6 Tips for Shooting in less-than-ideal Light


There's a reason photographers love to shoot an hour or two before sunset. We live for that magical "golden hour" where everything glows and shimmers in the beautiful, warm light at the end of the day, like this . . 


But of course, schedules don't always permit us to shoot in ideal situations like that, so often we've got to deal with what we're given and adapt accordingly. 

I have to admit, I was a little nervous prepping for last weekend's wedding. I've always got a healthy amount of butterflies in my stomach before every wedding I shoot, but there's added pressure when long-distance travel is involved. Despite the challenges though, I couldn't resist the opportunity to shoot in such a GORGEOUS location. Mario & Megan's wedding was up in beautiful Northern California in the quaint little beach town of Mendocino. We planned an extra shoot for the day after their wedding, so we could take advantage of the amazing scenery, and it was well worth it!

I had to shoot mid-day in bright sunlight, with limited gear (read "available light") and no assistant. In the past, my first instinct has been to run for the shade, but this time around, I decided to embrace the harsh light and make it work to my advantage. I was so excited with the result of this photo shoot, that I wanted to share a few quick tips that have served me well, when faced with less than ideal lighting scenarios. 

1. Scout for possible locations ahead of time. I typically do this weeks before the wedding, but that wasn't possible this time around (other than internet and google maps searches), so instead I arrived a couple hours early, in order to get a feel for the venue and the surrounding area. I did more scouting the following morning for our second shoot as well. 

2. Envision the kind of photos you want to take. In this case, the epic scenery (rocky cliffs, giant redwood trees etc.) were a big part of my inspiration and a reason the couple chose this location, so I wanted to make sure they played a big roll in the images.


3. Embrace the light (and shadows). I didn't use any off-camera lighting this time around. Instead, I found available light and shadows that lent themselves to the kind of mood I wanted to create. 


4. Look for natural defused light. I was lucky enough to find a covered walkway with beautiful diffused light overhead. The roof of the hotel's pool was basically a giant light box as well, so I started the shoot in these two spots, since I knew that would be the harshest light of the day. 


5. Put your subjects between you and the sun. This can make for some beautiful back-lighting as well as keep the subject's face away from direct sunlight, which can create squinty eyes and unflattering shadows.


6. Capture moments as they're happening, even if the light isn't ideal or planned. This is one of my favorite in-between shots that I captured as we were making our way back up the hill from one of the cliffs. I shot for the moment, rather than the light, and I love how it turned out!


Yes, I lucked out with amazing scenery and a great-looking, adventurous couple, which was definitely a bonus. But, regardless of my subjects or venue, I love to keep these tips in my back pocket, when I find myself stressing about not-so-great light. Plus, every challenge is a chance to expand my creativity and build confidence! Win-win!

Kristi Fontamillas