PLANNING A SUNRISE WEDDING
By Chad and Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’: your elopement and small wedding photography and planning assistance team.
UPDATED 18 DEC 2022
How to plan a sunrise wedding, including a sample sunrise wedding timeline.
Sure, we know: catching a sunrise takes effort.
It means dragging your sorry-a** outta bed at one heck of an early hour and heading off, in the dark, to get to where you want to be in plenty of time before that golden ball of fire cracks the horizon.
But, all the best things in life take a bit of effort, right?!
Trust us, catching sunrise is ALWAYS worth the effort.
Sunrise wedding ceremonies are our ABSOLUTE FAVORITE. We adore them and always encourage our couples to at least consider the idea. Often, it’s not something that’s even entered their minds before speaking to us – setting the alarm for 3am out of CHOICE?! – but once we explain the concept to them they often see the beauty and decide it’s the best option for them.
And they’ve NEVER been disappointed.
Here, we’re going to share our TOP FIVE reasons for choosing a sunrise wedding ceremony. We’ll also share our best advice for planning one and mapping out a sunrise wedding timeline.
A sunrise wedding ceremony usually isn’t an option for couples choosing to have big, traditional weddings. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade 200 people to join you at the crack of dawn to celebrate your nuptials! And, ugghh, trying to organize that many people bright and early: no thanks.
For couples choosing to elope or have a super-intimate wedding, on the other hand, it’s a FANTASTIC choice.
But, first things first…..
We personally adore sunrise weddings. HOWEVER, do not even contemplate one if:
You’re scared of the dark. Like legit scared. You’ll be getting to your ceremony site in total darkness. Don’t freak yourself out on your wedding day.
You’re a monster if you have to wake up early. Not just a little grumpy – no one LIKES getting up at the butt-crack of dawn and we’re all a teeny bit grumpy – but like an actual monster. Don’t do that to your future spouse. Or they might not end up your spouse at all!
However, if neither A nor B apply, read on!
WHY HAVE A SUNRISE WEDDING? OUR TOP 5 REASONS.
- The Romance
Just imagine this:
As you and your love make your way out to your ceremony location in the dark, the anticipation starts to build.
You get there with time to spare, so you snuggle up close, a blanket wrapped around your shoulders, a hot cup of coffee between your hands.
And, slowly but surely, the world begins to wake up around you.
As your eyes adjust and the light gradually softens, you begin to see the mountain peaks take shape, the birds begin to sing and you and your soon-to-be-spouse welcome in the new day together as you prepare to enter this new stage of life.
- The Dreamy Light
The light around sunrise is gorgeous: the sun is low in the sky and so the lighting is soft, subtle and warm. In contrast, later in the morning, as the sun rises high in the sky, the light becomes super bright and harsh.
This matters for two reasons:
First, see point number one above: ROMANCE. This is the kind of light you want to bask in on your wedding day!
Second, if photography is important to you, trust us, soft light MATTERS. In the photography world, the time around sunrise and sunset is known as ‘golden hour’ and this is THE BEST TIME to capture those super dreamy, gorgeous wedding pics you’ll want to stare at again and again long after your wedding has passed.
If you’re in the mountains, you might even get lucky enough to witness ‘alpen glow’, a beautiful phenomenon when the light turns the peaks a pinky hue. Colorado is a great location for this!
We’ve written a full, detailed guide on How To Elope In Colorado if that sounds like fun to you!
- The Lack of Crowds
If you’re thinking about getting married somewhere like a national park or on a public beach, crowd control becomes a real issue!
Nobody really wants to share their wedding vows – those most intimate of words – with a ton of strangers looking on, iphones held high.
By having a sunrise wedding ceremony, you massively increase your chances of finding yourselves all alone (except for the people you’ve CHOSEN to be there) as you stand face to face, vow books open, with the first rays of sunlight as your witness…
One of the questions we’ll ask you very early on in the planning process is ‘How important is it to you to have a completely private ceremony?’. Based on your answer, we will draw up a totally personalized location suggestion list for you.
- The Extra ‘Wiggle Room’
Let us explain what we mean by that!
So, the reality is this: things can, and DO, go ‘wrong’ on wedding days. But, as long as you have ‘wiggle room’, that ‘problem’ can usually be very easily fixed.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re planning for a sunrise ceremony, but we all wake up to a total freak snow storm and roads to our location are closed.
No problem! We’ve got all day to figure this out.
We’re gonna tell you to have a hearty breakfast then encourage you to go out snowmobiling or something fun for the morning: we got this!
By afternoon, we’ve made the necessary calls and created a Plan B with a location that is totally accessible and has equally stunning views.
And so we continue with a sunset ceremony and you still END THE DAY MARRIED.
On the other hand, had you been planning for a sunset ceremony and the storm rolled in late afternoon: well, that’s a whole lot less time to figure out a Plan B before your wedding day is over….
- The Relaxation
If you’re feeling at all nervous or anxious about sharing your wedding vows, this one’s for you! Wed-stress is a real thing and we know that sharing those vows can feel really overwhelming and intimidating.
So why not do it early in the day?!
Your wedding day should be a FUN and HAPPY experience, not one that leaves you sweating bullets all day long as you psych yourself up for an end-of-the-day ceremony.
By having a sunrise wedding, it’s all ‘over and done with’ before you’ve even had breakfast! And then the rest of the day is all yours for celebrating and relaxing.
BONUS EXTRA REASON:
We’re all about doing things your own way on your wedding day but IF you’re following tradition and have decided you’re not going to be seeing each other until your ceremony…
Well, by having a sunrise wedding ceremony, you don’t have to wait too long!
We personally can’t stand the thought of hours spent apart in the lead up to sharing vows. Share them early and then spend the whole day together, revelling in your newly-wedded bliss!
OUR BEST ADVICE FOR PLANNING A SUNRISE WEDDING:
Prep the Day Before and Make A Morning-Of Checklist
To make sure your wedding day starts off as relaxed as possible, put in the hard work the day before.
Make sure your wedding clothes are organised and packed ready to travel. Have a bag packed with everything you could possibly need. Have some snacks ready to nibble on in the early hours.
Make a checklist of EXACTLY what you need to do in the morning: like an actual, physical checklist.. The things you MUST NOT leave the house without. Now, visualize yourself going through that checklist: play it over in your mind several times.
That way when you get up you can just go into autopilot, no thinking required.
Caffeine Is Your Friend
Actually, take this with a grain of salt. If you don’t react well to caffeine, your wedding day is NOT the time to try and change that! Basic wedding jitters is one thing, full-on caffeine shakes is another!
But if caffeine gives you a nice little ‘lift’ then something like a canned coffee you can easily pack with you is a great idea for later on in the morning as the adrenaline starts to wear off.
A thermos of hot coffee is an even better idea if you’re planning your sunrise wedding for somewhere on the cooler side.
Snacks, All The Snacks!
We can’t explain why but getting up for sunrise makes us RAVENOUS. Like if we get out of bed on a normal day at 7am, we can easily wait till 9am for breakfast.
Not on sunrise wedding days.
If we get up at 4am it’s guaranteed our stomachs are going to be grumbling like hungry bears by 4.30!
So, if you’re anything like us, bring plenty of snacks along. You might not feel like eating when you first get up, but you’ll sure be glad of them later on!
Bring Layers For Your Sunrise Wedding
Sunrise can be COLD. Depending where you are, REALLY COLD.
However, a couple of hours later once that sun starts to beat down it can warm up really quickly.
So a number of layers that are easy to take on and off are a great idea. That way you can be sure you feel comfortable whatever the weather.
We recommend some practical layers – like fleece nude color leggings under your dress if it’s super cold – and also some more ‘pretty’ options like cute mittens or ear muffs and a cozy blanket to snuggle in.
This article by One Fab Day offers some really nice inspiration for a cosy wedding look.
Check Opening Times! Don’t Miss Your Sunrise Wedding
If you’re getting married in somewhere like a state or national park be sure you know if they’re open 24/7. The last thing you want to do is rock up in the dark at 5am only to find there’s a barrier blocking the road until 8am… Long after sunrise.
Don’t worry, as your photographers and planning assistants we’re ON this kind of thing for all our couples!
Ummmm, Make Sure You Can Actually See The Sunrise
Ok, we know. Obvious, right?
But it’s not always that simple.
You might think you’ve chosen the most beautiful lake for your sunrise wedding, only to get there and realize a small grove of trees is blocking your line of sight. Or that, actually, you’d get a much better view on the OTHER side of the lake but there’s no path round.
Again, don’t worry! We’ve got you.
We actively scout out ALL of our location suggestions before we give them to you. If we tell you it’s going to be a great spot for sunrise, trust us, we’ve already dragged ourselves up there AT SUNRISE and have seen it for ourselves.
A SUNRISE WEDDING: TIMELINE CONSIDERATIONS + SAMPLE TIMELINE
Drawing up a wedding day timeline can be tricky at the best of times, but when you know you want a sunrise wedding ceremony it becomes even trickier as you need to time things to the minute to be sure you don’t miss out on that sunrise moment to share your vows.
It’s actually a bit of a precision art!
Here’s our best advice for creating a sunrise ceremony timeline:
The Magic Can Actually Happen BEFORE Sunrise
The 15-30 minutes before sunrise – sometimes referred to as ‘blue hour’ – can be really atmospheric and make for some beautiful photos. This could be a great time for a first look if you’re planning one!
If you’re in the mountains and get really lucky, you might even experience the ‘alpen glow’, a gorgeous phenomenon when the light from the not-yet-risen sun bounces off the atmosphere and hits the mountain tops, turning them glowing orange.
Be Sure Of The EXACT Sunrise Time In Your Location
If you’re getting married in the Arches National Park, for example, it’s not enough to simply Google ‘sunrise time Moab’. Because, depending on your PRECISE location within the park and whether or not there are obstacles in your line of sight, the exact time of sunrise can actually vary considerably.
When we write sunrise ceremony timelines for our couples, we use online tools to essentially ‘plant’ us in the exact spot we’re planning to be on the exact day we’re planning to be there and it will tell us to the minute when we can expect the sun to rise.
Pretty cool huh?!
Once you know what time sunrise is, work backwards to figure out what time you will need to set the alarm clock for.
“Sunrise is at 6.10am. I want to be ‘in position’ for our ceremony by 6.00. We can relax and enjoy the view while we wait. I want to do a first look and expect it to take 15 mins. Therefore, I must start the first look at 5.45. I am getting ready at our ceremony site and would like 20 minutes. Therefore, I must start getting ready by 5.25…”
And so on and so forth!
Factor In Lots Of Buffer Time For Your Sunrise Wedding
Eveeeeeeerything takes longer than you think. And mistakes happen.
So factor in LOTS of extra time just in case. Now, whatever you’ve just factored in, double it!
Seriously, trust us.
You don’t want to miss sunrise altogether because your partner had to run back to grab the rings or because your makeup takes way longer in the dark than you anticipated!
If you’re ready early: good. Sit back and relax while you wait for sunrise together.
SUNRISE WEDDING: Sample Sunrise Ceremony Timeline
Here is a sample sunrise ceremony timeline to show you the process we go through.
We’ve added a column for any special considerations so you can understand our thought process.
Like we said above, we first of all work backwards and make notes on any little details to be aware of:
|6.50||Ready for Sunrise Ceremony||Sunrise is at 6.58, will be in place early just in case|
|6.40-6.50||Move to ceremony site||Short walk from first look to ceremony site|
|6.35-6.50||First look + photos||IF running crazy late, can opt to skip first look|
|6.30||Get both partners in place for first look, talk through how it works||First look in same place as getting ready spot|
|5.45-6.30||Getting ready||Bride doing own hair and makeup, expects 30 mins, allow 45.|
|4.45-5.55||Hike up to location, star shots on the way||1 mile, relatively flat hike|
|4.30||Meet at trailhead||15 mins buffer before setting off: get backpacks, use bathroom etc.|
|184.108.40.206||Drive from AirBnB||Only 2 miles, buffer time|
|4.00-4.15||Load up car||(will remind couple to do as much as possible the night before!)|
|3.30-4.00||Get up, get ready to go|
So, this is the process WE go through to prep for our couples. Then we just flip it around and this would be the simplified version we send to them:
|3.30||Get up (earlier if you personally need!)|
|4.30||Meet at trailhead|
|4.45||Hike and Star Shots|
** This is a sunrise ceremony timeline for a JUST US wedding experience. If you are bringing guests, ALWAYS factor in more buffer time and expect EVERYTHING to take longer the more people you have **
Alright, so there you have it!
Our top 5 reasons for choosing to have a sunrise wedding and all our best advice for planning a sunrise ceremony.
We hope you see the beauty in the idea and the whole process seems a little less daunting now.
Remember, as your elopement photography team, we’re here to HELP YOU with the logistics. This is what we do, it’s second nature to us.
We would love to create an epic elopement experience for you! We provide planning assistance, photography and officiation for adventure-seeking couples across the US and worldwide. Get in touch to start brainstorming with us!
Chad & Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’