How To Use Ideal Lighting For Your Wedding Photos

In over 60 weddings together (plus a bunch of second shooting), there’s one thing that will truly make my heart hurt while photographing your wedding day. I’ll watch the best light of the day (sunset) used for things like seating guests or cocktail hour while the worst light of the day (12-2 pm!) is used for the most important photos, couple’s photos. 

Flashlight or Snapchat filter?

Have you sat around a campfire as someone tried to spook you while shining a flashlight up their nose? They look terrible in that light, don’t they? It exaggerates every line, eye bag and blemish. It’s harsh, contrasty, and unflattering.

Using light at noon is the sun’s equivalent of a flashlight shining up your nose (just flipped the other direction!). It’s harsh, contrasty, and unflattering. It makes you look washed out and anything that bright sunlight is bouncing off of (like the green grass) will lend a color cast to your skin.

Using sunset light, on the other hand is like using a snapchat filter that makes your skin look amazing and smooth (I call it the “pretty filter”). Because the light is softer, directional, diffused and warmer, it’s more flattering to your skin tone making it look healthy and golden.

Prioritize your lighting

So how can you take the most important photos at the best time of day? Prioritize your timeline around your photos.

Use the best light for the most enduring photos. It’s really that simple. Our opinion is that you don’t need lots and lots of mediocre photos, but rather that you need the right amount of great photos.

Putting it into Practice

Be strategic with your time for photos. We can do more with 15 min at sunset than 1 hour at high noon.

With flattering lighting, we have much more freedom with how we can use a particular location for photos and the technical limits of where we can place you or which setting will work are much more relaxed so we’re free to focus on strategic direction and authentic interaction.

I’d recommend planning your ceremony for 2-3 hours before sunset to use lovely soft light for your ceremony. Whether you choose a first look or not, plan to make time for your couple’s photos after your ceremony instead of before. Here’s an example of my process for planning best use of lighting for, say, an early June wedding:

In early June, for instance the sun sets around 8:30 CST. Your best light will be from 6:30-8:45 (weather depending, of course) while you can’t fit in everything during that lighting, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • 3:45-private first look
  • 4:00-bridal party photos
  • 5:00-photograph completed reception space
  • 6:00-Ceremony
  • 7:00-Immediate family photos (4 shots)
  • 7:30-Couple’s photos-these are so lovely because you’re freshly married and there’s a lot of joy present! It’s amazing to channel that energy into a few moments of serenity together before you head to the more high energy cocktail hour.
  • 8:20-First Dance

As photographers, light is our muse. The better the light, the better you’ll look and the more you’ll cherish your photos for years to come!