Why Light Matters on Your Wedding Day
When you’re planning a wedding, lighting is, without a doubt, one of the most important details to consider. As a wedding photographer, I know how important lighting is for getting great wedding photos. Good lighting helps to set the mood of your wedding, helps you look better in your wedding photos, and it ensures that all the pretty details you toiled over when planning your wedding can actually be seen.
Lighting impacts every part of your wedding photography. And contrary to popular belief, it’s actually really hard (if not impossible) to replicate good lighting with “photo-editing magic.” Even if your photographer is an amazing editor, fixing lighting in post, truly, just never looks as good. That’s why it’s crucial to schedule a walk-through of your potential venues during the same hours as your intended ceremony and reception. That way, you’ll have a much better sense of natural light and how much light needs to be added to give your wedding that special glow.
To help you get incredible pictures at your wedding, I wanted to share some lighting tips with you! In this post, I’ll include lighting tips for bridal photos, first look photos, wedding portraits, your ceremony, and your reception.
Getting ready photos
It can get a little crazy in the bridal room. Everyone’s stuff is everywhere, hair gets everywhere (gross, but true), and, somehow, someone always loses a shoe. But though it can get a little wild in the bridal room, there’s something so special about getting ready with your best friends who have been by your side throughout the years. And the pictures you get with them as you all get ready for your wedding together are something you’ll treasure. But how do you ensure these special pictures are amazing? You’ve gotta make sure your bridal suite photo lighting is on point.
Depending on your venue, they might provide you a room to get ready in. But you need to make sure you check this space out well before your wedding. In addition to checking to make sure you have enough counter space, outlets, a place to hang clothes, and so on, you’ll want to make sure it has enough lighting! Rooms with tall, clean windows that allow plenty of sunlight and have neutral-colored, textured walls make for some of the best shots. Know that a soft light that floods the room will add a soft glow, while a harsh light that beams in, bouncing off the walls and floors will give a dramatic or moody look to your photos. Take note of how the light interacts with the room and think about how that might affect your photos.
Here is what a clean space and large windows will do to photos.
Great lighting & beautiful skin tones. the rest of the lighting and tones is left to the room design.
While natural light is always the best choice for pictures, sometimes using only natural lighting isn’t an option, which is where things can get tricky. Natural light does not like competition. So, when you mix electric light with natural light, it impacts the camera’s white balance giving you green or yellow skin tones. If you do have to use more artificial lighting, try to avoid rooms with too much mixed lighting (i.e. combos of orange tungsten bulbs, florescent lights, and daylight) that can cause weird skin coloration.
Certain venues can come with more lighting issues than others. For example, often times churches will offer a space for you to get ready, but their space may either be really dark and dreary or a brightly colored classroom with harsh florescent lighting. If your venue has a lot of lighting issues, consider doing your bridal photos in a separate location from where you trulyget ready, like outside or in a different space. This separate time and location can help your pictures look milesbetter and can also help alleviate unnecessary stress, as you won’t be worried about the natural clutter that comes along with multiple people getting ready in a shared space.
For more even more information on getting amazing bridal shots, read my post “Tips on Getting the Best Bridal Photos .
First Look and Wedding Portrait Lighting
Newlyweds often tell me “the day flew by so fast” or “I barely even spent any time with my new spouse because we had to greet so many people.” Because of this, first look photos are becoming increasingly popular. If you don’t know what a first look photo is, it’s when your photographer captures your “first look” at your partner before your ceremony (with just the three of you present). First look photos are a break from tradition and can be a wonderful, shared moment before the wedding festivities begin. They’re a great way to slow down and have a precious, private moment before you say “I do” in front of all your loved ones.
For both first look portraits and other types of portraits, I always advocate for shooting in natural lighting, which simply gives the most beautiful effect. Natural lightprovides a soft, airy beauty which is much more flattering than flash or artificial light.
If you’ve already looked through my portfolio, I’d guess that you can see why I prefer natural lighting and that you’re attracted to it as well. If you want the stunning look natural light can add to your photos, it’s important to arrange your wedding day timeline so that you have plenty of time to take your portraits in great natural light.
The color of natural light changes throughout the day. For example, it has a warmer look at sunrise and sunset. Have you ever heard a photographer reference the “golden hour?” The golden hour refers to the time just after sunrise or right before sunset. It’s also called “magic hour,” which might sound cliche, but it truly does add a magical glow to photos. During magic hour, a skilled photographer can also create a stunning flare effect in portraits, which is done by using the sun to backlight subjects. With this technique, light bounces around inside a camera’s lens, creating a magical rainbow streak and/or polygonal rainbow dots. In an amateur’s hands, having flare isn’t always a good thing but, if your photographer knows what they’re doing, flare can give your photos a stunning look. Personally, I absolutely love using flare when shooting during magic hour and I know exactly how to use it to make your photos mesmerizing.
Here is a good example of 2 situations where lighting is beautiful and perfectly planned
Whether its in the shade or with golden light, planning for this made it much easier to capture beautiful photos in perfect light.
During mid-day, natural light has a cooler or neutral color and lighting can be more harsh, due to the location of the sun. Mid-day (around 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is also the hottest time of the day, which means you may end up sweating quite a bit more if you shoot during this time of the day.Photos can be shot using mid-day light but you do need to be mindful of how it will affect the look of your shots. Not only does shooting at mid-day increase your chances of sweating and squinting when shooting, its harsh light can give you the appearance of having a shadow mustache or dark circles under your eyes (and no one wants that). However, midday light can be used to create photos with different types of moods, which you can use to your advantage. Additionally, if part of your wedding must be photographed at midday, your photographer may be able to advise you on certain locations that will help the lighting look less harsh. (seen above)
Wedding Ceremony Lighting
Whether you’re having an indoor or an outdoor wedding, lighting will play a major role in how your ceremony pictures look. A lot of amazing moments happen during the ceremony, like your vows, the moment you say “I do”, and your first kiss as a married couple. So, you’ll want to think about how these things will be lit in advance to help you decide if you may need to make some lighting adjustments.
For indoor weddings, many churches or other event venues have dim interior lighting and may have restrictions against the photographer adding lights or using flash photography. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an indoor wedding, but it does mean you should know what to expect. Just like your bridal shots, make sure you understand how much natural light you’ll have, if your venue has open-flame restrictions that would affect your ability to add candles, or if there are any restrictions in adding lights or using flash. The more you and your photographer know prior to the ceremony, the better you both can prepare. Also, if you’re having a wedding in a sentimental location like a family church, make sure to let your photographer know if there are any fine details that you want to make sure are captured in your photos.
Here is an example harsh vs shaded lighting
both weddings were mid summer*
For outdoor weddings, depending on your wedding season the harsh mid-day sun can create unwanted sweat marks, dark circles, shadow mustaches or squinty eyes. On the other hand, if the ceremony is too late, the fading sun light can lead to dark photos, which will make it hard to see all the special details of your wedding. If your ceremony is going to run later, make sure to add some accent lights (like string lights) for when the sun goes down.
Wedding Reception Lighting
For the months leading up to your big day, you meticulously planned every detail of your reception, like your flowers, linens, cake, and table settings. You spent a lot of time getting those details just the way you wanted them. So, to ensure your photographer can capture these details, make sure your reception has good lighting. The more natural or artificial light you can provide, the better your photographer can capture these carefully crafted details.
If you invested a lot of time, money, or emotional energy in your flowers or table decorations, think about adding pin spots or candles so your guests can see and appreciate these special details. Also, if your ceremony is going to run late or through sundown, consider having the reception room decorated earlier and giving your photographer the opportunity to photograph the room fully set-up and with no guests before the light fades.
Now, let’s talk a bit about lighting the dance party portion of your reception. While not all photographers will stay to shoot this part of your reception, I will— and it’s one of my favorite parts to shoot! Some of the best moments of a wedding happen on the dance floor. I love capturing the energy and every candid laugh you’ll experience when dancing with your friends and family. With all that said, as a photographer who often stays to shoot reception dance parties, I’ll give you some tips on lighting your dance floor.
It’s not crucial to have formal stage lighting on the dance floor to get good shots. You do need some lighting, though, but you can get away with only having soft lighting. Some decor elements that provide soft lighting are things like small hanging lights, string lights, or twinkle lights.
Final Thoughts: Lighting and Your Wedding Photographer
Whether you choose me to shoot your wedding or someone else, remember that lighting and how your photographer shoots in different kinds of lighting is so, so important. When you’re shopping for a wedding photographer, always ask to see examples of their work under the lighting conditions you’ll have at their wedding. Many people don’t even know that they can ask this but you can, and should, ask photographers for proof of how they work in different lighting situations.
Additionally, all good photographers, including myself, are more than happy to help you with your lighting options while you’re planning for your big day. So if you think you may have some tricky lighting conditions at your venue, find a photographer who can help you work with them and help you make sure you’re wedding day lighting is amazing.