Infographic displaying - How to Shoot in Small and Dark Wedding Venues

Being a wedding photographer might be the biggest joy of your life, but it can also be frustrating sometimes. You might not always get the ideal lighting or space at the wedding venue. So, what do you do in this situation? Navigate your way around the darkness (or brightness) and tight spaces with these tips.

Top 12 Ways to Shoot a Wedding in Small and Dark Wedding Venues

How to Shoot in Small and Dark Wedding Venues

As a wedding photographer, you might find yourself photographing in challenging situations, like dark wedding venues or small spaces. You have to be prepared for just about any type of lighting situation. From ceremonies held inside or outside, to time of year and weather, to time of day from high noon to sunset – you need to be ready for anything.

If the ceremony is in a church, or even an indoor historic location, the lighting can be low. There might be limited natural light and many churches and even historic spaces don’t allow flash photography. Even if it’s allowed, it can be distracting for the guests and the couple. And receptions can pose low-light challenges, too. Whether the couple is inside or outside for the reception, the venue and DJ likely are using low light or mood lighting to set the scene for romance or dancing. So what can you do as a wedding photographer to ensure beautiful shots in low light or dark wedding venues? Here are our 12 easy tips to go pro at shooting with less than ideal lighting.

1. Use a Full Frame Camera

A full frame camera will often allow you better low-light performance, and more high quality images at higher ISOs. Because of the larger camera sensor, it will be able to ‘gather’ more light than a crop-sensor camera.

2. Use Prime Lenses

How to Shoot in Small and Dark Wedding Venues

We suggest you use prime lenses in low light situations. Prime lenses have wider apertures, allowing more light into the camera’s sensor. This doesn’t mean that you should only shoot with prime lenses in dark wedding venues like a church, but if you are struggling to find light, a prime lens can help.

3. Use a Wide Open Aperture when Shooting in Dark Wedding Venues

This point is a reiteration of the one above. Even if you do not use a prime lens, use a wide open aperture. The more you open the aperture on your lens, the more light comes in. Think of the aperture as your camera’s eyelid. The more open that eyelid is, the more light your camera is going to see. For low light situations you can shoot at an aperture of 1.8-2.8, depending on the lens that you use. Certain prime lenses can open even wider and can take you to 1.2.

4. Try a Longer Exposure in Dark Wedding Venues

couple dancing on dance floor under chandeliers with city view

The longer your exposure, the more light you let into your sensor. Long exposures are great for moments where there is no movement being captured or alternatively if you want to show actual movement in your photograph. However, if you are shooting movement and do not want it to blur your photo, make sure to follow the 1/focal length or above rule.

So for example, if your lens has a 50mm focal length, it is recommended not to set your shutter speed below 1/50th of a second or you will get blurry photos (not even Photoshop can save a blurry photo). You can use long exposures at wedding receptions to capture details without losing the mood of the low-lit ambience.

5. Increase Your ISO

love spelled out in bulb lights

The more you increase your camera’s ISO, the more sensitive your camera’s sensor will become to the light. Be careful though, because the higher the ISO, the more noise in your image. Thankfully, most professional camera companies are working hard to make sure the latest cameras have stellar ISO performance for dark wedding venues.

6. Keep it Steady in Dark Wedding Venues

Practice makes perfect with this tip. Holding steady – especially with a heavy camera that you are holding by hand while using a slow shutter speed – can be tough! You can find a surface that is the right height to set the camera on for these shots. You can also brace yourself against something to keep steadier.

7. Use an Unexpected Light Source

bride looking up at overhead light

Look for unexpected sources of light in the environment that you’re shooting in. Maybe it’s a little window, a lamp in the room or even the flashlight from a cell phone. Unless you’re shooting inside a pitch black hole, there is likely some light around.

If you are shooting in a super dark area and your camera is having a hard time focusing, focus on something well-lit initially. You can re-frame your image later. You can also set your camera’s focus to manual, hold up a cell phone with the flashlight on and direct it to where you would want your camera to focus, focus on the areas lit by cell phone light and then shoot the image. Of course this isn’t the best tip for the middle of the ceremony so maybe only use this one for other parts of the wedding!


8. Use a Tripod in Dark Wedding Venues

Bringing a tripod can really help in dark wedding venues. Scouting the venue ahead of the wedding can help you decide if (and where) you will need one. The ceremony is the perfect time to use a tripod since you always know where the action will be and can set the tripod up accordingly. The tripod helps steady the camera and reduces the camera shake that causes blurry pictures. If you are taking wedding portraits after the ceremony, a tripod can also help you get some picture perfect shots.

9. Bring a Light Source to Dark Wedding Venues

couple snuggling in a hallway with bokeh and lights

You can bounce your camera’s flash or off-camera flash off of walls and ceilings. You can even use a handheld LED or constant light. Once you get creative with lighting ideas, a poorly-lit venue won’t be stressful anymore.

10. Master Backlight

couple silhouetted in fog and lights

Using light is the key to getting good photos. But beware of light that comes from behind the subject. This will only darken them. For example, if there is any kind of lighting behind the couple during the ceremony, you’ll end up with pictures that darken your subject.. You may need to position yourself somewhere else to take advantage of the natural lighting available.

Alternately, if you do a long exposure, you can make that backlight really stand out and halo the couple. Or you can even use the backlight at the right exposure to create a silhouette. Mastering backlight could be the key to creating some really creative images in dark wedding venues!

11. Try Shooting a Silhouette

couple silhouetted with twinkle light and bokeh

Speaking of backlight, this is the perfect time to create a silhouette. These can be really fun and offer an interesting and different perspective. Position the subject in front of the light source to create this image. To completely darken the subject, you need to trick your camera meter. Point it at a light source, then press halfway down to lock the exposure. Frame your subject and take your shot. Use what you have and benefit from the lighting conditions.

Think of each challenging situation as an opportunity to get creative.


12. Create Variety in a Tiny Location

bride and groom walking down aisle viewed from above

If the venue you are shooting in is small, try shooting verticals and tight horizontals. Use a wide lens for a wide vertical and a longer lens for a tighter vertical with a more compressed background. You can use a bride’s veil to create some interesting and beautiful shots.

Further Read: Wedding Photo Ideas: Inspiration From ShootDotEdit Customers

Put on Your Creative Cap for Small and Dark Wedding Venues

We hope our 12 tips on shooting in small and dark wedding venues will help you. With just a bit of creativity and easy DIY lighting ideas, you can get beautiful wedding shots even in places with low light.

For more insight you can read Rangefinder’s great piece on Overcoming 6 Dark Venue Challenges.

Also you can have a look at Expert Photography’sA Wedding Photographer’s Secrets for Capturing Details at Weddings for some useful tips.

At ShootDotEdit, we believe in offering tips to photographers to achieve success faster, whether it’s in blog posts that help you with shooting in small and dark wedding venues, or making you faster (and getting you back to what’s important) by editing your wedding images for you. Want to know how we can help? Check out our pricing guide here!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published