As you’re browsing wedding photography portfolios, which outdoor portraits capture your eye? Look closely… not just at the couples’ poses and the emotion that so clearly comes through in the images, but at the photograph’s ambient lighting.
Are you drawn to wedding photos in which the lighting is soft and even, without harsh shadows? Do portraits of brides and grooms bathed in golden light make you tear up just a little?
I’m going to tip my hand: gorgeous wedding portraiture isn’t all about my skill as a photographer. Careful planning on your part helps me use natural lighting conditions to create stunning, romantic wedding portraits and family portraits that, pun intended, put everyone in the best light.
Before you can choose the best spots for your portraits and shape your wedding day to take advantage of the best natural light, you’ll want to understand—from the wedding photographer’s perspective—the sun’s effect on ambient lighting as it travels across the sky.
Leave high noon to the cowboys. When the sun’s directly overhead on a bright cloudless sky, it will cast harsh shadows on your facial contours. Your eyes will appear hollow and dark, and your chin will shade your neck. The light will wash out the details on your dress and bouquet, and even the best wedding photographer in the world will struggle to even out the ambient lighting with fill flash.
Shoot for low-angle sunlight. A photographer’s favorite times of day are called the “Golden Hour,” when we “chase” the best light. Fortunately for us, we have two. Dawn and the hour following, or sunset and the hour before, are the best times to shoot portraits, especially on cloudless summer days. Not only does the sun’s oblique angle eliminate the harsh, splotchy shadows of midday, but the interaction between the sun’s rays and the atmosphere bathes everything in a warm, golden light.
There’s a flipside to cloudy wedding days! Every bride dreams of blue skies on her wedding day, but her photographer knows that diffused, soft lighting from consistent cloud cover is the “luckiest” wedding day weather. Overcast skies lend the best flexibility for candids and posed portraits alike.
You can’t control the weather, but you can plan your wedding day to avoid difficult lighting conditions. Here are my tried-and-true tips and tricks:
Find out when (and where) the sun sets on your wedding day. I recommend www.sunrise-and-sunset.com as the best way to get the scoop for your wedding date, in your specific area. Does your venue have good western exposure? Don’t forget that midsummer sun is higher in the sky than it is in winter!
Choose a portrait spot with full, unbroken shade. Tall hedges and the shady side of buildings work well for afternoon or midmorning portrait sessions as long as your family groupings will fit in the structure’s shadow. Dense tree canopies (without dappled sunlight) work well to provide midday shade.
Soften light from sunny windows. If you’re getting ready in a room with east-facing windows, bring along some tulle draping to soften the light and reduce contrast. Don’t forget to check with the venue manager, and bring along a way to fasten the material to the window without detracting from the scene, or damaging property.
See your venues through a photographer’s eyes. If you have pre-wedding access to your getting ready location, chosen portrait spots, and outdoor ceremony or reception areas, take note of whether anything’s changed since you booked your venues. Has the hedge grown too tall to take advantage of the setting sun? Was that sprawling walnut behind your outdoor altar trimmed back? You might need to make some last-minute accommodations, especially if you took your last tour in January for a June wedding and you haven’t been back since then.
Consider an off-site location. Sometimes we need to get creative with our portrait sites. If you have your heart set on an all-day beach wedding with no shelter other than a quaint, single-story beach cottage, check to see if there’s a shady area close to your venue.
Choosing a portrait location between your getting ready spot and ceremony venue, or between your ceremony and reception, allows you, your groom, and your families to pick the perfect portrait locations with the added bonus of eliminating distractions from your other guests. If it’s just you and your groom, you can pick your “first look” moment, or have some alone time after your ceremony. (I love it when I can be your excuse to get away for a smooch or two. By all means, throw me under the bus!)
I’ve shot a lot of weddings here in Ocean City and beyond under varying weather and lighting conditions. Feel free to ask me about my favorite venues, out-of-the-way portrait spots, and my favorite locations for engagement photography. You’d be surprised by how some of the most mundane places, under the right conditions, make incredibly romantic settings for portraiture, and how some of the challenges I’ve met and learned from at certain popular venue environments can enhance your wedding day photographs.
Are you ready to make the most of your venue’s natural lighting? I hope I’ve helped you in your planning process… and I can’t wait to make it all pay off!