How to choose a photogenic wedding venue

A wedding photographer’s guide on what to look for in a wedding venue to get magical photos

Where will you two tie the knot? It’s a big decision. Gulp! Not least because it’ll be the backdrop to most, if not all, of your wedding photos. So how can you choose a venue that enhances your wedding photography like melted marshmallows in hot chocolate? “Err, Sarah, I’m not a photographer! I don’t know what to look for!” It’s okay – that’s what I’m here for. And I’ve created this guide to walk you through everything you need to consider from a photography perspective when you choose your wedding venue. I’ll bring the photography chops, you bring a cup of tea.

Your wedding venue must tick all the right boxes. Within budget, enough room for all your faves to be there, a giant slide that leads from the ceremony room to the reception area… You’ve got it all covered.

But have you thought about how your wedding venue will affect your wedding photos? Things like the style, light, wet-weather backups… ?

Need some inside intel? I’ve got you. Here’s your go-to list of photography-related features to look for when you choose your wedding venue.

Ten things you (and your photographer) will love about your wedding venue

1. The venue matches your preferred photography style 

Think about how you’d like your photos to look and feel. Do you dream of dark and dramatic photos, or light and airy ones? Does that style fit with the venue you have in mind? 

For example, if light and airy is your answer, then a medieval venue with tiny mullion windows that don’t let in much daylight might not be the best choice. Whereas an orangery with big, bold statement windows might be right up your aisle!

2. The venue’s décor coordinates with your wedding colour palette

Got a theme or colour palette in mind for your wedding? Let it shine! Your style, colour palette, and venue will be a big source of inspiration for your photographer – and when they’re all consistent your photos will look and feel cohesive. 

Look for backgrounds in your venue that will complement or contrast (not clash) with the colours you want for things like flowers, outfits, and signage.

And consider whether it feels the same. For example, if you’re rocking a boho vibe but the venue is a stately home, there could be a clash of clans, style edition.   

The Great Hall at Kelmarsh ready for a wedding

3. The venue is well-lit

Take a sip of tea.

*Hops on photographer soap box*

Fact: Natural light is the single most important thing a documentary wedding photographer looks for on a wedding day. That means you need windows!

But not just any window. When it comes to windows, bigger is (generally) better. 

Small windows can provide gorgeous little pockets of light, which will be fine (beautiful, even) when you perch solo right in front of one to have your make-up done or put your shoes on. 

But for your reception, large windows that let in plenty of light are your wedding photos’ BFFs. 

A window that’s big enough to spread light throughout the room will mean your photographer can work discreetly (no annoying flash catching your eye every few seconds!). They’ll also be able to take photos freely around the room, rather than being limited to one spot – which will give you a nice variety of quality shots.

But if big windows are your wedding photos’ BFFs, then artificial lighting can be their arch-nemesis! 

Sure, overheard spotlights mean you can see what you’re doing. But they also cast ugly shadows that even your trusty touche éclat can’t hide. 

And pretty please avoid coloured lights situated close to where people are. Green uplighters may make plain walls more interesting, but they’ll also make your guests look like they’ve overdone the canapés and cake!

Having said all that, ambient light from bedside lamps, wall lights, or chandeliers can bring a lovely warm glow which is rarely enough to light a photo alone but it will add a lovely dimension to the background of an image.

Mixed light sources, like the window light in front of this Groom and the wall lights in the foreground, make me giddy
Bride wafting her veil by a window at Rushton Hall
Don’t confuse dark décor for dark lighting. A dark background can be amazing when it’s combined with natural window light.

4. The venue is close to your formal photos destination 

Got somewhere other than your ceremony or reception venue in mind for portraits or group photos? 

Make sure it’s nearby so you can keep travel to a minimum. Your wedding will whizz by in the blink of an eye, but less time in the car means more time to have fun with your friends and family.

5. The venue gives you access to all your favourite areas

That heart-stopping view from the terrace? The silhouette of the city skyline you’ve fallen in love with? My advice: Check in advance that it won’t be off-limits on the day.

You might think booking your venue will give you an all-access pass to every nook and cranny your heart desires, but even large wedding venues might have policies that restrict where you can go and when. Especially if it’s a hotel with restaurant guests or if they have more than one wedding a day.  

Which goes hand in hand with …

6. The venue has a wet-weather option for groups and portraits

You might have your heart set on doing group photos and portraits outdoors, but what if it’s cold, wet, or windy? A beautiful garden is useless in a thunderstorm.

Which is why it’s always a good idea to have a wet-weather option tucked into your emergency poncho. Ideally, that will be:

  • Big enough to fit everyone in. And remember, this is about more than the capacity of the room. Your photographer needs to be able to arrange the group so everyone can be seen and get far enough back, without any obstructions in the way, to actually take the photo and fit everyone in – even with the widest of lenses. 
  • Filled with natural light. You know alllll about this one – photographers are natural light lovers! And you will be too. 
  • Separate from your drinks reception area. That way you won’t have guests who photo-bomb every five seconds and everyone will be able to hear your photographer’s directions without them having to shout (none of us like shouting – it changes to atmosphere and hurts out throats!). But it also needs to be …
  • Close to your drinks reception area. Because you want to spend your time making memories, not shuffling people between rooms.
Couple leading their guests through The Little Hall at Boughton House

7. The true venue capacity is crystal clear   

You’ve spent hours refining your guest list and seating plan. Aunt Wendy next to Uncle Charles. Co-worker Ned next to dentist Fred. But don’t forget about your suppliers too! 

They might not need a seat for dinner, but they will need room to easily move around to capture moments like your ceremony and speeches. And your drinks reception too, if that’s indoors.

8. The venue is photographer-friendly 

Your photographer will ideally need a choice of angles to get the best photos, without anything blocking their view. 

Groups of people talking and objects to hide behind are wonderful for being discreet, but there needs to be sufficient space so you don’t have obstructions jutting into your photos. As beautiful as old oak support beams are, they seem to have a knack for knowing where the best view is!

9. The venue is flexible with timelines

This might not be the most interesting part of planning a wedding, but nailing your timeline in advance goes a long way to making your day run smoothly. 

So, how much time does your photographer need? Typically, a drinks reception will last for one and a half hours, and that will include time for formal photos and mingling with guests. 

A documentary wedding photographer will be able to work with that, or indeed any, timeline. But if you want highly styled portraits and/or group photos, make sure you check how much time your photographer needs – and that your venue can work around that.  

I once heard a venue coordinator say that a photographer can’t be very good if they need an hour for portraits. Now, that is unusually long. But if their style requires complex lighting setups or you want to use a variety of spots to make the most of a sprawling venue, then an hour could be considered fast.

Which finally leads me on to …

10. The venues’ policies are workable

Every venue has its own unique set of terms and conditions that you’ll need to familiarise yourself with. Some of them could affect the photos you’d like.

Here’s what to ask:

  • What are the photography house-rules?
  • Will you need to be accompanied by a member of venue staff when you’re inside?
  • Do they provide any transport for you to get around the grounds quickly for your portraits?
  • Are there any paintings that can’t be photographed for security reasons?
  • Is anywhere out of bounds?
  • Can confetti be thrown? If so, where and what type?

There are no right or wrong answers. It’s simply about what’s important to you. So make sure you know what to expect so there are no surprises on the day. But, be aware that the rules could change at any time without notice. 

The library at St Giles House in Dorset

How did you get on? Lots of ticks for your dream venue? 

The good news is that an experienced documentary wedding photographer will be able to make amazing photos anywhere

… But just imagine how much better your photos will be with great light, cohesive backgrounds, strong wet-weather options, and plenty of space to work in!

Ultimately, it’s down to your wedding photographer to bring out the best in your venue but I hope that at least one tip in this guide helps you choose a venue that’ll give you wedding photos you love.

Bride and groom in military uniform looking out over their drinks reception at Exton Park

Got an inkling that photographer might be me?

I’d be tickled pink to be considered as your wedding photographer!

The first step? Have a nose at my portfolio to see if our styles match.

Still venue hunting? Fab! I’ve got more wedding venue photography guides to go!

Woof! Wait, friend!

Before you go… Have you thought about your furry soulmate?

Our mum loves to take pics of the second love of your life. But before you buy your doggo a bow tie, double-check your venue is dog-friendly.

We wouldn’t want you to bark up the wrong tree.

Daisy and Poppy

Sarah's dogs, Daisy and Poppy