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Battling Bright Light at Weddings

One of the many “joys” of wedding photography is that, try as we might to advise clients on the best photo locations and times of day, inevitably we’re thrown some of the trickiest lighting setups in the book. Mixed lighting color temperatures, ceremony restrictions on flash in churches that might as well be dungeons they’re so dark, time restrictions forcing you to photograph in blinding sun or dead of night, the list goes on and on. It’s one of the reasons why I think wedding photographers can often be some of the best all around photographers out there. We’re thrown a lot and have to know how to deal with each variable.

One variable I’d like to discuss today is blinding bright light. This wedding in particular had very tight timing concerns and the location was non-negotiable. The couple had a special connection to this location and the only time available to photograph it happened to produce a really nice deep shadow AND a really “nice” bright highlight. As you can see in this photo below, I’m combating bright light (and the harsh facial shadows it creates) with my bride, and dark shadows on my groom & the red door that the couple wanted to highlight in this photo.

A little behind the scenes shot showing the overview of how dynamic this scene was with light.
A little behind the scenes shot showing the overview of how dynamic this scene was with light.

Following an old film day mantra (that often translates to digital) of “expose for the highlights, develop for the shadows”, I chose an exposure that was a compromise between the two. I made it as bright as I could without wiping out all detail in the white wedding dress. This would enable me in post production to bring up the shadows and protect the highlights in a nice balance with one another.

I’d like to note here that I was shooting with available light. There are shooting options to utilize off camera flash to help compensate for this issue as well, however, given my timing restrictions & location restrictions (in a historic town that had a public festival going on at the time) I chose available light as my best option.

My first option with the harsh light.
My first option with the harsh light. Note the harsh shadows on the bride’s face and the reflecting light from her dress on the groom’s face.

With the compromise on the exposure, I was pretty happy with the overall balancing act this image needed to produce. However, there’s not a whole lot I can do to change the fact that the bride has deep set shadows on her face. Yes, bringing up the shadows helped, but it’s still distracting and doesn’t let her look her absolute best. With a quick rethink on the posing, I asked the bride to step into her groom’s space. I could use the shadow created from his face to fall onto hers, so that both faces would be evenly lit.

JM_Couple_Formals-019

By asking her to step in, I found my solution. Her dress was no longer reflecting back onto the grooms face, both their faces were now at the same level of brightness, and I had preserved details in the highlights while pulling them out of the shadows. I also feel like the pose allows the couple to appear more connected to scene rather than just using it as a prop, which is always a win to me!

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