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The Magic of Golden Hour Portraits : A Guide for Wedding Couples

Last updated on February 5th, 2024 at 06:50 pm

The Magic of Golden Hour Portraits: A Guide for Wedding Couples

One thing I’ve learned over the years during my time is a photographer is light is one of the biggest in making an image. And when it comes to wedding photography, the golden hour is the finest brush you can use. This is the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset when daylight is softer and redder than when the Sun is higher in the sky. It’s a unique, fleeting moment that can turn your wedding portraits from great to truly exceptional. If you’re planning your big day, here’s how you can seize the golden hour to capture timeless memories of your love.

Understanding the Golden Hour

The golden hour occurs when the Sun is low on the horizon, typically an hour before sunset or after sunrise. This is the time when the light is warm, soft, and most importantly, flattering, making it perfect for killer wedding portraits. The low angle of the Sun creates a natural, diffused light that minimizes harsh shadows and contributes to a more pleasing image, especially for portraits.

Golden Hour Wedding Portraits

To put it in practical terms, think back to the times you’ve noticed long shadows cast by buildings or trees late in the afternoon. Notice how they add depth and dimension to your view. That’s the effect the golden hour can have on your wedding portraits.

Choosing the Right Location

While many couples may overthink locations, my experience as a photographer has shown that during the golden hour, you can make almost any spot work. It’s not always about grandeur or architectural beauty. It’s about the light and how it plays on the subjects of the photograph – you and your partner.

Golden Hour Wedding Photos

As an example, let’s take a simple city street. During the golden hour, with the right angles and settings, an ordinary urban setting can be transformed into a breathtaking backdrop for your wedding portraits. I’ve seen couples glow against dark walls, silhouettes formed by the setting sun, or simply a warm light outlining their figures. These unique moments, which can be captured just by stepping outside the venue, are often the ones that stand out the most in a wedding album.

Planning for Golden Hour Photos

Here’s the challenge – the golden hour doesn’t last long. During this time of day, I usually don’t spend more than 15-20 minutes with my couples. While portraits are an important part of your wedding they are not the most important thing. Your wedding is a celebration with those you hold dear. Often, the golden hour overlaps with toasts, dinners, or dances. Therefore, if you want to take advantage of this special light, it’s essential to plan ahead. Here is a great site to find when sunset will be on your wedding day.

This is why I work with my couples beforehand to build a schedule that will work to include a golden hour portrait session, while not making the day into a photo shoot. This will allow you to be present with those you care about and not just spend the whole day taking pictures.

Golden Hour Wedding Photos. The Ideal Timeline

Here’s a sample wedding day timeline utilizing golden hour for photos, working off of a 5 p.m. ceremony with a first look:

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM: PREP, DETAILS + CANDIDS Your photographer should arrive after most of the hair and makeup is done to capture the finishing touches. This is also a good time for them to photograph other details like your dress and jewelry.

2:30 PM – 3:00 PM: FIRST LOOK This is a special time where the bride and groom can have their first look at each other before the ceremony.

3:00 PM – 4:30 PM: FORMAL PHOTOS This is the time to take formal photos including family, wedding party, and couples portraits.

4:30 PM – 5:00 PM: PRE-CEREMONY PREPARATIONS This time is allocated for last-minute preparations before the ceremony starts.

5:00 PM – 5:30 PM: CEREMONY The wedding ceremony takes place.

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM: COCKTAIL HOUR While guests are enjoying the cocktail hour, this can also be a time for additional photographs.

6:30 PM – 6:45 PM: RECEPTION INTRODUCTIONS AND FIRST DANCE Guests are welcomed into the reception, and the couple performs their first dance.

6:45 PM – 7:30 PM: DINNER AND TOASTS Guests enjoy dinner, and toasts are given.

6:50 PM – 7:00 PM: GOLDEN HOUR PHOTOS In the midst of dinner, the couple slips away for 10-15 minutes to take golden hour photos. This timing may vary based on the actual time of sunset, so adjust accordingly.

7:30 PM – 8:00 PM: PARENT DANCES Following dinner, the couple will have their special dances with their parents.

8:00 PM – 10:00 PM: OPEN DANCE FLOOR Guests are invited to join the couple on the dance floor.

10:00 PM: SPARKLER EXIT The night concludes with a special sparkler exit.

What do you want to happen during Golden Hour?

I think this is one of the most under-asked questions for couples when planning a wedding. Most popular advice says you need golden hour portraits, but I don’t think that is always true.

For many couples, portraits are not a huge priority. Their focus is on the ceremony, dances, or simply just time with family and friends. Due to this, I like to encourage couples to put what they care about most toward sunset. This way they are able to get amazing photos when the light is best. If you really want your ceremony photos to be stunning without the harsh shadows of 3 pm sun, have a sunrise ceremony with breakfast after or opt for a ceremony around 7pm. You don’t need to follow the generic wedding plan. It’s your day. Do it your way!

Sometimes things don’t go as planned

One of the biggest challenges I find with the golden hour is that light can be unreliable. Often morning clouds haven’t burned off or an evening storm may roll in. Since you have such a narrow window, if either of these events occur we may have to move quickly to try and get some great sunrise or sunset photos or we may not be able to get the photos at all.

This is why it is important to get other portraits on your wedding day. Even though the golden hour is magic. It is never wise to put all your eggs in one basket. With my couples I try to grab portraits throughout the day so even if golden hour doesn’t work out, you will still have some gorgeous portraits to remember your big day!

Enjoy your wedding day fully immersed in all its joy and beauty.

P Charles Moll Photography Bozeman Wedding Photographers

Golden Hour wedding photos

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