How to pick the best timing for your wedding photographs

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An important person once said "timing is everything".

Actually, I looked it up, and it's probably more correct to say that many important people (and many more not-so-important-people) said something along those lines:

“The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.”

“Time is an illusion, timing is an art.”

"You don't have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you've got the timing, it'll go."

If you are looking for a butterfly but dismiss it as a caterpillar, you haven't missed finding a butterfly, you have just arrived at the wrong time!

Similarly, with photography, timing can be very important. The reason is mostly down to lighting. I've had quite a lot of couples ask me to help set their timing for their wedding day, based around the best available light for photographs.

In the end, sometimes timing comes down to when you have access to the venue, or how you want to structure the day. Sometimes, you just can't pick perfect timing for photos and that is OK. A good photographer knows how to shoot in any lighting conditions, and will still be able to make you look good.

However, for those couples looking to get 'the best light' for the bridal party photos and photos of the two of them before the reception, here is my guide.

In a nutshell, the best time to take photos is almost always the fifteen minutes leading up to sunset.

Why?

Because the light is soft, warm and flattering.

This all has to do with how the light will fall on your face. Think about where the sun sits in the middle of the day: right above you. When that light falls on your face, it creates patches of light and shade. Light on the forehead, and shade under the nose, ears and lips. These shady patches turn out very dark in photos, so it has the effect of giving you a big, long nose and droopy ears!

There is no escape, because everywhere you go the light is directly above you.

I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but it can look less than flattering.

The other problem with midday sunlight is that it is incredibly powerful. It blasts down from above creating 'hot spots' and dark shadows, which make the background look very messy and distract from the subject matter of the photo (you!).

On the other hand...sunset light.

Sunset light falls side-on, and it is much softer. It travels through much more atmosphere before it hits you and it is softened by the particles of moisture and dust on its way to your face.

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An example of soft sunset light, about a minute before sunset. You can see that the sun has already disappeared from the foreground, but the couple are still lit up with a soft glow.

This combination means it appears soft, and if you position yourself correctly you can create beautiful, soft skin tones. There are less shadows (because it comes from side on), and the you can move around to either get rid of the shadows completely or use them to set up special shots.

You can even shoot straight into the sun to create an epic, hazy atmosphere in photographs.

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An example of using the sun to create atmosphere by shooting directly into the sunlight.

How do I work out when the sunset will happen on my wedding day?

The time of sunset changes a lot depending on the season. If you already have your wedding date set, you can use a sunset calculator to work out exactly when the sunset will happen:

https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/australia/sydney

BUT be careful about your location. If your wedding is rural, in a big, wide open area, you will probably be fine going off the sunset calculator. But big mountains and big buildings affect the timing of the sunset. They block the light early and that can make things a bit more complicated. Just be aware of that.

What if I can't time my wedding day around sunset?

That's totally cool! Here are a few ideas:

(a) You can consider looking at 2 hours before sunset, because the afternoon light is often pretty good too. In fact, I often suggest to couples that late afternoon light is great for the bridal party because it gives everyone more time to relax at the other end.

(b) Try the 'duck out' as a great alternative if you are tight on time. If you're at the reception when the sun is setting, grab the photographer for 15 minutes and duck out to grab some epic photos. It's such a short time and it will be totally worth it!

(c) Find good shade. Not necessarily gum trees or open, airy foliage - you should seek out something really shady - a big fig tree is often a great option in Sydney! This will cut out all direct sunlight and really soften up the ambient light. It's one of my favourite tricks to managing harsh lighting conditions.

(d) Similarly, if you have a midday ceremony, consider setting up under a big, broad tree (especially in summer for other heat-related benefits!).

What if it's overcast?

Actually, that's not a bad thing! You may miss the crazy blaze of glory but it will give you much more even light across the whole day. You might be surprised at how good photographs can look in overcast light. I personally prefer overcast light to midday light because it is much more flattering, even, and manageable.

Got any questions? Drop me a line and tell me a bit about your day.

Oliver SmithComment