Plan Your Wedding Around The Light

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Different times of day are better than others for pictures. The higher the sun is in the sky, the worse the pictures will be. The harsh midday sun casts hard shadows around your eyes and across your face. It reveals otherwise imperceptible flaws in your skin. And in the summer, it will be much hotter. People will sweat. Makeup will get mushy, and could even run. Guests may even lose focus of your wedding as they struggle to find shade and water. In New York on a clear summer day, it can be 80 degrees or more by 1 p.m., but back down into the mid 70s by 6 or 7 in the evening. A late afternoon wedding ceremony can spare you and your guests a lot of misery.

The best time of day for portraits is the last 40-60 minutes of daylight. Photographers refer to this as “the golden hour”. The low sun casts beautiful shadows, creating a dramatic landscape. The sun won’t be creating harsh shadows on your face. The light from the sun will be much softer, a warm glow, as it has to pass through a lot of atmosphere on it's way to you. Shooting at golden hour has the added benefit of a ending with a sunset, as well. And this is super important. After the formals, you will find yourself almost alone with your spouse. There will be this moment, the culmination of years of love and vast amounts of planning, where everything that HAS to be done, is done. You did it. You got married. There’s nothing left to worry about. This is a rare moment in your life. You will likely never come across such a moment again. This moment brings the past and future, what was and what can be, into focus. There’s nothing left to do today but celebrate. I am so lucky that I get the opportunity to freeze so many of these moments into forever. I’m honored that I get to capture a tiny bit of that magic and tuck it inside a photograph for you. Trust me when I say, it is much better to have this moment against the tapestry of a setting sun, than a bright, white sky.

A good way to schedule this is to work backwards from the time of the sunset. Sunset times can be different based on the time of year and where you are on planet earth. Sunset times are easy to check by typing “sunset time” and the date and location of your wedding into Google. In this example, sunset is at 8:16 p.m. Plan for about 10-15 minutes of sunset shots, putting you back to the reception at around 8:30 p.m. Now working backwards, golden hour starts at about 7:30 p.m. That’s when you’re going to get the dreamy looking photos of you and your new spouse. Depending on the size of your party, figure around 25 minutes for formals and group photos. This puts you right around 7:00 p.m. for the beginning of pictures. If the receiving line takes 15 minutes, and the ceremony is half an hour, that puts you right around a 6 p.m. start time. This also helps to create a natural division to the day. An evening ceremony and cocktail hour, and once the sun goes down, it’s party time. Your wedding ends up following the natural arc of the day. And trust me, drinking and dancing at 9 p.m. on a summer night is a lot more fun that at 4 p.m. under broad daylight.

The tricky part here, is that you are chasing the sun as it disappears. If you are half an hour late, you're not taking pictures during sunset, you’re taking them in the dark. At this point, you have to be honest with yourself about how well you will stick to the schedule. If you know you and your family can move through the day with military precision, go for it! But if you know you’re time challenged, move the wedding up an hour or so. Sunset pictures are great, just make sure you are realistic with your scheduling. A big bonus to a later ceremony, is you reduce a lot of rushing for you and your guests. If you have 1 p.m. wedding, and guests who are traveling an hour or two, they may have had to leave the house by 10:30 in the morning. If they have kids, they may not have eaten since 9 a.m. You now have people who have just spent 2 hours in a car with kids sitting in the blazing sun, getting restless and hangry. By scheduling your ceremony later in the evening, you give everyone more time. Your guests get to sleep in, get ready, travel and feed their kids an early dinner. You give yourself more time. God forbid, there is some disaster that takes a few hours to fix, you’ve got plenty of time to fix it. You may not be so lucky if you planned an early afternoon ceremony.

But what if you can't schedule your wedding like this? It's OK! I've worked with many people who have restrictions on timing! Maybe your sister had to catch a plane at 3 p.m. Or maybe you got a deal from the venue in exchange for an early ceremony so they can book two on the same day. Heck, my wife and I switched our wedding date in exchange for an open bar and extra cheese plates! I will never judge you for doing what works for you. This is your wedding and you know what is most important.

I like to joke that wedding photography is the art of making great pictures in bad light. A good wedding photographer will deliver amazing images in any light.


6 p.m. ceremony. Notice how soft and even the light is. There are no nasty shadows. No bright spots.

Midday sun. Notice the hard shadows and bright highlights. Harsh, direct sun can really bring out texture in the skin that you wouldn't notice otherwise.

2 p.m. super harsh light, but totally made it work by hiding in the shade. one of my most favorite photographs.

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