A bright, cold, winter’s day and I am packing my camera gear along with my gloves for a beautiful cold winter wedding at Tylney Hall. While it was bright and dry, the temperature would be called ‘challenging’ in military circles.
The Challenges of a Winter Wedding
Winter weddings are always challenging due to a number of factors. The low angle of the sun casting deep shadows, cloudless skies and bitter cold. Add to that a much ‘colder’ light, bluish in colour compared to normal and it makes for some headaches.
These problems surface in a variety of ways, for example balancing window light with indoor lighting. One of the most biggest though is the cold tends to make the couple, look, well cold! Erica and Alex did a superb job looking comfortable here!
The brightness actually turned out to be a problem early on. With harsh shadows and bright sun common for a winter wedding the scene contrast ratio was too high to capture by traditional means. I was forced to resort to HDR techniques in order to capture the wider establishing shots. Tylney Hall has such beautiful sweeping views that it would be a shame not to capture. This isn’t uncommon for a winter wedding due to the low angle of the sun and little cloud cover.
Erica the bride was getting ready in Room 12, which is great. This room is very spacious, but I love it because it has great light in the morning by the window. As expected Erica was having her hair and makeup done there which is perfect. By placing myself so the window was behind Erica I was able to produce a lovely rim lighting effect. Because Erica was so close to the window I was also able to get a good amount of contrast. I also moved position to put the light side and to the front of Erica to create a Rembrandt lighting effect.
The other end of room 12 however, lighting wise, is a bit yucky because its dark and very flat. This is where a professional comes in. Anybody can take great pictures, it’s a different game to make them. Diffusing flash through a shoot through umbrella I was able to create an artificial window. I placed the brolly 45 degrees to mirror and shot 45 degrees from the other side. As the angle of incidence equals the angle of inference, it effectively meant I was rim lighting. The mirror of course acting as a natural reflector!
The Wedding Service
Coming down the stairs to the wedding service is often requested but difficult at Tylney Hall because it’s backlit by a huge window. I prepared in advance by manually setting the camera to expose for outside, then hid a small flash on a ledge. This brightens up the inside to more closely match the outside in order to capture detail in both.
The wedding service itself was also a technical challenge because it is also backlit by a large window. The light from the window was also much cooler than then that from the internal lights. This means the colour shifts from Blue to Red as you move towards the back of the room. As there is no room for external lighting there was really only two choices. I could have shot from the front and accepted the colour shift because of the mix of lighting. The other option was to shoot from behind and use contre-jour lighting which I took because I know it works. It helps I’ve tried both approaches under similar conditions in the same room!
Contre-Jour lighting produces strong shapes and contrast, but often reduces detail and in some cases causes a degradation of image quality because of flare. As a technique, it has become more fashionable over recent years. Personally I like it, but think it works best in monochrome because simplifying strong outlines enhances them. I was very lucky because Erica put her arms around Alex in a perfect natural moment. That produced a lovely outline shape, thanks Erica!
Bride and Groom Portraits
After the service I let everybody some time in order to enjoy some refreshments. Afterwards, I took Erica and Alex outside in order to shoot their portraits. Erica’s mum was on hand to fluff her dress and cast a critical eye over her pose while Miranda was an absolute star acting as my lighting assistant. I’ve never had such a team of assistants!
Now this is where I was impressed by Erica. Hailing from Costa Rica she braved a bitterly cold winter’s day as well as any northerner from Winterfell! I kid you not despite wearing a thick wool jumper and heavy corduroy blazer and gloves and boots, I was still frozen! Erica did this all with a smile on her face and the grit and determination to see it through. She was an absolute trooper!
The light outside by this time was dull and dismal with very little contrast. Again, it was time to take control of the situation with some external lighting to give a touch of contrast and directional light. This lifted the pictures tremendously and a huge thank you has to go to Miranda who saved me lugging my light stand around with me.
I set the camera to manual and exposed for 1 stop below the ambient, allowing the AD 200 to overpower and come in at the correct exposure. The light was diffused by a small, manageable beauty dish with a diffusion sock attached. This is a fairly hard light source, but with Erica and Alex’s skin, it didn’t need to be soft. A hard light produces an edgier portrait and is common in the fashion industry. I really love the results we got here!
We did the groups next. Unfortunately there were quite a lot and with it being such a cold day it did become quite challenging for some of the guests. It’s not uncommon for a winter wedding. The couple opted to have groups on the veranda at a certain spot which didn’t give me a lot of working distance. As a result I had to use a zoom and at a much wider angle than I would have preferred. Ultimately it was the right decision, if we had gone into the garden we wouldn’t have kept to time. It was also too cold to keep everybody outside!
The Wedding Breakfast
With the groups done, everybody made their way over to the Hampshire suite for the wedding breakfast.
For informal shots around the table I used a telephoto lens so I could avoid being on top of guests. I lit it with a hot-shoe flash bounced off the ceiling which produces a soft light. I put a ½ CTO gel over the flash to balance temperature with the ambient indoor lights.
For the first dance I lit with two external flash placed to each side of the room and slightly behind the couple. This created a rim effect to separate the couple from the background, while the bounced flash provided necessary fill.
I left tired but happy. It’s always a privilege to photograph a winter wedding for such a lovely young couple at Tylney Hall. From the little smiles and gestures you can tell this is a couple who are truly in love and it was an absolute honour.