how to choose the right time for your wedding ceremony

Planning a wedding involves countless decisions. There are venues to be chosen, guestlists to be drawn up, menus and cakes to select... If you're reading this, then you're probably in the thick of it yourself, so you know what I'm talking about.

One of the most critical decisions about your wedding day is one that I don't see getting a lot of press, probably because it's not very glamorous: At what time should you have your ceremony? It's a really important decision, because the time you choose will influence just about everything else about your wedding day.

So how do you go about choosing the right ceremony time? Here's what we take into account when advising clients:

On what day of the week are you getting married?

If you're marrying on a Saturday, which is the most popular day for weddings, then you pretty much have the whole day at your disposal, although you'll still need to take some other details into consideration as well. More on that later.

Photo by Serdarbayraktar/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Serdarbayraktar/iStock / Getty Images

If you're marrying on a Friday or other weekday, then you'll want to consider your guests' probable schedules. Some of them might be able to take off work for the whole day of your wedding. Others, however, will be coming from work or will need to pick their kids up from school (even if the kids aren't invited to the wedding). It's thoughtful for you take these things into consideration if you can, and schedule your ceremony late enough in the afternoon to allow your guests to make it there after their weekday obligations are completed. Also be sure to account for afternoon traffic!

If you're marrying on a Sunday and you have guests travelling from out of town to attend your wedding, then schedule your ceremony early enough to allow them to catch a flight home after the festivities are over. Late morning brunch weddings are perfect for Sundays!

Does your venue have any time limitations or restrictions?

Once you've found the perfect venue, read over their policies carefully to familiarize yourself with any time limitations you'll face. Many venues require events to be completed by a certain time. When looking at that time, remember that your event isn't really over until breakdown and cleanup is completed, which typically takes your vendors an hour or two (it might take longer if you're planning an elaborate wedding). Make sure you'll be happy ending your event at the time required by your venue. If time limitations pose a big problem for you then you might need to keep venue shopping, but remember that if you have to end your reception earlier than you'd really like, you can always move the celebration to an afterparty location.

Photo, flowers, and garland by Holly Heider Chapple

Photo, flowers, and garland by Holly Heider Chapple

Once you know your latest possible end time, work backward. How many hours do you want your reception to last? Will there be a cocktail hour prior to the reception? Formal photos are often taken during the cocktail hour, but will you need more time than that? How long will your ceremony last? Do all that math and you'll arrive at a potential ceremony time.

Another time restriction you might face is scheduled ceremony times at your church. Some churches only offer one or two time slots each Saturday for wedding ceremonies. There's not a lot you can do about this except pick the one that works best for you and plan the rest of your day around it. If you have to have a morning ceremony but you still really want an evening reception, that's okay! You can suggest fun activities for your guests to explore on their own during the break, and many guests will want to just head back to their hotel to rest up for the party to come.

What do you need to get done before your wedding ceremony?

Think about all of the things you'll need to accomplish before your wedding ceremony begins:

Both you and your partner, plus all of your attendants, will need to get ready. If this is going to involve hair and makeup artists, then be sure to work with them to find out how long it will realistically take them to complete everybody's wedding day look.

Photo by Amir West of Photo Fanatic

Photo by Amir West of Photo Fanatic

Are you planning a first look, or any other pre-ceremony photography? Couples often have their photographers shoot the wedding party photos prior to the ceremony to leave more time between the ceremony and reception for just-married photos and formals. Work with your photographer and videographer to make sure you're allowing enough time for all the shots you want.

Finally, remember to account for travel time between locations. We like to look at the travel time Google Maps estimates then multiply it by 1.5 or even 2. Better to pad your timeline a bit (just don't go overboard on that) than find yourselves running late to your own wedding ceremony!

What time does the sun set on your wedding day?

Photographers love the light right after sunrise and right before sunset because the low angle of the sun makes for the best pictures. Sunrise weddings, obviously, aren't that popular, so you'll probably be more interested in finding out what time the sun sets on your wedding day. The two hours prior to sunset provide the most glowing, radiant light, so schedule your ceremony accordingly.

If you're having an indoor ceremony but want outdoor photos afterward, then be sure your ceremony ends just prior to two hours before sunset. If you're having an outdoor ceremony and want it bathed in that gorgeous pre-sunset light, then schedule your ceremony within the two hours prior to sunset.

If you're having a traditional Jewish wedding on a Saturday, then sunset time becomes important for a different reason: You'll need to wait until after sunset since many rabbis won't officiate a wedding on Shabbat. In this case, don't start your wedding ceremony right after sunset. Instead, allow enough time after the sun sets to allow your rabbi and guests time to travel to the celebration.

What kind of wedding and reception do you want?

Finally, don't forget to take into account what kind of wedding and reception you envision. Dreaming of a sophisticated brunch wedding? Then a late morning ceremony time will be just right for you. Is a nightclub-inspired reception with a great band or DJ more your style? Then start your day later. That one's easy.

Using these points as a guide when you're trying to settle on the perfect wedding day schedule will at least help you narrow things down to the window of time that's best for your ceremony. Still not sure about what time is just right for you? Ask your wedding planner! We're always happy to help with details big and small.