There’s no denying that sunset can make for some beautiful photos. The sky starts turning colors, shadows get longer, and you get that wonderful warm glow. It can be incredibly sweet and romantic and just makes perfect sense for wedding photos. Right? Well not always. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing sunset couple portraits, but it always doesn’t work out. There’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re trying to get those shots as the sun is going down and sometimes it just isn’t worth it to pull the bride and groom away from their family and friends at the reception.
Sometimes though, like at Ashely & Seth’s wedding, it is totally worth it.
These two just celebrated their 1st anniversary. It’s hard to believe that their destination wedding in the north Georgia mountains was already a year ago! Their whole wedding day was filled with so many joyful and memorable moments, but the one that I kept coming back to was when we went back out with them at sunset.
Out of all of the times we’ve done sunset couple portraits at weddings, these are easily some of my favorites. Everything worked out perfectly, and that got me thinking about all the things that came together to make these photos happen. It made me think about when taking wedding photos at sunset is really worth it.
Here’s what I came up with!
When the weather is right.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but the weather is one of the biggest factors on a wedding day. Rain of course can complicate things, but cloudy and overcast conditions can also prevent you from getting beautiful sunset couple portraits.
Overcast days are a favorite of a lot of photographers because the clouds act like a big light diffuser and make everything look softer and more even. That same softening effect takes away everything that’s beautiful about the light at sunset. The warmth of that low direct light is what makes golden hour golden. If it’s diffused too much by the clouds then all you have is a much darker, slightly yellow light. This isn’t always the case with overcast days, but I’ll take a bright & sunny day to photograph anytime – especially when doing photos at sunset.
When the location is right.
‘Location is everything’ isn’t hyperbole when it comes to taking sunset couple portraits. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. As much as I ‘d like to be able to, we can’t control that. Having an idea of where the light is going to be when you’re shooting is huge.
The venue that Ashley & Seth used for their wedding, Brasstown Valley Resort, makes the location part of things incredibly easy. The ceremony site is even called Sunset Terrace. It faces west and makes for an incredible view of the valley and mountains beyond it. Since this area is also a golf course, there’s plenty of open space to really take everything in, and those rolling hills make for the perfect landscape for long shadows to be cast across. These photos would have looked very different if there was a large tree canopy or buildings blocking the way.
There are some venues and locations we’ve photographed at where shooting at sunset simply doesn’t work. Things might be facing the wrong direction or there might not be enough room. Sometimes the sun might not even shine into your location at sunset and be totally blocked. If getting sunset couple portraits is really important to you, it’s worth doing some research on your location.
When the photographer’s location is right.
The other thing for a photographer to keep in mind, is your location when you’re taking sunset photos. If you’re in the right spot to have your subject perfectly between you and the sun, it can be magic. If you’re just slightly off, it can be a giant lens flare when the bride’s face should be. This is especially important if you’re shooting on film. Negative film is really forgiving in a lot of situations, but dealing with lens flare isn’t one of them. If you shoot at the wrong angle the light will bounce around inside your camera wash out the entire image.
The photo below was taken on 35mm film and you can see how big the streaks of light are, along with that round flare in the bottom right. I got lucky on this one and the flare framed Ashely & Seth pretty nicely.
Here’s what happened with I moved just slightly to the right. This was the same camera, lens, and film, and the couple didn’t move. There’s so much more detail and contrast in the image and you still get the warm glow of the sun behind them. I love both of these photos, but the one below is definitely what I had in mind when I was setting up the shot.
When the timing is right.
This might seem pretty obvious too, but I can’t stress enough how much timing matters when it comes to sunset. Shooting as the sun goes down is literally a race against the clock. Even during the longest days of the year, golden hour is rarely an hour. Once the sun starts changing colors and setting it moves quick – especially in the winter.
We were able to get these photos at the right moment so that the sun was partially blocked by the greenery on the arbor. Just a couple of minutes later and the sun would have been too low to make this happen.
Pay attention to the time, and get to where you want to be before the light is there. If you’re just walking outside when the light is perfect, you’re probably going to miss it. I’ve learned this one the hard way.
Often getting the perfect sunset photos means pulling the couple out of the reception. Timing really matters here too. You can’t stop the first dance to go do portraits, so make sure you plan it in advance.
When the couple is right.
What matters the most when it comes to wedding photos at sunset? If the couple wants to do it. Period. It’s their choice to go back out during the reception. All of the other conditions can be perfect, but if the bride and groom don’t want to do it, then neither do I!
As a photographers we never want to force something on our clients that they don’t want to do. The wedding day isn’t about us, it’s about them. Even if we’ve planned to go back out, they might decide they’d rather have that time with their family and friends, or they just might be tired of taking photos. I’ll encourage a couple to do sunset photos if I think it’s going to be worth it, but sometimes they say no – and that’s ok!
You’re not going to get these kind of smiles from people you just forced to go take more pictures. Let them make the choice!
Like so many things at a wedding, doing sunset couple portraits can be hectic, wonderful, unpredictable, and amazing all at the same time. I hope this list helps you decide if it’s worth taking a chance on them. Things can change in a moment even if you’ve planned everything out as carefully as you can. Be flexible and remember to have fun, even if things don’t work out. At the end of the day, what matters most at a wedding are the people, not the perfect photo.
Happy 1st anniversary Ashley & Seth!
We’re so glad we got to be a part of your wedding last year and do these portraits at sunset. It was absolutely worth it!!
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