Collaborating with Your Photographer, 103: The Immeasurable Importance of Light & Lighting

04 | 15 | 2009

Photography is all about capturing the moment’s real light in a tiny box and saving it for later, for our memories. So it’s a pretty logical conclusion that the light itself matters significantly (at least as far as the photographs go).

Most wedding days span several types of ambient lighting and require a little extra help in the lighting department after dusk. I love to make photographs as the light changes—it adds so much variety to the body of wedding photographs you get. For this reason, we will revisit each part of the wedding day and discuss it in detail in the coming months.  But for now, here is a little lighting primer.

During daylight, perhaps you are a) getting ready (probably indoors), b) getting married in a ceremony, and c) having formal portraits taken.

Making the best of the getting-ready photographs is a topic of its whole own post, but for starters, please get ready in a neat and tidy room with giant north facing windows!  Not really.  But if you have a choice … think about the light in the room where you’ll get ready. If it’s impossibly dark or cluttered, consider faking some getting ready moments outdoors.  Lots of light is good for backlit images, too.

{click any photo to enlarge}

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There’s always an exception to my imaginary rules.  This is a windowless room where the bride put final touches on her makeup. The vanity lights make this just right.


For your ceremony, the best possible lighting scenario involves bright open shade, or waning late day light.  In California we struggle with the wine-country ceremony.  The light is always so harsh right up until  the so-called golden hour begins.  (Nearer the ocean, in Santa Barbara, say, like the wedding below, or in San Francisco, the light is completely different: diffuse, and marvelous).  At any venue, you’ll want to make sure nothing makes weird shadow and light patterns on your faces.  If at all possible, design your ceremony so that both faces are in even light. It is so hard to expose for one face in total shadow and the other in bright sunlight.  It doesn’t work. (I was just talking about this in the ceremony post, but I think that this is worth reiterating).


Making your formal group portraits picture perfect is really relatively straightforward.  Stick to shaded uncluttered locations.  If you are dead-set on having a certain type of scenery in the background, make sure the light is good. If it’s not, ditch it. It’s just not worth it.


If you are doing all of the above indoors or plan to wed in the evening, look for bright window light or bring in your own lighting. Somewhere with abundant lighting is always wonderful for photographs …  Not only is natural or abundant artificial light more flattering, you are likely to be much less camera aware than if your photographer needs to use a flash.


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During the evening hours, perhaps you are a) eating supper and being toasted, b) dancing your first of many dances , c) mingling with guests, d) eating a first bite of cake, e) sneaking off for a romantic moment with your beloved.  I have to say that with the exception of the last item, your guests want to see all this.  And I want to see the last one item, too. (Not to mention, we’d like to see the guests in the photos, sometimes a challenge if they’re lost in the dark).097lake6182

If there’s enough light to read by, your photographer should be fine to photograph the goings on.  But sometimes exciting parts of action happen where there’s little light.  There are so many kinds of light to choose from that you’ll have no excuse.  If you’re made of money, hire a lighting crew.  If not, perhaps consider adding candles, plain or colored glass lanterns, paper lanterns, chandeliers, strings of lights, etc.  (Even plan an afternoon reception if you’re really on a shoestring lighting budget). 

Anything you can do to lessen the need for flash will dramatically improve the photographs.  You ‘ll be able to, for instance, see the guests behind you while you cut the cake or do your first dance. This is bang-for-your-buck we’re talking about!

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Don’t forget the landscape and environment.  Usually a lot of thought goes into choosing  a gorgeous location.  But if it’s lost in the dark, it’s lost in the dark.

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Grant me one (more) wish and sneak away from the party for some romantic nighttime portraits.  We’ll show bunches more in a dedicated post, but here are just a couple.

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I’d love to hear some original lighting ideas.


One Note on “Collaborating with Your Photographer, 103: The Immeasurable Importance of Light & Lighting

  1. Pingback: Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer 102: Designing and Planning the {Picture Perfect} Ceremony at Pursuing the Picture Perfect Wedding :: a wedding blog by Gia Canali

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