After choosing a date and venue for your wedding, one of the first things you’ll need to figure out is the timing of the day. How long do you want your wedding to be? What time will it begin and end?
Start this conversation by imagining how you’d like your wedding day to flow and taking note of any restrictions set by your venue or other vendors. For example, if the venue limits your wedding to 5 hours, you could set aside 1.5 hour for the Ceremony + Cocktail Hour and 3.5 hours for the Reception.
Once you know how long your entire wedding will be, the next step is to decide what time your Ceremony will begin. This will be the time you list on your invitations, so it’s important to decide this at least a few months in advance! From this time, you can work backwards to decide when you and your vendors will arrive, and what time your Reception will end.
Choosing a Ceremony time may sound simple, but there’s actually a lot to consider! Many couples will choose 6:00pm, knowing that dinner will be shortly afterward. However, important factors – like the location and time of year – play a HUGE role in not only your photos, but many other parts of the day as well.
Let’s get right to it!
The very first thing you should consider is what time the sun will go down on your wedding day. This time can change drastically throughout the year, and it’s important to know when Daylight Savings Time takes affect.
In the summer, sunset can be as late as 8:30pm. In the winter, it gets dark as early as 5:30pm. This means that a Ceremony beginning at 6:00pm could either be in bright sunlight or in complete darkness at different times of the year. 🤯
This is why LIGHT is the most pivotal factor in creating a timeline.
I promise not to get too technical, but I’ll take you inside the mind of a photographer for a minute!
In the middle of the day, the sun is high in the sky, and light in shining straight down, creating dark shadows on everything it touches. It’s not the most flattering light for your face! But closer to sunset, the sun is lower in the sky, casting softer, less direct, and more golden light. This means that we can use the sun to our advantage instead of trying to hide from it! 🌤
So when it comes to taking photos outside, the sweet spot is the last 1 to 1.5 hours before sunset.
Let’s do the math…
Looking at our sample timelines, you’ll need to set aside about 1 hour after your Ceremony for family portraits, wedding party photos, and bride & groom portraits. Ideally, these will take place in the best light possible, ending 15-30 minutes before sunset.
Ceremony (~30 minutes) + Portraits (1 hour) + 15 minutes before sunset = 1 hour and 45 minutes
This means that you should start your Ceremony 2 to 1.75 hours before sunset. Do this, and your photographer will love you. AND you’ll get awesome, backlit, golden portraits! 🙌
But this is not only about portraits! EVERY part of your day will benefit from knowing the sunset time and setting your timeline accordingly.
These guidelines matter even more if you’re planning an outdoor ceremony! Not only will your photos look better, but the light will be easier on your eyes, and you won’t have to squint while you say “I do”.
I’ll let you in on my secret tool for knowing exactly what time sunset will come…weeks, months, or even years in advance.
Of course, none of these rules are set in stone. If you’ve already decided on your Ceremony time and it’s too late to change it, don’t panic! There are always ways to rework your timeline to ensure you get those golden hour portraits you’ve been dreaming of.
If your post-Ceremony portraits are scheduled at 5:00pm in the June when the sun sets at 8:30pm, you could sneak away from your Reception for 10 minutes for some bride & groom portraits at sunset.
Oh, and by the way… These same guidelines apply to engagement and bridal sessions! So when I suggest a very specific time to begin your session, you’ll know why!