3 Ways I Understand and Measure Light as a Photographer

Understanding light is an essential part of our jobs as photographers, but it's not always as easy as "just looking for open shade". Looking for light in unexpected places and "non-ideal" locations allows my shooting style to be much more flexible, and allows my work to stand out from the 'expected'. Here are a few of the ways that I have learned to understand and look for light when I'm shooting. 

 how to find the best light for wedding photographers

1. In the Middle of Two Extremes

This has to be one of my favorite ways to see and use light in my work. When deciding where to shoot, I often look for places where two extremes meet - think dark shades meets bright light. This allows for a more 'moody' editorial look without the orange edits ;) ...

Need suggestions on where to look for this type of lighting? Here are a few go-to's that I use: 

  • Windows (think brighter window light next to darker indoor space). 
  • Overhangs and Doorways (think bride walking out into bright space from the darker indoors). 
  • Shadows think about using dark shadows to play around with in any given shot (dark shadows meeting brightly lit subject allows for a more interesting composition). 
  • Shooting next to a very dark wall with light on my subject. 

 soft and harsh light for editorial vibe in wedding photography

This image was shot on the edge of extremely bright light (coming from the window) and a much darker interior with black walls. The results is lots of depth in the imagery. 

2. Reflective Light

Now before you go and grab a giant handheld reflector, looking for reflective light can be done without any added tools. Generally, when I begin looking for a more clean, softly-lit portrait, I aim for some even light with a bit of reflective light. 

Bringing in (or looking for) some brighter upward-reflecting light on your subject can help fill some darker shadows, as well as be a bit 'more kind' to your clients' skin texture. Be sure not to use upward-reflecting light that's extremely harsh, though, or you can create awkwardly upward-facing shadows on your clients' face(s). 

Here are a few ways I look for reflective light on a wedding day: 

  • Sidewalks or flooring that is lighter (white, cream, light brown, etc).
  • Shooting near wall(s) that are lighter in color. 
  • Reflective bounced flash indoors and/or at night.

soft reflective lighting indoors during wedding shoot for photographers

The interior space of this image had lighter floorboards, a white bedspread (right near the client), as well as white reflective walls. The results was that it enabled me to shoot her backlit, while still getting plenty of front-lighting on her front-side from the reflective light. 

3. Soft vs. Hard Light 

Lastly, I often think of light as being either softer harsh. Generally, I tend to look for softer light as it will be 'kinder' to my clients' skin appearance. However, I occasionally shoot with harsh light (think direct flash, mid-day sun) to get a more editorial-style look. 

Here are a few moments throughout a wedding day when I shoot in soft vs. harsh lighting: 

  • Flash at Night: I often shoot direct flash at night to get a very editorial, in-the-moment look. However, I sometimes shoot softer light at night (bounced flash, multiple off-camera flashes) to allow the entirety of the venue/reception to show through in each image. 
  • Open Shade: If there is beautiful, open shade at a venue, I will often shoot larger groups and some of the portraits in this softer lighting. 
  • Tip: When shooting in soft light, try to find the direction the light is coming from, and shoot with this slightly to the side. This will give more dimension and depth to your images. 

image lighting tutorial for wedding photographers

The image above was shot in primarily soft light. The make it more interesting, we opened up the shades partially to pull in some shadows across the couch and across their legs. 


Suggested Next Reads:

10 Wedding Essentials You Need as a Wedding Photographer

Flash with Film: Practical Tips and Tricks


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