Outdoor wedding ceremonies are a personal favourite of mine. Church weddings are great, but there is nothing better than being outdoors with nature with all your family and friends. But because it is outdoors there are definitely more challenges to be faced and photographically it can be challenging as well. But using these tips you will give yourself the best opportunity to get amazing wedding ceremony photos and have a great experience as well.
Time of Day
If you are planning an outdoor wedding ceremony, light is such an important factor to consider. There is harsh unflattering light and there is soft beautiful light. Soft beautiful light happens late in the afternoon… harsh unflattering light happens during the middle of the day. So please, please don’t get married at midday if you’re planning an outdoor ceremony!! When the sun is directly overhead, it may look like a beautiful day, which it is, but it creates harsh and unflattering light photographically, as the light is coming from directly overhead which will create unflattering shadows on your face and body.
The other factor of course is the heat. If you are having an outdoor ceremony in the middle of summer, then aim for the cooler part of the day. In winter you can definitely have your ceremony earlier because the sun is much lower in the sky.
Direction of the Sun
Most people would tell you to set up the ceremony to face a beautiful backdrop… and sure that is important. But if you have a choice, then try to get the direction of the sun right as well. If your planning your ceremony a year out, try to see where is sun is at the same time of year.
So which direction is best? For me it’s all about even light and there are pros and cons to all directions.
– If the sun is coming from the left or right hand side, then one of you will be looking into the sun and one will have their face in shadow.
– If the sun is coming directly at you, (on the back of the guests), then you will be in full light and maybe squinting a little. But the light will be even.
– If the sun is coming behind you (on the face of the guests), then the sun will be in the eyes of your guests but the light will be even on you.
So if you have a choice, then have the sun either on your front or back, but try to avoid side light if possible. If you can’t avoid it, no problem… you’ve hired a professional and I’ll make it work :)
From a photographic point of view, the ideal situation for me would be to have the sun behind you (so on the Celebrants back) and have it filtered though some trees. The trees will soften the sunlight and the light behind you will give me beautiful even light to play with.
If you are getting married under a tree the biggest thing I can say is to try to ensure even light. What I mean by that is, you don’t want half of you in sun and half of you in shade. Or one of you in the sun and the other in the shade. So a day or two before the wedding (or even a year out to the day) go to the ceremony site the same time your ceremony is scheduled and just double check to see if you are in even light. You want the Bride & Groom and preferably the Bridal Party to be in the same light. Either in full sun or full shade but ideally full shade.
The other thing you have to be careful of when having your ceremony under a tree is the dabbled or patchy light as the sun peeks through the leaves onto you. This creates light and dark spots all over you. This is one of the trickiest conditions to shoot in. The best way to combat this is try to find a spot where you are both in full shade or rotate the ceremony so the sun is on the celebrant back so it is backlighting you, giving you even light. If you are having your wedding is summer and the sun is directly overhead, consider having the ceremony later in the day so the sun is a bit lower in the sky.
This is an example of patchy, dabbled light. The photo from the left is the original RAW file and pretty much what it looks like to your guests. The photo from the right is how it looks once we process the image and bring up the shadows in photoshop. As you can see we can fix it, but it is a bit of a nightmare and a lot of work!!
Having said all this, if you have a cloudy day then you probably won’t need to worry about anything at all.
Wet Weather Back Up
Put some thought into using or hiring a beautiful wet weather back up ceremony location.
We have seen this a few times… you have a beautiful outdoor wedding ceremony arranged and it rains! So it has to moves indoors to a small function room or to a veranda of some sort. It’s not ideal, but you do what you can with the options available to you at the time. Why not hire out a beautiful indoor location as back up? Somewhere that would look beautiful. Some ideas… a barn, historic house, museum, the aquarium, the penthouse of a luxury hotel, a cute function room in a boutique hotel, a library, the foyer of a commercial building, your favourite restaurant or a cute wedding chapel… the options are endless and are only limited to your imagination. And if it doesn’t rain on the day… fantastic… maybe we could head to your back up ceremony for some location photos.
If on the day of the wedding there is just a chance of rain and it has been drizzling in the morning, you can always give umbrellas or parasols to your guests as in the photo below. These parasols also double as protection from the sun in case you have a hot sunny day :)
The one thing I think you should definitely have at an outdoor wedding ceremony, is to have enough chairs for each guest. I’ve heard people say that you only need to put some chair out and let everyone else stand up. But remember that your guests (particularly the women) will be walking on uneven ground, with heels possibly sinking into the grass and standing up the entire time. So be nice to your guests and give them a chair. And from a photographic point of view it is so much easier to photograph a wedding if the guests are seated and out of the way.
The other issue when you don’t have enough chairs for everyone, is that people just won’t sit in them. When there are only enough chair for a third of the guests, most guests will prefer to stand. And that won’t look great in photos. If you really can’t afford the cost of extra chairs, or just aren’t allowed to have more chairs in the location you are having your ceremony, please just ask the celebrant and/or your ushers to make sure all the seats are filled before you walk down the aisle. Empty seats don’t look great in photos.
The width of the aisle should be around 3 metres wide. Thin aisles make everything look cramped in photos make it difficult to get clean shots of you walking down the aisle. Invariably guests will step into the aisle a bit and potentially block my view. So a wider aisle definitely helps with this.
Also give yourself 3 metres from the first row to where you are standing. Again it can feel very cramped if you are too close to the first row.
I think it’s important to look after your guests. So if you are having an outdoor wedding ceremony in Australia in summer, you should have some shade available. I have done wedding ceremonies in 40+ degree days in full sun and it’s not pleasant. Sun umbrellas are a great option to help shade your guests and they also can double as a rain umbrella if needed. Otherwise look for natural shade like trees etc.
Unless you’re having a really small wedding of less than ten people, you really need a microphone and speakers when having an outdoor wedding ceremony. Your guests need to hear you and even a gentle breeze can take that sound away from them.
Most professional wedding celebrants will bring their own sound, so just ask them about it. But I have been to some ceremonies where they haven’t used one, and what happens is that the Celebrant will project their voice very well and then the couple who are nervous and emotional will speak softly and you just can’t hear them at all. So make sure there is a microphone.
The wind is a factor most people don’t think about when organising an outdoor wedding ceremony. It can get very windy particularly if you are anywhere near the coast. So consider what you will do if the location is just too windy for you on the day. Maybe it could be move a few hundred metres into a more sheltered spot?
If you are using tables with table clothes, then use table clips to hold the cloths down.
Also consider very carefully if you are wearing your hair down and you are in a potentially windy ceremony location. If you really want to wear your hair down speak to your celebrant, as they may be able to switch the side you are standing on so that you face into the wind. And be aware that veils have a tendency to fly out of your hair in strong wind.
One thing Brides often forget about is wearing appropriate footwear for an outdoor wedding ceremony. Let’s face it, you can’t wear heels if you are having a wedding on the beach, and heels on grass can be problematic as the heels just sink into the grass and the dirt can damage your heels. So there are a few things you can do:
– Wear flats. Shorter grooms will appreciate it ;)
– Have your beautiful high heels, but wear flats for the ceremony. But your dress may be the wrong length because of the height difference.
– Have your beautiful high heels, but wear a pair of high wedge shoes for the ceremony. As they have more sole so you won’t sink into the grass and you will probably be able to walk on sand as well.
– Wear a protective heel cover or heel stopper, which also increases the surface area of the heels which should, in theory, stop you sinking into the grass.
The Elderly & Disabled
Consider access to the wedding ceremony site for your elderly & disabled family friends. If your ceremony is in a tricky location, talk to your event organiser as they may be able to arrange a golf buggy or some sort of transport to help them out.
There is no better way to celebrate your marriage than having a celebratory drink with your family & friends. I also think that if you are inviting people to an outdoor wedding ceremony in Summer, you should have some drinks available after the ceremony. It doesn’t even have to be alcohol, just some nice cool drinks.
Enjoy the Experience
Remember why you are getting married and remember who you are marrying. Live in the moment and don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not about the weather, the location, the decorations; it’s about the two of you. So don’t forget to have fun and celebrate with your family & friends.
And it may seem easier to just have an indoor ceremony so you don’t have to worry about light & weather etc. But outdoor ceremonies are my absolute favourite wedding ceremony. The light (no matter the quality) will be much better than artificial fluorescent or tungsten indoor lights. So if you are thinking of having an outdoor ceremony, then go for it! You now have good information on how to plan it better.