I am not normally an engagement or wedding photographer. Most of my photography doesn’t have people in it. However, fairly regularly I am asked to do either portraits, or events such as weddings or engagements.
I’ve always thought that people are so much harder to shoot than spaces or scenes. People are so much more critical of themselves than a flower or a room might be. I had one subject for a portrait ask me “are my gums really that big?” She asked me then if I could photoshop her gums to be more appealing. Seriously.
Shooting in Midday Sun
I don’t know about you, but when I am asked to do a headshot, portrait, engagement or wedding, and the client says “We’d like to do it at 1pm” – I immediately have a small panic attack. Shooting in harsh light, to me, a source of immediate anxiety.
So often I see midday wedding or engagement pictures where there are hard shadows on the bride or groom’s face, or the groomsmen are dripping with sweat, or half of the wedding party is squinting from the bright sun. Not to mention getting people to agree to leave their sunglasses off.
Additionally, the wedding venue can’t often be changed around to the photographer’s liking. If the altar is facing the sun, or in a spot where hard shadows are compromising faces and expressions, you have to work with it.
Basically, so much in terms of the lighting is immediately out of your control as a photographer.
How I Shoot a Wedding or Engagement in Midday Sun
The engagement I shot this summer (photo above) was wrought with a slew of immediate challenges including:
- Mid-day sun (obviously)
- Bride and Groom to-be both wearing hats
- On a popular hiking path that is very busy mid-day
- Warm and Sweaty
- Lots of hard shadows
I discussed these issues with the groom-to-be beforehand. My concerns were the shadows, squinting, hats, and looking hot and sweaty.
My strategy was to prepare him to not hurry, and to budget a few hours for me so we could try lots of different angles, and areas on the trail. Finding good shade was helpful, but in spots that was impossible.
I asked him to pick a spot on the trail that was in the shade to ‘pop the question.’ Most high-end DSLR’s have an excellent dynamic range, so even if the photo is a little dark, or bright, you have a lot of leeway to adjust in post. If you can:
- Shoot in RAW
- Shoot in Manual Mode if you are comfortable
- Get a good Zoom lens so your cover isn’t blown
- Shoot in High Speed Continuous (get numerous shots per click – eyes will close, expressions change and the more shots you have the better your chances of getting the perfect photo)
- Use a lens hood to minimize lens flare
- Find shaded areas
- Shoot with the sun slightly behind the subjects and expose for the faces
I found some great shady spots and we were able to get a handful of decent shots there. Obviously, photographers always prefer the warm, late-evening “Golden Hour” light, but we can’t always get what we want right?
We also got a number of shots hiking around without the benefit of shade. I positioned the couple facing away from the sun to minimize hard shadows on the face. This usually makes for a somewhat blown-out background, but this isn’t always a bad thing.
Sometimes, it “Is What it Is” and there will be shadows and you just have to do the best you can.
Typically when it is bright, you can easily get away with a range of “F-Stops.” However, a lot of wedding photographers like larger apertures (F 2.8-F5.6 ish) so they can capture a nice blurry background (bokeh). I’ve found that too large of an aperture risks having some of the subject out of focus, especially if the subjects (people) are at different distances from the camera. I’ll often be around F 3.2 or 4 instead of all the way open just to get a little more ‘sharpness confidence.’
ISO really doesn’t have to be high. You should have plenty of light. I tend to be at 100 or 200. If I want to be able to have a faster shutter speed, I’ll bump up the iso a little.
Shutter speed is the main adjustment in manual – this can be 1/500 as a starting point and then adjust as the scene and light changes. Look at your histogram to make sure nothing is blown out too much.
Many photographers aren’t quite comfortable yet in full manual mode, so they’ll choose Aperture Priority so they don’t have to think too much about settings as they shoot. Of course, this relegates more control and decision making to the camera, but is often fine since, as I mentioned, you’ll have a lot of leverage to adjust in post if you are shooting in RAW
What About Flash?
If you are comfortable with using flash, by all means have it in your toolbox. Even in bright sun, if you have a backlit subject, a little bit of fill flash can come in handy. If you have time for a more elaborate setup, you can set up diffusers or beauty dishes.
You can even use a reflector to shade your subjects if you have the time.
But, for most weddings or engagements, the photographer is in ‘run & gun’ mode, and flash can slow you down.
Most newer DSLR’s and Mirroless Cameras have incredible low-light capabilities without supplemental lighting.
Weddings and engagements are tricky and often stressful to shoot. Unlike scenes, landscapes, real estate, or other spaces, your subjects are always moving and the scenes are very dynamic. Control over lighting is often compromised, and given the nature of these events, you only have one chance to ‘get it right.’
With a few strategies, and having an honest conversation with the client before the shoot, you can get back some of that control, set expectations and deliver the best product you can with the circumstances and variables you will be presented with.
So, my question to you is – How would YOU shoot it?