What is the best time for wedding ceremony photography?

What is the best time for wedding ceremony photography?

What time should my wedding ceremony be?

Trying to determine the best time of day to have your wedding ceremony can seem overwhelming. It’s easy for a seemingly small detail like this to get lost amid the shuffle of wedding planning. But the difference between a well-timed ceremony and a poorly-timed ceremony is the difference between epic wedding photography and “meh” wedding photography. It’s important to put some thought into it.

Unfortunately, if you Google “what time should I have my wedding ceremony?,” you’re not going to get a straight answer. In fact, the first hit suggests you start your wedding ceremony at either 10:15, 1:15, 2:15, 4:15, 5:15, or 6:45. What? Who does that help? “Don’t start your wedding ceremony at midnight,” is basically the takeaway there. No, we need something more concrete than that.

Hopefully, this will help make your decision a little bit easier. If you’ve paid a lot for a photographer and videographer (and you should pay a lot for a photographer and videographer if you’d like to save yourself big heartache down the line), you probably want to get the best possible pictures of your ceremony. After all, the ceremony is the most emotional part of the day, the part where you go from being engaged to being married!

Dramatic sunset at a wedding ceremony at Vintage Villas in Austin, Texas

The Golden Hour

Ask any photographer their favorite time to take photos, and they’ll tell you “the golden hour.” The golden hour is not literally an hour long, and it changes from day to day. It’s the time just after sunrise and right before sunset when sunlight looks beautiful and, well, golden.

There’s plenty of interesting science behind it, but for our purposes, we just need to know three things. The sun is low, light is more diffused, and blue light is refracted in the atmosphere, leaving you with warm red and gold tones.

It’s important that the sun is low so that we can avoid the dreaded “raccoon eyes” and squinty faces that we get when the sun is overhead. Raccoon eyes are just the shadows caused by your brow, and they have a tendency to cover the entire eye area, like an eyepatch. And if it’s really bright out, you’re going to squint, end of story. Either that, or wear your sunglasses, but that’s maybe not the best look for photos.

Since sunlight has to travel through more atmosphere at an oblique angle (to the side), rather than a right angle (directly overhead), there’s literally less light by the time it reaches our eyes. Dust, pollution, and air molecules all absorb light on its way to us, and so we get more diffused light. This is great for a couple reasons: less squinting, and less harsh shadows. The difference between highlights and shadows on your face is compressed, leading to a more flattering final product.

And finally, there’s a reason you see people whipping out their phones and cameras around sunset: we just love the warm tones that appear, as if by magic, when the sun goes down. The light is flattering to skin tones and everything seems more dramatic (as opposed to family not getting along, this is the kind of drama you want at your wedding).

A bride stands with her back to the camera in Vintage Villas reception hall during a dramatic gold sunset

But What Time?

O.K., this is what we’re leading up to. Keeping in mind that this is general information, and all ceremonies and situations are different, the best time for your ceremony (at least as far as photography is concerned) is 40 minutes before sunset.

We’re making a few big assumptions here, such as a 20 minute ceremony that starts and ends on time and the majority of posed photos being finished before the ceremony. If you have a huge list of family photos to take care of post-ceremony, this isn’t going to work.

The ceremony may start just a little bit before the golden hour, but by the time you kiss, things should be beautiful. This also gives you 15-20 minutes after the ceremony for a mini-session with just the two of you, basking in a literal and metaphorical glow. This is a really nice thing to do, as the pressure of the day is gone and is replaced with pure joy. Pure joy is always good for pictures.  *Helpful hint: have your coordinator or one of your wedding party grab drinks and a snack for the two of you after the ceremony!*

A dramatic sunset at a wedding ceremony at Vintage Villas