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The First Dance

The First Dance

Written by Chuck Jackson

In poker, players have to deal with the hand they are dealt. In weddings, photographers have to deal with the venue we have to work with. Like poker, not all venues/hands are created equally.

We’ve all been there; horribly lit chapels with strict “no flash policies” relegating you to one small area in the back of the church. I recall one such wedding in an Orthodox church that required photographers to shoot from a small roped off box in the back of the sanctuary without flash. Your only choices in that scenario are a tripod and long lens.  Period.  And then, the flip side; the most PERFECT day for the PERFECT outdoor wedding where the sun and clouds are just PERFECT for creating BEAUTIFUL images! After booking the wedding, you may or may not have an optimal lighting situation for the wedding ceremony, reception, etc. and you have to make the best of it. That is our job.

Regardless of the wedding venue and lighting situation, as professional photographers we are hired to capture the best possible wedding pictures for the Bride & Groom’s most important day! Having said that, we must understand how we can make adjustments and optimize the wedding venue we have to work with. Here are a few scenarios and suggestions…

  • Poorly lit ceremony venue: Usually, either the pastor, priest, etc. or venue has very specific restrictions against flash use in a poorly lit venue. Tripod use is a must to reduce camera shake with slower shutter speeds, wider apertures, and/or higher ISO’s. Don’t leave home without your tripod!
  • Nighttime outdoor wedding ceremonies: With adequate lighting, these can be beautiful and may not require on or off-camera flash. However, “good lighting” can be expensive and this is oftentimes not in the budget. To combat this, on or off camera flash units can be your best friend to really light things up! Strategic placement is key – and more than one helps!
  • Low light reception halls: Some halls have fabulous lighting (particularly spot and up lighting) setups which can make things tremendously easier for photographers. But lacking this, on or off-camera flash units can save the day! In almost every case, receptions are intentionally low light situations so shooting with mid-to-high ISO’s, using flash units, and/or fast lenses are the norm.
  • Trussed ceilings in low light situations: These cast horrible shadows when using flash; particularly when bouncing off the ceiling if low enough. I try to avoid low angles (looking up) and prefer to use on-camera or off-camera flash to light.
  • Mid-day sun outdoors: Bright, harsh, and high sunlight can make photographing things challenging due to harsh shadows. On or off-camera fill-flash is a wonderful equalizer. High-speed sync (HSS) flash photography is something I use automatically (I leave it set on my camera and speed-light all the time) and this can really help by allowing full depth-of-field control and appropriate fill flash levels.

In all cases, it helps to know the lay of the land (including lighting policies) in advance of the wedding day so you can be prepared. Sometimes, this is impossible, but some advance recon to figure out the best settings can make a significant difference.  Whatever the situation with the wedding venue, it is the photographer’s job to capture the best possible images by adapting to the situation. Doing so will mitigate some of the challenges inherit with certain restrictions and scenarios.

Chuck Jackson is a wedding photographer for PhotoActive Photography in Tampa, FL. Check out http://www.photoactivephotography.com to see wedding images and samples from other photography genres, as well!

Laura & Brian at sunset

Laura & Brian at sunset