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Wedspiration > Advice > How to time the lighting for your wedding photos (and other important photo-related stuff)
How to time the lighting for your wedding photos (and other important photo-related stuff)
We asked Australian photographer Jack Chauvel to talk us through how to maximise the light on your wedding day. Read on for some very important advice – this is a goldmine of info.
How to time your wedding lighting
Words by Amy Parfett
21 January 2016

Generally speaking, so long as your choose a photographer whose work you really love, your wedding photos are going to look awesome – timing, lighting and weather be damned.

BUT – if you want to give yourself a leg up and take these things into consideration, then you’ll definitely be rewarded for it with your final photos.

We asked the excellent photographer and person Jack Chauvel to share his tips with us on how to maximise timing and lighting on your wedding day to ensure you end up with a beautiful record of the day. And boy, was he generous. Prepare to get educated – read on.


Lighting and timing – everything you need to know to get this right for the big day

Lighting and timing – what are you talking about? How are these two connected?
Pretty darn intimately, actually. Just as lighting changes throughout the day, so too does lighting change throughout the year. The cooler months provide some beautiful light, which is softer than the often harsh daylight of Australia’s warmer months (think mid-October until mid-March). But the lighting during these hotter period is beautifully soft at the beginning and end of the day, so it’s all about timing.

Soft light yields some amazing results for photos. Why? It all comes down to contrast and the way your photographer will interact with the light. The shadows are not as heavy, the subjects (you) are generally more comfortable (due to less heat, more flattering skin tones) and it also lends the opportunity to use the light to enhance the beauty of the location (think lens flare, warm golden light).

When is the best light for wedding photos?
Aim for the ‘Golden Hour’. Photographers talk about this a lot – it’s a period of time early in the morning just after sunrise (probably not ideal for weddings) and in the lead up to sunset (so pretty perfect for weddings). The light is warm, golden and very soft which makes for some beautiful photos.

There’s no absolute set time for the Golden Hour, so let’s say 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes afterwards. In the couple of hours leading up to this point, the light gets better and better as the sun heads towards the horizon, so you can use that as a general guide when planning your big day. Ultimately however, time of year has a big impact on lighting and timing. When it’s not daylight savings time (i.e. basically outside of summer for those states that don’t have daylight savings) the light fades a lot faster.

Also, prepare to be flexible depending on the weather – on a cloudy day the light drops off about 30 minutes earlier than on a day with partial clouds or clear skies, which means you might need to nip away earlier to get those couple shots before it gets too dark.

How can you time your photos to get the best light?

Just by using a little consideration when you’re deciding how you want the day to pan out. There are plenty of tools online which can help you – check out Here you can search by location and see the sunrise/sunset times and use them as a guide for mapping out the rest of your wedding timeline. Your photographer should also have a couple of tricks up their sleeves in knowing where the sun will set, and how they can use the location best for photos.

There are ways you can plan your wedding timeline so that you make the most of the light while also spending max time with your guests. In summer for example the best light is very late in the day (say 7:30 – 8:30 in the evening), which is usually well into the reception time. A way to get around this is to have a late afternoon ceremony, followed by time mingling with your guests and some photos with your bridal party before kicking off your reception. Then, allocate time to quickly slip away from your reception with your photographer to make the most of the light at the end of the day with your other half. This way you don’t have to spend too much time away from your guests, you can get some good light for your photos and everyone is happy.

What are some things we probably haven’t considered when it comes to timing on the big day?

Unless you want someone cracking a whip and constantly moving you onto the next thing (and honestly nobody wants that), plan your day with some wriggle room so you get to make the most of it.

One thing I witness on a regular basis is losing bridal photo time. When things run late, the time always seems to come straight out of the allocated bridal photo time. As a photographer we always love having a little more time for photos – part of the creative process is hitting that mental checklist of what we like to shoot for our clients, but we also love being spontaneous and creative. If our time is greatly reduced, we have to switch to a bit of an auto-pilot to capture what we think are the must-have photos for you. I personally love to go with the flow, but when running short on time feel like I have to push things along a little with photos, when I would rather let them spontaneously happen and have a fun time doing it.

When timing your wedding (ceremony, photos, reception start) be mindful of how quickly light ‘goes’. During the colder months the light drops away very quickly, so starting your ceremony 45 minutes before sunset will leave it nearly dark before you even start your bridal photos. Consider this when planning, if you are restricted by a time (by a venue perhaps) then consider doing a ‘first look’ and your bridal photos before the ceremony.

Why is it important to consider the style of photographs that you are after?
Speaking on behalf of photographers who shoot week-in and week-out, we are very adaptable to not only the conditions we have to shoot in, but the individual desires of each couple.

While we are very good at making the most of every situation, we are not magicians (ok, well maybe sometimes we are). So when a couple asks us to capture photos of their celebration in a style that’s at a parallel opposite to their actual wedding day, it makes us a little concerned. Wanting golden winter light during the middle of the afternoon in summer is just not going to happen.

Similarly, we will work our hardest to bring the best out of each location but really consider the vibe you’re going for when you choose your venue. It’s hard to achieve a whimsical, warm, sunset-in-nature look if the wedding venue is in the middle of the city.

If you want a specific location and look that you can’t have on your wedding day, consider an engagement shoot to capture this and enjoy time getting photos with your significant other. It’s also a good way to get used to having your snaps taken together.

How do we make our photos look natural and not awkward?
This might sound a little bit strange but a lot of people don’t think about the fact they will have some photos taken of them with their partner before actually starting to get photos with their partner.

Speaking personally, my style is very much capturing how people are with each other, how they interact and compliment each other. However if we start taking photos and people are stiff and uncomfortable because they suddenly realize ‘holy moly there is a camera being pointed at us and we are having our photo taken’ it can sometimes take most of the photo session to loosen up. I always like to bring out the dad jokes to break the ice. But give it a little bit of thought before the day. Perhaps stand in the mirror for five minutes one time before your wedding and see what you do and don’t like when you are interacting with each other.

The bridal photo session is one of the most fun parts of the day – you get some quiet time to talk about and soak in the fact you have just tied the knot and you get some personal alone time with each other. It isn’t something to dread, but an amazing part of the day to look forward to.

To go ‘unplugged’ or not?
This is a very hot topic at the moment. Technology has changed so much and everyone now seems to be overly attached to a digital device of some kind (phone, tablet, camera). It takes away from being in the moment, and the way this has worked its way into wedding days sometimes poses a problem.

As photographers, we are actively looking for moments, predicting what people might do or anticipating a reaction and we love to capture these. When I look down the aisle of a wedding, often I see phones, iPads, cameras and people totally fixated on something other than what is unfolding right in front of them. Often I even have to move right into the middle of the aisle, or not be as inconspicuous as I like to be, simply because people are making it their own agenda to take a fleeting photo that they want. I have gone entire wedding ceremonies without being able to capture a photo of the mother of the bride because she has spent it holding up her iPad.

So it is really simple, if this is what you do not want at your wedding, then do not feel bad about requesting people to keep their tech pocketed – just until the ceremony is over. The choice is yours, we respect, it but definitely give it some serious consideration when planning your wedding.

What about weather? How do we factor this in?
Wedding planning can be full on and stressful, especially when trying to predict things out of your control – like the weather. Apart from picking a time of year that looks most favourable for the wedding you want, all you can really do is go with the flow. I have shot in everything from zero degrees up to the mid-40’s – rain, hail or shine. Once the big day arrives, it is what it is and the best thing you can do is just roll with it. It might be a bit uncomfortable or not the perfect conditions you imagined but stressing about it to the point that it ruins the day for yourself is not worth it.

Regardless of the weather, there is always a bit of magic with each wedding and where there is a will there is a way. You can create some breathtaking photos in any conditions, just have a backup plan (umbrellas, gumboots) and get ready to have some fun. The worst-case scenario is that on another day (with the right weather and location) you can get back into your beautiful dress and get the photos you always wanted.

What about unnatural light (e.g. the light inside the venue)? What do we need to be aware of?

A lot of the discussion so far has been about how to make the most of the natural light you get during the day at any time of year. There is a whole other side to light however, and that is light in the venue if it’s a closed space.

Depending on how much available light there is, photographers generally like to shoot with a mix of both ambient light (so capturing the location as it is) and artificial light (light we bring ourselves such as the flashes we use on our cameras and/or LED panels we use).

When considering venues, definitely think about the light that they have available and if there are any restrictions. For example, some churches don’t like flashes to be used but may be quite dark, which can have an effect on the resulting photographs. Consider asking the question when enquiring and notifying your photographer ahead of time about any restrictions.

Some venues can be quite dark, to the point where it seems like many people can’t quite make out the food they are eating. Check if the venue has dimmable lighting that can be turned up during meals and speeches, or if you’re styling the space, ask your hire company if you can have a dimmer added to those festoon lines. The extra light at important moments will help your photographer capture those photos without needing to get up too close and personal, and will still keep the atmosphere beautiful.

Be a little conscious of ‘backlit’ spots – this is when you’re standing with your back in front of a window that’s streaming in light. It has the result of shadowing you and is generally an unflattering light scenario. If there’s space, your photographer might be able to combat this by shooting on the other side of you (e.g. from the light side) – but if you’re at all unsure, just chat to your photographer and they’ll be able to give you some advice.


Here are our some of our fave moments Jack’s captured (and further proof he knows what he’s talking about). You can see more at  or follow him on Instagram at @jackchauvelphoto.

How to time your wedding lighting
How to time your wedding lighting
How to time your wedding lighting
How to time your wedding lighting
How to time your wedding lighting
How to time your wedding lighting
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