Should You Elope at Sunrise or Sunset? Pros & Cons
The majority of photographers will tell you the absolute best time of day for photographs is at sunrise or sunset. The sun is the lowest in the sky during this golden hour, so you get amazing vibrant colors and warm, glowing light. If you’re familiar with our blog or Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that we photograph a lot of elopements, both hiking elopements and otherwise at sunrise or sunset. There are benefits to choosing a sunrise or sunset elopement and we wanted to share those to help you plan the best elopement day experience for your own story.
If you’re wondering if it’s possible to get good images between 10 am and 3 pm, YES. If you hire a photographer with experience at harsh light, there are still ways to get incredible images. We’ve taken a lot of images during that time. Just know that your location is going to render differently and you won’t have as many opportunities for backlight or that beautiful mountain glow. The main difficulty with sunlight between 10 am and 3 pm is that in most parts of the world, the light is usually overhead causing harsher under eye shadows. Instead, we recommend those hours as good times to do indoor getting ready photos, or hanging out after photos.
When it comes to planning the timing of your elopement ceremony, each couple should make a decision for themselves on what’s going to give them the best experience. Having an amazing experience is why we elope in the first place. Photos matter and they’re important, especially on your wedding day when you commit yourself to your partner. Soaking in every moment and remembering the day as the best experience of your life is going to give you the best photos.
The Benefits of Eloping at Sunrise
If you’ve chosen a beautiful, easily accessible space for your elopement and you’re not planning to hike, a sunrise elopement can mean a more secluded experience. Most tourists don’t want to get up early in the morning. Of course, this isn’t guaranteed in all locations. For example, the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado have 10-50 photographers nearly every day waiting for sunrise because that’s when the mountains glow pink and the view is very easily accessed.
For hiking elopements, this is especially true. Very few people are interested in getting up at 2 am and climbing a mountain to get to the view at sunrise.
In many mountainous areas, the weather is better at sunrise. If it’s going to rain that day, it’s much more likely to rain in the afternoon, especially for a Colorado elopement or Rocky Mountain elopement. This does change region by region but in general, you’re more likely to have clearer weather if you choose a sunrise elopement.
Can be Safer
Being above treeline in the high alpine zone (above 11,000 feet for Colorado and the Rocky Mountains elopements) means weather changes quickly and dramatically. Getting caught in a thunderstorm at this elevation is extremely dangerous. There’s nothing to hide under and no way to easily escape a bad situation. Bad weather is more likely in the afternoon so starting your elopement early in the day means this is less likely.
Depending on the location, the view and lighting may be better at sunrise. Generally, if you’re eloping on a mountain top with a range that’s facing east, when the sun rises, the first few rays of sun will hit that range first. The red and orange bent rays will hit first, causing the gorgeous alpen glow on the mountain.
Sunrise is very, very cold, particularly for high altitude hiking elopements in the mountains. This is beneficial if you’re concerned about sweating a lot during your hike. Many couples ask us how they can avoid getting “gross” during the hike before their elopement. A sunrise hiking elopement gives you more control of your body temperature and therefore you’re less likely to be a sweaty mess when we get to the summit of your hike and you start to get ready for your elopement ceremony.
Your Own Private Fireworks Show
Hiking up a trail in the dark is a different experience. When it’s pitch black and you can only see the ten feet in front of you that your headlamp illuminates, you can’t psych yourself out about a hike or get frustrated by a false summit. As the light starts to dance around you, it’s like watching a private fireworks show. The world is very quiet before sunrise, especially on a trail. You can hear only the wind, your own footsteps, your breathing, and your heartbeat.
As an extra bonus, when you hike down after your sunrise elopement, it’s like a brand new trail! Because you didn’t see the views or unique trail features before, it’s as if you’ve never done it.
It’s a great way to start your day.
Starting your day with a beautiful hike up a mountain is a great adventure to kick off your wedding day. If you’re planning to do something after your elopement ceremony like going for a special meal or seeing friends or family, starting early will give you plenty of time to do that. A sunset elopement means ending late, especially in the height of summer when the sun doesn’t set until late.
The Benefits of Eloping at Sunset
More Secluded... Sometimes
Most people don’t want to hike down a trail in the dark so for high alpine or hiking elopements, the summit and trail can be emptier if you wait it out. However, some accessible spots are very popular for watching the sunset at.
Just like at sunrise, depending on the location, the view and lighting may be better at sunset. If you choose to elope on a mountain top with a range that’s facing west, the mountains will glow as the sun sets around them.
You can sleep in.
Having the best experience on your wedding day is the most important thing. Of course you want beautiful images from your wedding day but you won’t get the best images if you’re not having the best experience. If you know you’re not a morning person, this means a sunset elopement is more your style. A sunrise elopement means getting to a trailhead at 2 am to start hiking and if that doesn’t sound like an amazing experience on your wedding day, sleeping in and choosing sunset might be better.
Sunset means the ground and air are already warm from the day. Hiking up at sunrise means changing out of your nice warm hiking clothes into cold wedding clothes as the wind whips. It can get very, very cold and uncomfortable. Sunset elopements don’t have this problem. If you get cold as the sun sets, you can just add more layers and you change into your warmer clothes at the end of your elopement.
The best light is at the end of your day.
It takes everyone, even me, time to get used to having a camera pointed at your face. We pride ourselves on a very documentary style of photography, pose free, but that doesn’t mean you’re not aware at the beginning that we’re taking photos. We photograph real people who most likely haven’t had this kind of photo experience before. If you elope at sunset, the most beautiful dreamy light you’ll have the whole time will happen towards the end of your experience meaning you’ll be completely comfortable with us taking your photos at that point.
A Meditative Hike Down
Hiking down in the dark shares some of the same benefits of hiking up a trail in the dark. However, since you’ve already experienced the trail, the hike down becomes very meditative and methodical. We’ve had some of the best conversations with couples during the hike down following their elopement since there is nothing to focus on but the darkness of the trail.
If you have any questions about how to time your elopement ceremony and the benefits of eloping at sunrise or sunset that we haven’t already answered, feel free to ask in the comments below!
We're Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We are adventurous elopement photographers & guides based in Colorado that travel worldwide to help fearless couples like you create your unforgettable, wildly different wedding experience—that is completely yours.
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