Article for Bride / Groom

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Planning for light on your wedding day

... by Rob Whelan Photography

Published:  August 13, 2015

You can't control the light - Mother Nature decides to provide you with it on your wedding day, that's a fact! There are, however, many considerations when it comes to best planning how to use the light you are granted. There are misconceptions about what exactly "good" light is, and any photographer worth their salt knows what to do when the light is not-so-good. Let's take a minute to talk about light on your wedding day, and how to plan for it, how time of day affects it, and what the heck you do if it rains!


   Sun vs. Cloud
So here's the thing, everyone wants a blue sky in their pictures. That's cool, I get that, so do I! That glorious bluebird sky usually happens right in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead which creates dark shadows anywhere that is not exposed to the light smashing down from above, like your eye sockets and under your nose and chin. Yuck! You don't want to look like a raccoon in your wedding photos, right? Don't worry, we can work around it! I will talk about how to fix Mother Nature's blunder with flash later in this post, but right now let's talk about posing technique. If we're out for shooting under high-noon sun, I'll never ask you to look directly at the camera because you'll get squinty, and it doesn't usually look all that flattering. Instead, a simple tilt of the head in the right direction plays with the shadows in a cool way.

The best way to combat high-noon sun is to plan your portrait session later in the day or evening - depending on time of year. The lower the sun is in the sky, the more flattering the light tends to get. Epic sunset shots? Yes. Please! You don't always have that option of course, so the moral of the story is don't be scared, work with it.

Let's face it, you probably want a few evenly lit shots where you are looking at the camera, right? If it's a full sun kind of day, that can be tricky, but one thing to look for are shady areas at your venue, like beside a building or next to a tree usually work nicely. When you're in the shade, the spotlight effect goes away, and things get a little less squinty.

OK, so that was shade, now let's talk about that dreaded cloudy day. "It's threatening rain and the sky is gray, my pictures are going to suck!" - WRONG! Here's the truth, cloudy days are like shooting in the shade, all day long, everywhere you go. I call it easy light, and the results are usually very soft and flattering. You do sacrifice the idyllic blue sky and some of the drama you can create with natural shadows, but you're pretty much guaranteed to come out of it with a nice set of photos.

Truth of the matter is, you can't order up the light you want, so trust that your photographer who knows what to do, no matter what comes your way. Better yet, look for use of light in portfolios when you are seeking your photographer. If you can plan on shooting later in the day, that's always going to be better light, whether it's a bright sunny day or if it's overcast.


So it's 1 PM, the sky is righteously bright blue. "Uh oh, here come squinty eyed, raccoon face photos!" - WRONG! Shade is a good choice when this is the case, but if you've been provided with a beautiful sunny day, I say - let's embrace it. The sun is bright and beautiful, but it's millions of years old, so we've had time to learn ways to outsmart it! Here's where the flash comes in.

   Step 1: This is the part that sucks for me because I turn your backs to the sun and I have to look directly at the crushing UV laser beams. This allows you to keep your eyes open and have your shadows fall on the ground, instead of in your eyes.

   Step 2: I will set up a flash to fill in the shadows in front of you while still allowing me to make a photograph featuring that electric blue sky. You look good. The background looks good. Everybody wins!

OK, but it's cloudy and you really wanted some of those high contrast moody shots you saw in my portfolio. Here we go again with the flash, but this time, mimicking the sun.

If you've ever been at a friend's wedding, and seen the photographer use flash outside, and thought they were nuts, turns out they just knew what they were doing. Phew!


Finally, a scenario you can control and plan for! And, don't just think about the reception hall, think about the whole day. If you have all day coverage where the photos start at the salon, then the hotel, then the church and reception hall, that's 4 different interior lighting elements to consider. The type of light bulbs, the height and colour of the ceiling, and the size of the windows all play important roles in how photos turn out.

   Light bulbs
Here's where a little planning and scouting can go a long way. At all costs, try to avoid fluorescent lighting. Those long, tubular, industrial lights do a great job at lighting up a room, but they have a tendency to make your skin look a little greenish. Not cool. All other types of interior lighting are a little easier to compensate for and make look a bit more natural. Tungsten, for example, is pretty common and has more of a yellowish, warm glow. Better than green right? Make up artists often use "daylight balanced" lamps because it allows them to use the right products to make you look the best when you are outside, hence daylight balanced. This is a good situation for everyone, and something you can plan for.

   Window light
Personally, I love window light, especially when taking photos right at the window.
So, windows are great and something to look for when booking your salon and hotel. That said, windows can be a little tricky too because the tones from outside are usually much cooler than the tones coming from the light inside which can cause a bit of mix of blue and yellow colour tones. What to look for then? Windows on both sides of the room. Bingo! This is not a make-or-break, but is a nice-to-have. When it comes to the reception though, it doesn't really matter because it's usually dark/darker by then so the interior lighting becomes the main consideration.

   Ceiling height
Again, this is something you can plan for when shopping around for the perfect venue. Generally, the higher the ceiling the better and if it can be white, that's awesome. An 8 foot ceiling is kind of like taking photos at 1 PM with the sun right over-head, there isn't much room for the light to dissipate, causing those pockets of shadow in your eyes. I like to point my flashes directly up at the ceiling so that by the time the light comes back down it has created a nice, soft look and this always works better with high (white) ceilings. Next is the colour of the ceiling, if it's white, it's easy to make bright, flattering images even in a dimly lit room. If it's a darker colour or wooden the feel of the pictures is usually a little darker, call it romantic. That can be an amazing look and is totally up to your own tastes. Both work, but just know what you want your pictures to look like ahead of time and select your venue accordingly.

   Psychedelic DJ lighting
Time to party! A lot of DJs provide dance floor lighting to help the mood go from sentimental speeches over a nice meal to let's get krunked on the dance floor. Awesome, if you like that party look, go for it, it's super fun to photograph - BUT, save it until your first dance is done! Those whirling red, green and blue LEDs and lazers are fun, but they do show up in pictures, often on the middle of your forehead. You probably don't want to remember your Father/Daughter dance with a multi-coloured polka dot face. When it's party time, game on.


Ewe. I know, I said it! Rain on your wedding day - it could happen! You can't plan for it not to rain, but you can plan for rain. Before we get into planning for rain, here are a couple facts: rain does a really good job at saturating the colours of the grass, flowers and even the pavement so if you're lucky enough to shoot moments after it stops raining, the colours in the photos tend to really pop which is such an awesome, natural good look! Rain makes puddles, puddles show reflections, reflections make for super cool photos. Rain comes from clouds and as you've already learned, clouds give soft light.

That's the good news about rain. Here's more and something you can ask prospective photographers during your search. What do you do if it rains, and can I see some examples? Rain is one of those elements that calls on your photographer's experience and ability to get creative. Personally, I enjoy shooting in rainy situations, which sounds crazy, but I'm always pretty thrilled with what comes from those shoots. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather shoot in nice weather, but the point is if it rains, I'm ready.

Some good planning comes into play here on both the couple's side as well as the photographer. A week before your wedding, get on your bike and look for sheltered spots around your venue or town. Create a bank of cool spots on your iPhone to refer back to. There are places all over if you just look. Places that will still give the appearance of photos taken outside, even thought you are covered. Tunnels, gazebos, bridges, awnings, balconies, covered porches, big trees, and the list goes on. The point is, don't worry about it too much. If it rains, have a plan and you'll probably wind up with better pictures you could have ever imagined!

Rob Whelan, Rob Whelan Photography  (Kingston | ON)