Lighting and Location

Most wedding photographers work using almost exclusively natural light, and I’m no exception – aside for the reception, you won’t see me with a flash on my camera at all.  Because of this, lighting is one of the most important things to consider when choosing locations for photos on your wedding day.

Of course, you can’t control everything.  It may be dark and rainy on your wedding day, or it may be bright and sunny.  While some aspects have to be left up to fate, there are a lot of things you can do to make sure the lighting will be the best it can be.

A wedding photographer’s camera can only do so much.  If amazing wedding photos are a top priority for you, take some time to read through this article to learn what you can do to help your photographer get the very best photos on your wedding day.


Getting Ready

The hours leading up to your ceremony are a really special time – the beginning of the narrative of your wedding day.  Putting a little extra thought into where you choose to get ready can really improve how these photos turn out.  A large, clutter-free room with lots of windows is always ideal.  Rooms with light coloured or white walls will not only brighten things up, but will improve skin tone as well.

If you’re considering getting ready at a location other than your home, try checking out some alternative spots, rather than just defaulting a traditional hotel.  Airbnb offers some really amazing and beautiful spaces that will add more personality to your images than a big hotel chain will.  Having an amazing Airbnb to go back to at the end of the night is a fantastic treat for any newly weds!

Hotel rooms are often very dark and really lack character.  Tacky carpets, weird art, fire alarms and exit signs are not going to do great things for your photos.  If you are choosing a hotel, ask to see the space ahead of time as hotels often have rooms that are brighter than others.

Consider having your hair and makeup team come to your home (or wherever you’re planning on getting ready) rather than going to a salon.  Hair salons tend to have very harsh, mixed lighting conditions which are not very flattering for photos.  Some brides choose to have their hair done at a salon, and then have their makeup applied wherever they’re planning on getting dressed.

Photographic coverage usually starts when the makeup application does – in my experience, bridal parties tend to not love having their photos taken with no makeup and half-finished hair:)

Have your makeup applied while sitting next to a window with lots of natural light.  Avoid sitting in direct sunlight and definitely avoid artificial lighting!  Overhead lights and lamps create a harsh, yellow light which is very, very unflattering.  Keep them turned off!

Make sure that you have your rings, shoes, flowers, dress and, if possible copies of your wedding invitations available for your photographer to capture during this time.  If you have all of these items together and ready when your photographer arrives, it will assure that nothing is missed and will help them get those photos out of the way quickly, so that they can focus on getting photos of you!

Lastly (and this is a big one!), put dress on a wooden hanger.  You have your dream dress, let’s make it look the best it can be in your photos.  A wooden hanger is a small purchase that will make a huge difference regarding how your dress photographs!

A wedding dress by Grace Loves Lace hangs at Billing's Estate in Ottawa

A wedding detail shot of rings, shoes, jewelry, and invitations

First Looks

Many couples decide to have a first look, which is a staged, intimate moment where you see each other for the first time before the ceremony.

If you decide that a first look is right for you, try to find a location away from family and friends, in the shade, to have it take place.  You’ll want privacy to make this moment special for you – it can offer a really beautiful set of photos.

This is often a great opportunity to do some couple portraits as well, but since it’s usually early in the day (when the light isn’t as great as it could be) I recommend taking some additional photos later in the evening, around sunset, as well.

A groom hugs his bride during a first look

The Ceremony

Having your ceremony in your backyard, your cottage or at your parent’s farm?  That is FABULOUS!  I adore outdoor ceremonies.  You do, however, need to be aware of the lighting if you want to make sure that you really nail the photos of your first moments as husband and wife.

To get the best photos, I highly recommend having your ceremony later in the day (the closer to sunset the better – ideally 2-4 hours before the sun goes down).  If you’re looking to have a ceremony mid-day when the sun could potentially be brightly shining down overhead, consider standing in full shade (avoiding dappled light).  Keep in mind that, if you’re doing a ceremony in full sun, you will definitely both be squinting in all of your photos.

Avoid mixed lighting at all costs!  You should either be in complete shade or complete sunlight.  This is probably the most important thing you can take away from this article!

If you’re having an indoor ceremony there’s less control over the light.  If possible, try to set up close to a window, but in many indoor ceremony locations (such as churches) there really isn’t much you can do as far as the lighting goes.

Churches tend to be very dark on camera (even if they seem ok to the naked eye), so keep in mind that, if you’re planning a church ceremony, the photos from your ceremony may be grainy, and may be more suited to black and white conversion.

You should discuss the use of a flash during the ceremony with your photographer beforehand.  Some couples would prefer a more grainy and moody image, while some would prefer the cleaner look that a flash provides.  If you don’t like the idea of a flash going off during your indoor ceremony, this is something you definitely need to let your photographer know ahead of time.

You’ll want to put a little thought into what you’re going to do for your first kiss as well.  Try not to tilt your heads too much, and consider where you hands will be (shoulders, neck, waist).  Hold your kiss for a couple of seconds to make sure your photographer has ample opportunity to get some nice shots, even consider kissing twice.

Another thing to keep in mind is symmetry!  Try to stand in the middle of aisle, with your bridal party equal distance away from you on both sides.  Putting place markers on the ground is a great way to assure everyone’s standing where they should be.

This last point may seem like a no-brainer, but I promise it’s not – remember stand close to each other, and look at each other during your ceremony!

A happy couple parties down the aisle after their outdoor ceremony in Ottawa

Formal Photos

How many/few family portraits are taken is entirely up to you – these aren’t ever going to be the most exciting images from your wedding, but they’re the photos that your parents are going to want to print for the mantle.

I do recommend trying to keep your list of formal family photos to a minimum as these shots can eat up a lot of time, and I promise you that you would much rather be enjoying your party than standing for endless family photos.

Usually taken after the ceremony, everyone is chatting and wandering around, which can make it very difficult to wrangle everyone needed for these photos.  I very much recommend having a designated organizer who knows everyone and can co-ordinate these groups. 

If you’re doing a first look and will be seeing each other before the ceremony, couples sometimes plan to take the formal photos earlier in the day to get them out of the way.

In my experience, it’s best to allow 4-5 minutes per formal group shot that you’re looking to take, so keep that in mind while scheduling your day.

Portraits of the Newlyweds

If you want to get the best possible portraits, try to leave time around sunset to go out and grab some photos.  It can be difficult to pry yourself away from the fun at that point, but the lighting will always be best as the sun is going down.

The hour before the sun goes down (the golden hour) and about half an hour after it goes down (the blue hour) are the absolute best time for photos.  You’ll want to leave at least 20-30 minutes for portraits, keeping in mind that the more time you leave for this, the more portraits you’ll get.

Some couples will also choose to have a bridal session, which is a photo shoot in your wedding attire that usually occurs a week or two following your wedding day.  It’s a fabulous option if you want additional portraiture with a more relaxed timeline and more control over location and weather (not to mention you don’t have to worry about getting your dress dirty!).

The Reception

The location is a huge factor when it comes to reception lighting.  If your reception is after dark, most photographers will use a flash to help supplement the lighting.

Consider hanging strings of lights, and having extra lighting around the bridal party/the location where the speeches will be happening.

Most photographers don’t shoot during dinner unless there are speeches that are happening during that time (because who wants to be photographed with a mouth full of food, am I right?).  Make sure to feed your photographer at the same time as everyone else – a fed photographer is an energetic photographer!

It’s a good idea to seat your photographer close to the head table, rather than in the far corner or in another room.  If they’re sitting where the action is, they’re far more likely to catch spur of the moment photos opportunities that occur throughout the evening.

Consider what sort of photos you want your photographer to capture during your reception.  Do you want lots of photos of your guests, or would you prefer that they focus more on you?  If you’re looking to get some good dancing photos keep in mind that it often takes a little while to get everyone out on the dance floor (unless your friends are like me, in which case they’re out there immediately!).

Last But Not Least…Remember to Relax!

Wedding days never, ever go 100% according to plan, and expecting them to will only cause you grief!  Don’t worry if the schedule becomes mixed up, the flowers are late or it’s raining.  Embrace the unexpected and keep an open mind, the day is going to be what it’s going to be and worrying about little details won’t do you any good.  It’s your wedding day and it will be special and amazing no matter what, so smile, relax and let your friends and family take care of the rest!

And of course…trust your photographer!  It’s our job to make sure you get the best photos possible, and we’re here to help however we can.