What affects the look of my wedding images?

August 2, 2019
couple embracing at oakland ca wedding

I want to get down to brass tacks in this article, drilling down into how images are made (read this post for more about that!) and what factors affect the finished result.

A big part of what I do is education and generally making sure I’m the right fit for you. So let’s dive in to figuring out how the following elements impact your wedding images!

My approach

My approach to photography overall is fresh and modern yet timeless. I would describe myself as a moment catcher, light chaser, and detail lover.

I work my best capturing that action and emotion as it naturally happens, capturing people, place and feeling. And of course, we do lots of posed shots along the way!

It’s easy to take a great photo of people smiling at the camera, and we do that every day with our phones.

What’s more difficult – and arguably more valuable – is capturing the moments that are gone in a heartbeat. The ones you don’t normally get to see because they are so fleeting and that you didn’t even know were happening. The in-between moments.

My photo-making process that I’m going through in my head is #1: light. #2: moment. #3: location. #4: composition. Great photos have all 4.

Once you’ve made your decision, the rest of the process is you trusting me to capture everything that will vividly bring the day back to you so you can relive both what happened and how you felt.

understanding how wedding photographers edit to achieve their look

 

Photography style

I shoot backlit when we’re doing portraits and the sun’s out. That means the sun is behind you, the subject, for the most part. This creates beautiful sunflare which is a signature style of mine, something I’m forever chasing.

You’ll be haloed by light with a soft glow around you. Lighting on your skin will be even with no shadows. You won’t be squinting. It’s a warm, flattering, wrap-around light.

Backgrounds that are light-colored such as sea and sky will be overexposed (also known as ‘blown out’). This is an intentional stylistic choice.

Backlit shooting produces less contrast and less saturation. Everything looks soft and dreamy, ethereal almost. It’s also known as a ‘fine art’ look as it emulates film, though I shoot digital.

When it’s not sunny, the images will have a more even-toned look. I overexpose a touch, but not so much as to blow out anything important like skin or a white dress. I also favor warmer tones that are more flattering to skin.

At a dark reception, I use flash (mostly on-camera) to light up my subject while still preserving the ambiance.

My preference is to shoot as much as I can without flash (just bumping up the camera’s ISO, which creates photographic grain or ‘noise’, which I remove as much as I can in post-production).

couple on monterey beach with blown out ocean

Editing style

This is a biggie!

There are many editing trends in wedding photography that you may have seen in your search. Editing is like when you slap a filter on a photo – it changes the colors, tones, contrast, exposure and a whole host of other things.

Some of them make everything look very warm (orange, almost). Others make everything desaturated, or greens look brown. More dated editing styles actually add saturation.

My editing style is nothing crazy. I use one simple preset I created myself in 2016 and I’ve no intention of changing it. It creates images that are consistent, punchy with a slightly film-like look. I then make adjustments to each picture individually.

I change relatively little in post-production, and my straight-out-of-camera images are usually not dissimilar from the finished product. But other times, a lot of work is required in post to create the image that I saw in my mind’s eye when clicking the shutter.

For timeless wedding images that stand the test of time say no to trendy editing styles that will look dated quickly.

As you can probably imagine, the editing part of the work I do is what takes the longest and it isn’t possible to re-edit a gallery once delivered.

Shooting and editing are closely intertwined, so if there is an issue with the edits, it’s likely linked to the actual photography which cannot be changed after the fact.

intimate wedding at vezer's blue victorian fairfield CA

Time of day

Most of my portfolio images were taken around sunset. That soft, golden light is no editing trick. Photography means ‘drawing with light’. Light makes the photo, and it’s the light that I’m most concerned about.

For midday, sunny weddings we do the best we can with the light not being ideal. It’s our job to create beautiful photos. For such scenarios I would try to put the sun behind you if it’s low enough in the sky, or shoot in the shade.

Honestly though, the photographer’s nightmare is when during the ceremony one of you is in the shade and the other in the sun. The camera doesn’t see the dynamic range our eye does, so the effect is exaggerated.

It’s actually very common, due to the time of day that wedding ceremonies normally occur and the fact they’re rarely in shaded locations.

If really beautiful photos are important to you and you have some flexibility around ceremony time and location, I really recommend chatting with me about how to position you for the ceremony.

couple embracing under tree at their monterey california wedding

Location

The most important consideration here is indoors vs. outdoors. Even what we consider ‘light-filled’ buildings like SF City Hall require a very high ISO on the camera, which results in photographic grain in the photos and a yellowish color cast that, once removed, will leave your skin looking less beautiful than it really is.

Anything outdoors (even midday sun) allows for more beautiful, natural colors without that yellow color cast.

That’s why in most portfolios around, you’ll see photos taken outdoors featured more prominently than flash photos or those with high-grain.

It’s also why many photographers deliver only black and white photos from parts of the day with challenging lighting such as mixed lighting, very crazy-colored light, dark environments or wood paneled walls where we cannot bounce our flash.

Also bear in mind, if you choose a dark location, you won’t get light-filled images. Even what looks light and bright to our eye can be seen as dark to even the best professional cameras. Whatever the case, we can make it work, but using flash or a high ISO will give a different feel. That is something to ask your photographer about if you want to find out more.

couple on rainy wedding day at monte verde inn auburn

Weather

During rainy wedding days, we could get darker skies and darker ground where it’s absorbed water, or reflective surfaces on the ground if there’s still water there. Rain gives everything a sparkly freshness, that I think photographs well.

I’ll typically bring my big see-through umbrella that you can both get under during the couples’ pics. I encourage getting out into the rain!

Aside from golden hour sun, my favorite lighting condition is overcast (including cloudy/ foggy/ rainy) when we can shoot in just about any direction without causing harsh shadows and blackened eye sockets. The sky acts as a giant softbox, so it’s very flattering light.

It also allows for maximum flexibility as we’re not as limited by sun position but there are other technical considerations when shooting on overcast days.

So much choice!

You as the customer have so much choice these days when it comes to wedding photography. You can, and should, find the photographer whose work and style you really, really love – no ifs or buts.

With the many thousands of us turning our hand to photographing weddings in the Bay Area today, you can find someone that’s right for you without compromising your budget, style or preferences.

If a photographer’s portfolio leaves you thinking ‘it’s good, but maybe we can ask them to do something different for our wedding’ – just stop. You haven’t found your photographer yet. Keep looking!

I have a huge network of trusted pros at every price point and experience level. Each has a different set of skills and artistic sensibilities that I am able to tune into and pass my customized recommendations to you.

That may seem hard to believe. Surely, I want to scoop up all the business we can get, right? Well, no. After years in this industry I have come to realize how important having right-fit clients really is.

triptych of curated wedding details

Right-fit clients = happy clients

I’m able to serve clients who love my work, know what to expect and trust me. The first step of that trust is built through understanding. The next step is making sure you’ve seen complete wedding galleries from recent weddings just like yours.

Sharing this article today because it’s in both of our interests to make sure that you’re going to be thrilled with your wedding pictures! If anything you read here sparks a thought, concern or question please get in touch!

Be sure to share and leave a comment if you found this article helpful!

 

san francisco wedding photographer

Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer originally from London. She specializes in photographing intimate weddings. Zoe creates images that evoke a range of emotions, combining documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed and Catalyst Wed Co among others. Read more about Zoe here