What is the best time of day for photography

I am often asked the question ‘when is the best time of day to photograph a wedding.’ The answer to that question depends on whether you are having an indoor or outdoor wedding and whether it is cloudy or clear. If your wedding and reception will be inside only, then the answer is “anytime is fine.” On the other hand, if your wedding and/or reception will be outdoors, the answer is quite different. In that case, the answer is “it depends.” In photography, we have what is known as “golden light.” Golden light is that awesome quality of light that we get one to two hours after sunrise and one to two hours before sunset. The quality of light for photography, given good weather conditions, is best during these times of day. After all, photography is nothing more than painting with light.

Lets talk briefly (very briefly) about photography substrates (film or digital sensors) vs the human eye. The human eye has an incredible dynamic range where it comes to visible light. Film, and digital sensors to a slightly greater degree, do not have near the dynamic range of the human eye. That is why we can be outdoors on a very bright day and still see details in both shadows and highlights (dark areas and very bright areas) of a scene. It just doesn’t work that way with cameras. So, as a photographer, it is my job to find a good balance. The best way to do that is to try to limit my outdoor shooting to the times when the light is most golden so long as the lighting isn’t diffused by heavy cloud cover. When the light outdoors is diffused because of heavy cloud cover, the time of day is less critical. During the golden hours, the light is naturally diffused by the angle of the sun and the atmosphere of the earth. The angle of the sun determines the harshness of shadows, such as those cast by someone’s nose or chin. The closer to midday that we shoot outdoors, the more harsh the shadows become. We want less shadows where possible. Whew, if that didn’t put you to sleep, call me, I have a job for you…

In summary, if your wedding is going to be outdoors, try to have your ceremony 2 to 3 hours after sunrise or 2 to 3 hours before sunset. Now, if your reception is also going to be outdoors as well, that changes things as we don’t want to shoot outdoors in the dark if possible. That is a worse scenario than shooting at high noon (remember that photography is painting with light). Otherwise, people may look like they are standing in a black hole with light smattered all over them. That is for a different discussion, however. In the case of an outdoor wedding and reception, shoot to have the most active part of your reception during the golden hours and hope for cloud cover during your ceremony. Note I didn’t say rain or rain clouds.

I hope that you all have the most beautiful light and weather available for your wedding.