Friday, June 6, 2014

What time should my outdoor sunset wedding ceremony begin?

How to set your ceremony time for an outdoor wedding is one of the hardest things to know, and it's something a photographer should be able to help with. Some major things to consider are where the sun is setting, what pictures you want that dreamy sunset light in, and where you are standing in relation to the sunset.

The first thing you should know is that great LIGHT makes great pictures, and the best natural light for pictures is within the last two hours before sunset. I use the iphone app "Rise" to help my clients know the sunset time on the day of their wedding, and also when the last light will disappear at the end of the day on any day of any year.

Many people dream of a sunset wedding (I know I did) so there are many things to consider. First, do you want to get sunset pictures, or have a sunset ceremony? The difference is when you take pictures. If you are doing the majority or all of your photos before the ceremony, then you may want to do that during the hour before sunset, and then have your ceremony just after the sun sets. If you are doing the majority of your photos after the ceremony, and you want that dreamy sunset light for the pictures of the bride and groom, then you may want to set your ceremony time about 45 minutes to one hour before the sun sets, so that there is enough time to get that beautiful light in the portraits of the two of you.

Also, keep in mind which way you and  your guests will be facing and where the sun will be setting in relation to that. In our hot Louisiana season,guests who have the sun in their face you can be pretty miserable. Additionally, it may create squinting or less-than-great lighting for the wedding party if the sun is shining on the alter area from behind the guests. Ideally, I prefer the sunset to be just behind the bride and groom.

You can have the prettiest location in the world, but if the light isn't right, it may look dull. Also, if it turns out overcast that day, that may take pictures from sunny and creamy to a little cooler and greyer. If you stand under some sort of cover, such as a gazebo, thick tree cover, or other, it will dull and dim the light.

Here is a tentative schedule that I use for wedding pictures. Let's assume that this is a wedding taking place today, and today's sunset is at 8:06 pm. So, our best time for pictures (if no clouds appear) will be between 7 and 8 pm, with the light quickly fading until 9 pm. I would suggest the following to my client if they were doing a "first look" in order to do all except family pictures before the ceremony.

6:00 First look photos (bride and groom)
6:30 Wedding party photos
7:00 set up for ceremony/freshen up (Guests usually start arriving around 30 minutes before the ceremony)
7:30 Ceremony (during sunset)
8:00 Family photos (it will be a little dark, but this is when I would bring in my flashes)
8:20 Enter the reception

This schedule would have beautiful light for the first look, the wedding party, and the ceremony photos, as long as a cloud cover didn't come. The light wouldn't be bad for the family photos, and then it would be nice and dark for the reception, which makes for a fun party. I would much prefer a little too bright of light at the beginning of the pictures, than to run out of light at the end.
If you are doing most of your pictures after the ceremony, you may want to consider doing the ceremony a little earlier so that there is plenty of light for the photos.

If you have time while planning your wedding, I would suggest going out to your ceremony site a couple hours before sunset on a random day and watching how the light hits the area where you will be standing. When it looks and feels prettiest, take note of the number of hours or minutes it is before the actual sunset time. The sun may change in angle a bit in different seasons of the year, but that will help you get a better idea.

The sunlight at this one was perfect.

This was pretty bright sunlight, around 3 pm in the spring, but it was more workable than it would've been in the dark.

Notice the beautiful sunlight behind her?

This is my favorite type of light to photograph in.

Under some thick tree cover.

This one was just after the sun had set behind the horizon.

I hope this helps you.

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