A Photographer’s Eye: When Is The Best Time To Shoot & Why Lighting Matters

As a photographer, there’s nothing more important to me than natural light. Gorgeous, warm light is essential for capturing your wedding story with authenticity, so I encourage all of my couples to take lighting into consideration during the planning process. 

So why is lighting so important in photography? Natural light helps create the tone, aesthetic, and mood for photos, but it also impacts their brightness and color vibrancy, and helps convey emotion. Your wedding day is a day of lightness, love, and happiness and poor lighting often leads to dark, blurred photos that may not reflect the true to the ethos of the day. Dark, moody and even blurred photos do have a place in wedding photography as they can be a fantastic way to convey emotion and lend a cinematic quality to images; however, this aesthetic should only ever be used as a stylistic choice, rather than an accidental result of unfortunate planning.

I love seeing the delight and emotion of couples looking at their wedding photos for the first time, which is why I encourage you to plan your wedding around the best times of day for photography – it’ll result in higher-quality photos that you’ll be happier with!

Here’s an introduction to why lighting matters in photography, how important lighting is at a wedding, and tips on planning your wedding timeline around the best lighting conditions. 

Types of lighting that impact your wedding day 

Throughout each day, we’re exposed to different lighting conditions, based on both the time of day and time of year. Some of this light is ideal for photography, such as morning and early evening, making it the optimal time of day to take wedding photos. Other lighting conditions, such as midday, aren’t as great for photography. 

Here’s an overview of general lighting conditions throughout the day, based on New York in the spring and summer months. Remember that conditions will vary based on your geographic location and season. 

1. Morning light

Ahh, that soft, dewy morning light is so gorgeous for photography. In the mornings from around 8–10am, we benefit from soft, early light when the sun isn’t too high in the sky.

So how does morning light tie into your wedding? Often, the morning is when you’ll be getting ready, so arrange a hotel or venue with plenty of natural light – think large windows, balconies, or skylights. That way, I can be there to take those sentimental shots of you and your bridal party getting ready – your pristine wedding dress will look unbelievable in photos when it’s backlit by the morning glow! 

We can also use the morning light to take memorable first look photos, if that’s something you choose to do. I’m often asked “Do you take wedding photos before or after the ceremony?”, so if you’d rather take some photos earlier in the day, plan your getting-ready times early so we can use mid-morning as a photo opportunity. 

2. High noon

The middle of the day, from around 12–3pm, generally has the harshest light, as the sun is highest in the sky. We usually try to avoid shooting outdoors during this time, but if it’s the only time available, we can make it work!

That being said, some couples love the intense light of the early afternoon, which can give you a different style of photos. 

3. Afternoon lighting

After around 4pm we start to have softer light again, which is just ideal for some bridal portraits or family photos. Or, depending on your wedding timeline, this can be a good time for an outdoor ceremony. 

4. Golden hour

There’s nothing quite like golden hour – it’s a time every photographer treasures. This is the time just before sunset when the sun is low on the horizon and we get that signature warm glow that photographs so well.

It’s the best time to shoot couples’ photos for weddings. Speaking of which, I’m often asked about timings: how long do wedding photos take on the day? I know you’re eager to get them done so you can celebrate with loved ones, so I promise we can have them done fast!

We can usually do family photos in an hour or less and the same with couples’ portraits, although this all comes down to your preferences for the shoot. 

Wondering “How soon before my wedding should I get my sunset photos?” Golden hour occurs around one to two hours before sunset, so base your timings around that. Golden hour times in New York are around 6–7pm during the peak of summer, when sunset occurs around 8:30 pm. If you’re able to sneak out of your reception for some photos around then, we can capitalize on that gorgeous golden hour lighting. 

5. Blue hour

Blur hour refers to twilight/dawn and dusk. It’s not so much a full hour, but around 20–40 minutes when the sun is just below the horizon, giving us dreamy blue tones. We can use this time to take some unique, soft outdoor photos, if the weather is right. 

What happens to my wedding photos if it’s cloudy or raining?

Many couples worry about rain and clouds on their wedding day. You might feel better knowing that, from a photography perspective, cloudy weather is actually a good thing! 

Clouds diffuse the harsh sunlight and create a natural filter, giving us soft, even, forgiving lighting. It’s perfect for portraiture, as it’s very flattering. 

If rain is scheduled for your wedding day, try to bring along a photogenic umbrella (my personal favorites being the white transparent ones). We can use this to shelter on the day, but it can also serve as a fun, romantic prop!

Using light to arrange your wedding photography schedule

Most couples create a timeline for their wedding, covering all of the major elements of the day. This includes getting-ready time (usually in the morning), first look (if you’re doing one), the ceremony, wedding portraits and family photos, then the reception. 

It’s so important to time all of your major activities around the best lighting. It’s often helpful to work backward when making your timeline, so think about your couples’ portraits when you’re considering what is the best time for wedding pictures.

If capturing Golden Hour portraits are important to you, it’s best to start by working out when this will be, based on your wedding location and time of year, then build your schedule from there. While Golden Hour photos are indeed beautiful they are in no way essential in achieving stunning results. Building your whole day around one hour can put undue stress on your timeline. It’s important that you allow your photographer the time and flexibility to advise you on where and when is best to take certain photos on the day. Things change and weather changes – rather than trying to dictate specific shots to take at certain times of the day, trust that your photographer will know exactly what to do and when in order to achieve the best results.

Honestly, the right lighting will make a world of difference to your photos, so it’s worth taking the time to plan it correctly. If you have any questions about which lighting conditions are best for the type of wedding photos you’d like, please reach out – I’d be delighted to help!