Big Sur Elopement Weather and Timing
Welcome to Part 2 about Big Sur elopement weather and timing! If you haven’t yet checked out Part 1 about eloping in the redwoods, just know it’s there for you whenever you need it!
OK, let’s answer some questions I get about the best time of day/week/year to get married in Big Sur. Here’s the generalized answer to start us off: Any time is great to get married, just depends on what you want to do. Do you want to get married in the sun or rain? In overcast skies or clear? Are you aiming for a chilly winter wedding? Or more of a summer-on-the-coast vibe?
Every wedding and every couple is different. When I was first starting out photographing weddings, I made the mistake of assuming everyone wanted to get married under clear blue skies. Since then, I’ve met countless couples who were bummed out when it didn’t rain on their wedding like they were hoping. They wanted rainy, Pacific Northwest-esque, umbrella photos. And I’ve met couples who fly from places like Arizona to get married among the foggy skies of August (ahem… Fog-ust). And of course, most couples want dry feet and clear sunsets, but overall point is this: whatever your preference, other than snow, Big Sur can provide what you’re after.
OK here we go with Part 2 and those weather-related and timing questions!
What’s the best time of year to get married in Big Sur?
Usually the couple asking this question is asking about the best time for weather, in which case, I ask what type of weather they’re after. Keep in mind, weather is never predictable and even overall patterns are hard to plan by here on the coast. I can’t even count the number of weddings scheduled for a day of hard rain, only to arrive and find that the rains never come. Weather on the coast is exponentially more unpredictable than weather farther inland.
I use Dark Sky as my weather app of choice, and out of all the apps I’ve tried over the years, it get’s closest more often to the actual weather the couple and I experience.
So, back to the answer… Just going through the year and making broad generalizations here…
January is usually cold-ish and clear. Remember sunset is still on the earlier side.
February and March are the wet months. If I’ve ever had a wedding rained on, it’s been in these two months. Rainy weddings can look amazing too.
April and May are pretty much as idyllic as one might expect. Mild weather, late-ish sunsets, clear, sunny.
June through August are the weird months with some days being clear and sunny and others being overcast all day. Some sunsets are the most beautiful ever, and others are hidden behind fog banks. Literally, those sorts of swings are from one day to the next. I’m writing this in July and yesterday my wife and I were out sailing in perfectly sunny weather, and today I’ve been hunkered down in a sweater with the fog licking at the windows all day.
September through November are awesome and by no coincidence make up the busiest part of my year. These are the months I’m often shooting an elopement every day of the week. It’s just so consistently nice out. Just remember November houses the big time change that really affects sunset and schedules accordingly.
And lastly, December is another month sort of similar in spirit to the summer months, just instead of foggy it can be rainy. Some days are sunny and have the glow-iest sunsets of the year, while the very next day can bring a rain shower or two.
I’ll say one last thing about weather before moving on: there are definitely some days when it’ll rain all.day.long. without a break. But then there are others that will say all-day rain in the weather app, but in reality only rain for an hour. Those are the days being flexible with the timing of your elopement helps if your aim is to avoid the rain.
OK, so real quick, let’s also talk about tourist levels, because those can definitely affect travel times around Big Sur, as well as how impacted shooting locations might be.
Winter and early spring are relatively light. Maybe 20% if we can think of tourists levels like this. Travel times aren’t affected in any measurable way and shoot locations are still pretty empty-ish.
Late spring (like May) through September bring a ton of people to the area. From all over the world. Travel times on weekends are nearly doubled and the number of people at shoot locations can sometimes make it super difficult to find a bit of privacy. Not the end of the world at all, but definitely consider a weekday elopement if you’re camera shy or timid about PDA for photos while people hike by.
Fall and winter tend to bring the tourist levels back down to winter/spring levels. Weekends are a little busier than earlier in the year, but weekdays are pretty much quiet. Overall, if you can plan a weekday elopement these months, you’ll be happier for it.
Time of Day
Nearly every elopement I shoot involves the couple wondering which time of day is best for light. My answer is nearly always this: If I’m scheduling your wedding without any regard to anything other than my photo preferences, I’ll always pick the first or last light of the day. So, either a sunrise elopement or sunset. In my opinion, the light is just E P I C at the beginning and end of the day. Sometimes adjustments need to be made if its supposed to be overcast all day, but overall, first and last light.
That being said. If sunrise is too early or sunset isn’t at a time that coincides with dinner plans or anything else you might be planning, gosh, by NO means let “ideal” light drive your wedding day. I’ve photographed weddings at every hour of the day and they all look great. Whatever the time, I’ll make it work.
“How much time is best for an elopement?”
I’m a big believer in balance, that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Like Christmas music, LOVE it for the few weeks preceding Christmas… do I want to listen to it all year though? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Similarly, I really try and answer this question based on optimizing for two things: one, your wedding day experience, and two, your budget.
I love taking photos of people on their wedding day. It’s my favorite thing. But I don’t want your elopement to be consumed with me dragging you all around for hours and hours taking photos. It’s exhausting for you guys and at the end of the day, falls victim to the laws of diminishing returns. I want you guys to have banger photos you love and feel great in, and we don’t need a ton of time to make those.
For weddings with just you two, an officiant, and me, 95% of elopements fall into one of two buckets: 1 hour or 2 hours. Some elopements have a couple guests and have a few other elements that maybe benefit best from something like 3-5 hours, but let’s chat about the 1- and 2-hour buckets since they tend to suit the majority. Here’s how your elopement can look, let’s assume a 7PM sunset.
6:00 – 6:15 // Prep photos and a few quick details
6:15 – 6:30 // Ceremony
6:30 – 7:00 // Photos of you two around wherever is walkable around the ceremony area
5:00 – 5:30 // Prep photos, details
5:30 – 5:45 // Ceremony
5:45 – 6:15 // Photos around the ceremony location (Glen Oaks redwoods, for example)
6:15 – 7:00 // Photos at a second location (often something like Pfeiffer Beach)
And of course, we can always add more time or locations, but overall, these two timelines tend to suit most couples. They’re a pretty good way to get great coverage while also keeping the budget nice and tiny, which, let’s be honest, is a big reason why couples choose to elope in the first place!
If you guys are looking for something even more pre-packged, a super great elopement with 2 hours of photo coverage is this:
Prep and ceremony photos at Glen Oaks or Deetjens, photos around the woods there, and wrap up by popping over to Pfeiffer Beach (5 minutes away) for beach/cliff photos at sunset. Then after we say farewell, you guys can do something special like grab dinner at Big Sur Bakery, which is like 2 minutes from Pfeiffer Beach. Such fun!