I recently had an inquiry from a reader about a candlelight wedding ceremony which got me thinking. Candles are romantic with their dancing flames and soft glows so perfect for an intimate wedding, but are they really sufficient to light up the occasion and what other issues do they cause? So for Katie and anyone else out there that has dreamt of a wedding by candlelight, here are the main things for you to bear in mind.

Time of day and year issues

The magic of candles is going to be missed unless it is late afternoon or evening and dark outside. As such a summer candlelit wedding ceremony is not going to work. You need to be looking towards late autumn and the winter months when it gets dark early enough to allow time for the wedding and reception. Before you confirm the time of day with your wedding venues, you need to find out when the sun sets in your area during the month you are thinking of. You can start your ceremony 20 minutes or so before sunset as indoors will be dark enough and the shadows cast by the setting sun creates additional ambiance.

There are a few problems associated with winter weddings but also some positives. Firstly if you have guests travelling from far and wide, you must consider the likely weather conditions they will encounter. You should also try and ensure your wedding is at a weekend to avoid the need for time off work or school for your invitees. On the upside, being out of the main wedding season, more wedding venues are likely to be available and their prices will be considerably cheaper.

There are also issues with a wedding late in the day. If you pick an October date with a sunset of around 6.30pm say, by the time you get to the meal at the wedding reception it will be very late. Make sure guests are prepared for this by making it clear on the wedding invitations. That way they can get something to eat before the ceremony.  You can also provide light refreshments and cocktails perhaps before the ceremony and during the photo session. When booking your wedding venue for an evening reception, ensure they are happy with a late finish and will not be closing the bar or stopping the music at midnight.

Candlelight wedding venue issues

Candle safety

Due to their obvious fire risk, candles may not be allowed in all venues. So check early on Рbefore paying your deposit if you have set your heart on a candlelit wedding. Even if a venue does allow candles, they may have a limit to the number allowed, so check and double check. All is not lost however, if you do find the perfect venue that does not permit candles. Flameless candles make a perfect alternative. They are very realistic with flickering LED bulbs and even wax drip and melted edge decorations.  These can be bought in sets of 3 for about $10.

Candle placement

You may have a vision in your mind of the flickering candle flames around you during your wedding but in the planning stage you need to be practical. Where exactly are the candles going to be placed?  Consider window sills, shelves, tables as well as floor standing candle holders. In a church you may have access to candle holders that screw into the end of the pews. At the evening reception, things are going to be easier as you will have lots of tables to adorn with candle arrangements. Just make sure you have safety considerations  at the forefront of your mind so watch out for loose fabrics and drafty areas.

Make sure you plan for enough light around the two of you at the altar. Choose large candles on stands around this area so your guests can see you. Other candles decorating the rest of the church should be arranged so that they do not block anyone’s view.

Types of candle

Candles come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colors so you are bound to be able to find something to tie in with the rest of your theme. However, with so many to worry about, you need to think about which types would be best for each location and what will hold them. Elegant taper candles will need holders or candelabras, chunky pillars can stand alone but you do not want their melting wax to damage anything, container candles avoid this problem but are more expensive and pretty tea lights are perfect for tables. Just make sure you buy the unscented variety given how many you will be lighting and that they last for at least 10 hours.

Mock up

If at all possible, ask your wedding venue(s) if you can do a mock up of the candle arrangements at some point before the wedding to check on the light they give out. Go at the same time of day as the ceremony/reception and work out exactly how many you need and where they are going to be placed  so you are happy with them. Make a sketch of the result and ensure the person responsible for arranging the candles on the day is with you.

Extra lighting

Do not restrict yourself to just candles. You can enhance the candles with atmosphere lighting in yellow and amber tones. Think of the key areas for the ceremony as your stage and plan them accordingly with enough lighting to do the service justice. For example, invest in some strings of white Christmas lights and hang them floor to ceiling around windows or other areas of your venue. Additional dim lighting may be preferable in a gloomy church and it can pay to have extra lighting around a buffet at your reception. Also make sure you have access to more immediate and bright lighting if the need calls for it on the day.

Lighting the candles

The process of lighting the number of candles you are going to need is not a quick job. A member or two of the wedding party will need to be assigned this task. Generally all the guests should be seated before the candles are lit. The lighters can then do their thing before the bride’s entrance. Test how long it is going to take during the rehearsal.

Photo by shimelle.


Hold the rehearsal at the same time of day as your planned wedding so you can check out what works and what doesn’t. You can always make minor tweaks at this stage.¬† It is also worth considering a few extra rehearsals to go over all the extra work created by the candles.

Indoors or outdoors

Although candlelit weddings are usually indoors, you could also use candles outdoors. If this is your plan, you will need to be prepared for the weather by using hurricane candles, candle lanterns or flameless candles.

Cost of candles

Candles can be a fairly inexpensive decoration but bear in mind the number you will need to pull this off. At $2-4 each for pillar candles or $15 for 72 votive candles, the costs can soon mount up. And what if you want a candlelight wedding chapel and evening reception? It is not likely to be practical to move hundreds of candles from one location to another so you will need two sets. Even so, they may still work out cheaper than other more flamboyant wedding decorations and will certainly be breathtaking.  How many you will need will depend on the size of your venue and it is hard to guess at until you set it up. This is why the mock up is so important.

Candlelight wedding photography

Candlelit wedding photographs can give off a real warmth and definitely make for a wedding album with a difference. However, low lighting does not provide ideal photographic conditions to say the least so it will give your photographer somewhat of a challenge.

When interviewing prospective photographers you will need to make it clear that you are planning a candle light wedding service and reception. That way they can make the necessary adjustments to the equipment that they bring. A good photographer should not be overly perturbed by this type of wedding but you may want to try and find one that has experience of similar weddings and ask to see a sample of the photographs that they took, so you know what you are getting yourselves into.

Do not expect a bargain on your photography as the equipment needed to produce good results in low light conditions costs a pretty penny.

Typical issues that you will come across with candlelight wedding photographs are:

  • Go overboard with the number of candles that you plan on using as the more light there is the better.
  • Spread the candles out more or less evenly to reduce the effect of shadows.
  • Try to arrange your candles so that their light is not always below the subjects of the photographs as this tends to give them a scary campfire look.
  • You will need to stay very still during shots and for a good few seconds after the shutter clicks to allow for a long shutter time. You must remember this during the ceremony.
  • Group shots will be tricky; you are more likely to end up with close up head and shoulder shots of the main subjects.
  • Buy enough extra candles so that everyone you want in a group photograph can hold one.
  • Make sure you put safety first, especially when guests are holding candles near clothes and children.
  • Consider including a number of black and white photographs in the mix to get away from an overly yellow theme.
  • Shots are best if kept simple and uncluttered. Keep backdrops plain and do not plan on having photographs with many props. You don’t need to worry about missing out on outdoor scenic shots as the candlelight will say it all!
  • Do not include candles in every shot. For those that do include candles, keep them in a background position so that they do not compete with you as the focal point. Plan for which nice looking candles you want to feature in these photographs.
  • In some cases additional light may be needed – this could be a lamp or dim light. If they are required, try to mimic the warm glow of the candle by carefully covering them with some orange or red material.


Candlelight weddings will be a unique and magical experience but they do require even more planning than that of a normal wedding. Hopefully the issues highlighted here will make sure you do not overlook anything and result in a fantastic day. Please let me know how you get on and any other issues you encounter.

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