Thinking about getting married in Lake Tahoe? Congrats! It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world (and that’s why I live here). Before choosing a Lake Tahoe wedding venue, it’s important to consider what you want your photos to look like, or, in other words, how you want the lake to appear in your photos.
Depending on the venue location and time of day, our majestic body of water serves as a giant mirror (eek), so you’ll want to keep these tips in mind before booking your venue and selecting your ceremony time. When in doubt, select early afternoon, but for the best timing, push that puppy WAY back into the evening golden hour, but know that you’ll need to do ALL your formal photography ahead of time if that’s your choice.
Choosing a start time for your wedding ceremony can be a daunting task and it’s complicated in Lake Tahoe by the fact that light behaves VERY differently at different times of the day, in every season, on every side of the lake.
1. WHEN AND WHERE ARE YOU GETTING MARRIED?
In the winter, the sun sets over Lake Tahoe incredibly early (think 4:30 PM!) but in the summer, it sets incredibly late (8:30 PM!). You have a lot more flexibility in your timing if you are getting married with the sun reflecting away from your ceremony site, but this can also lead to dappled light on your faces if you are standing underneath some of our giant beautiful pine trees.
2. HOW LONG YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR RECEPTION TO BE? AND WHAT TIME OF DAY?
When I’m creating timelines for clients, I always like to work backwards so start with that reception block and when you want it to end, and go backwards. The other option, which is very popular in Lake Tahoe, is to have a midday ceremony somewhere on the lake and a reception at a different venue. This allows you to have beautiful blue skies above, crisp clean mountain photography, a relaxed afternoon with your partner, and then a reception that takes place at dinner time.
If you’re planning a wedding on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, you’ll want to note the timing of your ceremony. When the sun moves over the expanse of our lake towards the west shore and your east shore venue faces the lake, the light will reflect off the lake and you won’t be able to see the lake or the mountains in your photos.
Pro tip: If you want the lake in the background, aim for an earlier (NOT evening) ceremony. The worst time of day to get married on East Shore is 5:00-6:00 PM in the summer, yet, that’s what everyone does.
My favorite venue: Round Hill Pines Beach Resort
Y’all – this is science. Light REFLECTS off surfaces. All reflected light obeys the rule that says the ray will be reflected away at the same angle that it is bounced onto it. In the case of a smooth surface like a mirror, or the 72 mile circumference of Lake Tahoe, this means that the light hitting the surface is going to reflect back up.
Edgewood Lake Tahoe
Pros: the West Shore of Lake Tahoe offers FAR more flexibility for a lakefront wedding start time. For the majority of the day, the light will be behind your back and unless you are getting married early in the morning, which is unlikely, you will have mostly blue skies and clear photos of the mountains across the way.
Cons: if you get married later in the afternoon or early evening and the sun is overhead or moving into the western rim AND you are standing under trees, you can end up with dappled light or half of your wedding party shaded while half of you is in full sun.
Other things to note: there is NO sunset when you get married on the west shore. You are in an alpine basin. The sun is setting behind a mountain that is over the top of you. The best time for “golden hour” photos is actually during nautical twilight on the west shore when all of the lake has soft diffused light just after the actual sunset. Otherwise, one side of the lake will be too bright to include in your photos because you are fully shaded.
My favorite venue: West Shore Cafe
Light behaves very strangely on the north shore and it’s seemingly always being reflected in a way that renders beautiful vibrant photography very difficult. There aren’t very many venues on the north shore that allow for incredible images of the lake behind you, save the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort so my suggestion is to skip it all together (see below) OR go with Sand Harbor State Park, which offers a beach venue that is north facing, rather than south, which will allow for perfectly blue skies and crystal clear water.
My favorite venue: The Aspen Grove in Incline Village which is an oasis of beautiful shade just steps away from the shores of Lake Tahoe, but without the hassle of beach goers and the lake itself.
South shore is one of the more flexible places to get married thanks to the way the sun moves from east to west across the lake. It never ceases to amaze me how you can get fantastic photos at Lakeside Beach, yet steps away at Edgewood you can hardly see anything at certain times of the day. That being said, that bank of time in the late afternoon/early evening from about 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM is extremely challenging for photos still and you will end up with a lot of reflected light and blown out skies depending on the angle of the image.
My favorite venue: Ceremony: Lakeside Beach + Reception: Basecamp Hotel
Need more help choosing a Lake Tahoe wedding venue? Y’all – ask your wedding photographer about what time is best for your day at your venue. And, as a reminder, just because you viewed a venue at 3 PM in April does not mean that the light will look the same at 3 pm in August. Because science.
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