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Hey y'all! I'm Nicole & I capture authentic moments for classically elegant, unconventionally adventurous couples who believe in stylish simplicity. 

Choosing Your Ceremony Time

Client Resources

Alright, we talked before about tips for choosing your wedding date. So the next logical step is choosing your ceremony time. Believe it or not, there are a lot of things you need to think through before setting this in stone. Otherwise you might be accidentally boxing yourself in to dark portraits or a dark ceremony when you were envisioning a very light, bright gallery. So let’s chat!


If you’re getting married in the summer months, I would recommend scheduling your ceremony for 2.5 hours before sunset. It’s the best compromise between best lighting and a reasonable dinner time for those hungry guests 🙂 You’ll have your first look and portraits before the ceremony in somewhat decent light (i.e., you’ll be past high noon), you’ll have great light for ceremony and cocktail hour (particularly if you’re having an outdoor ceremony), and you can sneak away at the prime photo time during cocktails for a few quick portraits in the dreamiest light!


If you’re having an outdoor ceremony OR an indoor ceremony in a space filled with windows, you’re likely going to want to harness that natural light. So I would recommend scheduling your ceremony for about 1 hour before sunset. You’ll have your first look and portraits before the ceremony in great light and you’ll have just enough soft light leftover for your ceremony. Because that will likely mean a fairly early timeline when you start thinking about dinner, I’d recommend scheduling an extended cocktail hour (about 1.5 hours) so that by the time you sit down for the reception, you’ll have reached a fairly “normal” dinner time.

If you’re having an indoor ceremony in a less windowed space and/or don’t mind having the ceremony lit by flash, then just schedule it based on when and where you will do your portraits. Best light for your portraits will be about 2 hours before sunset, so figure out that timing (factoring in travel time) and figure out a ceremony start that will fit nicely with that schedule and that will work well with the dinner timeline.


If you’re having an outdoor ceremony, not only should you think through WHEN the sunset will be but also WHERE it will set.

The sun sets in the West. When deciding on which way you will be facing in your ceremony, start by pulling out your phone’s compass and figure out which way West is. My recommendation would be to set your “altar” up with your aisle and guests facing either Southwest or NorthwestMy second choice would be East. It produces a bit of a different photographic style, but still will be fairly even light which is flattering. I would avoid positioning the altar due North or due South, as you’ll get some awkward shadows, especially if you need to schedule your ceremony earlier in the day. I would also avoid positioning the altar due West since direct backlighting like that can lead to very washed out, muddy photos. Also your guests don’t want to be staring directly into the sun the whole time. 

Side note: Sometimes the prettiest light is not the prettiest background (another post for another day). In that situation, I’d strongly encourage you to sacrifice the background and choose the better light. Bring your photographer to the venue and they can help you find the best balance between the two so that your ceremony will look as dreamy as possible!


If you take nothing away from this post, do me a favor and remember this: Don’t finalize your ceremony start time without chatting with your photographer. Once those invites have been sent, there’s not going to be much we can do if the timing doesn’t lend itself well to ideal lighting situations, so you may be setting yourself up for disappointment when it comes to image style.

Happy Planning!

Other posts in this planning series:

Choosing your Photographer: Number One Question to Ask

Choosing Your Wedding Date

Recommended Chicago Wedding Vendors

see more wedding planning resources here

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