How to Determine What Time Your Ceremony Should Start

February 4, 2021


Wedding Wednesday


You’ve been rocking through your wedding To Do List, finalizing big decisions, crossing tasks off, and now you’re ready to start thinking about invitations. How do you determine what time your ceremony should start

What Time Should Your Wedding Ceremony Start?

This blank space in your To Do list is stressing you out. There’s no easy answer here because every wedding is different, but that’s okay! I’m going to guide you into figuring out what time your ceremony should start.

Top Things To Consider When Deciding What Time Your Wedding Ceremony Should Start

1. Sunset Time

You’ll want to make sure there is plenty of sunlight left after the ceremony to accommodate the events that follow.

Most notably, you’ll have family portraits, wedding party portraits, and your cherished husband and wife portraits.

Calculate your sunset time here!

(This can take anywhere between 1-2 hours.)

2. Getting Ready- Venue Restrictions

Most venues are rented by the hour and not by the day. You’ll want to take this into consideration when trying to determine what time your ceremony should start, and coincide that with what time you’ll start getting ready.

You’re going to need to schedule time in your day to ensure you and your wedding party have time to get ready.

If your venue restrictions don’t allow you enough time to get ready at the venue, then you’ll want to account for travel time from your Getting Ready Space to your venue.

Most brides start getting ready 3-6 hours before their ceremony. (That might sound crazy to you, but hair and makeup take time- especially when you want specific photos of you and your crew and also want to have fun along the way.)

3. Length of Your Ceremony

The length of ceremonies varies drastically. Some ceremonies are shorter than 10 minutes, and others are over 2 hours. You’ll want to talk to your minister and discuss what traditions you’ll have during your ceremony, so you can determine how long your ceremony will last.

4. Catering- The Comfort of Your Guests

Most couples will host a cocktail hour so their guests can mingle with drinks and Hors d’oeuvres while the final portraits of the day are finished up. After cocktail hour, guests are typically ushered into the reception hall for wedding party entrances, and then dinner is served.

When determining your ceremony start time, consider what food and refreshments you plan to provide for your guests.

If you’re planning to serve dinner to your guests, try to have that scheduled near when meal time typically is.
If you’re only offering cake and refreshments, you’ll want to schedule that not too close to typical meal time.

5. First Look or Traditional

Ahh!!! This one is a FAVORITE! It’s no secret that we love First Looks over here, and as luck would have it, First Looks are a big time saver in a wedding day timeline!

Unsure about whether a First Look is right for you? Check out this quiz: Should I Have A First Look?

Most couples allow 1-1.5 hours for their First Look.

6. The Vibe of Your Party

What’s your guest list look like? Is the average age of your crowd older or younger? Do most of your guests have young children?

If your crowd is young and up for a good party, you won’t have much to consider here.

Think of the folks you are really looking forward to attending your wedding, and consider what would be best for them. I know with my little one, we work everything around his bedtime (which is 7:30). And although it’s not super difficult to find a sitter, it’s tougher to find someone who is interested in (or capable of) doing bedtime. Consider having an early wedding if most of your folks are older or have young children. (That way, those who matter most to you will be comfortable and more readily able to attend and celebrate with you.)

7. Formal Exit

This is also really fun to plan! What kind of formal exit would you like to have, and does it *really* matter to you when this happens?

Some exits obviously work better at night (sparklers), others work best in daylight (rose petals), while others can happen any time (bubbles). Keep in mind, you don’t always have to have your exit at the end of the night; after your ceremony can also be a fun time to have your exit!

8. Your Wedding Photos

Ultimately, when you look around Pinterest and Google at all the wedding photos out there, what captures your attention? Do you like bright, white, romantic images best (top), or do you prefer dramatic images (bottom)?

Although we have a lot of control over your timeline, there’s one thing I cannot control: the sunset. (The sunset time will also help you in how to determine what time your ceremony should start!)

If bright, romantic images speak to you then you should plan for your ceremony to end no later than 1.5 hours before sunset. If the more dramatic images excite you, then it’s okay if your ceremony time is closer to sunset.

Although these are awesome guidelines, no two wedding timelines are alike, and that’s why I enjoy working closely with my couples to customize a wedding day timeline that is specific to them.

Want a custom wedding day timeline?

Take this short quiz to get a custom suggestion on when to start your ceremony time!



After photographing over 300 combined weddings, we've come to recognize the Timeline as the backbone to every event. Jump in to get a feel for how we do timelines and grab these 7 must-have tips every bride needs to know.

7 Must Have Wedding Timeline Tips