Woohoo, you’re ENGAGED! One of the biggest questions that you get bombarded with after your special announcement is: “So when is the big day?!” Yes, choosing your date is important. Don’t choose a summer date if you don’t do well with the crazy heat here in Tucson (I know I ride that struggle bus!). If you want to have an outdoor ceremony in a very lush setting, Spring would probably be a safer choice than Fall. But even more important than your date is the actual START TIME of your wedding ceremony.
When you start designing your official wedding invitations, you need to decide when the ceremony will start so that your guests know when to arrive. At first thought, most couples think about one thing: food. They think, “Well, if we start at 5:00pm and the ceremony lasts for 30 minutes, then we’ll take a few photos, and be ready to eat around 6:00pm.” Sounds good, right? But what if you’re having a Fall wedding and the sun sets at 5:00pm? That means you’ll have a dark ceremony and be restricted to flash/indoor images only for your formal family photos AND miss out on sunset Bride and Groom photos (my all-time favorite).
For me, using flash is an absolute last resort for portraits. Artificial light just doesn’t look as flattering as natural light to me and it doesn’t flow with my editing style. And as your photographer, I want my work to be as consistent as possible throughout the whole day. So, how should you decide on your wedding ceremony start time?
Never fear! I’m here to help walk you through some of the big things to consider so you can mark invitations off of your to-do list (I LOVE that feeling!) and move on to the next fun thing!
Now I’m going to preface this by saying these aren’t the only things to consider when choosing your time, but they are the biggest in my opinion. As long as you take these three things into consideration when choosing your ceremony time, you should be pretty well set for an awesome wedding day!
So I briefly touched on this in the beginning, but knowing when the sun is setting is crazy important. Natural light photographers like myself, well, we need light. And if the sun goes down earlier on in your wedding day, then there goes our light source. There are SO MANY ways that you can find out when the sun will set on your wedding day. An app that I personally use is called “Golden Hour.” I just plug in the date and the location and BOOM– I know exactly when the sun will rise, set, and when the glorious Golden Hour is. It’s simple and it’s free.
There are other apps out there that have tons of detail concerning the quality of light, what direction the sun will be setting in at that particular location, etc. I’ll admit, those features are cool, but I don’t find them absolutely necessary. Plenty of things impact a sunset (like clouds, mountains, etc.) so I don’t want to get too caught up in what the app report says. Just doing a quick search in your phone’s App Store for “sunset calculator” will give you plenty of free choices.
Once you know when the sun will set on your wedding day, it’s time to do some backwards planning. You start with your sunset time and work backwards in your timeline according to how much time the photographer needs to complete each event/section of your wedding day. This is when knowing whether or not you’re doing a First Look becomes key. I’m a huge First Look advocate, but that topic is for another day haha!
Ah, the First Look. It is a photographer’s dream both for romance’s sake and your wedding timeline’s sake. If you and your sweetie pie do a First Look then that means you get to see each other before the ceremony and spend some time alone before taking photos. If you don’t have a First Look then ALL of the portraits that include the two of you together have to be done after the ceremony.
So in a nutshell:
Seems pretty cut and dry, right? But there is one more thing to consider before making a final decision!
How long your wedding ceremony lasts is the final thing I consider for a timeline. Most of my couples just have a simple ceremony that lasts no more than 30 minutes. I photograph some weddings where I feel like it’s over in 10 minutes flat! But what if you have a full catholic ceremony with Mass? Those ceremonies take closer to an hour. So, if you have a ceremony longer than 30 minutes, let your photographer know ASAP so he/she can account for more time during that part of your day!
So, I’m going to give you TWO example timelines (yay!) for a Fall wedding (my favorite season) with an average ceremony length. One will show you how the day will flow with a First Look and the other without one. Keep in mind, a timeline can vary depending on how much time your photographer allocates for each part of the day.
For every wedding couple that I work with, I create a custom wedding day timeline just for them. The timeline takes into account these 3 big factors along with unique parts of their day. The planning part of me LOVES doing this. This step in my process definitely helps take away some stress from the couple (double win!).
I hope this info has been helpful and provides you a great guide in choosing your own wedding ceremony time! Be sure to check out the Tips section of my blog for more wedding photography and planning goodies!
Christy Hunter is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Tucson, Arizona.
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