Choosing your Wedding Venue with Lighting in Mind

You’re Engaged!  You’ve taken selfies with your ring and posted it on Instagram!  Your fingers are sore from texting and emailing friends and family.  All those dreams about your Wedding Day are starting to come to life.  Now you’re ready to start looking at Venues and Setting the Date!

How to See the Venue through the eyes of a Photographer.

Indoor Locations

This can be a church, a barn, a ballroom, or even a gazebo.  If it has a roof, I would think about the following questions.

  1. Are there small windows or large windows?
  2. How bright is the ballroom lighting or chandeliers?
  3. What color temperature is the available light?
  4. Is the light even or uneven?
  5. Where will the light fall during the time of the event?
  6. Where will the couple be standing?

The image on the left shows a slightly more blue/green light streaming from the windows.  Whereas the image on the right is dominated by the warmer chandelier lighting.

When you add people into the scenario of Mixed Lighting you can see the corrected image on the left versus the uncorrected on the right.  The bluish undertones of the overcast day are streaming in against the warm light of the chandelier.  While this instance may seem minor, it is still present. This was a very rainy day and their original outdoor ceremony had to be moved indoors.

Above is a great example of a church with pretty even lighting.  Yes, there are shadows created on the aisle by the pews, but as you can see in the image on the right, they are evenly lit.  There isn’t a harsh highlight/shadow line.  This image was taken only using the available light in the church, without flash.

Above is the lighting available along the beams at Kalero Vineyards.  This location also has two large glass doors that allow light to stream in during the daytime for rainy day Ceremonies. At night, this light is supplemented by string lights.  As a photographer, this is a great starting point.  It creates a lovely environment for your guests and I can add light in as needed.

Each of these can then be explored further.  Anyone would think that windows would be a great source of light and that would be true.  But if direct sun is streaming in at 5pm on the Bride’s face and she’s squinting through her vows, that would be unfortunate.  Or if you are in a dimly lit ballroom because you want to create an intimate candle-lit effect.  That light will create unflattering shadows on the face. If each of you is standing in a drastically different amount of light, the photos will seem too dark facing one direction and too bright facing the other.  Our eyes naturally adjust to lighting conditions and our brains interpret it into a memory.  Most people don’t remember what the quality of light was, unless they were blinded by the sun during the entire time.

What can I do to ensure I will be satisfied with the photos taken at my Indoor Ceremony Location?

  1. Compare apples to apples.  Look at other Weddings or Events that have happened at this location during the same time of day, season, and even area of the venue.
  2. If there is uneven lighting falling on the Bridal Party, then look for sheer curtains to cut the harshness of the light.  Direct sunshine will cause people to squint as well as lead to harsh shadows on a portion of the Bridal Party. By using white sheer curtains, the light becomes glowy and fills the space in a more even manner.
  3. Look at what’s beyond those windows.  If you can see traffic or something unsightly through them, then it will show up in your photos.  Yes, there are ways to blur out that background, but any bright colors will still filter through.  It would be unfortunate if there were bright orange construction barrels just outside the window beyond the altar. Every shot of you reciting your vows would be overshadowed by the orange blob behind you.
  4. When there isn’t any natural light, flashes may be needed to provide flattering light on the Bridal Party. This option requires some planning on my part and I would be happy to visit the venue and walk through those options.
  5. Is all the lighting the same color? Lightbulbs have different color temperatures. Some are more bluish and some have a warmer quality.  Mixing two colors of lighting together creates issues later with editing and ideally should be avoided.  Perfect scenario would be having daylight balanced lightbulbs in the fixtures.  This would match the lighting color with any light streaming in through the windows.  In the situation of Ballrooms, the lighting is typically warmer and that’s ok.  I have settings on my camera that will compensate for those conditions.  As long as all the lighting is the same color.

Outdoor Locations

  1. Where will the sunshine fall?
  2. What’s visible surrounding the Ceremony location?
  3. Will there be an arbor with flowers?
  4. Are there hills or mountains nearby?
  5. What season? Trees? Dappled Light

The shot on the left features uneven lighting.  Can you see the Bride’s face is in more shadow than the Groom’s? But when shot from the other direction, (right), the lighting is even and more flattering.

At Golf Club locations, it’s important to consider who can wander into the background.  Usually the fairways are featured in the distance, but sometimes the driving range can be nearby. (not pictured) Just behind the Groomsmen is a section of the driving range.  It’s important for your photographer to be aware of those unsightly obstacles.

This was taken from the hilltop Bluemont Vineyards and the view is incredible.  It also illustrates how tall hills/small mountains can affect the “sunset” time.  If we were taking photos at the base of this “mountain” then the sun would disappear earlier in the evening than if we were a 1/2 mile away.  The view is facing south by southeast.

What Can I Do To Ensure I Will Be Satisfied With the Photos Taken At My Outdoor Location?

  1. Consider the time of year when you look at the venue.  If you look at it in the Fall at 5pm, it will not look the same as it will in the Summer at 5pm.  The height of the sun in the sky will be different as well as it’s intensity. I recommend asking about the time of year and day that the photos you are seeing were taken. Compare apples to apples.
  2. As you stand at the Outdoor Ceremony location, look around you.  Turn in a circle and ask, “Do I want that to show up in my photos?”  If there’s a parking lot, dumpsters, or other eye sores, that will affect the direction the shots can be taken.  Stay tuned for how I deal with these issues.
  3. What else will be at the Altar? If you have a Gazebo or other structure, take into consideration where the shadows will fall.  Will it create a shadow over where the Bride or Groom are standing? Let’s consider standing further from it or changing the orientation so those can be avoided.
  4. With Daylight Savings Time and the changing of the seasons, we’re already having to consider when sunset is. Now we need to think about the topography of the location surrounding your Outdoor Venue.  Are there hills, mountains, or tall buildings in the distance?  Will it be in-line with the setting sun? If so, this will change your sunset portrait time, but also affect your on location light.  Having the sun effectively disappear at 5:30pm but not technically set until 8pm can yield some amazingly soft light for a much longer period.  This means more of your timeline can benefit from this.
  5. Outdoor Venues are, of course, affected by the seasons.  This means that the foliage will change color and thickness.  So if you visit in the Summer and love how the light just barely trickles through the trees, but you have a Spring Wedding Day…the light will have changed because of the environment.  You will have more light streaming in and that may not be in line with what you want. Uneven lighting involving leaves and foliage is dappled light.  The best way to tell is to look at the ground.  Do you see a mixture of shade and sun spots? I have a way of dealing with Dappled Light so stay tuned if you really want your ceremony under that giant oak tree.

Dappled light leaves a ‘lacey’ appearance to the ground. (above). The second image shows how the same location can still be used once some adjustments were made to which direction I was shooting.  Put the light behind your subject.  However, for weddings, someone will almost always be on the wrong side of dappled light.

The background can have some distractions if you aren’t careful.  These were shot at the same venue using a slightly different perspective.  The image on the left has a car, a pedestrian, a house, and a electric power pole in it.  The image on the right has the same house, but the parking lot is empty, you can’t see the power pole and luckily there weren’t any pedestrians.  This comparison also illustrates the difference in season and weather.  Left was taken in October on a mostly sunny day at 5pm, while the right was in May, mostly cloudy at 5pm.

What are some creative ways that I use to get the best shots?

  1. Research!  Months ahead of your Wedding, I will look at the venue online or in person and mentally map out where the sun will be during the different points of your Timeline.  I look for a few locations that can be used for your First Look, Bridal Portraits, Couples Portraits, and Family Formals.  Knowing which directions I can shoot in without too much distraction in the background is important for the Ceremony and Reception too.
  2. Equipment! I use a Nikon D750 and a Nikon D610, which are both full frame cameras.  Along with a mix of high quality Prime and Zoom Nikkor Lenses, I can control how much of the background is in focus, or the bokeh. This allows me to take a so-so location that happens to have incredible light and turn it into an amazing spot.  I use an Off-Camera Flash setup that is flexible when the available lighting wouldn’t produce ideal images.
  3. Communication! I ask a lot of questions.  Sometimes the location isn’t ideal but it has sentimental value.  In that case, we discuss what you love about it and what you could live the rest of your life without ever seeing again.  I like to give options too.  After I find the best light, I will shoot in as many locations as time allows.
  4. Editing! I use cropping both in camera and in post production to remove any distractions in the background or unintentional photobombs. Whether an image would look best in color or black and white, is also a consideration.  If that beautiful shot is slightly ruined by a brightly colored object in the background, then I would first try to remove that obnoxious color.  But if that color appears in the dresses or flowers, then I would consider Black and White.

I strategically avoided getting the trash can in the image on the left.  With a simple crop (not shown), the image on the right could be saved.  No one wants to see the trash can.

These were taken just a few moments apart.  The car in the background is the distraction.  I continued to move until the shot I delivered didn’t have that distracting element.  But if there’s a parking lot, don’t count on it being empty on the day of your wedding.

Another example of cropping in camera.  While I really wanted to deliver the wide shot, the power lines were just too distracting.  So, by using a different lens and standing in the street, I was able to deliver a much less distracting and clean shot.

Are you unsure about how to choose your Ceremony location? Ask your venue to provide imagery from previous events or contact me and I can meet you there.  I enjoy looking at venues and helping my clients create their ideal setup.