What’s the Best Time of Day for Your Outdoor Wedding?

OK, you’ve picked the date. And you’ve decided you want it to be outdoors. Now you need to set the schedule for your big day. And while you may not realize it yet, the time of day for the various events has a huge impact on the quality of your wedding photographs.

The word „photograph“ literally translates as „light painting“ or „painting with light“. The angle of the sun, the color of the light, and type of shade available all combine to make your wedding photographer’s job a dream job or a nightmare.

Even a wedding with an indoor ceremony and reception will often have photos done outdoors, either family portraits, casual bride/groom portraits after the ceremony, or some bridal party shots before. So a bit of careful thought in planning your schedule, so that those events take place during the best time of day, will pay big dividends.

The absolute worst time you could possibly have outdoor wedding photographs is when the sun is directly or almost directly overhead, i.e. about 10am to 2pm. The light is very harsh and bluish. The eye sockets become deeply shaded, giving the „racoon eyes“ effect. Nose shadows are sharply defined and dark. Overall, a very hard, unpleasant look. While it’s possible for wedding photographers use a flash to lighten the shadows, this contributes to the hard-edged look that just runs counter to the romantic mood of the day.

Running a close second for bad wedding Photography light are the hours surrounding the midday zone. The exact time and length varies depending on the time of the year and whether your area observes Daylight Savings Time. If at all possible avoid any outdoor wedding Photography more than three hours before sunset. While the sun’s angle lessens the shadow problems, the sunlight is still very intense and causes harsh highlights on the skin even if the photographer uses special lens filters to counteract it.

The best time for any type of outdoor photography has long been called the „Golden Hour“. Traditionally, the golden hour is defined as the last hour before sunset or the first hour after sunrise. A more technical definition is when the sun is 6° above the horizon to when it’s 6° below. The name comes from the yellowish color of the sunlight that’s been filtered through more of the Earth’s atmosphere because of the angle of the sun. But it’s also „golden“ because that slice of time has a completely different quality of light that makes beautiful photos. It has none of the harshness and deep shadows of ordinary daylight photography. During the golden hour, the sunlight has been heavily filtered, so it’s also far less intense than other times of day and you also get light scattering off the other parts of the sky, filling in shadows. It gives a soft, romantic look that perfect for wedding photography. I’ve found that even in the downtown Jacksonville area, with all the office buildings and other urban backdrop, the light of the golden hour makes everything prettier!

For me, I find that my „golden hour“ is actually a two-hour zone that lasts from 2½ hours before sunset until about 30 minutes before sunset. Keep in mind that I’m talking about official „sunset“ which is often after the sun had gone down behind the trees and buildings. You can check various web sites to get the official sunset times on your wedding day.

To get this in line, let’s look at a fairly typical outdoor Jacksonville wedding day. Sunset is 7:30, so my golden zone is 5-7. Assuming the wedding and reception are in the same place, I’d like to see the wedding ceremony start at 5:30 so the guest arrivals are at the beginning of the zone. By the time the ceremony starts, we’re well into the best light of the day. Assuming a typical wedding ceremony of 20 minutes, we’ll have 30 minutes to shoot family formals and 30 minutes to get some nice shots of the bride and groom in the late afternoon sunlight. Then fire up the reception at 7!

The wedding photography, especially the wedding album, are the best and often the only tangible memories of your wedding day. With a little careful planning, you can craft a schedule that gives you the best chance for those soft, romantic wedding photographs you’ve always dreamed of.


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