Outdoor Wedding Photos: How to Plan for the Best Light

Everyone loves outdoor wedding photos. The light is beautiful and flattering, IF you time your portraits properly. The key to great outdoor wedding photos is having access to what we photographers call solid shade. This means shade that does not have any speckles of light hitting the subject, like you see when the sun is filtered through the trees. In order to have access to solid shade, the sun needs to be low enough to create shadows against buildings or along the tree line.  

Since most people do family photos and their couple’s session after the ceremony, timing your ceremony for the best light is critical.  Below are some tips for getting the best light for your family photos and couple’s session.


Make sure that your ceremony end time is 1 – 1.5 hours prior to sunset.

I like to start shooting outdoor portraits at this time because the light is low enough to create many areas of shade. When the light is low enough, you can even photograph people in full sun and the light is beautiful.  This usually happens just before sunset and is commonly referred to as the magic hour.


If your ceremony will be outside, ask your venue if your ceremony site will be in shade during or after your ceremony.Wedding Photography Family Portraits

It is easiest to do family photos at the ceremony site right after the ceremony. It can be challenging enough to get everyone together, let alone get them together at another location. Luckily, for the wedding above, (which took place at The Page-Walker Arts & History Center) the sun was behind the ceremony site and we had beautiful shade to work with for the ceremony and family photos right after. If your ceremony site will be in full sun during and after your ceremony, ask your venue if there is a spot nearby that will be in shade. Your photographer can also chime in, particularly if they have shot at your venue before. If your ceremony is inside, I suggest doing family photos inside at the ceremony site and then taking your bridal party outside for some more creative photos. The couple’s session can then follow after that.


If possible, take a few minutes and do photos at sunset.


To really get the saturated colors of the sunset in the background, your photographer will need to light you, but the results are well worth it!  The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (shown above) has a few piers that are ideal places for sunset photos.