Looking back on the last 12 years of being in the wedding business, one of the standout business practices I can see that I have developed is that of the site visit. In the beginning, I did it purely because I was new and hadn’t been to any venues. As time went on though, it became a habit that I rarely deviated from. Even with destination weddings, I’ll get there a day early to walk the grounds.
Physically visiting a site gives a different perspective than you can get from just checking out their website or searching online for images that have been keyworded with the area. When you limit yourself to the “online preview” it’s easy to only see the site through those visuals. Going to the site opens up creativity to look for the nooks and crannies of a space that hasn’t been put online yet. It also gives me a chance to check in with the management of the site. They can be a huge wealth of information and help (or sometimes not) in understanding the logistics & rules of a venue.
Recently, I was reminded of the importance of site visiting for the reason of checking out lighting conditions. This particular wedding was happening at a venue that I am very familiar with. I’m at the site 2-4 times a week because part of the property is where I regularly volunteer for a therapeutic horseback riding program. In the planning process with the bride we talked excitedly about certain visions for certain photos but as the wedding drew near, I decided I better stick with tradition and go take a look. I checked the weather to see when we would have a day that would be similar to wedding day and ended up going two days before, at the same time of day I would be photographing the main
portraits. The first thing I noticed when I got to the property was how the brick pathway the bride desperately wanted her “first look” photos on was in glaring sun.
So much sun that the only facial expressions I’d get would be squinty eyes, scrunched noses, and deep shadows. It was not going to work. I noticed some shade at the end of the path and spotted a beautiful iron gate that would work (and in my opinion be better than the path). I decided to snap some iPhone photos so I could send them to the bride and tell her of the changes. I don’t always involve my brides that much with specific shot planning, however, in this case, she was so specific on wanting this absolutely-not-going-to-work path I felt it’d be best to prep her for the change of plans before the day of.
After seeing how drastically different this (I thought) familiar spot was, I decided to take a walk around the rest of the property just to make sure I wasn’t wrong about anything else. It definitely opened my eyes to how different the light can be, even when you think you know somewhere. This garden path was a spot we had talked about because the bride had wanted a “secret garden” feel. The tight spacing of the hedges would create an intimate, close photo, but I had to make sure that I placed them where the weird shadow/highlight line wouldn’t interfere.
Walking around I noticed how the light was very polarizing. It was either super bright or deep shade. In wedding photography, one of my key concerns is always rendering nice skin tones and retaining detail in the highlights (dress/jewelery/flowers). That’s darn hard to do in bright sun without light modifiers which would require quite a crew to haul around over the vast location. Logistically, it’s just not how I work. Therefore, I seek out those nice deep shade areas. Even though, this area by the hedge was a small patch of shade, the hedge would provide nice texture, and I knew if I used my 70-200mm lens, it would compress the space nicely and I could fill the frame with the small patch of shade, perfectly. Additionally, shooting from the path on either side would give me the distance to compress the space and the height to avoid shooting up from under on them based on how the landscape went downhill.
The last spot that surprised me was the beautiful tree lined path. I had remembered it with more deep shade. While that would probably be the case come Summer, this was early Spring so the tree canopy wasn’t as full. However, I knew I could work with it if I just had my couple walk down the path and back. They’d walk in and out of shady spots and I could capture some movement and get the right spot if I just watched carefully.
So next time you think you’re running short on time and you want to pass up that site visit, just remember, it’s always worth it! Had I not checked this out before, I’d be scrambling on the day of, running around a HUGE property on a 90+ degree day, getting sweaty, looking unprofessional, and ultimately not serving my client very well. I’m so thankful I did a site visit!
Lisa is a D.C. area based wedding & boudoir photographer. Follow her on & check out her website.