Good Light

by Thomas Cole

Photography is all about light. In fact, as Rick Sammon is fond of pointing out, it could rightly be said that the subject of every picture is the light because without it you don’t have a picture. One thing that every photographer looks for is good light. Our eyes tend to compensate very well so, if we’re not looking for it, we don’t tend to notice the quality of the light. Cameras are not so forgiving.

One challenge every wedding photographer faces is that, when your shooting a wedding, you often have to make do with whatever light you get. You might think, when wedding formals are being shoot outdoors, that we should pray for a sunny day. Not actually. While we don’t want rain, a cloudy day is a lot easier. The sun is very far away and is therefore a small light source. The smaller the light source the greater the contrast between highlights and shadows. This leads to blown out highlights and black shadows with hard, unflattering edges. On a cloudy day, the light is softened, making beautiful pictures a lot easier to make.

Not that bad light is an insurmountable problem, not for a pro. Wedding photographers must be ready for anything and we have tools to deal with these problems and get that lovely bridal portrait. We may look for a shady spot outside of direct sunlight, or use a diffuser, a reflector or fill flash to even out the light. Or sometimes we might resort to Photoshop.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve leaned on Photoshop more than I should have in the past. It’s a point of professional pride with us photographers that we get it right in the camera. It’s also a lot less work. Take the picture below for example.


I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been during this wedding. We were in a back yard in the late afternoon on a mostly sunny day. The light was hard and contrasty and all we had was the hit and miss shade from some trees. There are a number of ways I could have dealt with this and I choose the worst option: get the shots and fix them later in Photoshop. This picture is from a group shot and was the best picture I had of the bride’s stepmother. I fixed it, but it was a lot of work. I could have saved myself some valuable time by simple having my lovely assistant (my wife Theresa) hold up a diffuser. That mistake will not happen again.

So at your wedding, if the photographer is not happy to see that the sun is shining bright, as it does a lot here in Saskatchewan, you’ll know way. He’s looking for good light and if he doesn’t have to make it himself, it’s less work for him (or her).