Planning for Light on Your Wedding Day


STOP! Before you read the rest of the article, make sure to do these two things.

  1. Bookmark this page so that you can come back to it later. It’s a long-ish read, and you can certainly jump from section to section as you see fit, but if you save it you can come back to digest it in smaller chunks if you’d like.

  2. If you are currently planning a wedding, make sure to reach out via the button below and set up some time to chat with me about your plans. A lot of the ideas below are the exact same ideas I teach to my clients, and they’re part of an ongoing discussion to help craft the perfect day for you.

Let there be light

Light has such a huge impact on your photos (some would argue it's the most important factor), and yet it may not be something couples know how to take into consideration when planning their big day. Whether I'm using available natural light or incorporating flash to add additional lighting, a little preparation can help bring that light to our advantage, and make for more flattering photos. It is easily overlooked in the planning process, so I wanted to write down some thoughts that you might find helpful as you plan your big day.

If you don't have time to read the whole article, here's the quick 3-tip TLDR (just make sure to bookmark the page and come back to it later!)

  1. BIG light sources are great for soft, directional light that everyone looks great in. Big windows, etc.
  2. Avoid taking photos in harsh sunlight, or during times the sun is directly overhead.
  3. Avoid mixing light sources (e.g., rooms that are lit with a combination of window light and tungsten bulbs)

Note: None of this is meant to dictate the timeline of your day or be a prescription to follow. Weddings are about you, your love, your family, and your emotions. There's certainly no rulebook - great photojournalism is about adapting to the scene in front of you regardless of the lighting, and sometimes tough lighting can lead to unique and interesting compositions.


Getting Ready


Let's start at the very beginning

Photos of you getting ready are a great way to kick off the story of your big day. Good lighting can help tell that story.

The best conditions for lighting are rooms with large light sources, with enough light to fill the room with the lights off. Think a room with large windows and light colored walls for reflective light. A second benefit is that your makeup artist (if you have one) will also appreciate the even lighting, as that helps them get your makeup just right.

If you're getting a hotel room, see if you can request a north / south facing window, as in the morning that helps prevent morning sunbeams from streaming into your window, while also ensuring enough light for your photos. If you're worried about no-smoking signs, sprinklers, and questionable chairs/carpets/decorating choices, renting a home on AirBnb can be a great option as well.

Lighting to avoid: rooms with not enough light from one source, such that we need to mix additional sources in (e.g., a room with a little daylight coming in from one side, and organce / tungsten bulbs lighting the other side.

It’s hard to see with the naked eye, but in photos, it can lead to odd skin colors. If you're not sure, it's a good idea to check with the venue you plan to get ready in, and see if you have options for lighting. Your photographer can also help you with the right questions to ask (if in doubt, just know that flourescenet lighting in general isn't the most flattering, as it tends to add a green tone to your skin, and no one wants that).


The First Look


Whether you plan to do one or not, here's some tips about the late morning light

First looks are fun - they're a great way to share a quick moment together before your big day starts. However, it might not be ideal to also plan to do all your formal portraits at the same time, depending on what time your first look happens.

The reason for this is that between 10 am - 3 pm, the sun is pretty high in the sky, meaning that the shadows on your face can be rather harsh.

If you plan to do a first look, or have formal portraits occur in the earlier part of the day, think about what interesting backgrounds might be able to shade yourselves and your family / friends (if you plan to do group photos), or additionally leave time to do more photos at a later time of day when the lighting may be more ideal.


The Ceremony


By the power vested in me

Outdoor grassy ceremonies are great. Church ceremonies are great too. Rooftop ceremonies are also fun. Regardless of what venue your ceremony takes place in, the guidelines for lighting stay the same.

If you're having your ceremony outdoors, try to avoid the hours of 10 am - 3 pm (same reason as your first look). Areas of open share are fine, dappled shade under a tree can be risky, as the 20% of light that makes it through can be quite disruptive to your photos.

Additionally, having to stand in the direct sun during the hottest part of the day is a potential recipe for shiny foreheads, squinty eyes, and uncomfortable squirming as your suit does a great job of sealing all that heat in.

The best time is 2-3 hours before sunset, as the sun is usually lower in the sky and perhaps behind a mountain / building or two.


Your Portraits


Some time to share with each other

Your formal portraits are the closest thing to your "forever photos"; aka the ones that end up on your / your parents' wall for years to come. A little planning can go a long way in ensuring that the lighting for these photos is fantastic and serves your day well.

If you wanted glowy dusk photos or portraits with that "golden hour" light, then you'll need to plan time to have portraits at sunset. If you've planned your say such that your formal portraits are early in the day right after your first look, or sunset isn't until much later in the day (7;30 and onwards), consider blocking off 20-30 minutes during your reception to take photos during that beautiful time about an hour and a half before sunset, where the sun is low in the sky and your photos have that beautiful glow to them.


The Reception


Let's party

Receptions are always a mixed bag, in that there are so many variables, and lighting will vary so much stylistically from person to person and venue to venue. When thinking about optimizing the lighting for your reception, make sure your venue, DJ, and photographer are all on the same page lighting-wise.

That means that if you're planning a naturally lit wedding, with minimal artificial light, you want to have lots of light sources available to your photographer. So think lots and lots of string lights, indirect lighting from lamps and tables, and whatever lighting your venue can provide.

If you're doing a ballroom wedding, lots of them do uplighting to add flair and character, which helps in cases where there isn't a lot of natural / available light. Make sure to talk to your DJ about what kind of lighting they're planning to use (if at all), so that you can avoid unintentional colored splotches on you and your guests.

And if you're doing a small wedding, or one in a non-traditional venue like a restaurant, think about venues that already have lots of window lighting or light fixtures you love. You may want to avoid venues / restaurants that either lean more towards being blank canvases (in which case you would have to bring a lot of the lights / decor), or are so dimly lit they are better suited for romantic candle-lit dinners (in which case avaialble light will be minimal at best).


Night Portraits


the night's almost over

I always ask my coupes for 5-10 minutes during their reception, to pull them away from the revelry, to get a quick night photo of the two of them together. It's a fun way to get dramatic and dynamic photos that otherwise wouldn't be possible.

In regards to "good lighting", I'm usually working with what we've got, and then I like to add a little extra pop and spice to help the image stand out. So whether I'm featuring the accent lighting of the venue, or using this time to experiment with some creative ideas, this is the best opportunity to do it, after the formalities of the reception are over and you and your new spouse can relax a little and just enjoy yourselves.


Final Thoughts


If you've read this far and you haven't heard a word about overcast or cloudy days ruining your photos, that's because I actually love clouds in the sky. Clouds function like giant softboxes in the sky, evening out the light and allowing for greater flexibility in your schedule.

You can plan for harsh light and have contingencies prepared, but ultimately a great photographer can take tricky lighting and make it work to create awesome photographs for you regardless. If you have any questions about what I've shared here or want to learn more about how I'd prepare for your wedding day, please don't hesitate to reach out.