Let There Be Light!

Written and Photographed by Curator Lisa of lisa kathan photography:

Photographers are students of light. An experienced wedding photographer can walk into any space and know if it’s light enough for quality photographs, where are the shadows will fall, and what kind of photographs can be created in that particular light. I don't want to get too nerdy here…but light – and the quality of light – play a crucial role in your wedding photography!

Of course, it's part of your photographer's job to understand light. Still, if you're getting married, it's a good idea for you to wrap your mind around a few things regarding light so you and your photographer can achieve the best results on your wedding day.

Getting ready photos

The light in most getting ready spaces is generally not great. Usually couples get ready in a hotel room with lamps or overhead light, which can make your skin orange in photos. For this reason, photographers will often turn off all the lights, and use window light; but frequently the window light is not bright enough to illuminate the entire space.

However, there are a few things you can do when selecting a getting ready location. Choose a space or hotel room with white walls, which will help reflect what window light is available. If you’re able to get ready in a home or an Airbnb with larger rooms and lots of windows, that’s even better!

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Most photographers prefer to use natural light for portraits. This can be outdoor light, coming in through a window or door, or capturing photographs outside. Taking photos outdoors is nice; but in the Midwest we’re prone to things like, rain, snow, and freezing or blistering hot temperatures. 

Definitely have an indoor backup plan for photos so you don't have to rely on perfect weather. This can be renting another location, like as an Airbnb, or if your venue has enough window light, you may be able to take your wedding photos there. It helps your photographer a ton when you’re part of this process in either providing a space, or being willing to pay for permits to rent indoor spaces. 

If you're getting married in a rural town, or even in the city, it's very likely your photographer won't be able to find a free indoor option, so be willing to consider some paid locations if your venue isn’t a realistic option. I’ve even photographed couples sharing drinks at their favorite wine bar, so consider offbeat spots, too.  


Many couples plan to have their wedding outdoors. But often the back-up plan for bad weather is an indoor space that has overhead lighting, which can make your skin look orange. Even beautiful churches typically use overhead lighting in the space. 

This is somewhat fixable in editing, but your photos will usually end up looking flat and kind of dull. Ask your wedding photographer what their plan is for lighting the ceremony indoors. If you're fine with the overhead lighting, that's great, but it's a good idea to ask your photographer for some samples of weddings where they shot in similar light, just so you can be sure that you were okay with it. Keep in mind, your venue may not allow for anything other than the light available in the space; but it can be helpful to ask your photographer so you can adjust your expectations. 

Occasionally photographers will use flash during the ceremony, but some venues don't allow it, and it can be very distracting to your guests. We personally use a constant light (which minimizes flash distraction) for dimly lit ceremonies, and it creates a beautiful, atmospheric light, even in the darkest spaces.

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Cocktail hour and reception

Usually by the time cocktail hour and reception roll around, it's gotten quite dark, and your photographer will be forced to rely on some kind of artificial light. Most photographers use flash during this time. We also use constant light during the reception for a variety of reasons; but either way, if your cocktail and reception are near or after dark, be sure your photographer is skilled at using some type of artificial light during this time.

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A side note about group photos

This isn’t as much about light, but it is related to selecting your locations for photos. I often run into with couples that want lots of family, wedding party and group photos, but they don’t consider the space necessary for them. Again, outdoors almost always best. But sometime because of weather or time of day, you’re forced indoors.

Your photographer may be able to offer suggestions for indoor photos, so again, it's important to bring your photographer in on your planning, so they can help educate and guide you in your decisions.

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What about time of day?

A big influencer in getting great photos is they time of day they’re being taken, as well as the time of year. If you’re taking photos outdoors – such as portraits, or even your ceremony – and you’re getting married in the middle of the afternoon in the summer, the light is very harsh. A skilled photographer will still be able to take photos during this time of the day; but you’ll look best in photos the closer you get to sunset. In the summer, this time might be closer to 6pm; in the winter, it can be more like 3pm.

When you’re relying on outdoor light for photos, but you’re inside, your photographer will begin to lose light about 1-2 hours before sunset. So if you’re planning your indoor ceremony for 4pm, and the sun sets at 4:30pm, there will more than likely not be enough light for your photographer, and it also might not be enough light for your guests to see your ceremony. So plan on timing of light before setting your ceremony time and sending out the invitations. 

Talk with your photographer 

Don't leave questions about indoor lighting to the last minute! Having a solid plan that considers light will not only eliminate stress if the weather isn’t ideal, but will ensure you have beautiful photographs of your wedding day.

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Curator and Photographer: lisa kathan photography