Let there be light!
One of the most common questions we get from couples during their search for a wedding photographer is “Are you comfortable in low light?” We always recommend this being one of the things you go over with prospective wedding photographers as you start your search. Think about it, during your typical traditional wedding day flow, you will spend the following times with your photographer depending on their contracted time and your specific timeline breakdown: 30 minutes to 1.5 hours getting ready, 15-30 minutes doing bridal party photos, 20-40 minutes doing family photos, 20 minutes to an hour for your ceremony, 10 minutes to 30 minutes for your couples photos. What about the rest of the day??? In our experience (nearly 200 weddings in the past 3 years) the majority of the rest of most wedding days take place inside and usually in dim lit areas. We’re talking 2-4 hours in low light or if you’re looking at the above times and factoring in percentages, the largest percentage of your wedding day (reception) will likely be spent in the darkness.
Why this matters?
If you’re the average person and you’ve ever had one of your friends try to snap a cell phone picture of you on the dance floor at a wedding reception, or in front of a bright sunny view under a dark covered pavilion, then you’ve no doubt seen the difference light (lack thereof) can make. Most of those indoor reception photos with your phone are dark, grainy, no that sharp, and you can barley make out that it’s you if you’re lucky. Or if you’ve been in front of the back lit area where you’re standing in the shade/dark, how come your face is dark as can be? This is where having a photographer who has a good mastery of lighting situations is vital. Situations like knowing how to balance flash with ambient light to keep the mood and tone of the venue. Knowing how to adjust if the first dance is completely back lit. Knowing what to look out for like DJ’s with colorful lights during the first dance. Knowing that simple on camera bounce flash won’t work if your ceilings are too high or if you don’t have the right modifiers. Creating soft lit first dance photos, capturing the bride and all the single ladies during a bouquet toss. As well as capturing fun candids of family and friends throughout the evening whether sitting at their tables or on the dance floor. Once you start to factor in the time spent indoors, or even somewhat indoors with lowlight, you start to grasp how important it is to have a professional that is well versed in many different low light situations as this is where the majority of most wedding days are spent. Even for venues with good natural light and plenty of windows, the sun does eventually go down.
So how do I know if my photographer is good in low light?
If it’s not apparent in their portfolio, simply ask to see a couple examples of full wedding day albums. Specifically venues that have similar lighting situations to your venue, or if they’ve shot at your venue, ask for that album as it will allow you to see how they like to handle the low light. Take note of things like how well lit the dance floor was. How well lit special happenings like the cake cutting, bouquet toss, and speeches are. Were they able to capture in the moment photos in low light or did everything look staged like “Hey guys stand right here.” By looking at full day wedding albums and blogs it will allow you to get a better idea of how they handle low light.
What to consider?
There’s more than one way to illuminate the darkness. Professional level cameras and lenses today have the ability to light even the most dimly lit areas naturally with just a simple light source like a window or good reflective walls. Often times this won’t be available and a photographer will be best served by using artificial light to fill in the darkness. Depending on your preference, the venue, and your photographer’s style this may mean a look that’s lighter and brighter with a lot of ambient light and low flash. In a venue that that is very low light, it may mean exposing to keep the natural ambiance of the light but adding flash to light the couple for a slightly more dramatic look. For a covered pavilion with a mix of lightings, it may mean somewhere in between. The important thing here is to choose someone whose well versed in many situations and able to deliver the style you are looking for.
Now, if you’ve already hired someone because you loved their style and fell in love with their natural light work, but your just now finding out, utilization of artificial light is not their thing. Don’t fret, there are some ways they can help offset this or you can help them to offset this. If there’s any wiggle room if your timeline to perform you first dance and special dances while it’s still daylight or even better, outside if the space allows. If it’s going to be indoors, many venues have the option to turn the lighting intensity up during times in the evening like special dances and speeches, just as they can turn the lights down during dinner. Even opening the curtains or doors can also let in some much needed natural light in spaces that are a little dark. The closer you get to these light sources, the better they will light you so positioning for certain events during the receptions are often key and your photographer should help with this when possible.
Being well versed and creative with light is something that comes with practice, practice, and more practice. With that being said, It's no no surprise that the #1 thing we mentor other professionals on through our one on one photography coaching sessions is flash techniques and low light as there are many lighting situations you can run into and being well prepared for all of them should always be the goal. In the photography world, people often say “lighting is everything”. We are true believers that it’s what you do with that light (or lack thereof) that matters most. Just like many other aspects of photography, everybody is going to have a different style, approach, and theory on what looks best. Make sure as your start or even continue your search for a wedding photographer that you are able to find someone whose able to fully meet your needs. Since a large portion of your wedding day will be spent in the low light, always ask to see examples of their indoor work or low light work.
We hope this helps guide you on your continued search!
Joe and Jenny