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Hello, and welcome to the CSP blog! I'm Chris Sosa—ice-cream-lover, encourager, and wedding photographer based in Miami, Florida! My passion is photographing timeless estate weddings for joyful couples who put their marriage first! Grab a pint of your favorite ice cream, curl up on the couch, and enjoy scrolling through some of my recent weddings, getting all the latest planning inspiration, and learning from my best photography tips!

We’ve made it to the final part of our series on choosing the perfect wedding ceremony time! If you haven’t read parts one and two, click below to read them first!

Part three is all about taking what you learned in parts one and two, and tweaking it to make sure it works for YOUR wedding day! Every wedding day is different, and if you don’t take these factors into account, you could end up with a rushed, stressful wedding day and not enough daylight for your wedding portraits!

Adjust your ceremony time for the time of year

In part two, we talked about choosing a ceremony time based on the sunset time on your wedding day. But the sunset time varies widely over the course of the year!

In the summer, the sun can set around 9 pm. If you follow the rules in part two, that means a 6 or 7 pm ceremony. That’s when most brides and grooms (and their hungry guests!) want to be eating a delicious reception dinner!! In that case, don’t be afraid to start your ceremony earlier! But if you do, make sure to set aside 15-20 minutes during the reception to sneak out with your photographer and get those glowy golden hour photos! This is a great option, because it gives you even more chances to get all the photos you dream of!

In the winter, however, the sun can set earlier than 5 pm! This is when it can be a real struggle to take all your portraits while also making sure that the ceremony isn’t too far before dinner! A first look is a winter wedding’s best friend! The more photos you can knock out earlier in the day, the better it will be for your timeline!

Adjust your ceremony time to include travel time

You’ll also want to think about whether you want your portraits done at a different location than the ceremony. Our favorite weddings are estate weddings, where the getting ready, ceremony, portraits, and reception all happen on the same property! Those weddings make timelines a breeze (and with the right venue, they make for the best and most consistent photos)!

However, if you know you can’t take portraits at your ceremony location, you’ll need to add the travel time to wherever you’d like to take your photos. Always include extra time to account for traffic, missed turns, or anything else that could happen along the way!

Make sure you also think about the travel time to your reception location! This might not affect your photo time, but it can impact how long your guests have to wait until dinner!

Choosing a ceremony time for outdoor weddings

Bride wiping a tear during her outdoor wedding ceremony. Choosing the perfect wedding ceremony time for your wedding day | Chris Sosa Photography

It’s impossible to completely avoid all lighting issues when planning an outdoor ceremony! These are just some things to keep in mind that may help you to get the photos you’ve been envisioning!

If your ceremony is outdoors, you need to think in advance about how the light is going to look! It is SUPER important to make sure that the light across the altar will be soft and even! And by “altar,” I mean everything! You two, your officiant, the tippy top of your stunning floral arch, and your entire bridal party if they’re standing up with you!

There are three factors that influence this:

  1. The direction the sun is facing.
  2. How low the sun is in the sky.
  3. If there is something creating shade.

1. The direction the sun is facing.

If you already know your ceremony location, see if you can find out where the sun will set. It’s almost always best to have the sun somewhere behind the altar, so that you and your love will be backlit! This will ensure that the light on your skin is even rather than harsh or spotty!

If you can’t have the sun behind you, it’s actually better to have the sun a little more directly in front of you rather than to the side. Let’s say the sun is all the way to the right of the altar. Your face is in full sun and your husband’s face is completely shaded. You’re going to look suuuper pasty, and he’s going to look shadowy, with dark circles under his eyes! Not a good look.

2. How low the sun is in the sky.

Then just keep in mind that the closer it is to sunset, the softer the light will become. A ceremony at noon in full sun will leave you squinting and your guests reaching for their sunglasses, but the light two hours before sunset is more soft and glowy!

For summer weddings, you might want to have your ceremony start earlier to keep dinner at a normal hour. But try to choose the latest ceremony time possible while still leaving plenty of light for portraits afterwards!

3. The best case scenario: “Open Shade!”

Open shade is found when you are standing completely in the shade, but you can look straight up and see the sky. This means that no one is squinting in the sun, and there aren’t any heavy shadows either!

Cristina and Anthony’s venue, Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada, blocked the sun for most of their ceremony! In the photo above, you can see that the large building behind the ceremony space was creating the perfect shade!

At the beginning of the ceremony there was still some sun at the altar. But by the end, the sun had lowered behind the building, and everything was perfectly even for their first kiss!

It was timed perfectly; if they had done their ceremony any earlier, everything would have been in full sun.

In the photos below, Elizabeth and Jonathan’s wedding on the beach had the sun directly behind them. This made for great backlight… But the sun was reflecting off the water, which magnified the brightness!

Because we are people-centered photographers, we prioritize making you look amazing, rather than the background! This meant that many of Elizabeth and Jonathan’s ceremony photos have bright white backgrounds instead of ocean views.

To us, this is totally fine, and we always prefer backlight to direct sun! But if you really care about having that water in the photos, consider an east coast wedding with some sort of building or something to block the sun!

To recap:

Here’s a quick summary of all three blog posts on how to choose the absolute best ceremony time for your wedding!

  • Figure out how much time you need for each part of your wedding day – including the length of your ceremony!
  • Figure out the sunset time on your wedding day at your venue. The closer to sunset the better, especially for outdoor ceremonies! However, you still need time for glowy natural light portraits afterwards! So…
  • If you have a first look, start your ceremony 2 hours before sunset.
  • If you don’t have a first look, start your ceremony at least 3 hours before sunset!
  • Adjust these times as necessary based on the time of year, your ceremony length, travel time, where the sun is, your photographer’s recommendations, et cetera.
  • If your ceremony has to be earlier in the day, like in the summer when sunset is at 9 pm, block off 15-20 minutes during your reception to sneak out with your photographer and get some dreamy golden hour photos! You won’t regret it!

If you want to read more in depth information about each of these topics, click one of the links below to read the other blog posts!

Thanks so much for reading! Let us know in the comments if you have any questions, or get in touch at!

Planning Tips, Timeline Tips

February 19, 2019

Choosing the Perfect Wedding Ceremony Time (Part Three)


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