The sun can be a Washington, DC, wedding photographer’s best friend and worst enemy. Photography requires light, and there is no more prominent source of it than the orb that illuminates Earth. The sun literally makes the job of DC wedding photographers possible!
At the same time, the sun is such a powerful source of light that it can make taking pictures difficult. It is so strong that it creates high-contrast zones of light and shadow. That can make getting properly exposed pictures of Washington-area fiancés and newlyweds very challenging. Photos in which the backdrop looks normal often leave the couple obscured in darkness. Pictures that show the subject’s faces clearly frequently have blown-out backgrounds. This is even true indoors, where the difference between sunlit and shadowed areas can be as pronounced as it is outdoors.
The challenges of dealing with the sun is a reason DC wedding photographers like taking pictures during the “golden hours.” For those unfamiliar with that term, it refers to the periods around sunrise and sunset. The sunlight at those times of day is less direct, making it soft, forgiving and beautiful. Every Washington bride and groom looks great in golden-hour images. Perhaps more importantly, the contrast between light and shadow is less in those hours. It is much easier to get pictures in which both the subjects and backdrop are properly exposed.
Fortunately or unfortunately, sunrise and sunset photo shoots are often unfeasible. A Washington, DC, wedding photographer does not generally have unlimited freedom when it comes to scheduling photo sessions. On a wedding day, for example, the couples portraits are typically done between the ceremony and reception. Sometimes DC wedding photographers get lucky and that period falls in the late afternoon/early evening. On other occasions, couples portraits have to be taken at midday. Venue availability tends to dictate the schedule, not the quality of light.
There is a lot more flexibility in scheduling engagement photo sessions. But doing those at sunrise or sunset is not always possible. Not every bride or groom enjoys getting up that early or staying up that late!
As is always the case, the photographer needs to find ways to create epic pictures regardless of the conditions. So the best wedding photographers in Washington use techniques that minimize the contrast. One way is to use off-camera flash. By pointing artificial lighting at the couple, we can expose for bright surroundings without leaving them in darkness. This is a very effective way to overcome the contrast problem, but it does have some drawbacks. For example, it can lead to a photo looking slightly unrealistic if the flash power is too high. Our eye knows instinctively when the subjects are too bright relative to the rest of the picture.
A different technique that preserves a natural look is to place the couple in a shaded area. This narrows the difference between the darkest and lightest spot in the composition. That means that a good exposure setting for the background will probably work for the couple too. We have generally achieved the best results by posing the fiancés or newlyweds near the boundary between light and shadow. If they are standing close to areas illuminated by the sun, some of that light is reflected onto their faces. Because that light is indirect, it is very soft and forgiving.
We used the latter technique in the image featured here. We took it for a pair of fiancés while we were in Hannover, Germany. The couple wanted an outdoor engagement shoot, and the sun that day was quite bright. There was no way that posing them directly in the sun was going to work. So we found cluster of trees that provided some measure of shade. In that spot, the couple was illuminated quite evenly.
As we took pictures of this bride- and groom-to-be, we noticed a way to use the sunlight to make the images even better. We moved them to a spot in which a tiny sliver of sun entered the frame. We then adjusted them so that their faces remained in the shade but a tiny bit of the woman’s hair was in the light. This did amp up the contrast in the picture, but the bright area was very small relative to the entire frame. So it did not distract from the overall look and feel of the photograph. It also helped that the spot illuminated was her blond hair. Lighting that up added a little life and flair to the picture. We could not have been happier with the end results!
Location: Hanover, Germany.