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Shooting Outdoor Ceremonies in Harsh Light

Happy Wednesday, friends!

If you’ve EVER shot an outdoor wedding ceremony before, you know that sometimes the light isn’t ideal! In fact, a lot of times, it can be REALLY harsh! Especially when the bride is first coming down the aisle!

We have three quick tips for shooting outdoor ceremonies in harsh light that should hopefully make things a little easier for you! So, without further adieu, here they are:

 1. Have Dad Walk the Bride Down the Aisle on the Side that Blocks the Sun

Now in an ideal world, we have soft, even light from head to toe during every outdoor ceremony, but that’s just rarely the case! And the sun is always the harshest at the beginning of the ceremony, when the sun is still higher in the sky. Even though there is typically a “side” protocol for the bride and the groom during the ceremony, in all our wedding experience, we’ve seen Dad walk on either side of the bride as he escorts her down the aisle. We’ve found that when we put Dad on the same side as the sun, since he’s usually taller, he blocks the light that would be hitting his daughter, putting her in perfect, even, shaded light — which we love! As you can see in the picture below. Now, again, in our perfect world, Dad isn’t getting hit by the sun either, but if we had to choose, we’re always Team Bride first! You’ll also want to note the angle (which we’ll get to in point two!).


2. Be Strategic About Side Angles

Even when the ceremony is earlier in the day, there’s typically one side that is softer than the other. It will always be the side that’s opposite where the sun is directly hitting. In this example below, you can see how powerful the sun is based on the way everyone’s hair is lit up. As you can imagine, if we had shot the ring bearer on the other side of his face, the whole thing would have looked harsh and un-ideal! And if we had shot him from the front, his face would’ve been spilt-lit (half over-exposed and the other half under-exposed) But shooting him from this one angle makes the light appear almost angelic! That’s why we find the best angle for the processional and stay there!

The same goes for the image above! Imagine if we had shot Kathleen and her dad coming down the aisle by standing on the side closer to the dad! Dad’s face would’ve been completely gone or Kathleen’s would’ve been way too dark! Shooting from Kathleen’s side was imperative to the shot. During portrait time, we always have full control of where everyone stands, but during ceremonies, we have little to no say at all, so angles are everything when it comes to ceremonies! Choose strategically!


3. Try Shooting From Behind the Altar

During church weddings, we’re typically restricted by the church’s rules on where we can stand, but during outdoor ceremonies, we have a lot more latitude. We always make sure that we’re respectful and discreet, but we also do everything we can to get the best images for our couples. If part or all of the front of the bride’s or groom’s face is in full blazing sun, it’s likely that from somewhere it’s not! We STRIVE for consistency in our images as much as possible even when we have no control over the location, meaning if we’re shooting the bride in shadows, we want to shoot the groom in shadows, too. It makes the images look SO much better for their blog and their album. So, a lot of times at ceremonies, we’ll walk around until we find the shadow side of both of their faces, and shoot those instead of the highlights side. We’ve found that a lot of times, back behind the altar gives us the most even light when the front angle just isn’t cutting it. Just look the difference! The first photo is what you’re used to seeing on this blog.


On the left, you’ll see NOT our favorite angle (this was what it looked like from the front!). Notice the harsher, more direct light on her right shoulder and Nick’s left cheek. On the right, you’ll see our favorite angle, taken just seconds later, but from the back of the altar. This is an angle we’d shoot all day long because her face is in the shadows. What a difference, eh?


In our dream world, we’d get even light from head to toe from beginning to end, but that’s just rarely the case! As the ceremony moves along, the light typically gets softer, which is why we LOVE recessionals! But when you’re in a pickle, pick your angles strategically and remember that ultimately your number one job is to capture precious memories for your couple, regardless of the light!


Okay, friends! We hope this post helps you at your next wedding ceremony! Go get ’em!

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  1. Jill

    September 30th, 2015 at 8:59 am

    This is SO helpful- I think I have tended to think “This isn’t something I can control…oh well, i will do what I can!” and then I luck into some great shots (of course, when the light is even and I am on the shadow side, and then tend to mostly FOCUS on whoever is backlit…but that isn’t always ideal, so I LOVE the idea of thinking proactively and figuring out how to make it work so that both are backlit and just staying there! Beautiful! The side to side is especially helpful 🙂

  2. Amy & Jordan

    September 30th, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks so much, Jill! Love your takeaways!!

  3. Nicole Amanda Photography

    September 30th, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Love this! Thanks so much guys. A lot of my brides are having noon ceremonies against my advice so this is amazing!

  4. Amy & Jordan

    September 30th, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    So happy to help Nicole!!

  5. Marvin Blue

    October 1st, 2015 at 4:45 am

    Great article thanks for all the wonderful tips this is definitely a game changer

  6. Amy & Jordan

    October 1st, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    You bet, Marvin! So glad it helped!

  7. Katie McGihon

    October 3rd, 2015 at 10:26 am

    LOVE the idea of having her dad stand on the other side. We will definitely implement that tip! The light here in Palm Springs is probably really similar to that hot, harsh sun that you deal with in Arizona 🙂

  8. Amy & Jordan

    October 5th, 2015 at 10:51 am

    YES! Totally! The sun is totally different for us desert dwellers 🙂

  9. Maria Rangel

    February 7th, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Just heard about you guys. Love your tips. You rock! Its the details and being conscious of where you are. New to shooting weddings. Thank you so much, that was extremely helpful, Aloha!

  10. Amy & Jordan

    March 7th, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks so much, Maria! We are so happy you love our tips! We’re cheering for you! 🙂

  11. Natalie

    February 9th, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you so much for this! It is very helpful. I’m hoping you can explain number 2 a bit more. Im not sure exactly what you mean by the opposite side to where the sun is hitting. Any clarification would be great. Thanks!

  12. Shannon

    February 9th, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Great, simple tips! Question…is there ever a case where a reflector is used during the ceremony if you have someone assisting? You guys are zeeee best! 🙂

  13. Theresa Rousset

    February 22nd, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    This was an invaluable post- you are such great teachers!!

  14. Amy & Jordan

    March 8th, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Aw! Thanks so much, Theresa! That’s so sweet of you! 🙂

  15. Tony

    March 17th, 2017 at 3:09 am

    Great tips and thanks for sharing! Shooting in Ohio we do not get a TON of outdoor weddings nor do we get a lot of full sunny days 🙁 I really like the tip about keeping the dad in the sun to shade the bride coming down the aisle! Very beneficial for always keeping the bride in the best light!

  16. Amy & Jordan

    March 17th, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Well, if you ever get a sunny day (fingers crossed), we hope you can use the tip!! We appreciate that, Tony!! Thanks, man! 🙂

  17. Jim T

    March 31st, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Your guys’ blog is terrific! I’m photographing my cousin’s wedding next month (it will be my first wedding as the lead photographer) and several of these posts have helped give me a lot of ideas and confidence. I’ve got a question on this post; in the section discussing shooting from behind the alter you talk about striving for consistency in how your subjects are lit from photo-to-photo. The comparison photos shown clearly demonstrate that shooting from behind was a great angle for capturing the bride’s face during the ceremony, however you haven’t shown a good photo of the groom’s. If you shot from behind the alter at the groom (over the bride’s left shoulder), you’d likely have half of his face over exposed and the other half under exposed; I was wondering how you captured the groom’s face while he was at the alter at this specific ceremony? Thank you and cheers!

  18. Amy & Jordan

    April 10th, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Hey, Jim!

    Congrats on your first wedding as lead! That’s exciting and something you you should be so proud of! It’s also a great question! Here’s what we’d recommend… If half the groom’s face is in shadows and you can angle it to shoot just that half of his face where you don’t see the side that’s exposed to the sun (and it doesn’t look weird) do that. If that’s not possible because he’d look like Two Face, then we’d shoot it from the highlight side (since that would be our only option) and then just make sure not to overexpose it, since most of the important part of the image and detail would be in the highlights. You don’t have to blog those ones if you don’t want. Ceremonies are tricky because you don’t get to control where people stand or what the sun’s doing, but the main thing is just to do your best with the hand you’re dealt. From our experience, there’s usually as least one good angle (or partial angle) for both the bride and the groom. Hope that helps and good luck!

  19. davin

    April 23rd, 2017 at 5:52 am

    Thank you so much for what you are doing! I have been a professional photographer for about 5 years now but I have always just been going with my gut and it is nice to hear your tried and true methods because it has given me a lot of confidence in knowing I am making the right decisions and that has in turn made me more calm and as a result I can have fun and get more creative, so thank you again!

  20. Amy & Jordan

    May 3rd, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Hi, Davin! Wow! Thank you so much! That means everything to us! We’re so happy we can encourage you! 🙂

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We help people take better photos and build successful photography businesses. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.


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