Truth be told, lighting is key in photography. I’m a natural lighting photographer with a background in fine art. I live for gorgeous natural light, incorporating flash only during the reception, after the sun’s gone down. I don’t want to recreate the lighting on the wedding day; the goal is to capture a wedding’s warmth; how it felt. There are a few times where a little preparation can make for more flattering photos. Since lighting is too often overlooked on the wedding day, I wanted to bring this topic into the limelight (haaaaa… I’ll stop).
As a wedding photographer, I never want to dictate the timeline of the wedding day, but I’d love to share a few tips to help you plan for lighting at different times during your wedding day that will make your photos extra gorgeous.
Just a note: don’t feel like you have to incorporate all or any of these tips into your wedding day to get great photos. Weddings are about love, family, and emotion. Great photojournalism is about capturing moments and encapsulating the mood of the day and there are too many variables for this to be the end-all guide in lighting. It’s in no way a rulebook and great photographers will be able to take on tricky lighting with ease and will often come up with really interesting compositions when faced with harsh light. However, any consideration for lighting will usually be more beneficial than not.
Getting ready images are a perfect way to start the narrative of your wedding day. So many really great moments are happening and good lighting can help capture them in a more elegant way.
The best conditions for lighting would be a room with large windows and enough light coming in through the windows to light the room evenly with the lights off. An ideal getting ready area would be an interestingly decorated space with windows and light walls for lots of reflective light.
This is why I recommend looking at renting out homes on AirBNB or getting ready at cozy bed and breakfasts instead of stuffy hotel rooms (which unfortunately are usually full of no-smoking signs, sprinklers, and questionable chairs and carpet choices).
Lighting to avoid: anything with mixed light (example: a little bit of daylight + mostly orange tungsten bulbs, tungsten + fluorescents lights, daylight + florescent light, etc).
It’s hard to see with the naked eye, but in photos, it can lead to odd skin colors. Churches often provide rooms to get ready in, but it’s generally a good idea to look at the space before deciding to get ready there, if you have the option. Often, the bride’s or groom’s chambers end up being classrooms with bright colored walls and florescent lighting. If you take anything away from this, just know that florescent lighting is not the most flattering in general (it’s a bit blue-green – and no one wants green skin!), so if there are other options that are just as easy, they might be worth a second thought.
The First Look:
An honest majority of the weddings I photograph include a first look and I love them. First looks are a break from tradition and can be a wonderful way to get a moment together before you stand in front of 100 of your closest family and friends, but even if you want to set one up, it might not be the ideal scenario to plan to do all the bride and groom portraits at the same time if the first look will happen too early in the day.
Lighting between 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. is pretty harsh sunlight (which can lead to shadow-under eye circles, nose-shadow mustaches, and squinting eyes), so in that case, you’d want to look for an interested backdrop that can be used to shade yourselves and family/friends in group photos, or plan to do these photos at a later time of day.
Outdoor ceremonies are my favorite, but if you’re going to be in direct sunlight (no shade or just spotted/dappled light from a tree, try to avoid the hours between 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Mid-day is not only the hottest time of the day, but it can also leave harsh shadows under eyes (making you appear to have dark circles under eyes) and noses (shadow mustaches! it happens). It also makes for more interesting landscape photos of the ceremony site if it’s a bit later in the day and the sun is a little lower, but not necessarily at sunset. In summer months, the ideal time would be about 2-3 hours before sunset.
If you hired your photographer because want glowy dusk photos or portraits in a field or other open area, you’ll need to make time for portraits at sunset. If you’ve allowed yourself some time for portraits during the first look earlier in the day and sunset isn’t until 7:30, consider taking 20-30 minutes out of the reception to go out and take some beautiful portraits during the golden hour (the last hour and a half or so before the sun goes down).
There are so many variables here and lighting varies stylistically from person to person and venue to venue, but my vote is always natural looking, warm light. Italian string lights are a beautiful way to add pretty bokeh (the out of focus orbs in the background of photos) to backdrops. They’re ideal for outdoor yards, to make a borders around dance floors and eating areas, and they help to light the perimeter of the reception in a beautiful way.
If you’re having a ballroom wedding, it’s best to avoid overly warm colors (red and orange) if you’re choosing to do uplighting for your reception space, although my personal preference is spaces that are lit more naturally. DJ lights can lead to colored splotches on you and your guests, so use caution when discussing lights with your DJ.
And if you’re having a small wedding, consider booking a well designed cafe or restaurant that has lots of window lighting and light fixtures that you already love — unlike wedding venues that are a little more of a blank-canvas for you to build on, restaurants and cafes are branded and designed with lighting taken into consideration and might be an easy, more flattering venue if they can accommodate your party size.
Try to plan for harsh light but if you’re worried about it being overcast on your wedding day, don’t! It’s just like a giant soft box in the sky. Overcast light is light that you don’t have to worry about at all, it makes everyone look great and timing for portraits doesn’t have to be as crucial because it will be consistent for most of the day.
We’re photographers because we love light and we photograph weddings because we love weddings. If you have questions about your timeline, you just have to let us know! We’re happy to help.
I wrote this article in hopes that it would help, not just my clients, but anyone planning their wedding. Before, it was available to read on Charm City Wed but I wanted to update it and share here, with all of you.