How do I photograph a late afternoon wedding in December?

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Q. I know lighting may be a problem as it’s in England and I understand the high ISO, but other advice would be welcome. (I have photographed 2 previous weddings but both in

A. Hi Julie, Ooh poor you – not a great time to do a wedding! I actually refused to do those weddings in the end, because of the light issues – but don’t let that put you off! 🙂

In December (UK) it will literally be pitch black at 4.00, and going dark for at least an hour before. Sometimes brides don’t actually realise this! They talk about romantic candle-lit pictures – which is great for a few shots – but they often don’t realise they won’t get the shots they think they will get. So my number one priority would be to talk this through with the bride so she is not disappointed later.

Many of these issues can be resolved by sitting down with them and talking through it.

Ask them to show you shots which they like from magazines or the Internet, etc. – and you will find they probably show you lots of ones with blue skies in the background. This is your chance to point out the issues, so they are aware. They need to know that most of your shots will be with flash, if they are getting married late afternoon, due to the dark. On-camera flash is less flattering than daylight, and often results in pictures which don’t look as natural. You need to point out that it’s very difficult to get candid, moving around shots when the light is very low because they may blur – and you may get a few, but you won’t get tons like you would if it was light.

Obviously you don’t want to make it all look doom and gloom! But if you do it in a positive way, where you come up with positive solutions, they will thank you for it and gain a greater understanding. This means that you don’t set yourself up to fail, if they are disappointed later when there are no natural light shots.

You can use a higher ISO but don’t forget this may result in very pixelated grainy shots if you have it too high in the dark. I find 1600 is the max that is usually acceptable, but it all depends on your camera and the light. It’s fine if they are candid shots in a church which you will probably use small in an album, but a high ISO will affect the quality of the shots, so keep it at 800 wherever you can, provided you have a high enough shutter speed that the image doesn’t blur.  This is why you will need to use flash when the light is very low in December, because you can use a lower ISO and higher shutter speed to keep the quality.

Possible solutions to help you:

  1. Ask the bride and groom if they would get ready earlier so at least you have some light for part of the day. She can always take her dress off again and chill out with some champagne for an hour later! The header shot on this blog is taken before the wedding in the daylight.
  2. Will they consider changing the time of the wedding to 1.00? I often found brides would do this when they realised they would not get the photos they want if they get married later, and be grateful to me for pointing it out!
  3. Will they do a pre-shoot in the morning? I’ve suggested this before, for the ones who can’t change the time of the wedding, and it has worked well. You need to check if they are both happy to see each other in their wedding clothes. If they’re not, then I’ve done a shoot in the morning in their casual clothes, or followed them around for the whole day, to at least be able to start the album with shots in daylight so that the dark shots are only part of the day, rather than all of it.  You can still do this separately if they think it’s unlucky to see each other.

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    Above: These images show what a difference it makes to a collection of photos if you can include some natural light shots, as well as having to use flash when it’s dark.

  4. If it’s a small wedding, will they allow you time to do some “fashion style” shots in a pre-arranged place – where you have set up some lighting? You could also use this setting for the groups. To have something like this among all the candid flash shots can work well – again think of this as a whole wedding album and how it will feel – can you inject some light into the first half of the wedding album by shooting something earlier? Or can you add a “staged” section later on. This would have to be set up ahead of the wedding – check with the hotel if there is a room you can set aside to do this.

If they won’t do any of the above, then you need to make sure you can produce the results they want, otherwise it will reflect on your reputation, and drain your confidence.  So long as you’ve pointed out the issues, and they are happy that the shots will be mainly with flash then fine. But you need to be very confident you can get the results.

Don’t underestimate how different it is to shoot a wedding in winter over one in summer, and plan accordingly.

When I shot weddings, I was always totally honest with people about it – if I felt at all uncomfortable that I could not achieve a great set of photos due to the restrictions being placed on me, I turned down the wedding. Some couples are fine with the reality of the situation; others live in a different world where their expectations are incredibly high! Understanding what they want and all being on the same wavelength is key. Otherwise it is just not worth the stress – trust me!

TIP: Try doing a practise run a couple of weeks before the wedding – take a friend to the same venue at the same time as the wedding will be, and photograph them – the experience you gain will be very beneficial on the actual day.

And one more thing – remember it is likely to be very cold – and noses turn blue very fast! So any preparation you can do beforehand will be invaluable – like knowing exactly where you are doing the pictures, so there is no hanging around unnecessarily!

I hope this helps and hope it goes well for you! Check out the blog links below for further advice.

Annabel x


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Hi Annabel,

Thank you so much for this. Yes, they have since agreed to allow shots to be taken before the wedding, when all the family will be together, so, fingers crossed there will be some in lovely natural daylight (which I love!)… Or even snow… OOps??

You’ve really helped with your response. Thank you! Julie


Check out this blog on flash – there are some great settings on there that will help you.

How can I feel more confident using flash?

For anyone who wants to learn how to use flash really well, I highly recommend you go on a course with Brett Harkness – he’s the expert! Meanwhile check out all these other blogs which give you more tips for weddings: