The Golden Hour of wedding photography

Before the ceremony and the wedding meal there is normally a drinks reception of some sort. If the ceremony has taken place at the reception venue guests might have drinks at the same time as the formal wedding photographs are taken or, in the case of a church wedding, then this happen as guests arrive at the reception after traveling from the church.

The important thing is that this is usually the golden hour of the whole day. There is a lot happening in this time and I need to work flat out to make the most of it. It is a time for the guests to drink and relax but I am at my very busiest!

There is a need to balance how much time to allow the bride and groom to spend with their guests and how much time is taken up with shooting what I call the “mantelpiece” pictures. These are the classic wedding photographs of the couple together that family members will display on the wall, piano or even sometimes on the mantelpiece! There is an example above that fits with the format of the photographs on these pages, but this shot would normally be an upright “portrait” format picture.

To get these shots of just the couple on their own inevitably requires taking them away from their guests but I always keep this time to a minimum. By being organised and knowing the locations that I plan to use in advance I find that I can get more than enough pictures of the couple in no more than 15 to 20 minutes. I even make use of the short time we spend moving from location to location by reminding the couple to hold hands and then taking pictures of them walking and talking together as we go from place to place.

The reason that I like to move briskly with these pictures is that it avoids the couple becoming bored with being photographed (and if they become bored they will look bored in the pictures!!) and also that it gets them back to their guests as quickly as possible. Once they are back with family and friends I try to disappear into the background and take candid pictures of people naturally interacting with each other.

As well as close-ups of people it is also important to get wider shots that capture the general atmosphere of the wedding reception venue and this will include photographs of the dining room. The first thing is a shot of the room plan, as well as being an interesting photograph in itself it will form a record of all the guests by name. In the dining room I also look out for close-up pictures of the detailed table dressing such as name cards, wedding favours, table names and other items that the couple (well to be honest, usually the bride!!) will have spent months and sometimes years planning.

I always make sure to check with the catering staff when they want the guests to sit down to eat. The wedding photographer is only one person in the team of people that need to work together to make sure that everyone at the wedding has a wonderful experience. The catering staff have their part to play too and I never overrun with the photography because I understand how difficult this can make things for the kitchen staff.

About 10-15 minutes before the guests are due to sit down to eat I normally gather everyone together for an “all guest” picture. This is best taken from a high viewpoint so that everyone is visible. Once this shot is taken I can hand over to the reception venue staff so that they can get everyone seated or set-up for the line up which I will talk about in the next post: The wedding meal

All the photography I have covered in this post has to be achieved in as little as 1 hour (though I do encourage people to allow a bit longer if at all possible) so your will see why I call it “The Golden Hour” It is the busiest of the whole wedding day but also often produces the best pictures.

Links to previous posts in this series by Lincolnshire wedding photographer Chris Marsh:

Part 1 Getting ready for the wedding

Part 2 At the wedding venue

Part 3 The bride arrives

Part 4 The Ceremony 

Part 5 Formal wedding group photographs