It's no secret that there are certain times of day that photographers prefer to take photos over others. For example, it may seem like a great idea to have an early ceremony at around noon in the summer. Why not right? I mean, then everyone will have hung out at the cocktail hour, eaten an early dinner, be dancing by 5pm and home in time to catch the evening news. What's not to love? THE PHOTOS. Your cherished wedding photos will probably look like you and all your loved ones are under the harsh light of a tanning bed, with giant dark shadows under your eyes making your sweet grandma look like she just got in a bare-knuckle brawl with Rocky Balboa. Everything will be so intensely bright that you lose any subtle details such as the beautiful lacework on your wedding dress, and instead you just see a flat white beacon that is so glaring it will be hard to look at.
You might be saying, "Well, can't a really good photographer just make all that stuff go away, I mean that's why we hired an expensive professional?" As professional photographers we learn a ton of tricks to help make less than ideal lighting still workable for delivering usable photos to our clients. We have reflectors, flashes, diffusers, post processing and the list goes on. But nothing will ever beat beautiful soft natural light. All of the tools and tricks we use are basically to fix the problems that are created by not having the right kind of soft diffuse natural light we wish existed at all hours of the day, and all year round. Unfortunately, no matter how skilled we are with those photographic maneuvers it's just never going to look as good as the light that happens when the sun is first rising, or just setting, OR when there is a completely overcast sky which we really can never count on one way or the other. All of these conditions essentially mimic what photographers do with artificial lighting in a studio. They bounce soft light all around the space and eliminate harsh shadows that make us look like racoons hunting for our next meal in your parents trash cans. We are going to take you through the best times of day to plan your wedding around to make sure that those incredible photographers you hired can get the best shots possible of your magic moments.
"Golden Hour" Anybody? We've probably all heard our photographer friends talk about this like it's some kind of mystical moment where you meet Merlin in a cave and he bestows upon you some kind of shining amulet that will transform you into the worlds best looking bride and groom worthy of being published on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine and deserving of every award the wedding industry has to offer. Well, to be honest that's exactly what "Golden Hour" is. Except it should be referred to as "Golden Hours" because it happens twice a day. The hour proceeding sunrise is the first Golden Hour and the hour preceding sunset is the second. Now unless you are some kind of hermit who rises at 3:00 am every morning you probably won't want to be in full hair, makeup and your wedding attire on top of an oceanside cliff at 6:00 am on the day of your wedding to catch the first Golden Hour. Good luck getting Grandpa Bill to your 8am ceremony.
So let's focus on the second and most popular golden hour for day-of-wedding romantic pics; the hour just before sunset. Let us be clear the sun WILL be setting during this process, so there's very little time to spare, because in truth the last fifteen to twenty minutes is starting to get pretty dark which can be challenging without some additional artificial lighting, which kind of defeats the purpose of planning everything around Golden Hour. Bottom line, it's important that the timing of this is pretty well laid out because being twenty or thirty minutes behind schedule could mean you're taking photos in the dark. Let's just say we're talking about an hour and a half before the sun actually disappears from the sky that you want to start taking these romantic photos to give a little buffer. If your weather app says sunset is at 8pm you want to plan on starting your post ceremony romantic shots at 6:30.
Now we also need to build in a little time for you two crazy lovebirds to have a few minutes to yourself after saying "I do" to be alone and soak in the fact that you're now full-on husband and wife, or wife and wife, or husband and husband, or simply married partners. We recommend 15-30 minutes. Have a glass of champagne, shoo away the bridal parties, sneak a few smooches, do some eye-gazing, this is your alone time and you should enjoy it!
Now, back to business. If we walk backwards from our Golden Hour shoot time of 6:30, we need to be finished the ceremony at 6pm. This is assuming there is zero travel time/distance between where your ceremony is and where you are taking these romantic shots. Don't forget to build in travel time or it'll come back to bite you, every time. If you need 30 minutes of travel time, you'll want your ceremony to be finished at 5:30. This is also a good reason to speak to your officiant and ask them approximately how long their ceremony timeline takes, try and get them to be as specific as possible. If they say it is about a 40 minute ceremony then it needs to start at 4:50pm for your photos to go off without a hitch.
Now this timing obviously depends on what season you're getting married, and where in the world your wedding is happening. You can use sunrise-sunset.org to figure out when sunset will be on your chosen wedding date in any location - even if it's next year or further out!
Basically the moral of the story is that it's so very important that you set your photographers up for success. It doesn't matter if you hire the worlds best, most expensive wedding photographers with all the accolades and awards on the planet. They are not going to be able to make extremely bright mid-day sun look amazing especially if there is no shade and you are getting married say, on the beach, or in the middle of a field, or someplace with scattered shady spots, you're going to look like a panda bear in your wedding photos. That's never cute. So consult with your photographers on the timeline. Find out when Golden Hour is in your selected location on the specific date (because the time of sunset is constantly changing) and plan around that time to make sure that you get the best lighting possible for your ceremony and your romantic post nuptial photos.