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Throwing Shade: A photographer’s guide to lighting on your wedding day

Throwing Shade:

A photographer’s guide to lighting on your wedding day

The simplest way to summarise photography is the ability to capture light and, just as importantly, the lack of light. “Available light” is a term that photographers use regularly to describe the sources of light presented to them in any given setting.

Knowing all of the different strategies to make the most of available light is one of the many skills a wedding photographer needs to have, but there are still a number of ways brides and grooms can practically plan their available light to make their photos look exquisite.

Prep Photos:

When it comes to photos indoors, the number one thing to remember is “the more light the better”. It’s far easier for your photographer to reduce the available light than create light out of nowhere.

When selecting the location you’re getting ready, try selecting somewhere with lots of windows and white walls. I recommend booking a house on Airbnb. Not only will your photographer thank you for good lighting, but your hair and makeup artists will love you too!

Whilst mirrors are also an effective and creative way of bouncing light around a room, try to avoid mirror overkill as this may impact your photographer’s ability to be discreet.

Ceremony Light (outdoors)

Outdoor Wedding Light

My strongest recommendation is that you position the entire ceremony so that the sun is directly behind where you are standing, or directly behind where the guests are seated. See the guide below.

There is an excellent app you should use called Sun Surveyor. This app uses your exact location to determine where the sun will be on any date, so you can hold up your camera and see the “sun” on any given day at any given time. How good is technology?!

**Avoid Dappled Light**

Dappled light is the spotty, uneven light that is created when the sun shines through a tree. For photographers, this kind of light makes it extremely difficult to expose for faces.

 

Ceremony Light (indoors)

Indoor Wedding Ceremony Lighting

The same rule from the prep photos applies here: the more light the better. Specifically, the goal for anything indoors is to try and light it as much and as evenly as possible. That means that having one side of the room brighter than the other side should be avoided.

Strategies for increasing the available light inside include:

  • Find an indoor space with plenty of natural light. Windows, windows and more windows!
  • Open as many curtains and blinds as possible
  • Hanging extra fairy lights (Larger, festoon lights will emit more light)
  • Replace existing light bulbs with brighter bulbs
  • White light is always more flattering than warm/yellow light.

Pro Tip

Try to avoid getting married right in front of a window or open door. This might seem counterintuitive considering what I was saying about the sun for an outdoor ceremony. But our goal is to get as much of the room evenly lit.

Portrait Session

Your photographer will guide you and ensure that you’re being lit in the most creative, flattering and expressive ways. The beauty of light is there is no end to the ways it can be used to evoke emotion and tell stories.

High-key and low-key lighting are two of my favourite things to explore when taking portraits, but I usually spend most of my time using soft, natural light and backlight. Many photographers will also include artificial light in their arsenal, so be sure to do your research to find which style speaks to you and your fiancé.

Reception

Yep, that’s right. Now let me hear you say it with me: the more light the better!

Usually, by this point in your wedding day, the sun has gone down and we are dealing with purely artificial light. Most photographers will pull out a speed light flash, which bounces off the roof to evenly light the room. Flat ceilings work better for distributing light evenly than a slanted, or vaulted ceiling.

Indoor Wedding Reception Lighting

Dance Floor

Okay folks, are you ready to break the rules? It’s time to turn the lights off!! Well, not all of them. But let’s be honest – dance floors are way more fun the dark. No one wants to see you cranking out the Propellor after you’ve had a few drinks. Or do they…?

I’d suggest having 3 or 4 “party lights” that stay on but turn everything else off. If you’ve hired a quality band or DJ they should be all over it. But if you prefer to sort it out yourself, you can pick up super cheap stage lights online at Wish or eBay.

 

That’s it from me folks. Don’t be afraid to speak with your photographer about ways you can support them in achieving beautiful photos. From my experience, the couples who are open to advice on lighting and sunset timing are the ones who end up with the best photos.

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Jane & Isaac’s Backyard Wedding

It was a backyard wedding like no other for Sydney-based couple Jane & Isaac. There was a tangible sense of intimacy and affection that was shared amongst the limited guests in this Newtown home. It was mighty special getting to be a part of the day all about Jane & Isaac’s love; their love for each other, their love for the environment, good food and doggos. I watched as they made each other laugh with simple facial gestures, and celebrated as they professed a deep commitment to their marriage.

Yes, COVID-19 changed their plans, but not in the way you might have thought. Rather than postponing anything, their time in lockdown made them realise how much faster they wanted to seal the deal and start celebrating the rest of their lives together.

These two best friends were a dream to work with, and I am grateful for their trust in me to be present and capture the magic of the day.

Ana & Nat’s Blue Mountains Elopement

An iconic Blue Mountains Elopement.

Love has a funny way of persevering. Take Nat and Ana, for example, who were engaged to be married before the Coronavirus shut down the planet. Weddings were effectively off the cards for the foreseeable future. But when there’s a will there’s a way! In case you don’t know much about elopements and micro weddings, I did a little write-up about them in a blog post. There’s been a huge increase in these style of weddings since the virus hit, and I have a feeling they are here to stay.

I met up with Nat & Ana for their elopement at the esteemed Fairmont Resort in Leura, in the upper Blue Mountains. With glorious views, we stood and watched as these two beautiful humans joined their lives together.  Friends and family joined via live-stream, which was beamed across Sydney, as well as all the way to Ana’s family in Brazil! In-person we were joined by the winter air that frequently attends weddings in the mountains, but not even a slight breeze of cold wind could keep Nat & Ana from smiling on their wedding day.

This wedding was shot for my friends at Folk and Follow.

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Sydney Harbour Enagagement Shoot

I took Jas & Brett down to one of my favourite locations on the Sydney Harbour: Balls Head Reserve. One of the reasons I have fallen in love with this place is how quiet it is. And it’s in that quietness that I am able to freely explore the intimacy and authenticity of a love story between two best friends like Jas & Brett.

I meet loved up couples all the time in my job, and every now and then the first time I am meeting them is right before I’m about to take their photo. Everyone has experienced that awkwardness of a stranger taking their photos, so I don’t need to go into detail about why it’s important to gel with your photographer.

The challenge for the photographer is building instant rapport, connection and trust with your subject in order to make them feel like it’s okay for them to be “just be themselves”. I appreciated how quickly Jas & Brett allowed me to take them to a place of intimacy, and the way they trusted me to document them honestly and without pretence.

Making Your Wedding Ceremony More Inclusive

A Zoom chat with Robyn Pattison, the Wedding Pixie, and Hank Paul, Sydney Wedding Photographer, about inclusive ceremonies, Acknowledgement of Country and generosity of spirit towards your weddings guests.

 

Transcript:

Hank Paul:
Hello. Hello? I can’t see. Oh, there you are. Hi.

Robyn Pattison:
Hi. How are you?

Hank Paul:
I’m good. How are you doing?

Robyn Pattison:
I’m great. I’m great. Interesting time.

Hank Paul:
It is an interesting time. The last time we saw each other was right at the start of the lockdown. Hey?

Robyn Pattison:
Right on the cusp. That couple that we were working with were wondering whether or not they’d be able to get their plane in three days, or it was the last…. It was the last wedding I did before, before everything went mental.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. That’s crazy. Um, so what have you been doing to keep yourself busy lately?

Robyn Pattison:
Well, I’ve enjoyed having the odd weekend.

Hank Paul:
Yeah, definitely.

Robyn Pattison:
I’ve been, I’ve been a celebrant for 11 and a half years and I could count on my fingers, the amount of actual weekends that I’ve experienced as a human, as opposed to racing around after other people, it was, it’s been nice. And I’ve had a lot of very small weddings, which I really enjoyed. I love the little ones. Sometimes I liked them the most.

Hank Paul:
Yeah, me too.

Robyn Pattison:
There are people actually taking advantage of this period of time to escape family dramas and expectations and massive wedding costs.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. I think it’s given people permission to do that micro wedding or that elopement that they secretly wanted to do in the first place. Hey?

Robyn Pattison:
I believe that’s it. Yeah, it was certainly, I’ve seen a lot of that people don’t. We’ve got to do it now. We’ve gotta do as quick as we can, because once the restrictions are lifted, all those expectations upon them will return.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. Yeah, totally. Um, okay. So I figure I should do a little like quick introduction, so hello everybody. My name is Hank and I am a wedding photographer here based in Sydney. Uh, and today I have with me Robyn Pattison, who is a wedding celebrant, who she’s just said, she’s been doing this for 11 years now, Robyn, I think when we spoke last time, you said you’ve done like several thousand weddings. Is that right?

Robyn Pattison:
Not several thousand about, about 1900 or something. So it’s only a small number, 1900. I’ve got a feel for what people want and how people respond to things and yeah.

Hank Paul:
And what works. Yeah. Yeah, of course. So I, uh, I actually asked Robyn to join me today because I wanted to just have a quick chat about something that I’m really passionate about, which is creating ethical weddings. And for me, ethical is a word that is really subjective and can be interpreted in a stack of different ways. But ultimately for me, where it kind of lines up with my values with my own ethics is how do we have weddings that are inclusive, that are sustainable and that are generous. So I kind of just sent Robyn a bit of an email asking her if she had some tips on as a celebrant, if she had some tips on how we could make our wedding ceremonies more ethical, more inclusive, more sustainable, and more generous. So I might hand it over to you, Robyn, you already kind of pointed out a couple of ideas in the emails that we exchanged, but particularly I was interested in what you had to say about inclusive weddings.

Robyn Pattison:
Great. Okay. Inclusive to me is it’s a big term. And for me it looks at who’s at the wedding. So a language of celebrants has had to change not just with the marriage yet with marriage equality, but also how we address people. We are always trying to avoid now gender biases. Um, those assumptions that we always took for many, many, many years, basically for our entire lives to say, good morning, ladies and gentlemen was a perfectly normal and very polite thing to do. And it is muscle memory, but now we’re having to change it to friends, family, special guests, everyone, some people are using your old, but I still hate y’all. I won’t be using it.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. I’m personally a fan of saying, hi folks. I feel like folks is, is a, you know, non-gendered way of addressing a large group of people.

Robyn Pattison:
It is, it is. And with a small wedding, you could probably do that. But when I have people, I also marry people are all cultural backgrounds with many, many languages spoken. So I need a slightly higher range of language. Then, you know, if I had a group of just straight white, Anglo Aussies, it would be different, but I work with everybody. And so my language needs to match what they’ll understand, inclusivity, those cultural barriers, those language barriers, those things that make people draw in. And it is it’s about connecting with people. So inclusivity is language. He is also, where is this ceremony? Is this, what do we have here? Do we have elderly people who might have mobility issues, wheelchairs, walking sticks, have you picked place that is completely unrealistic, but anyone with a, um, with a longterm illness that can’t get there or anybody who’s pregnant, you want a six month pregnant lady to stand out in the 40 degree, heat the sun because the photographer told you the photos would be better outside. But if your site is this cool, I say no, 85 year old grandma stuck outside in the rain or the 15 degree day, because the photographer said, if we went inside, the weather would be bad or that the photos wouldn’t be bad. And I stopped that ceremony mid ceremony because grandma’s 85 and she’s in the rain and it’s 15 degrees. And that is not cool to me.

Robyn Pattison:
So how do we make everybody feel comfortable? And that’s again, you used the word generous. I love that generosity of spirit.

Hank Paul:
Yeah, absolutely. Oh, that’s such an incredible way of thinking about that word, ah,

Robyn Pattison:
Around us. How do we make this moment connect in our brains in our bodies? How do we make people connect to it? Feel comfortable. The word guest. I love people to understand that the word guest has connotations. You are my guest. I should look after you. I should comfort. I could apply. You know, I could supply a few little bits and pieces here that don’t actually cost me a lot in finance, but show, show that empathy. Hot days I say to everybody, let’s just put a little comfort pack out there. Water bottles, sunscreen, fly spray, Aussie weddings in the summer. You know what I did?

Hank Paul:
Yes.

Robyn Pattison:
Perfume. She used ceremony because flies love flowers. They love hairspray. They love perfume. And let me tell you a fly on your lip doing your vows.

Hank Paul:
Oh, I’ve definitely edited out my fair share of flies from photos,

Robyn Pattison:
Right? Yeah. But the guests are uncomfortable if the wind is horrendous and we’ve been knocked off our feet and they can’t hear because no one’s PA system can cover Watson’s Bay on a hot, on a very windy day.

Hank Paul:
Yeah.

Robyn Pattison:
They’re comfortable. No. Are they connected? No. Are they feeling that generosity of spirit that you sent them when you invited them to be your guest? Probably not.

Hank Paul:
That’s aww, I just love the way that you kind of reframed a word that I was kind of already really clearly in on what I thought it meant. And you’ve reframed generosity to be so much more than just about, um, like material giving and material generosity, but it’s the thoughtfulness behind why your guests are there and how you’re treating them as well.

Robyn Pattison:
If you want to just sneak off behind a tree and it’s just the two of you, you can go any where you like do what you want standing in 40 degree heat, stand in the rain. No worries. Fine. And, and, and you know, that you’ll do whatever you can to make them happy. And I certainly will too, I stand in front of people and I welcome them. I want them to feel welcomed.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. Yeah. There’s one thing to say that someone’s welcomed, but it’s another to actually feel it for yourself that you are welcome.

Robyn Pattison:
That’s right. Yeah. Then, of course, there are things like acknowledgement of country. Yeah. That’s certainly I, and, and many, many celebrants always very keen to do this, but it’s not my event. So I won’t force it down the throats of the couple that I’m marrying. I won’t say we have to do this because it isn’t, I’m not in ownership. I’m the caretaker of that moment. Um,

Hank Paul:
Could you explain Robyn, um, what, what is an acknowledgement of country and why would it be something for a couple to consider at their wedding?

Robyn Pattison:
Oh, of course. Acknowledgement of countries where we acknowledge that the land that we are taking our vows on and the land that we are enjoying at this moment, is not ours, we we’re borrowing it. We’re borrowing it from its original owners. We get the opportunity to thank those original owners. We acknowledge that they were here first. And I find that the people who like to do this the most are actually of non-English speaking backgrounds.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. Wow. That’s really interesting,

Robyn Pattison:
Which I love because the way I sort of frame it up is, you know, maybe perhaps they weren’t born here, but they are, they are with us. They are grateful for this land. We are grateful for this land. We are grateful for opportunities. And then the acknowledgement of country has several different types of wording. Essentially. It is an appreciation for the opportunity to share in this land that does not belong to us, but we are borrowing. And, and that’s really lovely, but I won’t make anyone do it because at the end of the day, it isn’t my decision because I am not the boss of that moment. I’m just a caretaker. I can offer it even better. I mean, I I’m so happy if we have an Indigenous person who can do it for us, it becomes a Welcome to country, really beautiful and so special, but that doesn’t happen incredibly often that we have, I guess, that is able to do that when we do it. It’s beautiful. Some about non-English-speaking guests, their language. They may not understand it if they have flown over from China. For example, if they’ve come in from somewhere and their English is light, they may not understand that’s okay. Cause it is short and it is sweet, but it is meaningful to those that want to use it. And it is something that we will see more and more and more of.

Hank Paul:
Yeah, absolutely something it’s. I think it’s something that I’ve noticed, um, in the last 12 months that it’s definitely picking up steam and, and more and more couples I think are recognizing that the value of just taking that moment at the start of a ceremony, um, and, and having their celebrant do that acknowledgement of country is a really great way of paying respect to Aboriginal Australians and, and acknowledging that as you say, like, this is, this is borrowed ground and, and the history under which we white Australians kind of have inherited. This is quite, um, messy and, and, and, and really it’s, you know, it’s been a harmful, uh, legacy that, that white people have kind of left. And so I feel like the least that we can do is acknowledge that the traditional owners are, um, Aboriginal Australians. And, um, and it’s something that I know that, that through their communication with, um, you know, uh, the Australian community is like, this is something that we appreciate when you do it.

Robyn Pattison:
Yes, yes, no, I wholeheartedly agree. Um, and it’s certainly something that I run past most of my couples, unless of course, I know that they don’t understand it and then I leave it. Um, because there’s no point forcing something on to people who, for whom it will not be meaningful. Yeah. Yeah. If they flown in and they don’t have very good English or whatever, and they’re only going to be here for a couple of days and they don’t understand that whole thing, it’s probably not worth it. But when we have a group here that live here, work here, happy here. Feel connected. That’s when it’s most meaningful.

Hank Paul:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Um, it was, was there anything else you wanted to touch on? I feel like I’ve gotten so much out of even just these 10 minutes with you. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but was there anything else that you wanted to share?

Robyn Pattison:
Yeah, I think we can go back to that idea of ethical, generous, inclusive, I personally…. I mean, I’m a celebrant. Celebrants care deeply about the language that is spoken and the way things feel. We are unable to provide tangible memories of our services later. So the memories are really important. We would always say, think, think past Instagram, think past what something looks like in a picture and to how it feels, because everybody will have better memories of something that felt warm and connected with everybody. And just a bunch of pretty pictures.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. You want those authentic moments rather than an Instagrammable moment.

Robyn Pattison:
Yeah. Because a lot of those Instagrammable moments completely fake, you know, you’re a photographer, and you’re, and you are you’re at the beck and call of it all the time and more so than the rest of us, because everybody wants those moments that they can put out there to create this appearance of things. But the most beautiful moments, you know, again, as a photographer, I’ll wait, grandma. She has a tear. Yeah, absolutely. Something beautiful happens amongst a family or, you know, the things that you didn’t plan, the things you didn’t sort of mastermind. So you get a great shot. They’re the ones that people actually felt. And quite often they’re the things you did not expect.

Hank Paul:
Absolutely. And I always say to my clients, like my favourite photos are always the photos that don’t remind you of what happened, but that reminds you of how you feel or how you felt.

Robyn Pattison:
Absolutely. And that’s exactly right. That’s why flat lay, although it’s as pretty as anything,

Hank Paul:
There’s no feeling

Robyn Pattison:
When you look at your flat lay pictures, not, I tell you my favourite photo from my wedding is of my grandmother. It’s a black and white photo. She was in a wheelchair. My grandma isn’t with us anymore. But of all of the photos that were taken on that day, the one that is indelibly printed into my brain is of my grandma. Incredible, happy, far more important than any pretty photo that was taken of me or anybody. And that, I think that connects, I think that when we really searched for the real meaning of what we’re doing there, why are we there? What does it mean? Particularly now when we’ve been denied so much that we take for granted and you know, we can’t, and we can’t do this and we can’t do that. We can’t do that. What do people really miss? They miss their families. They miss their friends. And if we could just remember that going forward, when restrictions are lifted and when life goes back to normal, that Instagram doesn’t change your life.

Hank Paul:
That’s great. That’s so good, Robyn, thank you so much. Now, if, um, if there are people watching this who are looking for a celebrant who is, um, all about inclusivity and, and ethical wedding ceremonies, where can they find you and how can they get in touch?

Robyn Pattison:
Oh, Hank, my head is everywhere. I’m sick of my own head. I’m on Instagram. At RP Marry Me. Um, yeah, you can find me. You can find me. I’m easy.

Hank Paul:
Yeah. Just a good Google of a Sydney wedding Celebrant, Robyn Patterson. Will Will pull you up.

Robyn Pattison:
“The Wedding Pixie”, see, I did not give myself that time. Yeah. My head is everywhere.

Hank Paul:
Easy to find. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, thank you again, Robyn for your time and for sharing all these thoughts. It’s brilliant. Yeah. Thank you. Alright, I’ll catch up with you later. Bye. You too. Bye. Bye.

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