Wedding Ceremony Lighting Guide

I’m really excited to be a part of your wedding day and I’m looking forward to collaborating with you on making incredible images. Before we move forward, I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk about the most important aspect of photography on your wedding day: lighting.

Light is the ultimate catalyst to getting the best images possible—it’s what makes outdoor wedding so beautiful, and can make indoor photos seem so dramatic and intimate. It’s an essential part of my workflow and key to allowing images to go from great to incredible.

Light is one of the key parts of our collaboration.

I can (and will) use whatever light is available, but if you’re willing to work with me, my hope is that we can partner to make the best possible decisions regarding light. The two most important aspects of light on your wedding day revolve around your getting ready and ceremony locations.

My goal with this lighting guide is to walk you through the best possible situations for these scenarios and to help put out a basic timeline of how to structure your day around great light.

Ceremony Lighting

A lot of things can affect the light during your ceremony—bright sunshine, the direction of the sun—and of course, the location of where you’re tying the knot.

In terms of lighting, outdoor wedding ceremonies are the best option for having great light. With that being said, indoor venues can also have great light, but it will vary from place to place. Ideally, getting married in a venue with large windows (like a warehouse) would provide the most opportunity for great natural light.

When it comes to outdoor weddings, there are six main situations that result with sunlight: backlight, harsh light, side lighting, dappled lighting, mixed lighting, and even lighting.

Backlighting

Backlit light is where the light source is occurring from behind. It means that the images will be softer and the edges less defined. Backlighting can have a great look for romantic portraits, but it’s not the best lighting situation for a static event (like a 15-30 minute ceremony) because it results in fairly large range of exposure over one subject.

Side Lighting

Side lighting is where the light is unbalanced, which leads to parts of the image looking bright and the other parts being dark. This usually occurs when the sun is to the right or left of either the bride or groom. The light can be difficult to photograph because their is varying amounts of light on both the bride and the groom. This typically manifests itself with the back of the bride/groom being in full sun while their front is in full shade, and the opposite effect being on their partner.

Harsh Lighting

Harsh lighting occurs when the sun is directly overhead, and there is no shade, or diffuser, to help reduce the strength of the light. Harsh lighting results in deep and heavy shadows and creates really marked features on people. Oftentimes the photos will need to be overexposed to make sure the features of the couple aren’t deep-set.

Mixed Lighting

Mixed lighting occurs when there are two (or more) light sources, providing different temperatures of light. If there is natural light (indoors) mixed with ambient light, the light will be at different color temperatures, meaning that it will be difficult to make colors and skin tones look natural. (Note: Nearly all indoor ceremony locations will results in some form of mixed lighting)

Dappled Lighting

Dappled lighting happens when the sun is low enough on the horizon to be behind some trees, buildings, or nature; but there is enough gaps in the terrain to allow some light through in patches. What happens is that the light hits the trees/leaves and casts shadows on part of the subject, but some of the light is still strong and beautiful. This often results in a very moody, but oftentimes less than ideal lighting situation.

Even Lighting

The best kind of lighting is clean, even lighting. Even lighting occurs when light is properly diffused (if your ceremony is during a time when the sun is high in the sky), on an overcast day, or if your wedding is taking place in an area where the whole area is evenly shaded (such as under a large tree).  Even lighting results in everyone having the same great light on them and makes the photographs reflect a natural, authentic look where everything is well balanced.

Finding even light

There are a couple things you can do to make sure your ceremony location has even lighting. First, you can visit your wedding site during the time of day when the sun would be in the same position as your ceremony (if you need help determining this, just ask and I’d be happy to help!). Once you’re at your location, you can see how the light falls in your ceremony spot and perhaps might consider adjusting the direction, or angle, in which you’re standing to make sure your guests (and photographs) are facing the best light. Sometimes it’s as easy as changing the direction of where you’re standing so that the light isn’t coming in from the side.

The second thing you can do is to move your ceremony time to a part of the day when the light would be more balanced. If your ceremony is slated for 1:00PM, it’s very likely that you’ll have harsh light from the sun overhead. Managing your ceremony time to account for this might help ensure that you have the best possible light for your ceremony.

First Look

When it comes to wedding, there’s no right or wrong way to do anything. While they are popular today, and I love photographing the…my wife and I didn’t have a first look—the first time I saw her was when she came down the aisle. There’s nothing wrong with doing a First Look, or not doing one.

However.

First Looks can be incredibly helpful to planning out a wedding day—you can still spend most of the day with your partner while also being able to have you ceremony at a time when the light is the best. Listed below is a sample timeline to help you layout your day in a way that takes advantage of the best light.

Timeline

(Based on lighting that would occur in July in Colorado, USA)

8:00A – Morning Yoga/Family Brunch/Hike/Kayaking on the River
10:00A – Start Getting Ready
3:00 – Finish Getting Ready (Bride in Dress)
3:30 – First Look
4:30 – Bridal Party Photos
5:00 – Family Photos
6:00 – Ceremony
6:30- Cocktail Hour
7:00 Dinner Served
7:45 – Couple joins Levi for Sunset Photos
8:30 – Cake Cutting / Dances
9:00 – Open Dance

Of course, every wedding is different, but if you have any questions about how to get the best light for you ceremony, portraits, and wedding day as a whole, I would love to help with anything I can and offer any input you’d like to ensure that you get the best light throughout your day. Feel free to email me photos or ask me questions—I want to be available as a resource!

Thanks for reading through this! You’re obviously not required to use any of this information, but my goal is to help give people resources to have the best wedding (and wedding photos) possible. Here’s to a happy (and well-lit) wedding!

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