You’ve probably spent a lot of time imagining how amazing your wedding day will look. From the dress to the flowers right through to the smallest details. But it’s also well worth considering the impact light can have on your photos too. Here’s a handy guide to getting the most out of the light when planning your wedding day. It covers preparations, ceremony, portraits, reception, speeches, dancing and more.
One little thing to point out before we get going is that a good wedding photographer will look for ways to create amazing photos in whatever light is thrown at them. Tricky light included. Whether it’s getting creative in harsh sunlight, looking for shaded areas when the sun is overhead or overpowering unflattering light with flash. If you book a good photographer, they’ll be able to deal with it.
But even so, it’s far better to consider the light before the day and try to incorporate flattering, beautiful light whenever possible. Hopefully, this little wedding planning guide will help you to do just that.
You may think there’s not much control you have over the light on the wedding day itself. But in truth there’s an awful lot you can do in the planning stage to get the most out of your wedding photography.
Firstly, consider how you want your photos to look. Do you want airy, bright wedding photos? Or maybe something a little darker, dramatic and moody? The time of year obviously has a huge effect on this and a Summer wedding will look very different from one in Autumn or Winter.
In Winter, the light is lower and more dramatic throughout the day. In Summer, the sun is directly overhead for a good portion of the day and so requires a little more thought when it comes to portraits and group photos. But of course, you have longer daylight hours to make the most of it. As a result, both weddings will have very different timelines. So first, let’s delve a little into how to plan a timeline for your wedding day and build from there.
Planning your Wedding Day – Working Backwards from Golden Hour.
Firstly, let’s talk timings. If you really want to get the most out of the light on your wedding day, when planning your timeline the best idea is to work backwards from sunset. You can easily check the sunset time for your location and day at www.timeanddate.com
Many of those dreamy photos you’ve seen on my website were shot during the ‘golden hour’, which will typically be anywhere from two hours to thirty minutes before the sunset time listed on timeanddate. So it’s well worth arranging your schedule to allow you to go out at that time as often the light can be magical! It’s undoubtedly my favourite time of the day to take portraits. Here’s an example of that low golden light.
During the golden hour, we’ll probably only need around 20 minutes to get a good range of photos. I’ve even grabbed a few beautiful photos in the space of 5 minutes when time has been really tight! So when planning your wedding day, make sure there’s a little gap in the schedule that the speeches, cake cutting or first dance won’t interfere with. Then you’ll have a great chance of getting some wall-hangers and album fillers! Of course, the more time you can allow, the more (and better) photos you’re likely to get! As the sun gradually goes down the light will change meaning if you’ve allowed a lengthier slot to take portraits in you will get photographs in a whole variety of this lovely light.
If you’d like a night-time portrait, then I’d advise doing this during ‘the blue hour’. The ‘blue hour’ is that time shortly after sunset when it’s getting dark but there’s still a bit of colour in the sky. In my opinion, photos taken during this time look so much better than later on when the sky is simply pitch black. There’s a really short time period when these photos can be taken, so it’s important not to hesitate when the sky looks right. It can be gone within minutes.
Planning your Wedding Day – Getting Ready.
Natural, directional light that comes from a large window is ideal when it comes to beautiful bridal prep photos. Avoid hotel rooms with low ceilings and little natural light if possible. If you have a room where there’s enough natural light coming in through the windows to light the room evenly with the lights off, then you’re onto a winner!
Of course, there’s no point having a lovely room and then sitting in a dark corner, so ask your makeup artist to set up your chair so that you are lit by the window light.
The kind of light to avoid is any area lit by mixed light sources. For example, daylight mixed with artificial light (either orange light bulbs or fluorescent lights). This can make the daylight look noticably blue and the artificial light very orange and somewhere in the middle, you get a muddy mix of the two. Unless you’re tuned into it, like a photographer would be, it can be hard to notice this mix of light. But it can lead to skin looking orange (from tungsten light) or green / purple skin (from flourescant light). Nobody wants that in their wedding photos!
As a side note, if you’re looking for something with a little more character than a bland generic hotel room, you could also consider looking around for an air bnb. These will likely have none of the unwanted clutter associated with hotel rooms like exit signs, fire extinguishers or tv’s and kettles in the corners of the room. Again, all things that you probably don’t want in your wedding photographs! Larger rooms make it much easier to find good angles to shoot from that make the most of the light.
Planning your Wedding Day – Ceremony.
Take a look at these venues photos. The ceremony space is lit beautifully by large windows with natural light flooding in. It makes for beautiful photos. I’ve shot in some stunning buildings but sometimes the area the ceremony takes place in is a dark corner with absolutely no natural light falling on the couple. Barns can often be like this. Churches too can be very dark with a mix of window light and yellow artificial light. Yuk. So if possible try and pick a church with large windows that has natural light falling on the spot you will be both be standing in. Even a small amount of natural light can make a surprising difference.
Outdoor ceremonies are often fantastic but you’ll still need to consider light when planning one. There’s a handy little app called sunscout that will show you where the sun will be at certain times of the day to make sure you won’t be standing in half sun/shade or in dappled light coming through slats or tree branches. It’s really hard to expose for this even with modern day cameras and it can be very distracting in the final images. Also, be aware that at midday when the sun is overhead, unflattering shadows under the eyes and nose are created. Choosing a shady spot will help in this instance.
Planning your Wedding Day – Reception
I always prefer shooting outdoors in natural light wherever possible. You’ll get so many more photos than if everyone is inside where there might only be a few pockets of nice light to shoot in. In natural light, I can shoot up to 12 frames a second and capture your guests best expressions. Whereas when I’m indoors and forced to use flash I’m restricted to taking one shot at a time. This makes it much harder to capture the absolute best moments from your guests. They are also much more likely to be conscious that there’s a photographer around due to the flash being fired.
The best venues have a variety of spaces, including areas of open shade for guests to mingle in. This could be an area by the side of a building or even an indoor space with large windows or a diffused roof. Basically, anywhere that has daylight coming in that isn’t directly in the sun. Again, the sunscout app will allow you to see where the sun will be at various points throughout the day. So if you’re doing a venue visit, open the app then hold your phone up to the sky and it will show you all you need to know. Here are a couple of examples of open shade so you know what to look for.
Planning your Wedding Day – Group photos
I often have to take group photos towards the middle of the day when the sun can be overhead and unflattering. Again, if your venue has an area of open shade, you’ll have no problem when it comes to creating beautiful group photographs, even on a blisteringly sunny day. You’ll also find that you’ll be glad of a bit of cool shade when it’s super hot! If there’s no shade and the light is really harsh, it would be better to leave formal photos until later on in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and not so strong.
Take a look at the photo below. The top table is positioned opposite a window which is always a great position for flattering photos. Light from the side is ideal too and provides great contrast. It always helps when a venue has a lot of natural daylight flooding in and bouncing around the room. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you having your speeches outdoors for a more relaxed feel and to take advantage of any softer evening light.
I realise that it’s not always possible to have such an ideal setup. But if you can, try to avoid setting up the top table so that the light is coming from behind. The lack of contrast will make your photos look flat and it’s also much trickier for the camera to focus consistently under these conditions. Check too, that it’s not under any spotlights that might cast unsightly shadows on faces. This doesn’t look good either.
Planning your Wedding Day – The Dance Floor
A bit of background lighting can really make a difference here. Whether it’s a few fairy lights, up-lighters, dangling festoon bulbs or lanterns. Basically, anything that helps create a bit of depth. I normally use flash to shoot dancing, so I’m usually able to overpower problematic lighting and ensure my shots look great! It’s good to consider how your venue looks at night as I do stay quite late into the evening and take a considerable number of photos after dark.
If you’re having a band or DJ, ask them not to use smoke. Don’t get me wrong, It can look good when it’s the low lying kind of dry ice that sits right on the ground, but anything over ankle high is a big no-no! It’s probably a lot of fun to dance through but it just doesn’t work well for dance floor photographs. Sorry DJ’s!
I hope these handy tips come in useful for planning your wedding day and increasing your chances of getting the most beautiful wedding photographs possible. I’d love to know if these have helped you, so please drop me a comment if you’ve found this guide useful.
I’m an experienced wedding photographer who has handled all kinds of lighting conditions across hundreds of weddings. If you’ve enjoyed my photographs in this guide and would like to enquire about my availability for your wedding date, please get in touch. I’d absolutely love to hear from you!
See a selection of real weddings here.