Why You Should Ask Your Venue About Ceremony Lighting

Wedding Tips

When touring your venue, did you picture exactly where you want the arbor to go? Where you would walk down the “aisle”? And where guests could sit? It’s so excited to picture the most monumental moment of your wedding day! But slow down… there’s one more thing to consider: ceremony lighting!

I know what you’re thinking.

“Isn’t that the photographer’s job?”

The answer to that is: “Well, yes, except during the ceremony.”

The ceremony is the only part of the day when the environment limits our ceremony lighting options. Often, we have no opportunity to provide our own expertise regarding ceremony lighting before a layout is agreed upon. So we adapt.

But, if you want to know how to get the best ceremony photos, here are a few things to consider!

Indoor Ceremony Lighting

Photographers often capture intimate moments inside of dark churches or ballrooms with limited window lighting. To make things more complicated, these spaces often use artificial tungsten lighting. Indoor lights are a different color than the natural light coming from windows. Why does this matter?

When two different colored sources of light are visible, it casts odd shadows and discoloration on skin. Sometimes this can be improved in the editing process. But it usually takes longer or some photos might have to be edited in black & white to salvage them from bad coloring.

See the example below of a bouquet shot from an indoor ceremony at Mount Ida Farm in Charlottesville, VA. If you look at the left side of the image (especially the second bridesmaid’s back), you see a blue-ish light coming from the left. Meanwhile the rest of the image is warm and leans more towards orange tones.

The reason for this is the light coming through the window on the left. It hits the bridesmaids’ skin and results in cool, natural light. Meanwhile, the overhead lights inside are warmer in color, making the rest of the image much more orange. Thanks to editing software, I greatly improved it from the original taken in my camera. But skin tones are still not perfect.

Mount Ida Farm indoor wedding ceremony. Charlottesville, VA wedding venue. Mint green bridesmaid dresses. Sky blue bridesmaid dresses.
Photo taken second shooting for Chelsea Schaefer Photography.

This works for many of the images taken during the ceremony. But some of the most intimate memorable moments lost some value because of the distracting discoloration. To fix this, I often make these images black & white (such as the ring exchange example below).

Mount Ida Farm indoor wedding ceremony. Charlottesville, VA wedding venue.
Photo taken second shooting for Chelsea Schaefer Photography.

For the reception, it’s common to use flash to counter limited lighting. But for ceremonies, flash is often prohibited by the venue. Also, imagine how distracting it would be for guests to have bright lights randomly fired in their peripheral view.

If you are planning an indoor ceremony, ask your venue what lighting options you have. Below are a few questions you want to be sure to ask your venue coordinator!

Questions to Ask the Venue:

  • Can we draw curtains/blinds during the ceremony?
  • Is there enough natural light to turn off the indoor lights?
  • Are there any rules against the use of flash?

Once you have these questions answered, be sure to relay the information to your wedding photographer! This way he/she knows how best to prepare!

Outdoor Ceremony Lighting

Outdoor ceremonies are my preference every time (though I realize weather is a huge factor here!) But even with all the access to natural light, some venue layouts can pose unforeseen challenges.

Some challenges include:

  • Wooded ceremony space: If you plan to say “I do” in the woods, look up. Is there any sight of the sky through the trees? If not, the trees create a canopy over your heads. That leafy color from above will likely make your photos look more green than you think. If that’s not your style, it’s best to find a clearing with more sky access.
Wooded wedding ceremony, Purcellville, VA wedding venue. Woodland wedding theme.
Photo taken second shooting for Gracie Withers Photography.
High noon wedding ceremony at Peaks of Otter Lodge in Bedford, VA. Virginia wedding venue. Outdoor ceremony. Lakeside mountainside wedding venue.
Photo taken for my own, Emily Nicole Photography.
  • Surrounded by shadow casters: Arbors are beautiful. But some arbors cast worse shadows than others. Be sure to test where you will stand during your rehearsal. Do this at the same time of day you plan to say “I do” to see if shadows fall over your face. Keep in mind, any shadows you see now will be captured in your photos on the big day. The best way to avoid this is to have taller arbors, or stand further in front of the arbor rather than directly underneath. Play around with your positions.
  • Late morning / High noon wedding ceremonies: 12 PM may seem like an ideal time to get married. You spend the morning getting ready, have the ceremony, provide a catered lunch for your guests, get on to the honeymoon early. But high noon weddings mean high noon lighting. The sun will be directly above your heads. This means you will have dark shadows under the eyes, nose, and chin.

Conversely, some ideal situations include:

  • Overcast wedding days: on cloudy days, you may worry about rain dampening your plans. But actually, an even blanket of grey sky can be perfect ceremony lighting! Overcast weather means more even light distribution and more vibrant colors (see example from an October Breaux Vineyards wedding below).
Breaux Vineyard Wedding ceremony in Purcellville, VA. Northern Virginia wedding venue. Merlot bridesmaid dresses. Burgundy bridesmaid dresses. Wine bridesmaid dress. VA Winery wedding venue. Grey groomsmen suit with red tie. Red wedding color scheme. Red and grey wedding colors. Overcast outdoor ceremony
Photo taken second shooting for Chelsea Schaefer Photography.
  • Backlit sunset ceremonies: If you are getting married at sunset, visit your venue to see the ceremony space at the time of day you’ll be saying “I do”. In case of full sun, be sure that the sun is at an about 45-90 degree angle from the line you and your bridal party will stand in during the ceremony. More simply, you want to be backlit as much as possible without your guests being blinded by the sun when they look towards the arbor.
Mount Ida Farm Wedding ceremony in Charlottesville, VA. Virginia wedding venue. Light blue bridesmaid dresses. Navy groomsmen suits. Sunset ceremony lighting. Outdoor farm ceremony.
Photo taken second shooting for Chelsea Schaefer Photography.

Some great questions to ask your venue coordinator for an outdoor ceremony include:

Questions to Ask the Venue:

  • Where is the sun usually at during that time of year at the time of our ceremony?
  • Is there plenty of clear sky opening above us when we say I do?
  • What objects might potentially cast shadows on our faces? Are there options to remove or rearrange those objects or ourselves to avoid as many shadows as possible?
  • What time of day / year do you recommend getting married in this spot for the best ceremony lighting?
Mount Ida Farm Wedding ceremony in Charlottesville, VA. Virginia wedding venue. Light blue bridesmaid dresses. Navy groomsmen suits. Sunset ceremony lighting. Outdoor farm ceremony.
Photos taken second shooting for Chelsea Schaefer Photography.

You deserve to preserve this part of your day in the best way possible. That’s why lighting can play such a major role in your photography experience! If you intend to hang ceremony images on your walls, you want to make sure it that the photos are as artful as the moment itself felt at the time.

Still confused about how to analyze your venue lighting? I’m happy to talk to you about it, whether I’m your photographer or not! Feel free to contact me through my “General” contact form to ask any questions you may have. I want you to have the best ceremony photos possible!

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