There are many factors that come into play when choosing the optimal wedding ceremony start time. Things like the season, your venue, whether or not you do a first look etc. Keep reading for a list of timeline tips that will ensure the BEST photos on your wedding day!

Bride and groom walking towards their outdoor wedding ceremony in Alaska.

1. Plan your ceremony around the sunset

The timing of sunset is the biggest factor when determining your ceremony start time. A quick google search of your date, location, and sunset time should give you a good estimate of when the sun goes down that time of year. And make sure you factor in the weather! (I.e. an outdoor ceremony at high noon during the hottest part of the day may not be ideal if there is no shade.)

I typically recommend a ceremony start time of at least 2 hours before sunset.

2. Check with your venue for timeline restrictions

Some venues have restrictions on how long you have access to the site. Depending on your location (the beach, a church, a traditional wedding venue, etc.) those restrictions can play a role in determining your ceremony start time. For example, churches typically have a very tight schedule due to other services and events being hosted there. Because of this, you might not have as much flexibility. Be sure to check with your particular venue for details!

Looking for unique wedding venues in Chattanooga? Check out this blog!

3. Consider doing a First Look before the ceremony

The photography portion of your timeline is widely determined by whether or not you do a first look. For couples that do choose to do a first look, we’re able to knock out most (if not all!) formal group photos AND bride and groom portraits before the ceremony. By doing this, you can actually attend your own cocktail hour, and get to your reception sooner!

4. Remember you and your guests need to eat!

The final factor in determining your ceremony start time is the reception. Most weddings include dinner or some sort of meal service. In the Summer months when the sun goes down late you may be tempted to push your ceremony start time. But, just keep in mind that it is not recommended to serve dinner past 7:00 PM to avoid you or your guests getting hangry!


When in doubt, ask your photographer, planner, and venue for advice when planning your wedding ceremony start time. Your vendor team is here to help!

How to choose your wedding ceremony start time from destination wedding photographer Sarah Woods.
  1. […] One of the biggest perks to a first look is the ability to knock out your bridal party and bride and groom portraits BEFORE the ceremony. This is especially great for fall/winter weddings when the sun goes down earlier in the evening. You can also build in time for an additional location for more variety and freedom in your photos! Check out this blog on how to choose the best ceremony start time. […]

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