If you're looking for a stunning natural backdrop for your wedding ceremony, you can't go wrong with the sunset. It'll instantly make any wedding venue feel romantic, and you'll have wow-worthy photos to enjoy for the rest of your life. And the sunset doesn't have to only serve as your ceremony backdrop, either. Whether your goal is to say "I do" with the sun dipping behind you or to capture the gold and pink hues in your first-look photos or post-nuptial portraits, there's a way to make this beautiful daily event the star of your celebration. To do so, though, timing is key. Although the light at sunset is incredible for photos (hey, there's a reason the pros call it magic hour), the actual setting of the sun itself usually takes as little as five minutes. That means there's a very small window of time to get the perfect shot.
With help from your pros, an eye on timing, and a little flexibility, capturing a romantic sunset backdrop on your big day is totally achievable. Here, expert-approved tips that'll help you make your sunset wedding dreams a reality.
Learn when the sun will set on your big day.
If you can, schedule a trip to your wedding venue to get a sense of when the sun sets there. Your best bet is to actually watch the sunset on your wedding date one year out, but that kind of planning isn't always possible. If, for example, you've booked your venue six months out from the big day, you'll have to get a little more creative. The NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory's online solar calculator can help you understand what time to schedule your sunset ceremony or when to pose for pictures for the best lighting and vibrant backdrop. Similarly, most weather apps can estimate the sunset time on a particular date.
Check for anything that may get in the way.
If your goal is to have a full view of the sunset during ceremony, wedding planner Laurie Arons says you need to make sure nothing will stand in the way—literally. If a nearby house blocks the entire view, you may want to choose a different ceremony spot on the property. Similarly, you should think about guests' comfort. "If there are no trees or mountains in your ceremony backdrop, it's important to choose a ceremony time where the sun is low on the horizon, so it's not directly in the eyes of your guests," the pro adds.
Orient your ceremony in the right direction.
Virginia Edelson, owner of Bluebird Productions, recommends scheduling a visit to your venue with your planner and photographer in the weeks leading up to the wedding. By checking out the site in the late afternoon and early evening hours, you and your pros can determine how to orient your ceremony. "We suggest that couples consult with their photographer to make sure they are able to capture the ceremony perfectly based on the location of the sun," she says.
Time it right.
If you want guests to experience the full sunset during your ceremony, have them arrive at the venue about an hour before sunset and start the processional with at least 30 minutes to go. This should give you a gorgeous background but also leave you with enough light to take photos while guests are enjoying cocktail hour. Atmospheric conditions play a role in when we observe sunset, so don't get caught up in timing everything down to the minute. We know—easier said than done!
Capitalize on magic hour.
If you're looking to capture the vibrant hues in your first-look photos, Edelson suggests taking wedding party photos between the first look and the ceremony. "This will leave time for beautiful couple portraits during the most gorgeous light but still allow the couple to get to cocktail hour.