Winter Wedding Photography Tips: What You Need To Know
Winter wedding photography ideas, tips and what you need to know
It’s cold, more than likely going to be wet, and it’s dark by 4.30pm. BUT – winter weddings are incredibly fun to photograph because they fill the air with a certain romance. So much so ladies and gentlemen, that I chose, yes chose, to get married in December. Why you may ask? Having experience as a top wedding photographer, let me paint you a picture.
Candle lit ceremony, everyone warm and cosy by the fire, black and white grainy photographs. Oh! so chic darling! It was essentially a twelve hour Christmas cocktail party with a wedding and feast thrown into the mix. It was an incredible day. I’ll never forget it.
You are here however, not to hear my tales, but to find winter wedding photography tips and winter wedding photography ideas. No doubt you will have questions concerning weather, availability of light and so on, so lets get into it:
The big one. What to do about the lack of light in the winter?
– Consider your ceremony time carefully relative to what pictures you might like
– Your images will be grainy
– It will be pitch black by about 4.30pm
The weather doesn’t affect my approach, it merely changes the aesthetic of the final image, as in, the images are grainy. I’m still looking for the same moments, reactions and interactions.
Grain – What is Grain and What Does it Look Like?
Considering there is a lot less ambient light in general in winter months, this means that as photographers we need to alter the way we work in order to achieve images that are correctly exposed. High end cameras and lenses can help with that in a mechanical sense, but in some situations where it is very dark and flash might not be an option, you need to be aware of what a grainy image is and what it looks like.
Here’s a few examples. Compare the crops of these two images. Shot at the same wedding, the first image is from the ceremony, indoors, but with the sun shining outside, there’s lots of ambient light. If we zoom in to 100% on the image, we can see the detail on the hand and just how sharp that Sigma lens is, oomph. (remember these images are compressed for the web so are much higher quality in real life)
Fast forward eight hours and we have the next shot from the dance floor. This is where we rely on camera technology to help us boost the lighting artificially – and this is where grain comes in.
If we examine the 100% crop on this, the grain immediately becomes apparent. Here’s the side by side for easy comparison.
The first colour image is what the scene looks like to the naked eye, the image on the right has been processed in Photoshop.
Here is a side by side comparison of both hands with lots of ambient light from the ceremony, and little ambient light during the dance.
Hopefully you can see that the detail on the image on the left has started to break up, it always reminds me of the static you used to get on old televisions.
It’s a question of taste, personally, I love grain and think it adds a certain charm to a photograph. If you hate it altogether, then it’s worth knowing that if you get married in winter, then this will be the reality for most of your images. N.B this is true of documentary wedding photographers, if you choose a photographer who uses flash all the time, this won’t be so much of an issue. BUT – flash is annoying, nigh on impossible to use for quality candids and is often banned during the wedding ceremony. Forewarned is forearmed.
Consider the Ceremony Time
If you have you heart set on daylight group pictures and couple photographs, you will need to consider the time of the ceremony. It will be dark by 4.30 pm, guaranteed. Not only that, the light level will drop dramatically as we approach 4ish. The winter solstice the sun sets at 4.30, that means that at 3 o’clock at that time of the year the light will begin to evaporate. If you would love daylight photographs, you need to be getting married at 12/1 o’clock-ish.
Low lighting and candlelit ceremonies
This section got too big for a side note so I made an entire blog post on low lighting and candlelit ceremonies – it’s very good. To summarise the low lighting blog post – grain is inevitable when it’s dark, but grain is also very cool.
Couple portraits – can you take couple portraits when it’s raining and windy?
Not only will we be battling the fading light, chances are the weather will play a big part too. It’s statistically quite likely that it will be either windy or rainy…or both. With this in mind it’s worth choosing a wedding venue with some beautiful interior architecture. This gives us options because we can use very simple elements of the building to create really cool couple portraits.
Something as simple as a doorway looking out onto the grounds can provide shelter from the elements and two very distinct lighting scenarios to play with.
(it’s raining outside in these pictures)
Can we take a whole group photograph?
It’s worth noting that at winter weddings the only place that is often feasible to take the picture of everyone (that is, if you want that picture) is in the dining/dancing room once daylight has faded. I say this because unless you’re getting married in a mansion type venue, there are limited options for indoor space when it comes to getting everyone in.
We know the dining room will hold everyone, so it makes sense for that to be the default location. The best time to do it? Probably just before cake cutting or at that point of the evening. I say this because the DJ has a microphone which will make it easy to communicate with everyone and the tables will be cleared away to reveal the dance floor. Everyone on the dance floor, me on a chair, bosh, done.
Be prepared for the cold
Embrace the cold, love the stillness in the air, cosy to the fireside. My main concern is peoples happiness, if you’re happy, you will be you. You will glow and the natural reactions, laughter and tears will all look after themselves. Preparedness is important.
Do not buy a dress in the summer forgetting that it may well only be a few degrees above zero on your wedding day. Gentlemen, if you want a certain style of suit, make sure that you have purchased it whilst it is still in season. A summer blazer is meant precisely for summer, if you love that look, in winter you may find only more formal cuts of suit on offer as it is the season of formal balls, dances and presentations.
Ladies, go for heavy fabrics, a fur (not real fur) style shawl is always a good idea to wrap up in should you need to move between buildings. Oh, and don’t forget the brolly!
Be prepared extra note – be prepared with your hair. If it’s windy and you have your hair down, it might go everywhere!
Thoughts on international clients and the snow
This is of course aimed at those planning in the UK, where the winters are generally grey. But hey, would Spring have that same quality of being renewed if the winters weren’t so bleak? Anyway, I poetically digress. If you’re getting married somewhere that it is guaranteed to snow, well then that’s a whole different ball game – let’s make plans to go outside! I’d still recommend a snifter of something to keep you warm, but portraits in the snow is going to look amazing. I’ll bring the Brandy, you bring the blankets, together we’ll make some memories.
Non-photography related ideas and thoughts on winter weddings:
Biggest win – pricing
One of the deciding factors in why I chose to get married in December, was the fact that it was fifteen thousand pounds cheaper. Yep, you read that right. Out of the regular season, on a Thursday, mega discounts. You don’t have to ask for it either, venues have it plugged into their structure, winter rates and spring/summer rates are a known thing and a big reason to tie the knot when the nights have drawn in.
Venues are already decorated
Flowers cost a fair bit of money, my top money saving tip is if you get married in winter, enquire if the venue will be kitted out with Christmas decorations. If not, you could do it yourself. Christmas trees and ivy is much cheaper than roses and peonies, create your own winter wonderland.
Leave plenty of time for travel
It’s worth factoring in that with the cold and the rain comes fewer people using public transport and more opting for the air conditioned comfort of their own cars. More cars = more traffic, roads will be busier. It’s worth considering that journey times will increase. If it snows in the UK, then you’re at the whim of the efficiency of the transport folk who grit the roads and keep everything moving. Limit travel time between venues, or, choose a venue which can host the entire day
Choosing your venue
Go and see it in winter. This sounds so incredibly obvious, but a venue is a sales machine, it wants to present the venue at it’s best, so the open days may be in summer. The photographs on the website and brochure will definitely be on a sunny day and all the flora and fauna will be at there very best. I get it, they are a business after all, but as the client you need to be savvy.
Make sure you visit the venue at the exact time you plan to get married, to the day and hour if you can. It might reveal something you had never considered, or the light may fall in an odd place because of the angle of the sun. It will also help you get into the headspace of how cold it might be. If you visit the venue in hiking gear and a 15 tog coat borrowed from sir Ranulph Fiennes, then it might be time to rethink the thin strap wedding dress.
Big note on this – pay attention to what plant life is alive and what is dead. A beautiful summers garden can quickly fade to twigs when the frost hits. I say this as I have seen vineyard wedding venues have their open days in August/September. The vines are lush and bountiful, the hillside filled with rows of green as far as the eye can see. But then! The harvest comes.
If you’ve booked your wedding for October, those luscious rows will now be shadows of there former selves. Be switched on. My favourite thing to do if you don’t mind looking a bit odd, is to lie on the floor. This tip works great when buying a house too. It completely changes you perspective of a place and removes the wow factor.
You might see cracks, cobwebs and damp patches that take the veneer off of a place and reveal to you how things may be conducted behind the scenes – excellence – it’s all in the details.
I hope this post has been helpful and has shed some light on a few areas you may not have considered. Comment on the post if I’ve missed anything or if you have a specific questions you would like me to answer.