Caravaggio Lighting Technique – Single Light Sources At Weddings

Why I love Caravaggio and single light sources

Caravaggio is one of my favourite painters. The drama, the tension, the movement, all together in a single composition creates images like no other. Each element working in harmony on the canvas to produce an image that is brimming with emotion an intrigue and executed to technical perfection.

A hallmark of Caravaggio’s work is his use of single light sources, the dramatic lighting creates contrast in the extreme. The lighting aside, it’s the animation in his work that draws me to it. The use of hands especially. Hands are like additional faces, they tell stories all on their own and are incredible tools for driving narrative. They can carry tension and aggression, or have a dainty effect like a ballet dancer, both extremes of the scale can be portrayed by hands.

I love this about wedding photography. People talk with their hands, they fling them about wildly when having a good time, point at things that make them laugh or gently caress something they love, hands are magical tools of communication.

Painting with this extreme contrast is called the Chiaroscuro technique, it probably explains why I love very high contrast black and white photographs. Despite the simple nature of the lighting technique, it is in fact rather rare to come across as many wedding venues have multiple light sources. Whether it’s overhead lighting acting as fill light or multiple windows dotted throughout the room, having one window or light source is not common. With it however, you can produce images like this:

single light source
wedding ceremony black and white

Without trying they are dramatic. Everything looks epic. A few candles in the inlets and it’s also incredibly easy to achieve a warm and intimate feel. Here’s a few colour pictures:

candlelit wedding ceremony

Not only does the ceremony look cool, but it can also be utilised for couple pictures. Using the exact same pose can result in markedly different outcomes simply by changing the side you’re shooting from. From the front the couple are evenly lit and stand out against a solid black backdrop. In the reverse the couple are back-lit, resulting in a near pure white background.

backlighting wedding photography

To create the same look at your own wedding which will result in dramatic and painterly wedding photographs, consider getting dressed in the morning next to a window. Turn off the overhead lights in the room, turn on some lamps if you need additional light, and then have your makeup and hair done whilst facing out of a window. Then when it’s time to get dressed, put your dress on next to a window too.

Since I’m aiming to be one of the top wedding photographers London has to offer, I stay up with everything I discuss here on my blog.

For couple portraits, turn off all lights indoors and then stand in the doorway. The added benefit this has is that if the background is a bit cluttered, then the extreme contrast will hide it completely, winning.

The same extreme contrast can be achieved by simply standing in a shard of light that could be coming through the trees or that is channelled into a beam by the surrounding architecture. In this image the building has channelled the light into a small strip. Placing the bride in the light and exposing for the light illuminates her perfectly and then throws the background into shadow. By shooting the reverse and working into the light, one can create a halo effect around the subject and separate them from the backdrop.

Complicated lighting rigs, you really don’t need them…

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