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How to Capture Stunning Golden Hour Portraits at Your Wedding Reception

One of the best times of the day to catch dreamy wedding portraits is during Golden Hour. 


Maybe you’ve heard photographers talk about this before, but if you don’t know you might be asking: what is golden hour? 


It’s essentially the time of day where the sun is low enough to the horizon (either early in the morning rising or at the end of the day setting) that the light is bright enough for photos, but diffused enough to avoid harsh shadows. Basically, it’s nature’s gift to photographers. 


And if you’re planning a wedding, odds are the rest of your photos all throughout the day will be done under different light scenarios: mixed lighting indoors, tungsten or LED lighting in your venue, direct sun outside, backlighting outside, etc. So that sweet moment as the sun goes down offers beautiful, even lighting and a sweet canvas for your final formal portraits of you on your wedding day. 


If you work with me on your wedding day, I highly recommend we take full advantage of the golden hour and get at least some photos during this time. 



But, there are ways to do this efficiently to give you minimal time away from your guests and to maximize the photos you’ll walk away with. Here are my tips for the best golden hour photos on your wedding day: 


a couple kissing in a field behind a bouquet of flowers

  1. Research first

The absolute first thing to do is research when sunset is on your wedding date. Once you know that, you and your photographer and wedding coordinator can work together to find the right time in the evening to carve out golden hour photos. 


Keep in mind that things like rainy or cloudy weather, location, and season can all affect the lighting you might be hoping for. Nevertheless, we’ll plan as if a stunning sunset will be present and we will work with whatever we get ;) 



2. Plan with your wedding coordinator 

It’s important to plan with your coordinator or wedding planner for golden hour photos as you build your wedding day timeline. If you are choosing a first look, do you want most of your portraits to happen then? And if so, do you want only 15-20min for golden hour? If you're choosing a traditional look down the aisle, do you want to do some portraits during cocktail hour and a more robust set (25-40min) during golden hour? Ask for their input and expertise as you plan. 


3. Ask your venue 

Most reception venues are pros at knowing the best spots for outdoor wedding photos. For example, golf club’s typically offer free use of carts and know exactly which areas of the green to head to. Downtown venues might not have as much wiggle room, but may know which restaurants, bars, streets, and parks are nearby that welcome wedding portraits. Give your venue coordinator a heads up to see if they have recommendations for this time of day.


4. Let your DJ know 

Can I tell you a story? One time I was shooting a wedding and told the DJ we were heading out for portraits during the reception. A few minutes into our portraits, as the couple and I are standing outside the reception building, I hear the DJ calling out for the bride and groom to join the dance floor for the bouquet toss. He had completely forgotten that they were not in the building and we had to cut our time short to line up with his music order. 


Facepalm. 


Whether or not your DJ remembers is one thing, but at least someone communicating with them that you’ll be taking a brief step away from the dance floor is important for the flow of the event. 

bride and groom driving away into the sunset

5. Don’t get too sweaty 

My biggest tip for perfect golden hour photos? Do them before you go too hard on the dance floor. 


Sometimes this is tricky (especially with late summer weddings when sunset isn’t until 9pm) but try as best as you can to either work golden hour portraits early into the open dancing portion of the evening, or build out a few minutes to freshen up. 


6. Collect yourselves 

On that same note, make sure your look is all set for the photos! Do you want your dress bustled? Do you want your hair down instead of up? Would you like your veil on? Are your flowers nearby? And for the guys—do you want your tie on? Suit jacket? Is your boutonniere still in tact? Are you changing into another look for the reception? If so, before or after these photos? 


Pro tip: for a seamless transition back to the dance floor, I suggest staging in your ceremony outfits for some golden hour portraits, then glamming up into your next reception outfit in a bridal suite (perfect time for some chic, private couple’s getting ready photos) then having the DJ re-announce you to the dance floor with your fresh fits and a crowd pleaser song. 


7. Have a blast 

Make this part of the night fun!! By this point in the day, your ceremony is done, the formalities are out of the way, and it is time for YOU to shine with all your friends close by. Feel free to run, jump, flirt, pop champagne or munch on a late night slice of pizza during these photos. Ask your photographer for any ideas and just have fun. 


bride and groom singing to each other with fun glasses on


Not so bad, right?! Golden hour is truly my favorite time with couples. I usually can work pretty fast with the setting sun, but with some planning, research, and your newlywed energy, these photos will always be a needed addition to your wedding collection. 


These are the moments you’ll hold onto forever. 

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