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Harsh light is not ideal, but if it's a must there are a few things that can help. You'll want to place to sun behind your subject and shoot into a dark background. Here are two examples of that ...
Again, it's not ideal for portraits, but it can work well.
I'm not an expert with beach weddings, but the method above doesn't typically work on a beach, because you usually don't have a dark background. Over the summer I did a beach engagement session and because of a pending storm we ended up having to shoot at 1pm with 30mph winds. It wasn't ideal at all! I did the best I could and liked the results. As long as they aren't looking at the camera you can get away with using harsh light coming in from an angle. Below are two photos from that session that I liked, even though the conditions weren't great. The sun is off to their right in both of these and they were taken around 1pm.
If you have any say in the ceremony time, I agree that a couple of hours prior to sunset would be preferred. For group shots maybe they don't have to be on the beach and you can take them to a more ideal location nearby that has shade, or allows you to shoot with the sun at their back and into a dark background. Sometimes photographers will bring large umbrellas or oversized boards held by assistants over the subjects, which puts them in the shade.
If you end up doing the groups shots after the sun has set you can expose for the scene and use fill flash for the group.
Hopefully that is somewhat helpful!
Edited on Feb 20, 2013 at 08:14 PM · View previous versions