Wedding Photography Lighting Tips & Techniques

These wedding photography lighting tips will help you create wonderful, memorable images. If you have a family wedding coming up, or have been asked by a friend to help out at their wedding, these quick and concise lighting tips will be indispensable.

1. Practise in Advance: Wedding photographers should always visit the location before the actual wedding day to think through the shots they will take. When you visit the location, you can make trial photographs and think in advance about the lighting.

If you have an assistant with you, all the better as you can practise some of these wedding photography lighting tips on them.

2. Use Natural Lighting: Light for wedding photos is best when it is soft with few shadows. Soft light creates a dream-like quality. If you use natural light for your shots, early morning and early evening are best. When the sun is overhead it produces hard shadows which are unflattering. Some churches don't allow the use of a flash.

If that is the case, you will need to use slower shutter speeds so a tripod will be very useful to avoid camera shake. If you don't want to use a tripod for any reason you will need to hold the camera very steady so use walls or doorways to help steady your body.

Photograph of Jenna Bush by White House Photographer Shealah Craighead

Above: Photograph of Jenna Bush by White House Photographer Shealah Craighead

3. Use Fill Flash: The flash on your SLR camera is not very good for wedding photographs as it will tend to produce red-eye. Even if your camera has a red-eye reduction function, this will only work if the subject is looking directly into the red-eye reduction lamp.

Also note that built-in flash becomes ineffective with very short focal length lenses (e.g. 17 mm) as the periphery of the flash photo will look too dark. However, the built-in flash can be useful out of doors on a bright, sunny day if you want to brighten deep shadows or at any time where the background is much brighter than the subject.

This technique is called fill flash and basically you set the aperture and shutter speed to correctly expose the background while manually adjusting the output of the flash to a lower power so that the final image isn't overexposed. Your camera manual will tell you how to do this but of course you need to experiment a bit too.

Above: Portrait of a couple about to kiss (Photo: David Ball)

4. Use a Dedicated Flash (Speedlite): Pictures taken with a dedicated flash don't usually have red-eye problems. The light emitted by a dedicated flash is much stronger than that of a built-in flash so the images are usually much better.

5. Use Diffused Flash: If a dedicated flash is used with a diffuser, you will get even coverage of light over the whole area of the image and a softer, more natural effect. Flash diffusers are inexpensive to buy and easily pop on and off the flash. The drawback with a diffuser is that there are hardly any shadows at all, similar to the effect of a completely overcast day, so the photographs look flat as there is little contrast between light and dark areas. The answer to this is...

6. Use Bounced Flash: With the diffuser removed, you can bounce the flash off the ceiling, a wall or any surface you choose and adjust the power of the flash to create exactly the effect you are looking for.

Experiment with coloured surfaces to add a cast to your photos but in general the flash is best bounced off a light surface. Again, experiment the day before with the surfaces available. And once you have the hang of bounced flash you might want to try your hand at...

7. Use Off-the-camera Flash: Adding a second flash requires a tripod (or assistant) and a remote control to trigger it. It also requires considerable skill so I would suggest achieving a degree of skill by putting into practise the wedding photography lighting tips using natural light and those with a single speedlite before rushing out to buy a second one.

Practise, practise...

The best way to put these wedding photography lighting tips into practice is to do just that - practise and practise because you can't really get it out of a book. So I would encourage you to purchase a dedicated flash and try for yourself. Wedding photography lighting is really not as complicated as you might think and I can assure you it is a lot of fun.

Don't worry about whether you know enough or not, just start experimenting well in advance of the big day until you are confident in your skills, and, most importantly, trust in your own innate creativity.

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