How to think like a photographer on your wedding day

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Carly Bish

Some of you might remember Carly from that wedding Ariel crashed last year. Well, now she's back with her tips for getting into the brain of a wedding photographer…

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I love meeting with newly-engaged couples — joyful, anxious, and bubbling over with excitement about making their wedding plans. I sit across from this couple in love, while I enjoy my iced coffee, and I ask them about every special aspect and personal touch they're incorporating in their wedding. As they answer, I'm always struck by how every detail is so special to them because of who they are and what it represents to them… Every detail, that is, but the time of day.

As a photographer, it's practically the ONLY thing I think about. You're getting ready at your grandparents' old farmhouse? Awesome! What time? The ceremony is taking place at this amazing location overlooking a canyon? INCREDIBLE! What time? And there's a reason I wonder What time? about everything and maybe it's time you ask it yourself! In this short article, I'll explain a few important aspects about why time is so important when planning your wedding!

For photographers, time is synonymous with light. Over the course of a wedding day, there are some "sweet spots" we love to aim for and there are some "not so great" other spots we try to avoid. In the morning, the light is best in that wee bit of time just after the sun rises — soft and white and ever-so-slightly glowy. And in the evening, if you've ever heard of the "golden hour," that's every photographer's favorite time to play. About one or two hours before the sun sets, the light glows orange and beautiful and anything we backlight looks creamy and really pops against the scenery.

The time we tend to avoid is high noon, when the sun sits directly above us, casting little shadow and creating harsh lines almost everywhere we look. But does that mean it's impossible to shoot at that time? No! But it takes a real pro to make harsh light work to their advantage and yours. So let's talk a little more in depth about this idea…

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When you're planning your wedding itinerary, I can't recommend this strongly enough: get your photographer involved! And as early on in the planning process as possible! Photographers are artists and while many of us love a good challenge, we also love it when everything just works out. And if you hired an experienced professional, you can take advantage of their knowledge and expertise!

So if you're planning your summer wedding, ideally your wedding ceremony start time will take place between 6pm-8pm. Why so late? Because the sun sets super late between the months of June through August, so you want to take advantage of that golden hour leading up to the ceremony and maybe even for a good chunk of time post-ceremony, if you've saved portraits for after you've said "I do!"

"High Noon" changes in the summer months and takes place between 1pm-4pm, the harshest light of the day! Feel like staring directly into the sun during your ceremony? I didn't think so, and I certainly don't recommend it.

Likewise, if you're planning a romantic winter celebration, your best time for a ceremony is between 2-3pm, when the sun sets before 5pm — or even earlier farther north!

© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com

Let me be clear… Unless you're having a sunrise or nighttime ceremony, high noon is basically unavoidable. As I said before, while it's the harshest time of day to take photos, it's certainly not impossible (as the above two photos prove). However, in both instances, I was provided with enough time to seek out those shady places.

So if you know you'll be shooting portraits while the sun runs hot, make sure to provide your photographer with a chunk of time they're comfortable working in. For me, it's a minimum of one hour, preferably more, and that's just for portraits (I need a minimum of three hours altogether for couples portraits, wedding party, and family formals).

If it's less than an hour, don't be surprised when your photographer rushes the process. They want to do the best job they can for you while providing you with quality and variety, which can be extremely challenging when we're under a time crunch.

© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com

Really, there's only a few things we photographers need to know in order to help you figure out the ideal times for the various parts of your wedding day:

  • The first being which season/month during which you're getting married. While certain things may vary depending on the region, there are some common traits to every season anywhere you go and if you've hired a photographer local to where your wedding takes place, they'll know what that season will bring.
  • The second thing we need to know is if you want to do portraits, wedding party, and family photos pre-ceremony, or if you're going with the more traditional "big reveal" when you walk down the aisle to your big-grinning partner. The majority of my couples do photos before, so when the ceremony is over, they can rejoin their party immediately, enjoy their cocktail hour and get to greeting guests. If you choose the latter, your photographer will likely need a minimum of two hours to accomplish the number of photos traditionally taken at a wedding.

  • And finally, we should know how big your wedding will be. By "big," I'm referring to the number of guests. Generally, the larger the number, the harder it is to stick to a schedule (all those guests who "could've sworn" they didn't have to be there until an hour after when you asked. I mean, they could've sworn!), so making sure there's enough time for everything, including "buffer" time, is always helpful.

© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com

Hopefully, you're beginning to understand why the time of day is so important. And maybe you're starting to appreciate your photographer's knowledge even more than you did when you hired them! Most of us do what we do because we absolutely LOVE it (at least, I hope that's most of us) and at the end of the day, not only did we spend it with a couple of the raddest people ever, but we also got to do our art and for that, we are so grateful to you!

So let us return the favor and answer any questions you may have and take advantage of whenever and wherever you're planning your big day! We don't just want you to love your photos, we want you to LOOOOOOOOOVE your photos. Because aside from the amazing life you're about to embark upon together, your memories are just about the only thing that remains when it's all done. So we'll do our darndest to help capture all your special moments in the most beautiful way possible!

They ♥ OBB; we ♥ themThis post features Offbeat Vendors! Check out their vendor listing to see how they cater to Offbeat Brides:

  1. I would assume the lighting isn't so much an issue if you're having an indoor wedding? (Say, at a reception hall?) Or is it still a factor? Inquiring minds want to know!

    • It's absolutely a factor! Truth is, even if the ceremony and the reception is taking place indoors, your photographer will most likely want to know what kind of lighting situation they'll be working in. And if there are opportunities for portraits outdoors, they'll probably want to take that opportunity as well, or at least entertain the opportunity, if there is one. Better to invite your photographer into the conversation to explore all your options than to make any assumption that it doesn't matter simply because the majority of events are happening inside. 😉

    • lighting is ALWAYS a factor. without light, you have no image, with crappy light you may get a crappy image, a talented photographer will know how to work with what you have given them but taking it all into account, really does make a difference, not sure, ask your photographer.

      • Fair enough — clearly lighting in general is always a factor when it comes to photography. I should have asked, "Does time of day matter for lighting if the wedding is indoors?"

    • As a photo retoucher who works for a wedding photographer, lighting indoors is such a big factor! For some reason it is very popular for wedding planners/banquet halls to use bright pink lights around the room as part of the decoration. It is by far one of my biggest wedding photography pet peeves! Everyone's skin looks pink or purple in photos and it's horrible to try and color correct it. I usually end up having to turn the photos into black and white. Same goes for really dim lit churches that turn people's skin orange/red, but that's not as easy to deal with if the church has sentimental meaning to the couple.

      • Couldn't agree more! I've also run into problems with DJs bringing projector type lighting, which casts weird patterns onto the dance floor, and therefore, onto the faces of anyone on said dance floor. Knowing these things ahead of time is always helpful!

        • True that! I was totally guilty of this until I noticed it in my own pictures. These days, I wait until the photographer is done for the night to turn on anything but uplights.

    • Indoor lighting can be just as challenging. Skylights add another layer of "fun" to the equation. I attended my cousin's wedding back in June, and the ceremony was held in the atrium at 4 PM. The problem is we were all facing west. *facepalm* I don't have a speedlight (yet), so I had to play around with camera angles a lot to make things work. After that, I had to mentally shift gears to a very blue reception hall. The smi-outdoor lighting had m stuck in one mode of thought, so transitioning to completely indoor lighting took a bit more effort than usual.

  2. I'd still say it matters, since indoor spaces can vary greatly. Especially if the space has a lot of windows (or little) and if said windows are backlit in any way. I've photographed my fair share of venues where an entire wall was made up of windows, which allowed full view of the sunset. It's beautiful to look at it, but photographing it can prove really tricky, depending on where people are seated. Again, it's always a good idea to chat with your photographer about it beforehand.

    • And we are not doing a "first look" for tradition/superstition reasons, so all couple shots will be post-ceremony.

      • START TALKING TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER! That's my #1 piece of advice. Make sure your photographer has some OCF (off camera flash) experience and explore your "night time portrait" options. I've gotten creative and used the headlights of a car to backlight the couple and create some beautiful, silhouetted shots. You can also turn around and face the headlights and those will light you up in a whole other way. Let your photographer know you want to get creative! On your wedding day, you, your partner, and your photographer should be a "creative team", but that starts by trusting your photographer, their professional experience and believing in their vision. But I don't suggest simply "winging" it on the day of a winter, night-time wedding, no matter how much you trust your photographer. In my opinion, open dialogue and going in with a game plan is always ideal for everyone.

        • I like the headlights idea! I am in convo with my photog and explained my concerns about lighting, saw examples of similar lighting, and am pretty confident about their skills in that dept. I think we will do a venue walk through too so they can see what exactly they're working with.
          Thanks!

  3. We set the time of our wedding with the help of the photographer. He looked up the time of sunset, asked us how many people were going to be in the wedding, if we wanted photos before, and viola, set the wedding for 4PM. So glad we did, too, because the photos were beautiful…

  4. These are fantabulous tips – & I think I've been pretty good about considering all of them. I'm a bit of an over-planner & an amateur photographer, so I think that helped.

  5. love this article. As a photographer and a bride to be I found myself searching for a photographer recently. When I met with her I came prepared with the EXACT time of day I predicted the golden hour to be (you can check sun-set times, golden hour times, and high noon times at various websites online. It's the earth's rotation, you CAN predict it 😉 ) and a CD of snapshots I took of the location so she could see what it was like. There wasn't much more to discuss after that. I'd already studied her portfolio and said "you do good work, I trust you." and that was that.

  6. oh gosh I'll never forget the look on my friend/photographer's face when i told him we'd scheduled our beach ceremony for midday. There was this pause then I just started laughing and smacked myself in the face as I realised. I'm even an amateur photographer myself so not completely ignorant. We ran about 40 mins behind and then were lucky enough to get just a few gauzy clouds to give him enough shadow on us all during the ceremony. Not that I noticed!

    I did scope out golden hour the day before, and we just snuck away from everyone at this time back to the beach which was a nice break for the two of us as well as making for great photos. It even felt a little magical

    And group shots were just ad hoc as they naturally came up or if people asked for them. We had tents and gazebos for shade, and as the light got low the back lawn was a good spot

  7. I know I'm late with this one, but how about morning weddings in the summer (say around 9)? My husband and I had a brunch wedding, and we happened to have a somewhat cloudy day. Hooray, natural softbox! I was okay with that, as we were rather warm as it was. How do other photographers feel about that time?

  8. A little late but need help. What if you won't be able to take pics during golden hour? My ceremony (though indoors) is held at mid-day and the only time we're able to take portraits is in between (which around 230-400pm). Yes, it can work but I hate how some photographers push you to add extra hours for GH or do the first look because of the harsh daylight.

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