PLANNING YOUR OUTDOOR CEREMONY
Outdoor ceremonies would have to be my preferred ceremonies to photograph. Being in the outdoors surrounded by trees and nature provides a more relaxed environment for the bride and groom and their guests.
Church weddings have their own unique appeal with beautiful architecture. As well as being indoors the security of a roof over your heads and shelter should you experience wet weather on your wedding day.
Certain churches have photography guidelines which restrict the places inside the church where a photographer can stand. Some churches guidelines state the photographer can only stand in the aisle and not approach more than 4-5 pews back from the alter and only from the side aisles. This limits the number of angles a photographer can shoot from which also limits the angles/shots of the bride and groom and the guests during the ceremony.
Also the lighting in churches, is generally dealing with low light and horrible artificial fluorescent or tungsten lighting, which creates a horrible yellow colour cast and gives a yellow/green tone to the images. Another factor to consider is shooting in low light reduces the quality of the photos due to having to shoot on a higher ISO which adds digital noise to the image.
Whereas outdoor ceremonies allow the photographer more freedom to move around as well as a variety of angles and generally beautiful natural light. Of course there can be some challenges to outdoor weddings, such as weather conditions – rain, bright sunshine, hot and cold climates. But using the following tips will give you the best opportunity to enjoy your outdoor ceremony and achieve great wedding photos.
OUTDOOR CEREMONY TIPS
Best Time Of Day For Your Outdoor Ceremony.
If you are planning an outdoor ceremony, lighting is an important factor to take into consideration. Harsh lighting such as direct sunlight is unflattering. Harsh light occurs during the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest and high overhead in the sky. Harsh light creates unflattering shadows on your face and body. Whereas soft light which is filtered or in shade is beautiful and soft – beautiful and flattering light for the face and body. Soft light occurs later in the afternoon approaching sunset or in shaded areas.
Please try to avoid getting married in the middle of the day if you are planning an outdoor ceremony.
Another factor to consider is the weather. In the middle of summer, an outdoor ceremony could provide a hot and sunny environment for you and your guests, so you will want a shaded area or have it later in the afternoon to avoid the heat in the middle of the day. Whereas an outdoor ceremony in the middle of winter might be a bit cold and more chances of it raining. In winter you can have your ceremony earlier because the sun is lower in the sky during the middle of the day and the sun sets earlier.
Lighting And The Direction Of The Sun For Your Outdoor Ceremony.
Naturally most couples would choose the ceremony to have the beautiful backdrop. But that doesn’t always provide for the best lighting. Try to choose the direction based on the direction of the sun. If your planning your ceremony at least 12 months in advance, visit the ceremony area at the same time of year to see where is sun is to establish if either the bride or groom will be facing into the sun. You will both want to be standing in the same lighting for consistency in your photos, but you also dont want to be squinting because the sun in glaring in your eyes!
For photos, the best light is even light, or the same light on the bride and groom, and bridal party.
Here are some lighting scenarios to consider:
– The sun coming from either side. Then one of you will be looking into the sun and one will have their face in shadow.
– The sun coming directly at you. Then you will be in full sunlight and possibly squinting. However its not all bad, at least you will both be in even or the same light.
– The sun is directly behind you. Then the sun will be directly in the eyes of your guests, and they will most likely be watching on with sunglasses on to avoid staring into the sun. But again, its not all bad, as you will both be in even or the same light.
If you have a choice, have the sun either at your front or back, but try to avoid side lighting if possible. If you can’t avoid it … remember if you have hired a professional photographer, they will make it work to the best of the situation.
The ideal lighting situation would be an overcast day where the clouds filter the sun creating nice even light. However, I am in the business of shooting real weddings, and dealing with all kinds of situations and challenges, and a world where nothing is ever perfect, nor would we want it to be as that would be dull and boring, right! :)
For the first 7 years of my wedding photography career, I have been shooting in Queensland, the state where its beautiful one day and perfect the next, which means lots of weddings in the hot sun. If you are having an outdoor ceremony in Australia in summer, you might want to consider having some shade available for the comfort of your wedding guests. If your outdoor area has trees, they will provide natural shade. Otherwise large shade umbrellas are a great option or you can always hire some parasols.
Above: Here is an example of wedding where the sun was coming from the side –
not the most flattering light due to the lighting changing across the entire bridal party.
The groom is in full sun and you can even see where there is some shadow falling on his face.
As you follow the line of the groomsmen, the light goes from bright to shade and even some dappled light.
However, the bride and bridesmaids are all in the shade.
Saying Your I-do’s Under A Big Tree.
If you have chosen to get married under a big tree, I think I love you! … something to consider is how much or little light is under the tree canopy. As talked about above in regards to the direction of the sun, the same applies to the direction of the light under the tree canopy. You don’t want one of you in sun and the other in shade.
You also don’t want to be standing in dappled light which is caused by sun sneaking through the leaves resulting in a mixture of light and shade spots across either or both of your faces. Dappled light is probably one of the most unflattering lighting conditions to photograph in due to the patchy effect.
Its a good idea, a day or two before the wedding, to visit the ceremony site at the same time of day that your ceremony is taking place and check what the light is doing. You want the bride & groom and preferably the bridal party to all be in the same light – either in full sun or full shade.
Above: The bride is in shade and while the celebrant has shade on his face,
down his body is patchy dappled light which if it was on his face wouldn’t be pleasing to the eye.
The problem with this is if he moved forward, there would be light on his face.
This lighting is quite acceptable.
Above: the entire bridal party and guests are under the shade of the tree canopy – the ideal lighting.
A Wet Weather Back Up Plan Is A Must For Outdoor Ceremonies.
When having an outdoor ceremony, I recommend having a wet weather ceremony backup venue. Unless you are the adventurous type and happy to stand under umbrellas .. you brave souls and I hope Im there to photograph it :)
If it should rain on your wedding day, usually your reception venue will have an undercover area like a verandah or function room of some sort you can use as your emergency wet weather backup, but it’s best to speak directly with your reception venue about the alternative options in the case of rain.
If you aren’t into the whole church wedding, it doesn’t mean an indoor ceremony has to be in a church. There are plenty of alternative options, like a charming homestead, museum, art gallery, a barn, an industrial warehouse, a quirky cafe or stylish restaurant or even a cute little wedding chapel … the options are endless and are only limited by your imagination.
If on the day of the wedding there is just a chance of rain and it has been drizzling in the morning, you can always give umbrellas to your guests as in the photo below. These umbrellas also double as protection from the sun in case you have a hot sunny day :)
Above: While the couple and bridal party were under shelter, a surprise shower had the guests reaching for their umbrellas.
I love these photos of the couple’s parents! Imagine if it had not rained, they would not have these fun photos!
Take Your Seats Please.
You definitely should consider having some seating for an outdoor ceremony. Particularly for your immediate family members and for the elderly guests. Remember your guests arrive around 15 minutes before the bride, then the ceremony might be 15-30 minutes long, so imagine your family and friends having to stand for 30-45 minutes, especially in the warmer weather months.
Make the width of the aisle a decent width so the bride and her father can comfortably be standing side by side as they walk down the aisle. At least 2 metres is a good starting place. Thin aisles mean the guests are on top of the aisle and it looks cramped in the photos. And if guests are leaning into the aisle to get their iPhone shots blocking the view, it makes it difficult for the professional photographer to get clean shots of the bride as she walks down the aisle to her groom.
Also allow at least 3 metres from the front row of seats to where the bride & groom, and bridal party is standing. Again it can feel cramped if you are too close to the first row.
Sound … The Guests Want To Hear Your Vows.
Unless you’re having a really small wedding, a microphone and speakers are a must for an outdoor ceremony so your guests can clearly hear what is being said. Especially for beach ceremonies as you have to combat the sound of the wind and ocean, but even garden ceremonies will have some environmental noise affecting the sound quality.
Most marriage celebrants will bring their own sound system, but it’s always good to check with them. While celebrants are comfortable speaking in public, the couple are often emotional and nervous, and will speak softly and can’t be heard, so a microphone will help project your voice out to the guests.
Particularly for weddings near the coast will experience some level of wind. You will need to consider what you will do if the ceremony location is too windy. Is there shelter? Will anything you are using for styling be blowing around, for example, table cloths or fabric drapes hanging from an arbor? You might need to tie/clip things down to hold in place.
Also consider if you are a bride planning on wearing your hair down or if you are wearing a veil and its windy, your hair/veil might blow around in your face during the ceremony, and you don’t want to be constantly pulling your hair/veil out of your face. And of course we don’t want photos where we can’t see your face.
Above: Only moments before the bride walked down the aisle during this beach wedding it was raining and windy.
However the weather gods were on this couple’s side, because just as the bride stepped out of the car the rain stopped.
It was a good thing the bride and bridesmaids hair was in an up-do.
Being overcast the clouds created a beautiful flat light for their wedding photos.
Shoes – Flats or Heels.
I find most brides take a practical approach with their wedding shoes these days for outdoor ceremonies. You wouldn’t wear heels if you were having a beach wedding for the obvious reason that you would sink into the sand. Just as you probably wouldn’t wear heels on grass for the same reason, or at least not without protective heal stoppers to protect your beautiful heels from sinking and getting dirt on the heel.
Wearing flats are much more practical for the ceremony. And if you must wear heels, bring them out for the photo shoot. Just be mindful that the difference in height may affect the length of your dress, so when wearing your flats it might be longer and risk falling over your skirt. Make sure you try your dress on with the shoes you plan on wearing on the wedding day. If you must wear heels, wear clear protective heel stoppers, which will protect your heels and stop you sinking into the grass.
Refreshments Are A Well Received Treat For Guests After The Ceremony.
There is no better way to celebrate your marriage than having a celebratory drink with your family & friends after the ceremony. If you are inviting people to an outdoor ceremony in summer, consider having some refreshing drinks like non-alcoholic punch or water bottles available for after the ceremony.
Looking After Your Elderly & Disabled Guests.
If you plan on inviting elderly or disabled guests to your ceremony, when deciding on your ceremony, take into consideration how those guests will access the ceremony location. If access to the ceremony area is by stairs, or a dirt or sandy track, it may not be suitable. However, talk with your wedding co-ordinator to see what options they have, possibly a golf cart or other vehicle can transport your elderly or disabled guests to the ceremony location.
Enjoy the Experience.
Remember at the end of the day, you are getting married and it should be a joyous occasion. Live in the moment and don’t sweat the small stuff because its true – the day goes by so fast. It’s not about the weather, the location or the decorations but about the two of you and sharing it with your loved ones. So don’t forget to enjoy your wedding day as it only happens once!
Indoor ceremonies may seem the easier option, but coming from a seasoned professional photographer, my most favourite ceremonies have been outdoor ceremonies. If you are considering an outdoor ceremony, plan it with the above outdoor ceremony tips and go with your gut instinct.