This page on outdoor wedding
photography is intended to help bridal couples and wedding
planners to understand some of the things that will influence
If you are a bride or groom,
don't stress out trying to learn everything on this page or you
will go crazy planning your wedding! These things are
presented here so you know what the photographer goes through when
your wedding pictures are taken.
If you have an experienced
photographer, he or she should be able to guide you in planning
the pictures for your outdoor wedding.
It should be said that photography
is like making soup - you start with a bunch of ingredients and
there are countless ways of blending them together to get a good
result. In photography, there are hundreds of different ways
to do essentially the same thing. Every photographer is
going to have his or her approach.
A couple of years ago I met with a bride who was planning a beach wedding
along the Snake River here in Idaho.
She came to me with some pictures from a bridal magazine of a wedding couple
taken on the California coast. The photos showed a beautiful couple
bathed in glorious soft warm light, walking hand in hand, surf in the
background, with the bride's veil blowing every so gently in the breeze. I took one look at the
shot and I could see how it was created. Off to the sides of this
perfect photo there were perhaps a dozen assistants, positioning
sun shades, gold reflectors, lights, and at least one person
controlling the fan that was creating the perfect breeze.
They probably shot for four hours and out of that effort the
editors chose this one picture.
It is very rare that a
photographer will have perfect conditions that are created
entirely by nature. And very few weddings will have the
budget or the time to stage their wedding pictures like the bridal
couple on the beach. Most outdoor wedding photography
is going to be a process of making the best of the conditions that
you have. That, really, is what much of wedding
photography in general is all about; being able to see the best
(and the worst) that a location offers and quickly adapting a
technique to work with that location to get the best shots.
This is why most professional
wedding photographers will either place their subjects in exactly
the best spot they can find and/or position themselves so they
make the most of what nature has to offer. I don't know how
many times I have moved from side to side, back and forth, trying
to find the right spot for me, that will make the bride look best.
you remember just one thing, have it be this;
soft light, like the light on an overcast day
when this photo was taken, or photos taken in nice
even shade, will almost always give a more pleasing
result than direct hard light.
some technical stuff.......Photography
is all about light.
- Hard light ( like
direct sunlight) makes for very distinct shadows and is not
usually very flattering for portraits. It can also
make people squint their eyes if they are facing into the
direct light and there is no way to stop squinting if the
light is bright. But hard light can also make for
dramatic photos if used properly. In a situation where
you have hard light and cannot move locations, the best
option is for the photographer to position himself where the
light is hitting his subjects from behind, at an angle, and
then use fill light from a flash or reflector ( see description below) to brighten up
the faces of the subjects.
- Soft light, like
the light on a cloudy day or under a tree, makes for soft
shadows and generally better portraits. Wedding
photographers will generally prefer soft light. To the
extent that it is possible, it will be best to have a
location that offers some shade. The photo of
the couple at the top of this page was taken with very soft
light created by the shade of the trees. Outdoors, the
best soft light occurs on cloudy or overcast days. I
know that all brides want bright sunshine, but the
photographer will almost always be hoping for clouds!
- Speckled light is
very hard to work with. Speckled light is what you
might get under a tree where there are small patches of
bright light mixed with the shade. With speckled light
some parts of the face will be in shadow but there will be
little patches of bright light here and there. There
is not much you can do other than to move to an area that is
more evenly lit, turn the subjects so that their back gets
most of the speckled light (if possible), or use a
filter screen to block the sun. With this
kind of light it takes very exact positioning of the
subjects so the patches of light don't fall on important
parts of the image.
- Back Light is light
hitting the subject from behind them. A good use of
back light can help to define the subject and make the image
come alive. But if the back light is too strong or not
used properly then the subject will be dark and featureless.
A silhouette photo is very strongly backlit.
is a silhouette. I took this shot at a wedding
on Mt Hood in Oregon. The mountain is strongly
light in the background and there is just enough
light striking them from the front to see some of
- Fill Light is light
from the photographer's flash. It will be used
outdoors if there is too much light behind the subject and
the photographer wants to brighten up the subject so that
the subject can more clearly be seen. It takes a lot
of experience to be able to use fill flash so that the photo
looks like it was naturally lit.
- Time of Day Light
is generally a little softer towards the end of the day and
at the beginning of the day because the sun is lower and the
light is dispersed as it reflects from tiny particles in the
air. This light will also have a warm glow to it.
The hour before sunset is referred to as the "golden hour"
because of the golden quality of the light. If
you are having your wedding ceremony at a location where the
sun can be intense; like on a beach or the green of a golf
course, scheduling it to take place during the golden hour
can give very nice results.
natural light and artificial light
- Natural Light (
called ambient light by photographers) is the light
that is naturally available. It comes in different
directions and can be a mix of hard and soft
- Artificial Light is
light created by the photographer, either using his flash or
other off-camera lights positioned around the subject
has a color to it. Photographers will often refer
to this color as the "Color Temperature." In most cases our brain
will interpret this color but cameras cannot. Try this experiment:
take a piece of white paper and look at it. What color is it?
It is white, correct? Look at that piece of paper outdoors in the
shade, indoors with household lighting, outside on a bright sunny day,
and inside under florescent lights. Still looks white, correct?
It's not really. The color is different in each of these
situations but our brain knows that this piece of paper is supposed to
be white, so our brains compensate so we see it as white in all
Cameras are not as good at this as the
human brain. Photos need to be adjusted to get the color correct.
The adjustment can be made as the photo is taken or the adjustment can
be made after the fact, when the photo is processed on the computer.
Getting the color "right" , also called "color correction", will often
make the difference between an outstanding photo and one that looks like
For me, setting the color temperature of
an image is the first step I take in processing an image. I do my
color adjustments after the fact because getting the color 'right' is
more of an art instead of a science, at least as I do it, and there is
often no time to tweak the camera in all of the changing situations
encountered in a wedding.
Sometimes the color of the light can make a
dramatic statement, like the golden glow just before
sunset. This shot at sunset clearly shows the
color of the light. It is golden in color and,
in this case, very direct, coming in from the side.
- Warm Light is light
that is yellow-orange in color, like the light at sunset.
- Cool Light is
bluefish in color, like the color in deep shade in winter.
Too much of this will make skin tone look dull and lifeless.
- Daylight is
"normal" average outdoor light. Most flash units
used by a photographer will create light that is matched to
- Mixed Light is when
light from many different sources mix together. A good
example of this would be taking pictures indoors under
florescent lights with a little bit of camera flash to
brighten things up. It is sometimes difficult to get
good color, particularly good skin color, when you have
extreme mixed light situations.
It is more difficult to take good
pictures if a part of the picture is very bright and a part is
very dark. An example of this would be a wedding ceremony
with the sun directly behind the bride and groom.. The
camera is not nearly as versatile as the human eye and it will
expose for either the very bright part (the sky - which will make
the couple look very dark) or for the dark part (the couple -
which totally blows out the sky and it looses all color and
texture.) There are many ways to deal with backlight, one of
which is to take silhouette shots, another is to use lots of flash for
the foreground, but these things will take some preparation to get just
right. It's best to consider the position of the sun during the
ceremony if your ceremony is going to be outdoors in direct sunshine.
The photographer can add light to
the dark part of an image by using flash or positioning reflectors
to bounce sunlight into the scene. In reality however,
wedding photography is so fast paced, that the photographer will
not have the time to do very much with reflectors and will
probably rely more on flash, something that is referred to as
'fill flash" because the photographer will fill in the shadows
with the light from his flash. The downside of using flash
is that it can create 'flat light' which can make the photo look
a bit unnatural; like it was taken with a flash. It takes a
bit of experience to get it right with fill flash; but it can be used
Backgrounds fall into two
categories; backgrounds that add something to the picture and
backgrounds that detract from the picture. A beautiful river
canyon would be a background that would add to the picture.
A park maintenance truck parked on the lawn is something that
would detract from a picture. The proper use or
elimination of backgrounds can be achieved by positioning the
action, the subjects, or the photographer in such a way that
the background is either seen or not seen. It
can also be controlled by the settings on the camera.
By adjusting the opening on the lens the photographer can keep the
background in focus or blur the background and keep the focus on
the subjects alone. The photographer also has the ability to
take shots wide angle or more narrow when that is best.
Good locations make for good
pictures. You will probably say "duh....no kidding on that one"
But there are good locations hidden away in almost any wedding setting.
If you don't happen to have the north rim of the grand canyon as your
wedding backdrop then you need to find some very nice small settings and
have shots taken much more closely. Some tree branches, some
colorful shrubbery, stonework, natural wood, or interesting architecture
all provide great backdrops for wedding photos. Interesting angles
combined with some very small backdrops can make for very interesting
closely shot photos.
When things start to get really dark
- like one half hour after sunset - a photographer will need to
use flash. This will lighten up the subjects but not the
background. The photographer can adjust the ISO [ film speed
] of his camera to compensate somewhat, but there will be a point
at which it will get too dark and this will no longer work.
In very dark night time conditions, if you are stumbling around because
you can see very well, that's a clear sign that it will be very hard to
get anything by 'deer in the headlights" kind of shots.
Black and white can be used very
effectively outdoors. Some of the problems associated with
lighting problems will be accentuated by the color in an image.
By stripping away the color and going to a black and white photo
you can sometimes create interesting images.
Anything outdoors is pretty much at
the whim of mama nature and you never know for sure what you will
get until the actual minute arrives. These include things
like rain, snow, wind, dust, bugs, extreme heat, unexpected cold,
etc. The camera will catch even small amounts of rain
or snow. Drops of rain will show as little hash marks across
the picture. A little of this can actually make for
interesting pictures but you don't want it in every picture.
If there are a lot of bugs ( little gnats are particularly a
problem) they will show up in the pictures as little out-of-focus
gray blobs. Not very appealing. Finally,
anything that makes people uncomfortable, like extreme heat, cold,
or wind, will show in the expressions on their face.
Planning The single most important thing to
consider with an outdoor wedding is to have a bad weather plan.
There is no way that your perfect wedding will take place exactly
as you envision it if the rain is pouring down. You can
arrange to have tents, choose a park location with a covered
pavilion available, or have a plan to move the wedding to your
reception location if the weather is really bad.
Actually it's reasonable to just make a plan about everything. If
you are nervous, the chances are pretty good that part of the reason is
that you keep going over all the details in your head. Make a plan,
write it down, and then forget about it until your wedding day.
"What to do if it rains?" is just one item on that list.
Don't be obsessed with listing each and every shot you want to have
taken. As a photographer it is helpful when a bridal couple has a
list of the various people to be photographed in group settings.
But I am certainly not a photographer who works well with long lists of
shots to be taken. I feel like if I don't SEE those things as the
wedding unfolds then I'm not much of a photographer.
What about Makeup?
Now, I'm a guy and I would never claim to know very much about the
whole makeup thing but it is certainly fascinating to me that a
whole 50% of humankind more or less accepts the concept of putting
colored lotions and creams on their face so they look beautiful.
And please believe me when I say that most guys think you already
look beautiful! As a photographer I tend to prefer
less makeup on the women I photograph than more makeup.
Heavy makeup can reflect light and create changes in skin color.
The final word on makeup, at least from this photographer, is to
wear what makes you feel comfortable but don't go to excess on the
day of your wedding so you look 'beautiful' in the pictures.
If you have a few blemishes or a skin color issue you might use
some light makeup. I am going to notice blemishes and things
of that sort, with or without the makeup and I can clear them up
so fast in photo editing that you would be amazed.
I once had a bride look at some "before" and "after" pictures on
the computer and she told me "Bottle that and you'll make a
If you have actually make it this far down the page you are
probably thinking "How in the
world can I possibly arrange my outdoor wedding and get good
pictures?!!" Do a little planning but don't worry
about it. If pictures are really important to you then I
suggest you find a good wedding photography ( and that certainly
DOES NOT MEAN the most expensive wedding photographer) and sit
down with him or her to discuss what you want and where you will
be. If the photographer seems aggravated at all your
questions then you have found the wrong photographer. If the
person seems capable and interested in helping you to get the
pictures that you want, then hire that person and contact him or
her whenever you have a picture-related question.