As cameras and technology continue to advance, wedding photographers sometimes make a significant push towards large lighting packages and other gadgetry in an attempt to ‘improve’ their photos. When you consider just how far the price of professional lighting kits have fallen, it’s easy to see why. For just a few hundred pounds you can add equipment to your arsenal that is similar to the lighting devices used on high-end film shoots.
However, just because you can afford to add those resources to your photography business it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Wedding photographers often, and understandably, want to control every last element of the lighting. By doing that you may be able to recreate exactly what you had envisioned in your head before the shoot began, but ultimately you could be short-changing both yourselves and your subjects.
Wedding Photography and Photo Theory
One of the most important benefits of natural lighting pertains to your goals and intentions in the first place. As a wedding photographer, you’re essentially creating an album that will be used by the bride and groom for years to come, to re-live one of the most special and important days of their lives. As a result, the photographs that you provide need to accurately reflect the day through the eyes of those people. The look and feel of your photography should to a great extent match up with the way they remember their big day, to create the most immersive experience possible. Too much artificial and highly controlled lighting has the potential to alter those memories, and not for the better.
Most wedding photographers these days like to view themselves as less like a ‘hired hand’ and more like photojournalists – which is really what you are. When you’re documenting an event, you don’t want photographs to look too controlled. While hundreds of pounds worth of artificial lighting equipment may make sure that the bridal party is properly exposed (in the professional sense!), it can also result in something more akin to a high school yearbook photo than an accurate representation of the day’s events.
Natural Lighting and Your Subjects
Natural lighting can be a huge benefit for two very important reasons. One of those reasons is more technical in nature, while the other is behavioural.
Behaviourally speaking, if you’re trying to take candid, reportage-style pictures of the bridal party and a bright hot flash keeps going off nearby, it’s inevitably going to be a distraction (most wedding guests aren’t professional models). The flash also alters the mood of the room and ultimately the look of the pictures that you’ll be able to capture. Natural lighting isn’t just a way to achieve natural-looking photographs – it’s a way to help the wedding photographer become truly invisible to the room and, as a result, capture natural actions and interactions between your subjects.
From a technical standpoint, artificial lighting is also significantly limiting the depth of field and other aspects of what you’re able to achieve given the setting. This is mainly evident in two key situations: the ceremony itself and during the wedding reception.
During the ceremony, you will likely be in a room filled with dozens or even hundreds of the bride and groom’s closest friends and family members. Those people aren’t just background noise – they are an important part of what makes the day so special. Weddings aren’t just about two people who love each other saying “I Do” (though of course that’s the fundamental part). Weddings are also about friends, family members and other loved ones all coming together to share in that moment with people they care about. Natural lighting will help you capture that – artificial lighting might eliminate it. If you’re near the altar, chuppah etc, and are taking photos of the bride and groom with artificial lights, your depth of field will be so shallow that you will essentially be losing that entire context. The bride and groom may be photographed well and are crisply in focus, but everything else will be lost. Utilising natural lighting, on the other hand, will allow you to capture that entire room and present an accurate picture of what the day was actually like for those who were experiencing it.
The second situation comes during the wedding reception, which usually takes place at night in a relatively dimly lit room. Natural lighting is hugely important in this situation to capture as much of the activity as possible. If your flash is going off in a dark room, your depth of field is essentially limited to around five or so feet. You are literally deleting everything beyond that (which in this case is hundreds of people having the time of their live) from memory. Natural lighting may be harder to work with in these situations, but the results will be more than worth it.
There is obviously a time and a place for artificial lights, and in the UK in particular the long winter months often give you little choice. But, alongside the advent of more forgiving digital cameras, and excellent post-processing software to compensate for low light, natural lighting will often give the best results for you and your clients.