My name is Jimmy Chan, and I’m the wedding photographer of Pixelicious in Montreal, Canada. I decided to challenge myself and write a comprehensive, in-depth guide to wedding photography in any lighting situation. As the title suggests, it will cover from preparation to reception and beyond, dissecting the characteristics of light while offering many step-by-step actionable tips to delight your next client.
It will be written with the amateur/hobbyist in mind, therefore it should be something useful for everyone. Most importantly, this isn’t some theoretical mumbo-jumbo, all images featured below were taken at actual weddings. These are real clients, not models from stylized shoots.
Wedding photography is essentially an amalgamation of portraiture, landscape and even macro photography (among other things). Although this article only showcases wedding images, because that’s what I do, the essence of light touches all genres.
A long read indeed but I promise it to be worthy of your time.
After properly greeting my client, I embark on a light hunt, essentially scouting the location for preparation photos. This usually involves a room with a window where I can hang the dress. Very often the bride has yet to be ready with hair and makeup, so I take the opportunity to set up the room.
The dress is already hanging by the window, perfect opportunity for backlit images.
Time is perhaps the biggest constraint in wedding photography. How I see light and how I utilize it comes down to speed. My goal is to capture a series of memorable photographs within a short amount of time. Window light, as the sole light source, works well because:
1. It’s relatively large next to a person, therefore soft.
2. It’s directional.
Boring walls make great backdrops, notice the soft window light coming from the left.
These two characteristics contribute to the quality of light, something highly desirable in portraiture. It’s worth emphasizing that I am not concerned with the quantity of light. Cinematographers, who I often work side-by-side, also like window light because:
3. It’s a constant (or continuous) light source.
Using the window as a soft box for flattering light.
Would you believe that all three images above were taken using the same window light? Simply by changing the camera’s perspective, I can capture moments that look radically different. The bride barely needs to move, yet she is photographed back-, side-, and front-lit. Once we combine different focal lengths and orientations, we end up with a variety of images in no time.
Again, speed is key. Let’s look at another example where the window light is leveraged as a soft box:
Have the bridesmaids distract the bride once in a while, with the dress backlit. Turn your subject towards the window to fully take advantage of the soft light. Let the moment unfold, side lit images emphasizes drama.
The reason why inexperienced photographers struggle with backlight is that they let their cameras dictate exposure. When the camera sees a bright light source, such as a window or the sun, it will underexpose to preserve the highlights. As a result, your subjects will be seen as silhouettes.
Do cars on the street add value to the image? If not, then feel free to overexpose, either manually or through exposure compensation.