Sunset Weddings and Late Guests


I was recently informed of a question posted on a well-known wedding forum.  I happen to have nothing against the website at all, except that at least in this specific case, the answer to a Bride’s inquiry regarding the timing of her sunset wedding was completely off-course.  Exhibit A:


My fiance and I are having an outdoor wedding at sunset. We had planned on a 4:30 p.m. start time, since the sun will go down at 4:45. But several of the wedding professionals we’ve spoken to have told us that the wedding ceremony most likely won’t actually start until 5:00, since many wedding guests are likely to be late. Should we put an earlier start time on the wedding invitations or just begin at the time we specified, whether or not everyone has arrived? We don’t want to say our wedding vows in the dark.


Exchanging outdoor vows at sunset is a great idea. Your wedding professionals are right: More guests than one would like to think do show up late to wedding ceremonies, but there’s a simple solution: as you suggested, your invitations should have an earlier start time — say, half an hour before you actually want the ceremony to begin. If you want things to get going at 4:30 p.m., simply invite your guests for 4:00 — and enjoy that sunset.

Because 98% of the weddings I design, plan and coordinate take place on the beach at sunset, I feel both confident and qualified to answer this question correctly.

First of all, because you are most likely paying for some really gorgeous photos of your ceremony, you want the lighting to be perfect.

Lighting, after all, is everything, right?

If you wait until the sun is ACTUALLY setting to walk down the aisle, your lighting is already nearly gone. Starting your ceremony one to one and a half hours before the actual sunset time will give you the most amazing photos because the sunlight will be perfect.

Most beach ceremonies last somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes, after which the guests usually head to the cocktail hour while the photographer does some fun, casual post-ceremony shots with family, the wedding party and/or just the Bride and Groom.  If you start your wedding at sunset (or even 30 minutes prior, as suggested in the Answer above), you will all be in the dark by the time you’ve said, “I Do”, resulting in dim, dark photos, to say the least!

The second part of this Q & A that is completely errant is the assumption (and acceptance) that your guests will show up late to your wedding and you should, therefore choose the time of your wedding to accommodate their tardiness.  This is absolutely appalling to me, and should be to anyone planning a wedding!  You should set the ceremony start time for whatever time YOU want, not based on how late you anticipate your guests will be!

Again, because the vast majority of our weddings are Destination Weddings, EVERYBODY is on vacation (or as I refer to it, “on Beach Time”).  I am very upfront with my Brides about this but I also let them know that their ceremony WILL start on time.  The reason for this is that not only is that what I am being paid to do, but every single element of the rest of the night is based on the time the ceremony is to start.  You are paying every one of your vendors to perform a service to the best of their ability and have told everyone from the officiant to the musicians, from the caterer to the photographer what time to be ready.  If the ceremony starts late then the reception starts late, which puts every carefully planned and coordinated detail of your event behind schedule as well.

During the rehearsal I emphasize to the family and Bridal Party how important it is that everyone be on time and I am sure to have them on site on Wedding Day early enough to ensure there are no close calls.

Occasionally there will be a late guest or two but their lack of punctuality, whether due to unforeseen circumstances or just plain bad manners, should NOT be what you base YOUR Wedding Day around.

So, are you planning a sunset wedding?  What are your thoughts? And Photographers….I’d LOVE for you to weigh in on this matter too!

photo of Mix Mingle Glow wedding courtesy of Kate Crafton Photography

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9 Responses to “Sunset Weddings and Late Guests”

  1. Amanda Suanne Photographer Says:

    Thank you for posting this!! The photos are so much better about and hour and a half before sunset plus what if you decide to get married at Sunset on a cloudy day ?? Your light will be gone !! No one wants or should have to fight with mother nature :) Great post Robyn !

  2. Leslie Roark Photography Says:

    Thank you! You are dead on! I can’t tell you how many brides have NO idea about this! They don’t realize this at all. My only other input would be that a lot of photographers have different styles and lighting preferences and may like to shoot earlier or later so if in doubt.. call them! I personally prefer what you have listed in your post but I know of others that might say otherwise.

  3. sonja revells Says:

    Hi Robyn,

    Yes, this is a big issue. I tell my brides that to get the best light for photographs (to me anyway)
    is 30 minutes before sunset and 15 minutes after sunset.
    So if they want to take advantage of that light, they should be ready to take photos 30 minutes before sunset, when the sun is at the horizon line.
    And they can count back from there on what time they should have their ceremony. I like to give the bride and groom a few minutes to speak with guests before pulling them away for photos, so I usually will have them account for that as well. Great post!!

  4. pure 7 studios Says:

    Great post! The only thing I slightly disagree with is that we find a lot of ceremonies start about 15-30 minutes late. Not always because the guests are necessarily late (which they frequently are), but because the bridal party is not ready yet. So, I always advise my brides to plan on the ceremony starting 15 minutes late.

  5. robyn Says:

    Pure 7 ~ All the more reason to have a Wedding Planner! :)

    Thanks so much for all the great insightful comments everyone!

  6. Sarah Wedding Says:

    Great advice! Brides and wedding planners are always presented with the reality that guests may not show up on time. I think that while this may be annoying, it is largely unavoidable. Better to plan for a few stragglers to ensure you affair happens without a hitch!

  7. George Schoell Says:

    The name of our company is Sunset Weddings. We are located in Cabo San Lucas Mexico and have planed destination weddings and events for the past 10 years. We do not have problems with our guests and family’s being late because we normally use a transportation company to pick up the wedding party at their hotels and villas. I’m sorry to say, but if one of the guests are late for the wedding we will not allow them to approach the ceremony until after it is over. If they don’t understand that it’s rude to be late , they need to learn. Our sunsets are fabulous in Los Cabos and 15 minutes can make or break a photo shoot.

  8. Laney Says:

    Solid Advice! It’s amazing to me how indifferent guest can be to time. BUT I love your advice to simply have the arrival hour listed earlier. Every one wins!!

  9. Lara Says:

    Actually.. as a bride to be AND a photographer, I have to politely disagree with you on both counts.

    First off.. the brides question is the same as my own. Knowing my guests as well as I do.. there’s no doubt in my mind that some will be late, and I don’t want them sprinting across the (huge) park to the ceremony spot whilst I’m making my grand entrance!! As such I plan to put an earlier time on the invites.. (ceremony will start at 5.25.. I’m trying to work out whether to go with 5.15 or 5.00pm)

    Secondly.. as a photographer.. and someone who places great value on the wedding photos, there are ways around the light issue. First of all, the newer pro cameras have WONDERFUL low light capabilities.
    Another option (and quite a common choice these days) is that the bride and groom have a private meeting before the ceremony, and get photos then.
    Also, any real pro photographer should be able to make the best of available light, and failing that, bring their own. Yes it’s harder to get wonderful pictures, but if saying your vows at sunset is important (and it is to me – obviously!) then this won’t be too hard to work around.

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