (if that is something you want)

5:30pm – Cocktail hour start time/ceremony end time

5:00pm – Ceremony start time

Now, that is just an example and a rough idea. There are a few more things I would need to ask you to really figure out the perfect time. The next big thing would be your venue!

The Venue

Your venue plays a big role in determining your ceremony start time. Are you getting married at a church? Outside in a garden? At the beach? In a ballroom? Depending where you plan to say “I do” plays a big part in timing.

For those of your who are planning to wed at a church, you may not have a whole lot of say as to when your ceremony can start. Typically with churches, they run on a strict schedule because they hold services before or after your ceremony, so you really only get one or two options. Now this does vary from church to church, but from what I have seen in the past a lovely 2:00pm or 3:00pm ceremony is what you get! And you must be out of that church no more than 30 minutes after the end of your ceremony because their services will begin then.

If you are getting married outside (say in a garden, by the lake or on the beach), usually times are flexible based on what you want, but you have to keep sunlight in mind! Yes, sunset beach ceremonies can be done, but most of the time your ceremony time would revolve around the sunset time like in the example I made above.

Want to get married inside and keep all your pictures inside as well? Totally doable! I actually had a wedding at the Orlando Museum of Art last month and because of the venue restrictions, we had to start the ceremony at 6:30pm. By the time it was done, it was dark outside, but that was totally fine! It was an art museum after all and the couple wanted cool pictures in the galleries, so it didn’t matter that it was dark!

Be sure to check with your venue on any restrictions before choosing your start time. Lots of times they will be able to assist with your ceremony start time as well!

Photography Schedule

Your photography schedule also plays a key part in determining your ceremony start time. One of the questions I always ask my couples is “Are you doing a first look?” If the answer is yes, then I continue to ask “Is it just a first look or are you planning to knock out all of your formal photos before the ceremony?” So many of my couples have been choosing to enjoy their cocktail hour with their guests, so doing a first look and then continuing on with their formal photos afterwards is key. It is also highly recommended to knock out all of your wedding party photos (bride and bridesmaids, groom and groomsmen, etc.) before the ceremony because it saves you so much time.

With all of that said, if you were to do a first look and knock out all of your formal photos before the ceremony, afterwards all you would have left is family photos and those don’t take long if you come organized with a list. If you are doing a first look and knocking out as many photos as possible, here is what your March 2, 2019 wedding timeline might look like:

5:00pm – Ceremony

5:30pm – Cocktail hour

6:26pm – Sunset

6:30pm – Reception

10:00pm or 10:30pm – End

If you’re not doing a first look, then it may look something like this and this is because we would need to ensure we have as much light a possible to capture all of your formal photos after the ceremony. We can always sneak you out after introductions for some sunset pictures if the sky is nice.

4:30pm – Ceremony

5:00pm – Cocktail hour

6:26pm – Sunset

6:00pm – Reception

10:00pm or 10:30pm – End

Your Reception

One last thing to think about when planning your ceremony start time is your reception. Most wedding receptions include a formal dinner (buffet or plated), so you have to keep that in mind. During the Summer months when it gets dark later in the evening, your ceremony may start a bit later, but you don’t want it to start too late…starting dinner at 8pm or later is usually not recommended. Remember, you can always sneak out during the reception with your photographer for that “golden hour” to get some killer pictures. I pulled the date of July 2, 2019 for this example.

5:30pm – Ceremony

6:00pm – Cocktail hour

7:00pm – Reception

7:30pm – Dinner

8:00pm – Sunset pictures

8:27pm – Sunset

11:00pm – End

This is all advice based on what I’ve seen over the years. Remember, always consult with your venue, planner and photographer before sending out your invitations. Together, we will make sure the timing is perfect!


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How to Choose Your Ceremony Start Time

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