Choosing Your Ceremony Time

Your ceremony is the most anticipated part of your entire wedding day. The wedding timeline is based on what time your ceremony begins, so it’s important to choose that time very carefully! Today I’m sharing six tips for choosing your ceremony time on your wedding day.

First Look vs. No First Look

Having a first look and how it impacts your timeline is something I cover extensively in a few blog posts, so I’ll link them here!

The First Look

Five Tips for a Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

If you have a first look, we can do up to 100% of portraits before your ceremony. However, if you choose to not do a first look, these are the photos we’ll do after the ceremony

  • all couples portraits
  • portraits of the entire wedding party
  • family portraits

With an average wedding, we’ll need 45 minutes to one hour for post-ceremony portraits. This means that your grand entrance would typically happen about 75-90 minutes after your ceremony time. Here’s an example:

5:00-5:30 Ceremony (this time will include the processional, recessional, and getting everyone in one location for family photos)

5:30-6:30 Family, Wedding Party, Couples Portraits

6:30 Grand Entrance

During that hour-long period of portraits, it’s best to have a cocktail hour. Keep in mind that you can have a “cocktail hour” even if you aren’t serving alcohol! It’s just a time for people to mingle, have drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and even play games! A lot of cocktail hours have yard games, cards, mad libs, etc. for guests to play while they’re waiting for the reception to start.

Sunset Portraits

If you are still wanting to have golden hour portraits mid-way through the reception in addition to the portraits you’ve had during cocktail hour, you’ll want to make sure that your grand entrance happens a while before golden hour begins. With sunset portraits, a reception timeline often looks something like this:

  • grand entrance
  • first dance
  • parent dances
  • dinner served
  • sunset photos
  • speeches/toasts
  • cake + open dancing

However, if you’re wanting to complete all of your couples portraits during the cocktail hour, then you’ll want those portraits to be right before and during golden hour instead! That will mean that your grand entrance will happen around the time that the sunset is over. You’ll have family + wedding party portraits right before sunset, and then couples portraits during golden hour. With that timeline, we won’t be pulling you away from the reception for any additional portraits since it’ll be after dark.

Ceremony Site Lighting

If possible, tour your ceremony site during the time of day that you’re planning your ceremony so that you can see how the lighting will look! If you aren’t able to do that or the season when you’re touring isn’t the same season that you’ll get married, ask your venue for photos of weddings done at that spot during the time you’re hoping to have your ceremony. Harsh sunlight coming from the wrong direction can impact your wedding photos and make you or your future spouse squint during the ceremony, which no one wants!

Brunch, Dinner, Appetizers, etc.

The type of food you’re planning on serving will also impact your ceremony time. If you’re only serving hors d’oeuvres, you won’t want to have 6:00 PM ceremony since people will be wanting to have a full dinner afterward. Unfortunately that often means that people will leave after the ceremony is over if they’re hungry enough that they need a full meal. The amount and type of food you plan to serve will ultimately impact what time of day you should plan to get married. (One note on this – I’ve seen breakfast foods served at dinnertime at multiple weddings, and that’s totally fine! It’s the size of the meal that matters.)

Adults + Kids

Are you having a family-friendly reception, or are you planning on partying until midnight? If you’re hoping to have tons of kids and families at your reception, keep in mind that an earlier ceremony might be best, as it will also mean that you can have an earlier exit time. If you’re planning on serving alcohol and having a long party without kids, a late ceremony time definitely works.

The Full Timeline

Remember that your ceremony time will also impact what time hair and makeup starts, what time your exit will be, and everything in between. If you’re wanting a 10:00 AM ceremony with a first look and all portraits before, prepare to have hair and makeup starting long before the sunrise. Some venues allow you to be on the property for the entire day without any time constraints. However, if your venue only allows you to be on site for 6, 8, 10, etc. hours, then you’ll need to keep that in mind when choosing your ceremony time!

I hope these tips have been helpful in deciding what time to have your ceremony on your wedding day!

Want to see more wedding planning tips? Click here!

I’m a wedding and lifestyle photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee but available anywhere. If you have questions about booking me for a session or wedding, click here! To follow me on social media, check out my Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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