So after shooting a lot of weddings over the past several years, I wanted to go over one of the most important factors commonly looked over – lighting. This is a topic I dive deeply into in my wedding guide I send to clients but I figured this is information every soon-to-be married couple should know because everyone deserves the best photos possible.
On a wedding day, following a timeline helps keep everything on track. Luckily, lighting + timing go hand in hand. From the beginning of the day when everyone is sipping champagne and getting ready to the heartfelt toasts at the reception, the right lighting really sets the mood.
While every photographer works differently, some use artificial light more often than others, we can all agree that having the right ambient light to start with really makes a difference in the quality of photos. So no matter what style of photography you prefer for your wedding, these tips go across the board for each one.
THE GETTING READY SPACE
You know that feeling when you walk into a room where the light is pouring in from outside through all of the windows? It feels vibrant, fresh, relaxing. That’s exactly how it should feel when you are prepping to marry your best friend. That’s why intentionally choosing a space to get ready in that has a lot of window/natural lighting is essential. It not only makes you instantly feel better, it gets the vibes set for the day and creates truly beautiful photos (it also helps hair stylists + makeup artists too!)
On that note, one of the worst types of spaces to get ready in are dark and dingy rooms with dark ominous corners and no natural light – just the ugly yellow light bulbs. Yuck. For some reason, a lot of venues choose to use some of their smallest and darkest rooms for the groomsmen to get ready in. I have no idea why they assume getting ready in the dark makes sense but the whole “man cave” thing should be reserved for a night to hang out with the guys. Not for the day they get married. This is something I’ve talked to a lot of other photographers about (and videographers too) because we’re cramped in those dark corners trying to capture the special moments without flashing a light in everyone’s face to make up for the lack of good light. We can all agree that avoiding dark rooms is super important.
I know that options can be limited, especially at venues in more remote places. But a great alternative is to rent out an airbnb with enough space and a lot of windows. This can truly take your photos to the next level. Also, it gives everyone the opportunity to have more space to get ready and since it’s a home, it’s usually a more relaxed environment.
Depending on where your physical ceremony location is, there are different ways to approach the best lighting:
Window/natural light is very important for indoor ceremonies so that the photos don’t turn out yellow and dingy. Avoid mixed lighting by turning off indoor lights if possible so that the ceremony has even colored lighting. And be sure to keep in mind when the sun set time is on your wedding day. Having the ceremony start at least 2 – 3 hours before the sun sets is most ideal – any later than that, you run into the chance of not having enough light for photos afterwards. In fact, for most indoor ceremony locations, the higher the sun is in the sky the less likely it will shine in on only half of the ceremony space giving uneven light.
Being aware of where the sun is at during your ceremony outside is crucial. If you already have your wedding date booked at a venue, do a little research to see what your ceremony will look like during that time of year. You can ask to see some photos of other weddings that have taken place during the same month and you can most likely hop onto their social media to see what photos other couples have posted. You can even check exactly where the sun will be in the sky and where it will be shining with the app Sun Seeker on any day of the year, so you can plan around it!
Backlight: Great for photos because it creates a very dreamy look, typically in the evening or early mornings the sun is lower in the sky. But they can sometimes be distracting for guests if they are facingÂ directlyÂ into it (which is fine if they have sunglasses). If you’re having your ceremony in the evening when the sun will still be shining on your ceremony location, I would highly recommend angling the set up a little bit to the side of where the sun will set so that it is still dreamy and comfortable for your guests’ eyes. If the sun will be low in the sky but light won’t be hitting your ceremony, I would recommend facing your ceremony so that the sun is at your guests’ backs. This creates a gorgeous gradient in the sky with lots of pastel colors and is really really beautiful. Remember that if you’re checking out a ceremony site in the winter, the sun will set in a different location on the horizon/mountain range in the summer so plan accordingly!
Uneven: This is probably the worst lighting for photos, always resulting in really bright blown out patches of the photo and super dark spots which causes the photos to lose a lot of details like people’s faces, decor, colors, etc. It’s also uncomfortable for guests at times if it’s during a hot part of the day because everyone will be trying to sit in the shade and everyone else is sweating their faces off. It doesn’t have a soft, dreamy look and makes photos look pretty awful. If you can’t avoid the uneven light no matter what, angle your ceremony so that it will at least be backlight if possible to help with the quality of photos.
Shaded or Overcast: Probably the best case scenario for photos and comfort! Shaded means there is the potential for even lighting from start to finish and preserves all details in photos like colors, your dress and makes your skin look great!
High Noon/Midday: Unless you get some cloud coverage, it will be really bright out and can result in lots of squinty eyes and funny shadows, but not the worst thing for photos! One good thing about it is that the lighting will say consistent longer than it would later in the day. Just be sure to avoid the ceremony site from being halfway in the shade because you’ll end up with uneven lighting.
Don’t underestimate this part of the wedding day. Everything will go by so quickly and making sure to set aside enough time to take your portraits is something you will not regret. Wether you’re doing a first look or not, scheduling a modest amount of time later in the day will allow you two to enjoy some alone time together while getting some great photos taken. The 2 hour window before sunset is best for that yummy golden hour lighting.
Sometimes factors that we don’t have control over can push back the timeline. That’s why knowing the sunset time is important. Cushioning the timeline can ensure there’s still enough light out even if this part of the day has to happen later. If you’re thinking about traveling to a separate location for your portraits, make sure you calculate the amount of time it will take to get there.
For me, this is the only part of the wedding I use my flash. I love capturing the moments each couple shares with their family and friends – creating more memories and dancing the night away together. With that said, I have a few tips for this specific part of the day:
Market Lighting: Holy moly can this make a huuuuge difference! The more ambient light from beautifully hung string lights, the less flash needed.
Candles: Oh so romantic! Lots of candles can truly create a dreamy atmosphere – and when they’re combined with market lights…..it’s perfection!
DJ Lights: THE ABSOLUTE WORST during first dances + toasts. I can have my camera ready to capture a moment and it’s all of a sudden ruined because a bright purple light shines right on someone’s face. No matter how long I try to edit a photo with this problem, it will never turn out the way it should. If you hire a DJ who loves to set up lights, ask them to wait until after the pivotal moments have finished to use their lights.
Venue Lights: Obviously the venue will have some sort of overhead lights to be able to see what they are doing when getting everything set up and then cleaned afterwards. A lot of times this can create uneven lighting in photos if they are kept on during the reception. If you can ask your coordinator or planner to make sure they are turned of during the reception, it will help immensely.
THAT’S THE GIST!
I hope this gives you a better idea of how to plan your wedding with lighting in mind. Not only will your photographer be super grateful, but you’ll get even more beautiful photos delivered at the end of it all!
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