The ultimate Guide to winter weddings
Having shot a fair few winter weddings now, I wanted to pull together this blog post, a kind of ultimate guide to winter wedding nirvana, and advice for both couples planning their weddings and other photographers. I wanted to cover things to consider and potential obstacles that you can overcome with a bit of pre-planning. Winter weddings can be really beautiful, but they can present a few logistical problems, mainly due to cold weather and lack of light. Here’s some ways you can make it amazing both for yourselves, and to get beautiful winter photos.
There are obviously all kinds of other considerations, and I am very much coming at this from a photographic point of view. In a nutshell, be brave, be creative and it will be awesome.
This is one area that’s a constant worry for UK couples! As we all know, even Summer weddings aren’t guaranteed sunshine but in recent years we’ve experienced regular and strong winter storms which have caused chaos throughout the North – I know from a fellow photographer of at least one wedding which was brought to an abrupt end by the storms. Snowfall might make for pretty pictures but it might make the roads impassable meaning your guests can’t reach your venue. Obviously there is little you can do about extreme weather, but even chilly wintery weddings bring some problems – you might not feel like heading outside for your portraits for instance.
- Wedding insurance – You do have this right? I could go on about the various benefits but it would include covering you, and compensating you, if something went wrong on the day. Check the wording carefully and see whether it covers you in the event of extreme weather if either guests or suppliers can’t reach you. If extreme weather is forecast it might be worth checking travel plans with key suppliers.
- Brave the cold – Be prepared to head outside if your photographer suggests it – even though it’s chilly, winter often brings amazing light. You can stay warm by wrapping up in a gorgeous coat, having a glass or two of fizz to get your ‘champagne jacket’ on and even consider a cheeky hip flask. Snuggle in and enjoy a moment of fresh air.
- Brave the rain – It’s no-one’s intention to get you soaked, but if it’s raining on the day and you still want some outdoor portraits with all that gorgeous natural light then you have some options – brave the rain if it’s not torrential, or maybe with an umbrella and a helpful member of the wedding party. Raindrops can look especially cool after dark, so trust your photographer if they suggest heading outside even if it doesn’t look all that promising.
- Have a back up plan – if the weather is forecast to be bad (snow, blocked roads etc, or if you need to fly and flights might be cancelled) and there is any worry at all about reaching the wedding, find a back up. You might find a photographer based nearby who could step in, in the case of an absolute emergency. It’s 99% sure you won’t need them, but better safe than sorry.
- Crazy weather and driving – I recently drove home from a job on the 30th Dec, and a wedding on the 31st Dec and the rain was torrential. At times I could barely see. If you’re driving in the winter make sure before you set off that your brakes are good, your lights all work and possibly consider getting an emergency kit for the car including warm blankets and food and water, in case you need to pull in and stop. It gets cold quickly without the engine on.
- Lenses – if you’re going from a cold environment into a warm humid one (probably 5 degrees or less outside) you might suffer from a little bit of lens fog. I actually experienced the reverse when I was in Thailand, from storing my gear in my air conditioned room, to heading out to shoot on a humid balcony. My top tip is to leave one camera inside by the door, so if you come from shooting the bride arriving outside, to shoot the ceremony in a warm room, you can swap cameras and your indoor camera won’t steam.
The one thing winter lacks – you can bring it yourself, but if you want lots of beautiful natural light shots, read my top tips below.
- Look at the timings of your day – It gets dark by around 4pm in December and January, and only a little later in November and February. Chat with your photographer about how to maximise the daylight in your schedule of the day, after all, creating your photos is, and should be, a bit of a creative collaboration.
For me the ideal ceremony start time would be somewhere between 1pm and 2pm, dependent on travel time to your reception venue, which gives you time to get married and have all the important shots with natural light.
If your ceremony and reception are in different locations your timetable might look something like this. E.G. Church wedding and reception at a different location.
1pm – ceremony starts
2pm – ceremony finishes
2.30pm – guests depart (confetti and hugs in between)
3pm – arrive at reception venue
3-4pm – drinks and time for group photos, couple photos etc
4pm – sit down to eat and it gets dark
If your ceremony and reception are in the same place you could have a day that looks like this
2pm – ceremony starts
2.30pm – ceremony finishes
2.30-4pm – time for post ceremony congrats, family photos, couple photos and all that jazz.
I understand that sometimes ceremony times are dictated by the availability of registrars and the venue, so if you have to go for a later ceremony time there are still some options.
- You could consider a ‘first look’ – an American idea which is gaining some traction over here – basically you see each other, and have some photos together, before the ceremony, which means it’s all out of the way. In fact I recently shot a wedding where we did group photos, couple portraits and all of that stuff before the ceremony, and it made for a lovely relaxed day, and we got the best light. I do understand this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea though.
- You can have photos after dark – your photographer should be able to light all your photos, but the overall look will be different to those sunny Summer weddings you see on their blog.
- Brush up on your OCF skills – be confident that you can use flash creatively, and still produce some kick ass photos regardless of the light and weather. Get creative with OCF and it can become a hallmark of your work and something that sets you apart from the crowd.
- Get your gear serviced – cameras and your lenses can struggle to focus in low light, give them the best chance by getting your AF calibrated. I did it myself using Reikan FoCal and I instantly noticed they were super sharp again.
- Be confident in your time management – couples that book you are not just paying for the photos, they are paying for the benefit of your experience and guidance. Don’t be afraid to gently remind them of issues surrounding light at winter weddings, and make suggestions about what you think could work.
Adding interest – Bearing in mind that the majority of your wedding will be in the same kind of lighting (i.e. warm indoor lighting) so anything you can do to add interest lighting or decoration wise will help to create interest in your photos.
My favourites are white fairy lights behind the top table – they can make the photos of the speeches look incredible. Festoon lights are beautiful on the dancefloor, though they don’t work in every venue. You also have a whole host of other options to add to the lighting too – like light up letters and signs.
I’d steer clear of using too many coloured uplighters, as they can create unusual colour casts on people’s faces and certain cameras react badly to them. Similarly those red toned heaters that are sometimes inside churches can make faces red – so if they need to be on to warm up the space, request that they are put on with enough time to heat the building, and turned off as the ceremony is about the begin.
Space – Some venues are ‘summer venues’ in that they are about their outdoor space – maybe about a beautiful view of a field you won’t see after sunset, or the space has been designed with the understanding that people will gravitate outside and so if everyone is inside, or can’t see that beautiful view, things can be a bit cramped. When you visit the venue, think of ways to utilise the space so it keeps things interesting. Try to visit your venue at the right time of year.
- equipment – Choose your lenses wisely. If the room is tight, but you want to show lots of the story then use a wide angle lens, or maybe if it’s crowded having a long lens and being sneaky will help Dark rooms call for fast lenses. Choose your weapons with care.
- The room – Look for the points of interest – what gives you the opportunity to get creative. If your couple have invested in lighting (like the tip above) how are you going to use it the best way you can?
This one is just for couples really, but when booking anyone for your winter wedding, don’t be afraid to ask about logistical issues. Ask a photographer if you can see examples from winter weddings in their portfolio, if your wedding is in the heart of the countryside you might want to consider more local options for some things – if you’ve hired props etc how will they be delivered in the weather isn’t on your side. Has your venue undertaken winter weddings?
In a nutshell choose experienced suppliers you trust implicitly and the whole experience should be a joy.