Mastering the Art of Wedding Photography in Mixed Outdoor Light

February 1st, 2024

Your next wedding is an outdoor beach wedding or in an garden or other outdoor location. The sun is high in the sky, the waves are gently caressing the sandy beach, there is a breeze swaying the trees and your heart is racing. Not because you're nervous about making a toast, but because you've signed up to capturing these precious moments in photos. How do you adjust your camera settings for this situation? Mixed outdoor lighting might can be rather challenging the first time you need to deal with it. Keep reading. In this blog post we will give you some straightforward hints for taking great wedding photos in mixed outdoor light.

Light - The Heart and Soul of Photography

You may have heard this before, but it is key to any good photograph, "Photography is all about playing with light." Light is the heart and soul of any photograph. From its direction to its intensity and color, light is the master that controls the mood and depth of your images. So when you're dealing with mixed outdoor lighting, like a strong midday sun casting harsh shadows on the bride's face, what do you do? Do you pack up and hope for a cloudy day? No, you get out your ever trusty flash.

The Magic of Using Flash

Now, before you roll your eyes and think, "Flash? Really? That's for dark rooms and stopping action,” hear me out. When you're dealing with bright direct sunlight, it's easy for parts of your subject to become lost in heavy shadows. That's where the flash comes in. A little bit of fill flash can even out the lighting on your subject, making them pop against the background without overexposing them.

Think of your flash as a mini portable sun that's always at the perfect angle. It doesn't matter if it's the brightest time of day or if there's a shadow being cast - you can control the light. But remember, it's all about balance. Too much flash, and you've got a washed-out ghost instead of a radiant bride. So take a few test shots and adjust your flash intensity to get that perfect balance.  The goal is to get the same light intensity across the entire scene. The basic steps are to measure the exposure you need to correctly expose the brightest area in the scene and then to use enough fill flash on the darker shadow areas to bring them up to the same exposure as the brightest areas.  Now you have an even light across the entire scene.

Another time to consider using flash if there is mottled light falling on the Bride or Groom's face and you want to even out the light. A fill flash will do wonders when used carefully. Be careful to use just enough fill to keep it looking natural.

Reflectors and Scrims - Your Secret Weapon

Sometimes the sun is so blindingly bright that even a flash can't balance things out. That's where reflectors and scrims come in. These are your secret weapons in mastering the art of wedding photography in mixed outdoor light.

A reflector does exactly what its name suggests - it reflects light. So when you've got a bride in the shadow of a majestic tree but her groom is standing in the harsh noon sun, you can use a reflector to bounce some of that light back onto her, filling in the shadows and making them more evenly lit. This is essentially the same process described for using fill flash, except you use the reflector to create the balanced light.

I little fill light lifts the shadows under the hat

Scrims, on the other hand, are all about reducing light intensity. They're like portable clouds you can carry around with you, softening the sun's harsh rays and casting a beautiful diffused light on your subjects. Simply have your assistant or a friendly guest hold the scrim above the subject (bride, groom, etc.) and reduce the light to a soft even light on them.  This will provide beautiful soft skin and happy subjects.

To wrap it up, remember that the key to taking better wedding photos in mixed outdoor light is to take control of the light yourself. Use a flash to balance out harsh shadows, and don't be afraid to use reflectors and scrims to adjust the lighting further. Practice, patience, and a keen eye for light are all you need to turn those challenging lighting situations into beautifully lit memories.

Every Photo is a Learning Experience

Always remember that each photo you take is an opportunity to learn and improve your skills. So, the next time you find yourself at a beach wedding under the blaring midday sun, don't panic. Just remember these tips and enjoy the process. Your portfolio - and your customers - will thank you!

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