Tipi wedding at Sywell Grange
When I do an alfresco editorial shoot …
… there’s a very high chance it will be a scorching hot day with bright blue skies.
Many of my outdoor styled shoots have fallen on the hottest day of the year. (So if you’d like to do one, consider me your lucky charm!)
With an outdoor photoshoot being completely exposed to the elements, you might think that glorious sunshine is the best weather a photographer could wish for. But whilst it’s terrific to be tanning and soaking up vitamin D as well as working, the sun does present some problems.
“How could the sun ever be a problem?!” I hear you ask.
Let me explain.
The use and control of light is an important element in any photograph. And the sun provides a little too much light, sometimes!
I know, I know … one day I’m blathering about how dark a church is and the next I’m chuntering on about how bright the sun is!
Bear with me here.
Two reasons why the sun can be problematic for photography
1 / You can’t just point your camera at a scene and record it as your eye sees it.
Do you remember that scene in Gremlins when Gizmo is frightened by a camera flash? You totally understand the pain, don’t you? That feeling of being uncomfortably dazzled, temporarily blinded and screwing up your entire face to lessen the light. #brightlightbrightlight
Well, if you think bright light is hard for your eyes to handle, it’s even harder for a camera to handle.
It’s not so bad on a cloudy day. But on a sunny day, when the light is more intense, it’s trickier to control. (Especially at midday, in the middle of summer, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.)
That’s because there’s a huge contrast between the brightest and darkest part of a scene. You’ll have to take my word for that. Because the human eye easily adjusts for those extremes, balancing everything out so we see nice even tones. Such clever eyes. But the camera sees things differently. It gets dazzled by all that light.
An experienced photographer will know how to handle this, of course. But it’s a challenge.
2 / The sun creates unflattering shadows
When I expose a photo for the brightest part of a scene (often a wedding dress or a candle flame) to ensure the detail isn’t ‘blown out’ to solid white, the shadier areas (like a navy suit or the shadows caused by the sun) look wayyyyy darker in the photo than they do in reality.
That means dark shadows in your photos. And if the sun is shining in your face, guess where those shadows will be? Under your eyes. #pandamorphosis
And if someone has a wide-brimmed hat on … you won’t see their face for shadow!
That’s all very well if you like a bold, moody photo. And I do, from time to time, when it suits the situation. But generally, I like to remember things the way I saw and experienced them. Minus the sweat and sunburn.
So the sunlight has to be carefully controlled. And there’s no zapper for that.
Pas de problème!
How I shoot in the sunshine …
… along with some of my fave pictures from this photo-shoot at Sywell Grange to demonstrate.
Actually, there are several ways of handling bright sun in photos.
1 / Seek out shaded areas
Avoiding the issue might be an easy way out but the light is much softer and more flattering in the shade.
This one gets bonus points because it’s also good to cool down and restore your sanity! Seriously though, people will look more relaxed if they’re comfortable.
The shady side of a building or canopy of a tree (or shelter of a tipi!) are my go-to options for close-up portraits. Especially when I want to show off hair and make-up nicely.
2 / Have the sun behind the subject
Sometimes there’s no shade and you have to photograph out in the open. Shooting towards the sun might blind your resident photographer and give them palpitations as they manage the extreme exposure and try to control the lens flare BUT everyone in the photo will look radiant and be surrounded by a heavenly halo of sunlight. Mmm, dreamy.
This calls for strong technical skills. Cameras naturally overcompensate for really bright light by underexposing the photo. Remember how I said they get dazzled? I have to tell it not to do what it thinks it should do. This is why so many guests with camera phones look at me with concern and confusion when I shoot into the sun on a wedding day!
3 / Use direct sun to light the subject
Sometimes you just have to take a photo regardless of where the sun is. On this shoot, I needed to capture the iconic aspects of Sywell Grange. On a wedding day, it might be a natural moment, like a confetti walkway on a church path, that can’t be set-up differently.
Knowing that the sun creates shadows that accentuate every little detail when it falls directly onto someone’s face … wrinkles, imperfections, pores, discolouration, chubby chins … I usually shoot wide so that my subject is small in the photo, and have them looking away from me, so that their face is less prominent.
I still have to be careful about getting the exposure right. Although, in this situation, ‘right’ often means underexposing the image overall so that the brightest parts of the photo aren’t so bright that you can’t see them.
And then, back at SVP HQ, the photos will be lavished with lots of TLC to even out the strong contrast and make everything look as beautiful as it did on the day. Check out what I mean in these before and after photos. On the left is the photo as it came out of my camera. And the finished image is on the right.
4 / Search for dappled light
I love to see the play of light as the sun shines through the leaves of a tree, making pretty patterns on the ground; especially when the breeze makes everything dance. But until recently, I’ve thought of this as the worst kind of light to work with. Even worse than a barn with no windows.
Because not only do you have to balance the drastic difference in tone between the brightest and darkest parts of the scene (the same as you do when working with direct sun) but you also have to control where those bright bits fall. It wouldn’t look good if a patch of sun was shining on someone’s face, for example.
And whilst it wouldn’t work for large groups of people, it can be beautiful for portraits if the person has the sun behind them or if some fine positioning is possible to ensure the bright spots don’t fall on them. It’s a challenging choice but can be enchanting.
Great things about the sun in photography
Having droned on about what a challenge the sun can be, it can be amazing and gift all sorts of creative opportunities too. I’m dreaming of yummy golden hour, beautiful backlight, long shadows, creative lens flare, starbursts …
And here endeth today’s lesson on why you’ll find me seeking shade and repeatedly saying “let’s move to where the sun will be behind you” or “let’s wait until golden hour” on a sunny shoot day!
But despite being thoroughly British and never being entirely happy with the weather and lighting conditions, it’s just the best feeling to be able to call places like Sywell Grange and a beautifully styled tipi my ‘office’. I adore working in the peace and tranquillity of the countryside. So I’m absolutely delighted to be a recommended wedding photographer at Sywell Grange!
So if you’re planning a wedding at Sywell, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you! Let’s hope for a sunny day!
Scroll on to dose up on tipi wedding ideas and see more of this fab Northamptonshire wedding venue.
Venue: Sywell Grange | Tipi: Teepees & Tents | Styling: Nerissa Eve Weddings | Hair: Leanne Eldridge | MUA: Liza Smith | Dress: Amelia by Sassi Holford at Courtyard Bridal | Veils: ELU Designs | Hairpieces: Forest House | Florals: Amore Fiore | Bar: The Occasion Bar Co | Bar Accessories: Lou Lou Creates | Cake: Victoria’s Cake Company | Model: Kimberley Hollis