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15 Tips For Incredible Outdoor Wedding Photography

9 min read

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bride and groom wedding day outdoor photography.
Quick summary

: This guide is meant to illustrate some of the best strategies you can use to produce the best outdoor wedding photos for your clients. We discuss gear requirements, optimal camera settings, planning your compositions, and tips to keep the wedding party satisfied with the shots.

Outdoor wedding photography is an incredibly popular niche thanks to an increased interest in holding these celebrations outside. An outdoor wedding shoot provides opportunities you can’t necessarily get from an indoor venue while also providing unique challenges to overcome.

There is a lot to consider when shooting an outdoor wedding so let’s start with the essentials of having a great photoshoot.

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Wedding Photography

A lot of the traditional methodologies used in shooting indoor weddings will apply to outdoor wedding photography. You’ll still need to get several key moments in your shot list, including the ceremony, bride, and groom photos, and family photos.

Gear Requirements

At first glance, the gear for indoor and outdoor wedding photography is essentially the same. Shooting outdoors can be trickier since the lighting and weather might not necessarily be consistent.

Neutral density filters (ND filters), including graduated ND filters, help balance the exposure if there is bright sun. Often you’ll find that even though the bottom half of the horizon is properly exposed, the sky will be blown out. This is a result of the dynamic range being too extreme between the highlights and the shadows.

Off-camera flash devices can still be useful in shots where the sun may be behind your subject. If the sun is behind your subject, it can cause a silhouette effect where the details in the subject are lost.

A remote shutter release can help you take outdoor wedding photos without introducing a camera shake. This is important in low-light situations where you may be trying to capture some of the environment closer to dusk.

A photographer taking an outdoor photo of a bride and groom using a long lens with a lens hood.

Camera Settings

Contrary to shooting outdoors, indoor wedding venues are notorious for having terrible lighting, which is why it’s usually up to the photographer to manage how the shots are illuminated. Natural outdoor lighting takes that burden off of the photographer’s shoulders, providing an organic feel to the shoot.

Outdoor lighting usually entails that your ISO will be able to be set lower as the ambient lighting is plenty for your camera sensor. This means you’ll generally have to do less touching up in the noise reduction section of your editing program.

You might have to do some exposure bracketing to get the dynamic range needed to properly expose the lighting difference between the horizon and sky. This is commonly called High Dynamic Range or HDR. Most modern cameras come equipped with settings that can assist with the process.

Compositions

Incorporating the natural world into wedding photography can be a challenge for someone who is new to the genre. The key is to find the balance of showcasing the environment while still keeping our subjects (the wedding party) the center of attention. This essentially means getting rid of eye-catching items in the shots that distract the eye from the story you’re trying to tell, such as vehicles or photobombers.

Utilize architecture in your shots to add character to portraits. A popular “scene” for outdoor weddings is old barns. A lot of wedding clients connect with these places as the rustic structure shows a different time.

Since outdoor wedding photographers have an array of creative compositional possibilities, it can seem daunting to newcomers. The easiest way to approach it is to get to know the theme of the wedding, understand what the client is looking for, and then choose how you want to photograph the event.

An Outdoor wedding photo of a bride and groom sharing an intimate moment.

15 Tips For Stunning Outdoor Wedding Photos

Coming up with a wedding photography strategy can seem daunting to newcomers. Outdoor wedding photographers need to be meticulous with planning and execution. Luckily, once you have a few shoots under your belt, it does tend to get easier to work around the unique obstacles each wedding will provide.

To help you out, here are 15 of the best tips that you can use immediately to improve your photography on your wedding day.

1. Be the Advisor, Not the Advised

The bride, groom, and close family members will always pounce on weak photographers who don’t take charge of their photo shoots. New wedding photographers will quickly get overwhelmed with suggestions about what a “good shot” would be.

Now, it’s not to say that you shouldn’t take other suggestions to heart. Sometimes, it helps with any mental blocks you may be having. Instead, balance it with your expertise and have a game plan in mind beforehand. It makes you look professional and authoritative, meaning your clients can enjoy the wedding and you can do your job.

2. Highlight the Subject, Not the Scenery

Sometimes you’ll see wedding photographers taking formal photos of the bride and groom only to have the subjects encompassed by the environment around them. Too many distractions in the background can cause the eye to wander, rendering your subjects almost invisible.

The best way to accomplish this is to break the image up into sections in your head. Your subjects should be in the foreground (or mid-ground), which means they will have the most detail. The environment should be in the background as it supports the story you’re trying to tell without being distracting.

3. Show Off The Venue

A great way to tell the complete wedding story is to show some behind-the-scenes images. An empty altar or a fully decorated tent are great examples of shot ideas.

Other ideas include closeups of table settings and an illuminated celebration area (such as a dance floor). These shots are great for your clients since it shows the care that went into setup.

A picture of an outdoor wedding venue. A scattering of flower petals leads the eye through the center aisle to where the ceremony will be held.

4. Prepare for the Weather Conditions

Outdoor weddings can provide you with amazing ambient light; However, more often than not, the rain will cause you to escape to the tents and change your plan. Having a few large umbrellas on hand will allow you to keep shooting, even in inclement weather.

Use a waterproof case or plastic bag to guard your camera against precipitation. In colder temperatures, specifically during a winter wedding, you’ll want to pack extra layers and a lot of hand warmers for you and your client.

Keep an alternate location handy for really bad weather. This can be a sheltered location such as a tent or building.

5. Research the Photo Locations Beforehand

Researching the location in advance involves more than just Googling the venue and checking out the street view. Visiting the actual site provides a few opportunities for you before the big day.

Secondly, check out what other photographers have shot in that location. Often, you can find inspiration through what others see. If the area isn’t a wedding venue, and there are no reference photos, then visiting the location will work just fine.

6. Add Emotional Impact with Rustic Elements

Rustic elements and architecture could be arguably only for rustic weddings, but they can add a lot of creativity to outdoor wedding photos. In this sense, rustic means something old and with special meaning to the client.

A simple family ring can be used as the rustic element in your photos as long as it’s something meaningful to your client. It can create some impactful shots that are unique to your client and tell the story of the familial relationship to tradition.

A wedding couple in a photo. The groom is extending some flowers to the bride while she sits on an old motorcycle.

7. Fill Flash Illuminates the Front of your Subject

One of the biggest challenges with taking stunning photos outdoors is uneven lighting across your subject. For example, a bright sun that is behind your subject will tend to darken the subject as the sky becomes blown out from being too bright.

Using a fill flash to fill in the deep shadows will make the subject pop out of the background. It often causes your subject to actually look three-dimensional instead of just flattened against the light.

Use a flash if the sun is behind your subject for optimal effectiveness. Be mindful of how bright your flash is, however, as it can have a washed-out effect if set too bright.

A woman in a white dress is smiling and standing in front of a green backdrop.

8. Avoid Shooting in Harsh Midday Sun

Shoot the formal photos in a shady area if you have to photograph in the middle of a sunny day. As the sun is directly above you, harsh shadows and blown-out details become prevalent.

Additionally, unless they’re wearing sunglasses, you’ll have a squinting wedding party that won’t be able to look at the camera. Harsh sunlight can cause dark circles under your subjects’ eyes as their brows create a shadow.

9. Keep Outdoor Distractions Out of Your Wedding Photos

Our eyes will always pick a nagging detail and then cling to it, overshadowing the rest of the image. There are a range of distractions outdoors, which can easily infiltrate your photos. Distractions can include

  • Cars
  • Power lines
  • Pedestrians
  • Planes
  • Wildlife

Editing these things out of your outdoor wedding photos in post processing a solution, but it’s always better to get the composition right in the camera. Editing is great for finishing touches on the shots, but sometimes trying to clone something out can lead to undesirable effects.

10. Bring a Wide Angle Lens for Creative Outdoor Shots

Sticking with a 50mm lens for portraits is great, but you want to tell an entire story about the wedding. A telephoto lens lets you get up close and personal in outdoor wedding photography but omits whatever is happening around the subject.

Using a 24mm-35mm lens will let you capture more of the entire scene. If you want to capture part of the entire venue in your shot, then a wide-angle shot will get you better results than a telephoto lens.

A groom stands in front of the wedding party with buildings in the background.

11. Use a Polarizing Filter

Incorporating water into your outdoor wedding photography is one way to get a beautiful backdrop for great photos. However, in sunny conditions, there can be a persistent glare coming off the water. A polarizing filter cuts down on glare in water and is commonly used in tropical destinations when photographing lagoons.

It also cuts out reflections in glass, meaning you won’t accidentally be photobombing the shot if you are in front of a window. Using a polarizing filter can darken the sky on sunny days and bring out the detail in clouds as it improves the overall contrast.

12. Use the Setting Sun to Shoot Silhouettes

Silhouettes add mystique and strong emotion to a composition. This is a result of a lot of the details we would use to fill in the story being absent. Golden hour, the hour before sunset, is perfect for silhouettes as the sun is hanging low in the sky, and the light is angled closer to the horizon.

Romantically, sunset photos are depicted as the best time for celebrating the joining of a couple, making it the perfect time to use this technique.

A photographer is photographing a wedding couple during sunset for a silhouette effect.

13. Night Time Shots Can Create a Dramatic Feel

Stunning outdoor wedding photos aren’t necessarily taken during the day. The nighttime offers an opportunity to take your clients out to a darkened location and use the stars to help tell the photographic story.

You might need a second photographer to mind the party and dance elsewhere while you sneak off with the couple to get creative with your shots. Using props such as fairy lights or lanterns to accent the scene is just one of the creative ways you can use the nighttime for outdoor shots.

A wedding couple inside a decorated wreath that is illuminated with lights during a nighttime photography shoot.

14. Use Rain to Create Emotion

An outdoor wedding in the rain provides a unique opportunity. It enables you to tell the story of the wedding day and can be one of the most creative ways to take outdoor photos. There are a few obstacles to get past first.

First, you want to make sure that the couple is okay with rain shots since a wedding dress is expensive. Second, you want to keep your gear and the wedding party as dry as possible. Use archways to show rainy weather while keeping the couple dry. The goal is to make the main look like a positive element in the shot rather than a negative one.

15. Include Some Foreground Elements in Wedding Photos

Anyone can take photos of a subject and a background. A wedding photographer can be much more creative than that. Including foreground elements add some more interest to the eye and will make a dynamic photo. This is called layering, and it helps shape the story that you’re telling with your wedding photos.

The foreground can include whatever you feel works for the situation. You can use graphic elements such as flowers or even members of the wedding party. It’s not necessarily a beginner’s tip, but it will help you stand out as a wedding photographer.

Final Thoughts

Being a better outdoor wedding photographer is more than just getting the latest gear and showing up for the special day. Getting to know your clients and tailoring the photos to the theme of their wedding day is of crucial importance.

Taking advantage of the natural light by avoiding harsh sunlight and photographing during golden hour is vital for strong compositions. As long as you’re prepared for the location, weather, and clients, you’ll be successful at outdoor wedding photos.

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Perrin lives as a nomad in Canada and spends his time shooting landscape photography while exploring the wilderness. Throughout his career, Perrin has been a wedding, portrait, and product photographer. However, his passion always leads him back to the outdoors, where he teaches people how to photograph and interact with the natural world.
Perrin lives as a nomad in Canada and spends his time shooting landscape photography while exploring the wilderness. Throughout his career, Perrin has been a wedding, portrait, and product photographer. However, his passion always leads him back to the outdoors, where he teaches people how to photograph and interact with the natural world.
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