Photography is the art of capturing light (derived from the Greek terms for “light” and “drawing”), so the quality of light plays a huge role in how your weddings photos end up.
Good news – there are ways to set yourself up for success! If I’m your photographer, I’ll help guide you in the right direction and work with the light that’s available on your wedding day. During your planning process, these are some great tips to make sure you’ll be working with the best light possible on your wedding day.
I’ll walk you through a typical wedding day and list the best case scenarios for light and how to plan for them, as well as situations to avoid.
These are the first photos usually taken on a wedding day – so many little moments are happening, and it opens up the story and begins the narrative.
LOCATION: The best case scenario is to get ready in a room with lots of space, minimal clutter, white or light walls, and windows. Or, if you’re in a spot that allows for it, consider stepping out onto the deck or an open outdoor area for some fresh air, beautiful light, and totally unique getting ready photos!
If you’re still in the planning process, you might want to consider renting an Airbnb, a cabin, or a bed & breakfast – these are usually well lit and decorated a bit more uniquely than your average hotel room! If you’re getting ready at home, designate one room for getting ready activities and tidy it beforehand.
DECLUTTER: On the big day, look around your room and remove all of the clutter. Try to keep your wedding day stuff in a closet, bathroom, or one small corner of the room.
MAKEUP: if you can, ask your makeup artist to situate you in front of a window for natural, soft light.
The first look
The first look is a special moment away from the rest of the craziness of the day, for you two to have a private moment together before your ceremony.
SUMMER WEDDINGS: The timing of the first look often falls mid-day, where light is least ideal. The light can be harsh, with bright highlights, dark shadows, and uneven light on faces. If you’re set on a first look, we can find a cool shaded spot for it, and save our full portrait session for the evening when the sun is setting.
SPRING/FALL/WINTER WEDDINGS: The timing of your first look will likely fall closer to golden hour, which means we can jump from our first look into portraits. Keep reading for more about timing for portraits!
This is what it’s all about – the moment we’ve all been waiting for, and the part of the day everything revolves around.
Most of the weddings I photograph are outdoor ceremonies, and I love them! However, harsh sunlight and shadows from foliage will be our biggest culprits during this time of day. Not to mention, depending on the time of year, your mid-day outdoor ceremony might be a scorcher. If you have control over your ceremony location and timeline, here are my best suggestions for getting great light at your ceremony.
Avoid the hours of 10-3pm if possible, and try scheduling your ceremony 2-3 hours before the sun sets. The light during this time will be softer and warmer, getting closer to golden hour and setting you up for great photos after your ceremony during the sunset.
If you’re stuck with a mid-day ceremony, try finding a spot that’s shaded nicely, such as a grove of trees. If it ends up being overcast on your big day, consider yourself in luck! You’ll get soft, diffused light and won’t have to worry about harsh highlights or shadows.
If you get a chance to do a venue visit, try to visit at the time of day you’re having your ceremony. Check out where the sun hits, and if a section of your ceremony is in shade.
Best case scenario: a ceremony closer to sunset (2-3 hours before is best), or a shady area during mid-day.
What to avoid: mid-day ceremonies in harsh sunlight, especially when you’re surrounded by foliage that will leave dappled light on your faces. Uneven light, such as a large section of the ceremony in shade (from a building, from a large tree, etc).
I love taking my couples out for photos during the last hour of light. This time is called golden hour, and it’s aptly named. The light is warm and soft, and it creates beautiful skin tones and it’s just gorgeous.
Blue hour, which occurs right after the sun goes down, is also a great time for photos – it’s a less common look, and it’s a little less predictable, but the photos often turn out to be intriguing and moody, and have a really “cozy” look to them.
Schedule a little block of time for yourself (maybe 30-45 minutes) to go grab some golden hour or blue hour photos – these often end up being the most incredible photos from the day.
Best case scenario: A few first look photos and portraits in one location (perhaps 20-30 minutes for first look + a few portraits), full golden hour portrait session in another location (about 45 minutes). Maybe step out for a few minutes at blue hour for some magical moody weirdness (about 10 minutes).
I personally love the look of natural light during the reception, so I try not to use my flash (except when I’m out on the dancefloor those awesome shutter-drag shots!). My favorite receptions are lit by candlelight or string lights, and it creates a really warm, intimate mood.
If your reception is inside, you may not have too much control over the reception lighting, and that’s okay. If you do have weird colored lights in your reception hall, consider turning them off and lighting it yourself with candles or other lighting.
Your DJ might love throwing out some colorful lights on the dancefloor, and it’s wonderful when the party is happ’nin. However, during your first dance or any other special moments, these colors can bleed into your photos and create weird color casts and shadows, especially with disco/laser lights. Ask your DJ to only use white lighting for these special moments.
Best case scenario: a candelit reception outdoors, decked out with string lights or paper lanterns. Did I mention string lights??
What to avoid: DJ throwing colorful lights during first/family dances, yellow walls, weirdly colored overhead lights.
The bottom line
I’ve gone through all of my best recommendations for planning around great light, but sometimes the weather isn’t in our favor, or sh*t hits the fan and you end up scrambling trying to get your timeline back on track.
Not to worry – I will shoot in whatever light is available to me, and we’ll make the best of it. If we end up with harsh light and we have to get photos done mid-day, you’ll still end up with wonderful photos. It’s about using the light to your advantage, and finding opportunity for new perspectives. It’s about the feeling of the photos, and your love for one another. Golden hour is lovely, but your wedding is your wedding and ultimately, documenting all of those little magical moments as they happen is my top priority.
I can’t wait to capture it all for you.