Wedding Light – 3 Basic Tips from your Photographer

Photographs represent an interplay between light and shadow.  Quantity of light (brightness) matters, but quality matters too! Quality refers to whether the light is soft and flattering, or harsh and unforgiving. Both things matter very much if you want amazing, dreamy photos for your wedding day.

Here are 3 simple tips to consider when planning your wedding timeline to make the best use of the light. You may  not be able to avoid certain situations, don’t worry I’m prepared to roll with all of that. But if you truly value your photos and want to make the most of your forever memories, consider these points.

Tip 1 – The Golden Hours

The golden hour refers to the nicest natural outdoor light of the day. Long story short, the sun is closer to the horizon so the light is softer. There are two golden hours per day, one is the hour following sunrise, and the other is the hour just before sunset. Look up sunset time on your wedding day, and rewind that by an hour. Many people choose to do their bride and groom formal photographs at this time, because those are the images that will be most important to them after the big day is over. They are the images the happy couple will hang on the wall.

Tip 2 – Made in the Shade

The worst light of the day is high noon, when the sun is highest in the sky. Both quantity and quality of light are just wrong for making dreamy romantic photos. If you’re getting married outside, and mid day is the time that works best for your wedding, talk to your venue and coordinator and see if there is some shade for you and your intended and your bridal party to get some relief from the sun! If the spot you want to get married is completely open sun, consider getting a chuppah, an arch, or another thing that will provide shade. This will help not only with light, but with you and your bridal party getting sweaty and shiny! Just make sure you and your intended are both fully in shade! The only thing worse for photos in full high noon sun is when you have one person in shadow, and the other in light. If you’re getting married under some trees, try to pick a spot that has deep shade. If you have spots of light coming through the trees, it may create a romantic feel, but that spot of bright light on your forehead is not going to look ideallyic in photos.

Family formals will also be comfortable and convenient in the shade. I always scout out my venue before shoot date and find an appropriate location, so your photographer can lead the way on this! Just be aware that if you want photos at high noon, out by the beautiful lake where there is not a lick of shade, there will be making compromises. And maybe makeup melted. 🙂

The below photographs are taken within a few minutes of each other in midday, you’ll see big differences between the contrast, color and quality between the two.

santa barbara wedding photographer fine heart photography
Midday Shade (unedited)
Midday Full Sun (unedited)
wedding photographer santa barbara fine heart photography
Midday Shade (edited)
Midday Full Sun (edited)

You can see a big difference in the straight out of camera unedited versions of the full sun and shade photos. Thankfully I have tricks up my sleeve to deal with these tough situations as they come (fill with flash or reflector, back to the sun, etc), but even pulling out all the stops, shooting in shade is just going to be preferable to shooting in harsh mid day sun. You can see why we would do need to get in that harsh sun above though, look at that ocean and island view!

Tip 3 – Reception & DJ Lights

When the ceremony is done, and it’s time to celebrate, we will see you on the dance floor! If your reception hall or DJ is planning on using dancing lights, keep in mind that all your reception photos will have everyone covered in rainbow dots or purple splotches, or disco ball dots. If you like that look, or if you really want fun dancing lights, I would say go for it! But be aware that all the reception photos will have this. Consider having a conversation with your DJ about what lights if any he plans on using during dance time. At least consider cutting those zany lights for the first dance, father daughter/ mother son dances and toasts! If you really want to, break out the laser light show a little later when the dancing is in full swing and the party is at its peak!

Weddings present a lot of lighting challenges, photographically speaking they are not for the faint of heart! You have to deal with harsh light, or sometimes no light, strict timelines, competing priorities, and you have just one chance to get that shot and create a masterpiece.  I personally love the challenge of the it all! A seasoned photographer has dealt with every curveball a wedding day can throw. We have speedlights to help fill the shadows in harsh light, reflectors, and an intimate knowledge of camera settings and techniques to minimize the impact these things have on your day. We know how to guide you into the proper best light for the situation, and do the very best with the situation that is given. But we just can not shoot at f/1.8 in full sun at noon. The frame would be pure white, no data! Technical mumbo jumbo aside, use the above tips as you are able on your wedding day, and not only will your photographer love you, you’ll get the amazing photos with beautiful flattering light that you will treasure for a lifetime!

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