How to Pick the Perfect Ceremony Start Time

Feb 17, 2021

What time should I start my ceremony? What’s the best time for a sunset ceremony in Austin? How long before sunset should I start my wedding?

If you’re planning a wedding, you’ve probably already realized there are about ten thousand decisions to be made between “Yes” and “I Do”, but one of the earliest and most significant decisions you’ll need to make is one most people wouldn’t suspect: picking your ceremony start time.

Not only is this one of the earliest decisions you’ll make while planning your wedding, it also affects other parts of your wedding day too, so it’s important to be mindful while choosing the exact moment you’ll walk down the aisle.

After years spent working alongside our couples, we’ve developed the perfect system for choosing a ceremony start time that helps ensure they have the best light possible AND a wedding day that flows smoothly.


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STEP ONE: Start with the Sunset Time

The lower the sun is in the sky, the more romantic the lighting will be during your ceremony. Conversely, a ceremony starting at 12pm would leave you with harsh shadows on your eyes and faces, and a much greater potential for you or your guests to be squinting in photos!

If soft and romantic lighting is what we’re looking for, sunset is going to be ideal. But here is where a lot of people make a mistake!

DON’T schedule your ceremony DURING sunset. Doing this won’t leave you with enough time for the portraits that we’ll need to take after the ceremony, and we know you want alllll the beautiful portraits you can get!

So for now, let’s figure out what time sunset is on your wedding day. Our favorite method for calculating sunset times for a specific location is an app called Sun Seeker, but it does carry a $9.99 price tag, so it might not be the best fit for everyone. Sunrise-Sunset is another good site for finding sunset times based on a given location. You can access it here.

Once you have the start time for your wedding day, move on to step two.

STEP TWO: The First Look

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We’re going to be honest. We love First Looks. They’re freakin’ awesome. Not only do they allow our couples to enjoy a beautiful and intimate moment privately, they also yield some of the most emotional, significant and show-stopping images we get to capture on a wedding day.

Seriously. First Looks are THE BEST.

But here’s another important aspect to First Looks: they free up VALUABLE time after the ceremony and ultimately affect the ideal time the ceremony should start to capitalize on the softest light possible.

We’ll talk more about the merits of a first look in a future blog post, but for now, just know that without a first look you should plan to schedule your ceremony about 3 hours before sunset. Conversely, if you ARE doing a first look, you can usually start your ceremony about 2 hours before sunset, giving yourself even more soft, romantic and beautiful light as you walk down the aisle.

So, to recap: We’re at Sunset Time – 2 Hours (First Look folks), or Sunset Time – 3 Hours (non First Look Folks). Now let’s move on to Step Three.

STEP THREE: Ceremony Length

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At their very best, weddings are like fingerprints. They can (and we believe should) be a beautiful and unique representation of you and your person. The ceremony is a great way to bring that authenticity front and center, so whether you have a quick 10 minute vows exchange or a longer, more traditional ceremony in a church, we’re here for it!

But let’s make sure to adjust the start time based on the length of the ceremony. The times we listed above are based on a 30 minute ceremony, so make sure to adjust your start time earlier for a longer ceremony, or later for a shorter one.

So, if sunset is at 7pm, and you’re doing a first look, you would normally start your ceremony at 5pm (2 hours prior). But if you’re having a more traditional ceremony that can take 45 minutes or even an hour, you’ll want to add that extra 30 minutes to your ceremony start time (4:30pm).

STEP FOUR: Other Lighting Conditions

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Now that we’ve taken into account sunset times, whether or not you’re doing a first look and the length of the ceremony, we probably have the perfect ceremony start time locked in, but it never hurts to consider a few more factors just to make sure.

Indoor/Church Ceremonies:

If you’re having your ceremony inside a church or other indoor venue, we’d recommend adding at least another 30 minutes between your ceremony start time and the sunset time. Ideally, we still want soft, romantic light coming through those beautiful church windows, but we don’t want the sun to be so low that the natural light can’t make its way inside at all.

Also, we completely understand that some churches have strict rules about when you are able to have the ceremony, and obviously in those cases we would recommend following the churche’s guidance.

Blocked Lighting:

If there are tall trees surrounding your ceremony location, or another large obstruction that will block direct light while the sun is low in the sky, it’s good to make adjustments to account for that shift in lighting as well.

This is actually a pretty difficult lighting situation to anticipate, since the path of the sun (and the behavior of the light itself) changes throughout the year, so anticipating this particular variable 4 – 6 months in advance can be pretty tough.

If you find yourself in this situation, feel free to give us a shout and we can help you decide the best way to adjust your ceremony start time accordingly.

STEP FIVE: Double Check with your Venue

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Last but not least, we always recommend double checking your ceremony start time with your venue before finalizing it. They will be able to share what they’ve learned about ideal start times based on other weddings that took place around the same time of year, and can help ensure you have set yourself up for success.

It’s also a good idea to ask your venue some questions about the practical aspects of the time you’ve chosen. Simple things like, will traffic be an issue for guests arriving at that time? Are there any sound or physical disruptions that may occur at that time of day (nearby trains passing, bells ringing, etc)?

This is your last step in the process, and a good reminder to try to anticipate any unforeseen problems that could arise, and adjust accordingly.

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If you can’t tell from this blog post, we pride ourselves on being prepared. We believe that one of our core roles as photographers is to help our couples anticipate challenges, and to work with them and their vendor team to design a wedding that helps them truly enjoy the celebration of the start of their marriage.

If you’re an L+L Couple reading this and would like help planning the logistics of your ceremony start time, let us know and we’d be happy to help! And if you’re not an L+L Couple but would like to be, click here to get in touch. We’re excited to meet you, to hear more about your story, and talk wedding day details!

With all the love,


If you enjoyed this step-by-step process on How to Pick the Perfect Ceremony Start Time, make sure to check out our post about Why You Need A Getting Ready Details Checklist! Interested booking your wedding, or an intimate engagement session with your person? Give us a shout right here!

Lacey + Lee Photography is a wife-husband photography team based in Austin, Texas who specialize in creating bold, intimate and emotive wedding, engagement and elopement photography. Within the Austin Area they serve South Congress, East 6th, South Lamar, The Seaholm District, Mueller, Dripping Springs, Kyle, Hutto, Georgetown, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, and Bastrop. They also serve San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Waco, Dallas, Houston, and any State or National Park you get to by plane, train or automobile. They are available for destination weddings, proposals, elopements and micro weddings.

Get in touch today for more detailed pricing!

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