How to Pick Your Ceremony Start Time

Once that beautiful engagement ring is on your finger, full on planning mode begins! From picking the perfect flowers, the most flattering dress, and the best location there are so many choices. But, once you have said yes, the most crucial decision is actually one you may not have thought twice about. It is what time to plan your ceremony for! While it may not seem that important, it is actually a crucial planning decision for getting the best images possible! 

Theresa Bridget Photography

When I photograph a wedding, my first priority is an amazing light source, then a pretty background. Great light can make a not so great location amazing. And likewise, bad light can take an amazing location and make it horrible.  So, choosing the time of day for your ceremony will play a huge role.
If your ceremony is too early, you may be standing in direct sunlight, which means you are going to look extra bright. Or worse, one of you might be in the shade and one might be in the sun, giving an uneven look to the day you have worked so hard to plan. 
If your ceremony is too late, you may lose light and end up having a twilight ceremony. Which sounds pretty, but leaves you little to no time after the ceremony for beautiful portraits in gorgeous glowy light!
Okay, so now that you are on board you are probably wondering when the best light is. If you want super glowy light for your ceremony and Bride + Groom images, you will want your ceremony to start 120 minutes (2 hours) before sunset. 
So, what would that actually look like on a wedding day? Here is an example to show you:
In this example, say sunset is at 7:00pm
5:00pm – Ceremony
5:30pm – Family Images
5:45pm – Couples Images
6:15pm - Grand Entrance
7:00pm – Dance the night away as husband and wife
Now, why two hours? Two hours is perfect because it gives you a little bit of wiggle room in case your ceremony starts late.  Also, the best light is always an hour before sunset so it means your couple images will have the most glowy light of the day.
So, there you have it—in a perfect world, all ceremonies would start 2 hours before sunset 

Here are a few FAQ’s on the subject as well…

Is there ever a time you don’t recommend the two-hour rule? -- Yes—basically the two-hour rule is so we have great light, but some areas lose light faster than others. So you will want to choose a time that is two hours before your location loses light—which is not always the time they say sunset is at! So if you are in a valley you will lose light faster than a mountaintop and will want to adjust your time accordingly. Our best advice is to scope out the light around the time you want a ceremony and see what it is like. Also, if you are NOT doing a first look, we suggest having your ceremony 3 hours before sunset, so we have time to capture all the post-ceremony images in great light!

I have heard that in California, there is light 30 minutes after sunset—so does that change the two-hour rule? -- The light 30 minutes after sunset is not bright warm light—it more the last light of the day. Basically, while twilight may seem like you still have light, it is not the warm glowy light that epic wedding images are made of.
What if I am having a morning wedding?
-- The two-hour rule is for couples who want glowy warm images. The kind that looks sun-kissed. If you are having a morning wedding, the most important part will have either shade cover or even light at your ceremony location. If at all possible, avoid the 'harshest' light of the day, which is typically between 11:00am and 2:00pm. 
What if I want the sunset behind me during the ceremony? -- A sunset ceremony totally sounds amazing and romantic huh? You, gazing into your fiancĂ©’s eyes as the sun (and your single days) dip into to horizon. I get it—it is totally romantic; however, unless you are planning on taking all of your images before the ceremony, you will actually be doing yourself a huge disservice! In the past when we have photographed sunset ceremonies we have run into two issues.

1. Once the ceremony was behind, so it actually was a ceremony in the dark!
2. The couple didn’t do a first look, so we had to use flash for all their images. We’re professionals so it was totally doable; however, it doesn’t have the same romantic feel that our images are known for. Both times this has happened both brides scheduled day after sessions and told us if they could change anything—it would have been to have a first look.
And when in doubt, don't hesitate to consult your wedding photographer! 

Theresa Bridget Photography is a wedding and anniversary photographer based in Orange County California. Theresa Bridget celebrates and captures the joy of marriage. Her timeless images are bright, warm and are crafted for the joyful bride. View her profile and follow her on Instagram.