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Best Photography Lighting for Cold, Rainy, or Snowy Wedding Portraits

Depending on your location, and the time of year, there is a chance you will need to learn how to shoot in unfavorable weather. And since lighting photography is challenging enough without difficult weather, we reached out to a wedding pro to gain the best photography lighting tips to help you shoot in even the worst scenarios.

In her latest article with us, ShootDotEdit Pro, Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers, has expert tips on how to create the best lighting for cold, rainy, and snowy wedding portraits. If you haven’t read the other 4 posts in this series, see them below:

1. Bridal Prep and Details
2. Family Formals
3. Wedding Party
4. Reception Details

leeann marie headshot

One of the leading wedding photographers in Pittsburgh, Leeann Marie has created an exclusive brand that is family focused for the cosmopolitan bride. She’s a national speaker for WPPI, has been in business for 9 years, and has a background in Industrial Engineering giving her a unique perspective on photography and business. She relies heavily on systems in her business to accomplish all of her goals, and has been a ShootDotEdit happy photographer for 7 years. She lives in the city of Pittsburgh with her husband and daughter. She loves looking out her back window into the firefly-lit woods, and enjoying a night out for sushi, and drinks with friends. Learn more about Leeann on her website and Instagram account!

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Best Photography Lighting

Welcome to the Wedding Lighting Master Class! This is the 5th article in the series. I hope this will help you to learn some valuable techniques for perfectly managing and lighting the different scenarios you will be faced with on a wedding day.

A few notes about this course:

FAST IS BEST

I truly believe that “Fast Is Best”, which is (obviously) why I love ShootDotEdit and their photographer edit services. 🙂 But really, one of the key valuable principles that I bring to my brides and grooms each wedding day is an experience that is organized, hassle-free, and yet still beautifully lit and happy.

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Keeping my lighting scenarios as fast as possible allows me to move between scenarios quickly, while still creating beautiful photography for my couples. I do use natural light, but I’m not afraid of flash in the least and work with tools and an arsenal of mental notes (lots of them that are described in this course!) to help me move between situations quickly and flawlessly.

THERE ARE OPTIONS

In the photography-world, there are a million ways to light one simple scene. The methods outlined in this course are my personal preferences, and I encourage you to try them and then modify if necessary to fit your photography style and client needs.

WHERE YOU LIVE MATTERS

I work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is an area subject to rain on summer days, snow in April, and 80 degree sunny days in November. I’m faced with varying conditions every single wedding (what photographer isn’t!?), and have to adjust all of the time.

For each piece of this master course, I have set out to identify my most common and most challenging situations that I have faced throughout my career. Again, if you are looking to create a wedding photography experience that is efficient, but also way above and beyond what your couple’s “photographer friends” can do – I think you are in the right place.

Try some of these tips. Study them. Modify them. Copy them. It’s all up to you – I hope you find all of these examples and ideas helpful on your wedding photography journey.

Now… on to the good stuff!

COLD, RAINY, SNOWY WEDDING DAYS:

In my first part of the wedding lighting series, I covered bridal details and preparations, and how I light them in a variety of situations. In the second part, I discussed family portraits, and how I light them both indoors and outdoors. In the third part, I went through how I light portraits on a sunny day. In my most recent installation, I went through how I light reception details.

Today, I will be talking about scenarios you may face during a wedding day if the weather simply is not cooperating. The nice part about portrait sessions is that we can always reschedule them if the weather forecast looks terrible. However, for weddings, that’s just simply not the case. As professionals, we need to be able to handle crazy weather on wedding days in a beautiful and efficient way, while not making our clients feel nervous in the least.

My approach to rainy, snowy days is to really juggle what is possible with not only my equipment but also the client wishes and temperature. Sometimes I have couples who aren’t afraid to get a little messy, and in this case, since they are more willing to go outside for photos, I can be more helpful in what to do and where to shoot.

Other times, I have brides that are extremely concerned about getting their wedding dress wet or dirty (fair enough), and I will have to come up with a game plan to photograph them more indoors.

Either way, working with my clients and coming up with the best course of action together will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that they’ll be happy with the effort that I put in and the photos we were able to take.

Additionally, I find that if my clients are by any reason disappointed with photos after the wedding day – they understand it’s because they didn’t get the sunny day they were expecting – NOT because I didn’t deliver on beautiful images in the best possible scenario. There is a big difference, see?

DEVELOPING A “RAIN PLAN”:

Here in my city, the weather can change up until the day of the wedding, but if the weather looks at all variable, I work with my clients before the wedding day to create a rain plan. I have a handful of covered locations in my area that will always be beautiful backdrops, even on rainy days, and these are some of the first to go-to. In all, I ask myself and the clients a series of questions:

  1. Is there an outdoor, covered location we can go to?
  2. What does the church look like inside? Is there any natural light or architectural details to work with?
  3. What does the venue look like inside? Is there any natural light to work with?
  4. When will the reception space be ready and decorated?

By going through this order, I first give my client the option of going somewhere for their photos. This may take some location scouting on my part, but I do like to give them the option so they feel like they have a choice in “breaking away” from the ceremony or reception space. This helps provide the best lighting for photography. 

Second, I look at the two venues where the indoor events of the day (most ceremonies and receptions that I photograph are indoors – this may vary with your locations!) will take place, and examine if either one of them have nice natural light or interesting background. Sometimes the churches are beautiful, have nice covered areas, or have interesting architectural details. I’ll take them off of the church altar and into the side naves, or the back of the church, or an area with large windows – and this can work great and still offer variety! Sometimes the reception space will be setup in advance and we can use the decor and space in that area to photograph the couple and their bridal party members.

Remember: Come up with a game plan in advance, and really work with what you’ve got. And try not to stress – crazy weather wedding days happen to all of us, and it’s how you approach it that really makes a difference.

Now, I’m going to show you a few scenarios that I was faced with, how I approached them, and the results.

Scenario #1

Scenario: A cold, winter day without snow.

On this day, the weather was cold, but there was no snow or rain. In this case, I knew the light was pretty overcast for the day, but we would still have the option of going outside for some of their wedding photos. My game plan, then, was broken into two sections: indoor photos and outdoor photos.

The reason I mixed it up was that I knew I could get two slightly different looks, and it’s important to me to keep my clients warm as possible. That way they feel like they are being taken care of – nobody likes being cold (except maybe Wim Hof).

Results:

bridal party laughing

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

outdoor couple portraits cold weather

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Indoor photos shot with ProPhoto B2 flash:

couple portraits reception hall

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

bride and bridesmaids indoor photo

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #2

Scenario: A cold, snow day.

This wedding day was freezing. Actually, I think it was below freezing. There are a couple of points to touch on here. First, my couple chose to still do photos in the coldest, snowiest area of the city, so what the heck did I wear, knowing that I was going to be outside in the snow?

I wore what I usually would to an indoor event, and then lugged around with me a down jacket, winter hat, warm gloves, and HotHands. If you’re working anywhere cold, get some HotHands to stick in your pockets. I find that the easiest way to cut short photo-time is to have your fingers freeze. It’s pretty hard to press a button when your fingers are frozen.

Second, knowing that we were going to be outside in the cold, I made sure to prep the entire bridal party with our plan of action as we drove in the limo bus. I let them know that the guys would be doing photos with my second photographer, and the ladies would be with me. We have set photos we were planning to do, and we’re going to be moving a little faster than usual. After that, they could get back on the bus to keep warm.

I asked that everyone pay attention, and leave all drinks on the bus. That might sound a little direct, but the last thing a bridesmaid wants is to be freezing outside while a groomsman is chugging a beer while leisurely walking down the sidewalk. Expectations!

Lastly, with this game plan in place, I moved quickly through the photos and had a couple of places along the drive to stop and get more images of my bride and groom. That way they got variety, but they were able to warm up in the limo in-between locations. When we finally got back to the reception venue (which is a beautiful hotel), I did a few more photos with the bridal party in the lobby area.

Related: How can you master the engagement session for your wedding clients? Find out here!

Bonus: the snow makes a really nice reflector when you’re outside, so it’s not difficult to shoot in! 🙂

Results:

bride and bridesmaids outside snowing

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

outdoor snowy couple portraits

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

bridal portraits in snow

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

snowy wedding party portraits

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #3

Scenario: A cold, rainy day.

This was probably the most difficult scenario I’ve ever personally been faced with. Imagine this: barn wedding, end of October, it’s rainy and cold, and it’s out the middle of nowhere. There are close to 200 guests in the barn, and the space you have to work with includes the upper main barn area, lower basement (not very pretty), and outdoor dining patio with vinyl covered walls for weather protection.

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For this wedding, going outside wasn’t very much of an option, and so we had to stick around the barn area a lot, but there were also a ton of people and a catering staff trying to plate salads in the same space. Talk about craziness! First order of business was to develop a quick-thinking plan. Second order of business was to try and keep everyone’s attention and divert guests to another area to avoid distraction. It kind of worked, but it took a lot of effort to stay on track and on the timeline.

The first thing I noticed about this venue was that the main barn area was actually quite beautiful, albeit simple, but would work as a great backdrop if I used some flash and cropped out all of the people and space heaters to the sides. I made sure that everyone was standing off to the sides, and shot all family photos in this space.

For the photography lighting setup, I then used the same backdrop for the bride and groom, and then took them to two other locations in the barn that might work for something different. I found that I could stand outside of the barn in some of the misty rain (it had lightened a bit by this point), and keep my couple covered under a small barn canopy. I also kept the doors to the barn fairly closed so you couldn’t see the mass of guests inside.

Results:

best lighting couple portraits

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

couple portraits sitting indoors

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

barn door couple portraits

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

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When you know how to use the best photography lighting for wedding portraits, you can more easily shoot during difficult scenarios. There are several types of lighting in photography to learn and utilize during your shoots. Learn more about how to identify and use photography lighting with our Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers! Click the banner below to download your copy now.

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