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What is the best time of the day to take outdoor wedding photos?

A lot of brides and grooms to be wonder what is the best time of the day to take wedding photos. Well, let me give your opinion as a professional wedding photographer. First of all, there’s no right/wrong. A good wedding photographer is able to work with any light at any point of the day. That said if we do get to choose… 😉

When it comes to sunlight in photos, it’s all about how harsh or soft the light is. The sun starts out softly at sunrise, becomes extremely harsh around noon and fades into a glorious soft glow at sunset. And harshness of light translates into how strong the shadows look in photos: the harsher the light, the darker the shadows. This is always the case, even on a cloudy day when you’d think there’s no sunshine. You can probably guess that photographers prefer the sunlight to be at its softest because it is the most flattering.  Which is why wedding photo time around the “golden hour” (one hour before sunset) is so popular. But of course, it’s impossible to schedule all the wedding photos during the golden hour or to postpone your wedding ceremony until later in the afternoon.

So here are a few tips to get the best wedding photos.

Tip 1: wedding ceremony photos

Consider the position of the sun when setting up your wedding ceremony.

I’ve witnessed numerous wedding ceremony setups where the sun was positioned at an angle to the couple. Unfortunately, this caused for one partner’s face being brightly lit while the other was cast in deep shade. Although it’s not the end of the world, if you have the choice of where to set up, you can prevent this. Choose to orient the sun on either end of the aisle (see illustration below). That way you’ll have the sun behind you, which is ideal or it’ll shine on both your faces. Both scenarios are a huge improvement over the sun shining sideways.

On this same topic of the wedding ceremony location, you’ll want to be mindful of large objects. After all, these will cast their own shadow. For instance, if there are large trees close-by (or even above you) they may cast a strange dappled shadow on your faces, depending on the position of the sun. The same applies to gazebos or wedding arches.

For best results, we recommend using the great (free!) app Sun Surveyor. It demonstrates the exact position of the sun at your chosen time, date and location. We always use it when location scouting!

Tip 2: family and group photos

Most couples opt to organize the formal group photos right after the ceremony because everyone is gathered in one place. The wedding arch/backdrop may seem like the obvious choice for these photos. However, don’t be surprised if your photographer suggests a totally different spot. And by now you might have guessed it, it’s because of the light. 🙂

With a big group of people, it’s important not to have the sun shine directly in the subjects’ faces. Otherwise, everyone will be squinting. 😉 The solution to this issue is quite simple: choose a location where the sun is behind the group’s back.

Tip 3: wedding couple portraits

As I mentioned above, the biggest difference between sunlight at noon and later in the day is the harshness of the shadows. Unlike group photos, it’s easier to create pleasing wedding couple portraits in harsh light. So don’t stress if your wedding timeline only allows to schedule your wedding photos at noon. When this happens, we usually visit a few spots with our clients with various types of light (such as shade as well as full sun). However, it’s important for you to expect that these photos will look different from the ones you could take at sunset. Which is why we recommend this tip to our clients.

If your wedding schedule allows, reserve 10 to 15 minutes shortly before sunset. During this time you can sneak out with just your partner and the wedding photographer, for a set of glorious sunset photos. The best part: it gives you a short breather during the reception, and your guests can easily entertain themselves during your absence (if they’d notice at all ;)). And speaking of sunset photos, make sure to read the next tip.

Sunshine Ranch wedding bride and groom walking in the sunsetTip 4: check the timing of sunset

This may seem silly, but it can catch you by surprise how early the sun goes down. For instance, in Vancouver in Winter it’s pitch black outside by 4 pm, making photos in natural light impossible. And of course, your photographer should keep an eye on when dusk sets in (at least we do). But when it comes to your wedding day it’s better to be safe than sorry. So when you’re drafting your timeline, quickly pull up the Sunsurveyor app and it’ll tell you the exact timing of sunset.

Summary

This post turned out to be longer than expected ;), so here’s a quick rundown:

  • Wedding ceremony: know how the sun will be oriented to the aisle.
  • Group photos: keep the sun in the group’s back.
  • Couple photos: if possible, reserve 10-15 minutes for a quick sunset shoot.
  • Sunset: check the timing of dusk, especially in Winter.

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