I am currently in the process of planning my wedding. *Hooray!*
I’ve been asked several times over the last few months if thought it was easier or harder to plan a wedding as a vendor in the Wedding Business. Upon reflection, I’ve decided It’s easier because I know what works and doesn’t work. I have experience behind the scenes at dozens of weddings. But that’s also why being a Wedding Photographer is seriously hindering my ability to plan my wedding. It’s becoming a mental tug of war between what I can afford, what I think will be fun… and what I know makes great photos.
For the record, I’ve opted to go with what I can afford and what will be fun… which is getting married at a country dance club/bar on a day when they aren’t open. My man and I are dancers. Dancing with our friends and family to celebrate has won out as the most important part of our Wedding Celebration. As a side note, I’ve also figured out how to make beautiful pictures happen. But more on that later.
Because I’m planning during wedding season, I’m shooting several during the planning process. At these weddings, I’ve heard comments by lots of people with opinions about why ‘that,’ “would make such a pretty picture!”. Most of the time, they’re wrong. And if you aren’t a photographer, there are probably things that you don’t know about photography that can seriously help or hinder you getting great Wedding Photos. The best photographers in the world can’t overcome some of these bad ideas. I know what to look for, what not to do, and I’d love for other brides to know as well. These are not industry secrets, but they are things you probably won’t think about unless you’re a photographer. So, over the fall 2016 Wedding Season, I’m going to debunk some of these photography myths.
Today I want to tackle the most common misunderstanding surrounding portrait photography of any kind: “The sun should be behind the photographer, and shining directly on the subject.”
This is one I’ve heard not just at weddings, but at family sessions and newborn shoots. This comment normally comes from a dad or grandfather who learned how to shoot photographs 50 years ago. In fact, this is a rule that was printed on the back of every disposable camera I purchased as a kid. I’ve shot several weddings where the pastor has remarked how lucky we are to have sunshine directly hitting the couple for the ceremony… what beautiful photographs that will make. Nope. Not a thing. Direct sunshine on a human being creates unflattering shadows, highlights (literally) every single flaw in the skin, and forces a high-contrast image that is just horrible for everyone involved. Unless you are a building and you are being photographed by Ansel Adams, this just doesn’t work.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a great photo in direct sunlight, it’s just very *very* difficult. Clouds and shade and defused light are what creates beautiful images. Or backlight. If you are or were a teenager with an iPhone and a selfie habit, you’ve probably discovered the ethereal beauty that magically happens when you place the sun above and behind you when taking a photo. If you haven’t tried this, I recommend you go take a few selfies in direct sunlight. No sunglasses. The first photo should be with the sun shining directly on you. I mean it, don’t cheat and wear sunglasses. For the second photo, place the sun above and behind you, just let the sun filter in around your face. Much more flattering.
When you live in a place with lots of sunlight, like I do, finding a way to shoot during the day is rough. Unless you are indoors or you get one of those perfect overcast days, the best thing to do for Ceremony photos is to shade the couple. It’s okay if the audience is in direct sunlight, nobody is really looking at them in your photos anyway. When the couple is under a shaded canopy, you will be much happier with your images.
If shade is not an option, the next best thing you can do is position your ceremony so that the sun sets behind the pastor. This way, your photographer can photograph from the perspective of the audience, with beautiful backlight behind the bride and groom. Your faces will be softer, you won’t be squinting, and we can capture the emotion of the moment rather than worry about controlling the white fireball that your dress becomes on a DSLR sensor.
Photographers refer to the hour or so right before sunset as ‘golden hour’, and that is the best time to do the group photos and pictures of the couple. If you can fit those all-important photos in right before the sun sets, you will get great portraits of your loved ones. When I am asked, I always recommend shooting the bride and groom just as the sun is about to set, even if we’ve already shot a first look.
When you are planning your wedding, don’t feel bad asking your photographer for advice. I’d much rather a bride ask my opinion about what direction they should face during the ceremony than show up and have to battle horrible lighting. All I want to worry about is capturing the look on your groom’s face when he gets to lead you to the altar and make you his bride.
Disclaimer: None of this advice is guaranteed to get you great photos, but it can stack the odds in your favor! Lighting is the first and last thing I worry about when shooting… so if the light isn’t an issue, I can devote my complete creative attention to giving you amazing images.