Expert-Approved Tips for Throwing the Ultimate Nighttime Wedding

bride groom fireworks
Photo: Kristen Kilpatrick

Getting married after dark? Turn out the lights and turn up the magic.

01 of 13
bride groom fireworks
Kristen Kilpatrick

If you're a fan of sparkling candlelight, moody color palettes, and vows exchanged under the stars, then a nighttime wedding is the nontraditional option you've been searching for. Don't let the fear of the dark deter you from your preferred design aesthetic or overall vision. With ample lighting and a few strategic décor elements, achieving the wedding of your dreams after the sun goes down is an option that's available to every newly-engaged pair, no matter what style celebration you favor. While it's true that an evening ceremony and reception certainly lend themselves to a deeper, darker color palette, there's no rule that says you can't bring in pretty pastels or your favorite bright hues, either. The same goes for formality. Whether you want to plan a casual celebration or an ultra-formal black-tie event, know that you can do either (or anything in between!) after the sun has gone down.

So, how do you go about planning an after-dark wedding? We tapped some of the wedding industry's best experts and asked them to share their best tips for throwing a nighttime wedding. Ahead, everything you need to know about planning and executing the ultimate evening celebration—they've covered it all, offering must-know advice on everything from lighting requirements and the dinner menu to portrait timing and logistical tips.

The most important thing to remember is that anything you can do in the afternoon you can do in the evening, too. But if you like the idea of planning a party that guests will enjoy strictly in the nighttime hours, embrace that vibe. After all, you're planning a party after dark for a reason, aren't you?

02 of 13

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Lighting

night wedding idea lighting up tent
Cadence Kennedy

"We love how romantic a wedding at dusk can be and find that lighting can create the most magical ambience," says Sarah Duke, co-founder of Duke + Van Deusen. Whether you opt for string lights, lanterns, or chandeliers, lighting is a key component to any night ceremony or reception. For this tented reception, lights were placed both outside and inside of the tented space to ensure the entire party was well-lit.

03 of 13

Serve Both the Formal and the Familiar for Dinner

night wedding idea mini-versions of comfort food
The Poffs

Since nighttime receptions often lend themselves to a more formal setup, it's important to reflect that in your menu choices. "For celebration at night, multiple courses in a sit-down setting are appropriate," says Melissa Panico, director of marketing at Taste Catering and Event Planning. "Now this isn't the case for the after-party, where couples tend to dabble on the other end of the food spectrum with mini-versions of comforting favorites like French fries and cheeseburgers," Panico adds.

04 of 13

Emphasize Candlelight

night wedding idea candlelight reception
Sara Wight Photography

To light a nighttime reception, we suggest using lots of candlelight on your reception tables and throughout the rest of the space. "Capturing the softness of candlelight results in photos that naturally emit a romantic glow," says Sara Wight, owner of Sara Wight Photography. "Photographing the long-tapered candles and modern votives of this event resulted in gorgeous images."

05 of 13

Go with the Grain

"Keep in mind, a little grain in night photographs can look ethereal and authentic," says Laura Kleinhenz, owner of Docuvitae. "Grain is sometimes a result from photographing at night, especially when the photographer is shooting with film or using a high film speed setting," Kleinhenz adds. Lean into those unique characteristics that make your nighttime celebration that much more unique.

06 of 13

Be Strategic with Your Entertainment

wedding first dance
KT Merry

"It has become obvious to us over the years that the entertainment we provide is heavily influenced by what time of day it is," says Clay Johnson, singer for The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra. "For a reception after dark, music may lean toward current and edgy. While it's completely normal to play those classic favorites at night, it's a little awkward to try and create a night-club vibe at 11:30am in the morning."

07 of 13

Choose Amber Tones for Lighting

candlelit staircase grand entrance
Maya Myers Photography

"When selecting the color of your lighting, amber tones are ideal because it makes everyone look fabulous," Jana Rosenkrantz Kraskin, director of sales and marketing at The Seagram Building, says. "Also, the retro disco ball is making a huge comeback. Just one makes the whole room sparkle!"

08 of 13

Say "Yes" to Golden Hour Portraits

sunset wedding photos groom kissing bride on cliff with mountainous background
Jeremy Chou

"If the couple wishes to have photos together during the daylight, they'll need to do a first look prior to the wedding to catch adequate lighting," advises Merilee Hennings, wedding planner and designer at EverAfter Events. Work with your photographer to strategize time before your night I dos to guarantee day of photos that are adequately lit.

09 of 13

Bring the Outdoors In

night wedding idea natural elements and string lights in tent
Brian Dorsey Studios

Add natural elements to create a warm and inviting vibe, especially as the night progresses. "Incorporate ceiling treatments of greenery or floral chandeliers that fill the negative space," suggests Jennifer Zabinski, owner of Jennifer Zabinski Events. "A good rule of thumb is to only go faux for floral that your guests can't touch."

10 of 13

Create Contrast with Your Centerpieces

krista will wedding reception table with place settings and centerpieces
Barb Simkova/Tara McMullen Photo

"The greatest inspiration in creating centerpieces is the venue itself," says Maria Zois, event coordinator at Ariston Wedding & Events. "It's important to create something cohesive for the space." Have your flowers complement the room by creating meaninful contrast. If the space is a little darker and more masculine, brighter, more romantic blooms will really pop.

11 of 13

Keep Your Look Light

night wedding idea simple bridal style
Paul Francis Photography

Just because your reception might be dark doesn't mean your beauty look has to be. "Making the most of your highlighter can enhance the natural bone structure and allows the look to be natural without feeling overdone," advises Linsey Snyder Wachalter, owner of Face Time Beauty Concierge. "Achieving a simple glow can be as easy as running a highlighter down the nose, dabbing a bit above the brow and inner corner of eyes, and a tiny bit in the cupids bow." The candles used throughout your space will then up-light your face in the most beautiful way.

12 of 13

Take Your Vows Outside

night wedding idea outdoor ceremony
Michelle Beller

You don't have to host an indoor wedding just because you're getting married at night. "The peacefulness and stillness of the night combined with the warmth of the lighting, creates an unbelievably magical setting for an alfresco ceremony," says Lisa Gorjestani, principal planner at Details Event Planning. With ample lighting, a nighttime outdoor ceremony can bring a unique magic to your entire wedding.

13 of 13

Light Up a Grand Exit

night wedding idea sparklers and a classic car
J. Wilkinson Co.

"There's nothing like capturing a couple's opulent send-off at night," says Jeanann Wilkinson, owner of J Wilkinson Co. "The glow of a driveway with sparkling light adds a feeling of wonder to both the moment and a couple's final photos," she adds. A classic car or different mode of transportation can also make your nighttime send-off even more memorable.

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