One of the most common questions I receive as a wedding and portrait photographer is “when is the best time to plan for taking portraits?”

Because photography relies so heavily on light, it is a common and understandable misconception that photographers would want broad daylight for their wedding sessions and portraits. Quite the contrary, most natural light photographers (including myself) try to avoid high noon and the surrounding hours at all costs. Unless you get lucky with a cloudy, comfortable day, odds are the broad daylight look is only going to leave you disappointed with your images. Direct sunlight causes squinting, sweating, harsh shadows, high contrast and uneven skin tones. There is also a drastic and noticeable difference when moving from outdoors to indoors when operating in bright sunlight vs indoor lighting. Not to mention adding heat and humidity to the conditions makes for a very uncomfortable session that will read on the faces of everyone participating. So this recipe tends to result in a very unflattering and inconsistent gallery. What most natural light photographers recommend for portraits is called the “Golden Hour” and its the final hour before sunset.

“So what can I do?” You may be wondering. Most weddings tend to take place right in the peak hours of Saturday and Sunday afternoons and of course you want to accommodate your guests first and foremost. There are a number of ways to work around the sun and achieve the best possible portraits for your big day!

 The Fall Wedding

Fall weddings are becoming more and more popular and for good reason!  Fall weddings often offer comfortable temps, lovely scenery, less rain and the best part…earlier sunset. This means you can still set your ceremony for 2;00 or 3;00 and then plan for formal portraits to begin right around that perfect golden hour or as close to it as possible.

 Better Late than early

If your wedding is taking place in the summer months when it doesn’t start to get dark until late, consider setting a later ceremony time of 4:00 PM. This is will put a decent amount of distance between the sun and your photos. It may not be the golden hour, but it will be much better than peak hours of the day. Even allowing a full 90 minutes for portraits you would still be wrapped up around 5:30, eating by 6 and guests who do not stay up late could be home by a reasonable hour. This method may or may not work depending on the hours and guidelines for your venue rental but certainly worth exploring as an option for those longer summer wedding days.

The reception sneak out

A great compromise some couples opt for is to go ahead and get all of the family and bridal party formals done with and then plan for a quick sneak out later once the reception is in full swing. Your guests will be too busy on the dance floor to even notice you have popped outside for a quick session and it’s the perfect time to catch that golden hour natural light and possibly even a gorgeous sunset or dramatic nighttime portrait. This gives you a nice break to eat, sit and relax for a bit between sessions and a little more privacy for your portraits. I must stress though that this game plan only works venues that have an aesthetically pleasing location for portraits right on property and for couples who can commit to going back out for the photos. Sometimes after a few drinks and laughs with friends, it gets far too comfortable to just keep partying and then you would miss out on the most important shots of the day.

The styled & staged

On rare occasion, couples realize that either the weather, location, pressure for time or other factors on their wedding day are just not going to allow for a fun & relaxed portrait session. This is when an amazing opportunity comes in to schedule a formal styled portrait session in full wedding attire on another separate day comes into play. Brides even sometimes opt to pay for professional hair and makeup a second time and grooms extend the rental on their tux so we can devote a full hour to just the two of them at the perfect time and location. While this may be an extra investment, it also can prove to be a worthwhile one to couples who want a more relaxed and romantic experience for their session. I have had a few cases where a torrential downpour or other unforeseen circumstances have rendered it impossible to do outdoor portraits on the day of the wedding. But I can honestly say those styled shoots we scheduled on a different day turned out to be some of the best results. It’s a win-win!

The Good kind of Shady

If all other options don’t work for you, the best possible compromise is to select a location for portraits that has plentiful shade and open space. That way if we luck out with a cloudy day we can take advantage of the open scenic areas and if we are stuck with direct sun, we will still have options to achieve a more consistent and flattering light under nearby shade. Trees, gazebos, covered bridges, porches and other sources of shade can produce beautiful and interesting results for your outdoor images and keep your family and friends as comfortable as possible.

While we can never predict the chaotic nature of wedding days and how they unfold, we can increase our odds for awesome results with education and communication. I hope you found this entry helpful for planning your big day!

Golden Hour Lighting

Afternoon Lighting