The best time of day to take your wedding photos is the 60 minutes before sunset. This is what is referred to in the photography world as the “golden hour”. When the sun is lower in the sky the light is less intense and has a lower color temperature resulting in images that have a warmer tone. To better understand this effect we can look at the converse situation.
At midday the sun is high in the sky above us and its light is very strong, the quantity of light most probably exceeds our photographic requirements and the light is too harsh for the softer more romantic look that is generally required for wedding photography. Directionally the light comes from overhead which is not ideal; the result is similar to the effect of standing in front of a mirror with a light bulb above it, the light source casts strong shadows under the eyes and nose and leaves the forehead, nose and cheek bones very exposed by the light. Usually this is not considered a desirable effect.
Apart from the shadows that you will have under your eyes there are all the other shadows, such as those from trees, plants, buildings and everything else that is under the light. Shadows are not bad just that they pose a photographic challenge in that the difference between a shadowy area and a white wedding dress under the sun in terms of light levels is huge. In wedding photography the subject is often the bride and groom, seeing as one is normally dressed in white and the other in a dark color this is a difficult situation that does not need to be further complicated by placing the subject under strong sunlight. In outdoor weddings the worst scenario is where part of your subject is in the sun and the other part is in the shade.
Another reason to avoid doing your wedding photos too early is the heat. Assuming that you have chosen to get married in a warm climate then during the day it could be very hot, and so standing around in your wedding attire can be very uncomfortable not just for yourselves but for all your guests as well. You may end up looking hot, flustered or even sweaty which is hardly the desired result. Finally when the light is very strong we all have to squint which is another look that we could do without.
So returning to the initial point why is it better to have photos done later in the day? As I am sure you have noticed as the sun starts to set and becomes lower in the sky the light starts to become softer, warmer and more flattering. The shadows start to get longer but more importantly they start to fade as the light levels start to balance out, the range of the light levels between what is exposed to sunlight and what is not is reduced leading to a more even exposure. As the sun sets and we reach dusk there is a point where there are no more shadows. Also the temperature starts to drop and even though it may only be a few degrees cooler it feels much more comfortable so you are likely to feel more relaxed. You can always tells when photos have been done later in the day as the light is warmer, softer and more flattering and is often described as more romantic which for weddings should be ideal.
I rarely understand the logic behind having a wedding early in the day, particularly in the summer months when it remains light until eight or nine in the evening. Also if you are intending to dine outside then in the evening the temperature is pleasant and you can have a candlelit dinner.
Now considering this you might ask “how can we have our wedding photos done at the correct time of day if it is still light until 8 or 9pm?” The best time to have your photos done is before sunset, so how your event is planned will establish whether or not you are able to have your photos done nearer to sunset. There are many things to consider such as where you are getting married, how long the ceremony lasts, how many hours are dedicated to the drinks reception and other factors, you may not be able to have the photos done at sunset if it occurs very late but the later you leave them the better, there is a big difference between taking photos at 4pm and doing them at 7pm.
There are other factors to take into consideration when considering the light for the photos, such as the weather. It goes without saying that here we are assuming that the weather is fine and it is sunny all day. If it is partly cloudy, cloudy or overcast then it changes everything; but I believe that most people plan their wedding for a specific type of weather and then have a contingency plan ready.
When you research your location if possible take note of where the sun sets, some places are actually cast in shadow well before the sun sets as there may be geographical factors that influence the light such as hills or mountains and so this could affect your timings.
Now does all of this mean that your wedding photos are going to be poor if you are getting married early in the day? Absolutely not, however it depends on what photos you have envisioned as a part of your wedding day. If you are planning on having photos outside in gardens or fields then your photos will definitely benefit from being taken later on in the day. If however you don’t have any specific images in mind then it should be possible to seek out locations where the light is more flattering. If you are in a built up environment then buildings can provide shaded areas or zones of filtered light. You may also be getting married in a location that has beautiful interiors and so correct use of window light can provide wonderful results.
Considering that photography is the recording of light when there is limited light available this impacts on photographic technique and to an extent the style and quality of the image. This doesn’t mean that photos can’t be taken it just means that if you are getting married in a very dark location or you have left the photos too late in the day and the light levels are getting very low then it may be difficult for the photographer to achieve certain results.
So if possible you should try and aim to have your photos done in the hour before sunset, of course this is just a guide and shortly after sunset you can get some great shots too, likewise if you really have to have an early wedding then you can still get fabulous photos but just not standing in full sunlight. This is not intended to be a technical or scientific explanation but rather some basic advice based on information that I give to my clients.