Winter wedding photography tips

How to get magical winter wedding photos … without freezing your newly jewelled fingers off

Dreaming of magical winter wedding photos? You’ve got great taste. The only thing better than a white Christmas is a white, wintery wedding. It’s your signed permission slip to light the fires and load up on hot chocolates and cuddles, too. What’s not to love? Well … maybe the cold. But that’s manageable. Let me explain how.

Why you’ll love a winter wedding

Okay, so spring and summer weddings might steal the limelight for being quintessential wedding album material. And, sure, there’s no doubt the winter months are by far the darkest, coldest and wettest months (No shiz, Sherlock, right?). But when it comes to setting the tone for atmospheric wedding photos? You can’t go past a winter wedding. 

Especially when you consider …

  • There’ll be no wasps in your drink
  • Your makeup won’t slide down your face
  • It’s totally acceptable to cup a mug of mulled wine or hot chocolate instead of champagne
  • Candles are classified as a necessary expense
  • You can cuddle in front of open fires
  • The most sought-after suppliers are more likely to be available
  • You can unlock a suite of extra accessories. Hello, bridal jackets, coats, capes, wraps, jumpers and mittens. 
  • The sunsets will be more vivid (this is a scientific fact btw – winter months mean lower humidity and cleaner air)
  • And, ironically, you’ll worry less about the weather!

But winter wedding photography isn’t all sunshine and daisies. In fact, the daisies will be hibernating. And as for the sunshine? Well, that’s one of our biggest potential problems for your wedding photography. 

Bride and groom beneath bare winter trees

How a lack of light impacts wedding photography in winter

This might be a little obvious, but great photography needs great light – which can be scarce in winter. But that isn’t to say winter weddings are doomed for darkness. 

You might get a beautiful, bright, and sunny winter’s day where we’re blessed with sunshine from sunrise to sunset. So if you get married early lunchtime, we’ll have loads of daylight up our sleeves to shoot everything we want and simply get on with it. In fact, it won’t be all that different from spring or autumn; just colder. 

But if it’s misty, mega wet, or if there’s barely any daylight? Well, that’s a different story. 

“But can’t you just use flash, Sarah?” My answer is yes and no. 

When it comes to your posed photos (aka your group and couple portraits), I’ll most likely need to use flash. This isn’t a big deal – it just takes longer than using natural light. 

But flash doesn’t lend itself well to documentary wedding photography. Because it’s hard for you and your guests to immerse yourselves in the moment when you’re blinded by a flash every few seconds. Not to mention, it’s often banned – for good reason – during ceremonies. 

So will the lack of light be a problem for you? It all comes down to what style you want for your photos: Natural light or artificial light. 

Which means you basically have two options:

1. Plan your timings to make the most of the natural daylight

2. Embrace the dark

Want to make the most of the limited natural daylight in your winter wedding photos? 

Have your heart set on documentary wedding photography? Love the look of natural light in wedding photography? You’ll need to carefully plan your timings around the daylight. 

On the shortest days (around winter solstice) that means planning your ceremony for …

  • 12.30pm at the latest for a civil ceremony in one location
  • 11.00am at the latest for a church wedding with 30 minutes of travel to the reception 

So you’re gonna have an early start to your wedding day! I hope you’re a morning person!

You’ll also want to do everything you can to be ready on time. Because if you start your ceremony late, we won’t be able to get that time – or light – back. And when it comes to your wedding photography, the quality light will be gone by 2.30pm. 

“Sarah, I need a later ceremony … what should I do?”

Why not break with tradition and do a first look before your ceremony? If you haven’t heard of a first look before, it’s a private moment where you and your partner see each in your outfits for the first time and then take your couple portraits. You can check out a wedding with a first look here

If you take this approach, then all you need to do later, formality-wise, is the group photos. But you could even do those before the ceremony too – if you don’t mind the really, really early start! 

Which all sounds grand. Plan well and get up early. Easy. Except the weather might be so wet or misty on your wedding day that it never really gets light. UK things, am I right? So, what happens then?

Well, in that case, you default to camp ‘embrace the dark side’ anyway. Let’s talk about what that’ll look like. 

Want to embrace the dark for your winter wedding photography? 

Alright, so you’re going all-in with a dark, cosy winter wedding. Here’s what it’ll mean …

  • You can get married as late as you like (night owls, rejoice!)
  • It’s wise to go OTT on your ambient lighting … 

Inside? Embrace candles and fairy lights. Add lots, then add lots more. You can’t have too much.

Outside? Add uplighters on trees and string masses of festoon lights along walkways.

Dark when your ceremony ends? Maybe use sparklers instead of confetti.

But that said, as romantic and atmospheric as your lighting will look, it probably won’t be sufficient for your photography. Yes, it’ll give you some creative opportunities to incorporate the magic of winter into your photos. But cameras aren’t as good as eyes, so your photographer will likely need to add their own pro lighting. 

Groom making speech in front of Christmas tree

What to expect from your winter wedding photography 

Okay, full disclosure: This is really about what not to expect. Like:

  • A cheap(er) price. Many photographers might offer discounts for off-peak season bookings, but definitely don’t expect your winter wedding photography to be cheaper. 
  • As many photos – compared to a couple getting married in spring, summer or autumn.

“What? I could be paying more for fewer images?! WHY?”

In low or no-light shooting situations, your photographer will need more equipment to successfully photograph your wedding. You’ll need a more experienced photographer, and maybe an assistant too. 

Confetti being thrown in the dark

Take this confetti shot, for example. Jen and Paul emerged from the church to greet complete darkness. We were in a rural location with no light pollution. I had to light the scene. Otherwise, there’d be no photo. But there were people everywhere and nowhere to put light stands without them being a trip hazard. I also needed the light to be moving in unison with Jen and Paul to keep the exposure consistent. And since the camera needs to see something before it can focus, a flash is useless. To combat these problems, I had my assistant by my side to hold and control a large LED light panel, and track Jen and Paul as they walked. That was just one shot. Now multiply that effort and knowledge for every other shot. It’s a lot more work. Which is why your winter wedding photography may cost more and take more time – if it’s done well!

And there’s another reason why you shouldn’t expect as many photos … 

People behave differently at winter weddings. There’s less traversing, less exploring, and less motion. Instead, people huddle in groups, often in a confined space to keep warm. This might feel cosy, but less space between people makes it hard for me to get amongst the crowd which means fewer opportunities for candid photos of your guests. Your day will still be beautifully captured – but just don’t compare it to your friend’s potentially larger set of summer wedding photos.

Cool? Cool. 

Now, let’s talk about how you can set yourself up for success with your posed winter wedding photos. 

Indoor group photo

How to manage formal photos at winter weddings

For your group photos: 

Want to do your group photos outside? Your biggest issue will be how to keep everyone warm. Think about how long you can bear to stand still outside in cold weather. Actually do it, in something similar to your wedding outfit. That’ll help you decide how many group shots to have. I recommend three as a starting point. This will get you a great photo of each immediate family member and your wedding party. 

Want to stay inside? It’s a good idea to keep your group shots limited to a max of eight people per group. Most venues have enough inside space for that. Any bigger than that, you might need your thermals.

Have any elderly relatives? You’ll want to consider whether they can withstand the cold at all. 

For portraits of the two of you:

Want to go outside? We won’t spend long, we’ll move about, and you’ll cuddle up, so you’ll stay naturally warm. You do still need to be okay with the cold though. Not exactly the kind of wedding photos you want, right? So, be sensible, dress warmly, and you’ll look like you’re having the best day ever.

Worried about dirt on your dress? It might be best to stay indoors. If you venture outside, you’ll want to relax and move around freely without worrying about your dress. Now, I’m not saying we’ll go for a mile-long hike and let your dress drag the whole way. But standing static and being scared to move will translate into stiff and serious photos. Your photos need you to be chill. 

Whatever you decide, I’ll always be prepared for you to change your mind on the day. So don’t feel you’re locked into one or the other. I’ll be ready well ahead of time with both indoor and outdoor options. Put your happiness first, because great photos truly rely on it. 

Bride wearing a vintage family fur coat

Final tips if you’re planning a wedding in the depths of winter

If you’re planning to go full Frozen, make sure you ask potential photographers how they handle winter wedding photos. 

You can ask to:

  • See examples of complete winter weddings similar to yours. This will enable you to see what their work is like over the course of the day and decide if you like the overall result
  • Hear advice and recommendations on how you can make the best of the low light, including what it’ll mean for your particular day, plans, and photos

There are no right or wrong answers. Your goal is simply to collect important information so you’re aware of everything that may affect your photos. 

In saying that, you’ll be thankful for choosing someone with significant experience with low-light wedding photography … And who isn’t scared of the dark!

An experienced winter wedding photographer will not only give you great photos in low light, but they’ll do it quickly too – which is important when you’re out there turning blue! 

Bride arriving at winter wedding in the rain

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