From exchanging vows to the first kiss as newlyweds, the wedding ceremony is undoubtedly one of the most romantic parts of your big day. What will make it even more magical is saying “I do” during sunset. When the sun dips into the sky, the phenomenon creates a melange of golds, oranges and pinks and casts a warm glow over your evening, which is perfect for evoking a dreamy ambience. Not to mention that the way the light hits will generate the most flattering photos. Although sunsets vary depending on the time of year and location – from 4pm in winter or until 10pm in summer – they tend to take place later in the day, which leaves plenty of time to get glammed up, take portraits and rest, according to Neillie Butler of Mariée Ami.
If you’re thinking of having a sunset ceremony, we asked an experienced wedding planner to give us the lowdown on the process. From the best timing and location to beautiful decoration ideas, here’s a complete guide to planning a sunset wedding.
The best time and location for a sunset wedding
The last thing you want is to miss the sunset, so one of the most important steps in planning a sunset wedding is choosing the right time and location. Sunset occurs earlier in the fall and winter and later in the spring and summer, so be sure to check your scheduled sunset time based on your wedding date and region. For example, the earliest sunset in New York City is at 4:28 p.m. during the winter solstice in late December and the latest is 8:31 p.m. during the summer solstice in late June. The best time for your ceremony will depend on when and where you tie your knot.
The length of the wedding ceremony also has an impact on the start time. Since most services tend to last between 20 and 30 minutes, Butler recommends planning your vow exchange 30 minutes before your scheduled sunset. So, if the sun sets at 7:32 p.m., tell your guests that the event will begin at 7 p.m. If your ceremony will last longer than 30 minutes, you’ll want to start even earlier. “We like it when the ceremony ends just as the sun sets, so guests come out in a beautiful afterglow,” she says. Since the average sunset in the United States is 33 minutes, according to WorldData Info, choosing a start time 30 minutes before sunset will give you plenty of time to take a few portraits after you exchange vows and provide enough light for your guests to move into cocktail hour.
As for location, an outdoor setting with an open view is the best option, whether it’s the beach or a mountaintop. Once you’ve chosen your landscape, Butler recommends considering the orientation of your venue in relation to the sunset, noting where the sun will set in the sky, and considering how you’ll want to position your altar. The planner mentions that you will probably want to recite your vows facing the sunset so that none of the guests have to look into the glaring sun. Plus, you and your partner will look like you’re glowing with the sun in your faces.
Planning tips for a sunset wedding
Once you’ve chosen the exact time and location of your ceremony, there are a few more details you’ll need to keep in mind. First, Butler encourages you to get in touch with your photographer about the photos you’ll want to take before and after the ceremony, so you can plan your shoot around the best lighting. You’ll also want to check with your ceremony venue about any restrictions, such as noise ordinances or electricity needs, at that time to make sure your sunset wedding runs as smoothly as possible, Butler says.
Another priority is improving the customer experience. Consider putting a pair of sunglasses on each seat so your friends and family don’t have to squint to watch your ceremony. To help keep your loved ones comfortable, consider how the temperature changes once it gets dark. If the air cools at night, you may want to offer pashminas or blankets to keep your guests warm.
Sunset-themed decoration ideas
The decorations you choose for your sunset wedding will largely depend on the aesthetic, the season and the location. However, if you want the sunset to be the focal point, opt for minimal ornaments at the ceremony to avoid overshadowing the view. Perhaps you want the sunset itself to be the main overall concept of your big day. If this is the case, then adorn your celebration with sunset-themed decorations.
To channel the vibrant hues of a sunset, consider a color palette of orange, pink and gold. You can also work blue into the mix to reflect the backdrop of the sky. For example, line your aisle with lanterns and flowers in these striking hues to recreate the sunset. Then, change the vows in front of a coordinated floral arch for a cohesive setting. At the reception, wrap your tables in blue linens and scatter a mix of orange and pink vases with matching flowers in the center. You’ll definitely want to play with lighting, such as taper candles placed on tables and string lights suspended from the ceiling. We also love the idea of adding illustrations of the sun to invitations, welcome boards, ceremony programs, seating charts and menus.
How to create a romantic ambience
The soft glow of the sunset will already generate a magical atmosphere at your wedding, so you don’t have to lift a finger to bring the romance. However, if you want to up the ante, Butler suggests decorating the space with ample lighting, such as a collection of candles on the perimeter of the aisle or a cascade of string lights on the ceiling of a tented reception.
To produce a more romantic ambiance, you’ll want to make sure your guests are as comfortable as possible. “Consider a plush cushion or a mix of elegant vintage chairs so your guests can embrace the intimate vibe,” says Butler.
Tips for choosing the right photographer
One of the main reasons couples choose to have a sunset wedding is to capture gorgeous photos, which means hiring the right photographer is an essential step. First, Butler recommends examining the vendor’s portfolio to discern if their style resonates with your vision and to check if they have experience shooting sunset weddings. If you can’t find a blog or gallery of a sunset wedding, ask the photographer to send you one.
Next, Butler advises reading testimonials from previous clients to get an idea of the talent’s professionalism, communication, experience and skills, especially in working in different lighting conditions. If you find a vendor who checks all the boxes, schedule a call with them or send them an email. “Make sure you have a list of questions to make sure they fit into your budget, the times you need them, the specific offerings you’re looking for – such as whether you want film shoots or a legacy photo album – and how many photographers they’ll bring,” Butler says.