If you hadn’t picked up on it already, I’ve been to a lot of weddings. So I’ve been around through the photoshopped dinosaur chase trend, the novelty wedding dance trend, the “everyone jump at the same time” trend, the “groomsmen all pick up the bride” awkwardness trend. So I’m a fountain of wedding industry knowledge, and a lot of couples ask me what the best timeline is for their wedding day.
Let me be clear here…I have an agenda when answering this question. To me, it’s all about light. Photography is everything light (or lack thereof). So I will never recommend an outdoor ceremony be in the direct over-head sunlight because it’s a photography nightmare. But, obviously I’m more than capable of taking your photos at 1pm in a park under mottled tree shade (eek), it’s just not ideal. So when I’m making suggestions here (and they are suggestions, not rules!) it’s with the ideal light in mind.
So when is the best light? The answer to that is always the same to a photographer when it comes to portraits…and it’s a magic equation called “golden hour”. The hour after sunrise or before sunset has the warmest and most flattering and romantic light temperature so us photogs go crazy over it. So when we’re talking couple portraits on your big day we will always covet this time (I actually go with half hour before sunset/10-30 minutes after) for the best and most awe-worthy photos that you’ll want to show your grandchildren.
The problem with this obviously is the season, and a little thing called “daylight savings”. In winter, the days are shorter and golden hour can come as early as 5pm. So for example if you have a ceremony at 2:30, followed by mingling then by group and family photos, then bridal party photos then finally couple photos you’re right in time for that magic light. (Depending on travel times – travel times are an often overlooked detail). But what about summer? When the sun is setting at 8pm you have to mix things up to get that golden wonder for you couple’s photos.
So what I strongly recommend to couples who fit this scenario is this: have your ceremony after 3pm, get your family/group/bridal party photos en route to the reception. But schedule in (depending on the sunset) a time during the reception when you and your spouse can nip out for 30-45 minutes at golden hour. This works particularly well if you’re happy to get your couple’s photos nearby. And no one will really miss you if they’re halfway through their meal and you let them know your ducking off to get some stunningly lit photos for 40 minutes, believe me (except, perhaps your mum.)
Please understand that directly overhead, middle of the day sunlight is the least flattering light. A professional can work around it using fill-flash or other secondary lighting, open shade and posing techniques, but it will never have the same ambiance and radiance that golden hour will give you. And if you have an outdoor ceremony this is particularly important, as I am forced during a ceremony to shoot to the light that’s there, ugly shadow-nose if necessary, as it’s unlikely I can change it with reflectors etc in the middle of the vows.
My vested interest aside, you can of course run your timetable however you like on your day, but I figure if you are paying a professional for those beautiful shots it’s worth this consideration to maximize our effectiveness in giving us the best chance to capture you in the best light. After all, when it comes to light, timing is everything! So plan to the light if you can, and you won't be disappointed.