I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of ceremony lighting. Because I’ve been a guest as well as a photographer, I can look at it from both perspectives.

As a photographer, I view lighting at a wedding differently. When I arrive at an indoor ceremony, I assess the lighting, determining what I’m going to need to do, if I’m going to need a tripod, or if I should (if allowed), set up slave flash. There have been a few times that it’s been so dark during a ceremony that I couldn’t see through my camera. Thankfully, my camera can see in the dark because it’s super cool, and I’ve shot enough ceremonies to know what’s going to happen when.

When it is too dark, what are the obstacles, for the photographer, as well as the guests?

If it’s too dark, the guests can’t see what’s going on. The guests need to be able to see what’s happening emotionally, as well as the actions of the ceremony. Smiles and tears are just as important, if not more so, than the action of the groom putting the ring on the bride’s finger. If the lights are completely off, or there are just a few candles lit, the guests don’t get to experience the emotion of the ceremony. In addition to that, the photographer can’t see when these special moments are happening, so they can be easily missed. You want these moments captured on film – they’re what make your wedding day special.

Speaking of candle-lit ceremonies, here is a great example of one done right.

The Rivermill

Lynae and Jesse’s ceremony was at the Rivermill in French Camp. As you can see, they had a TON of candles for a great, moody ambiance. To ensure the guests could see what was happening, they also had some overhead lighting. It was dim, but it helped a lot.

If you’re going to do a candle-lit ceremony, go over the top with the candles and test it out earlier in the day to make sure there’s enough light. If there’s not enough light, don’t be afraid to add overhead lighting, or a soft spot light where the bride and groom will be standing.

There are other ways to have great ambiance at your ceremony with creative lighting. Caitlin and David had their ceremony at their church, which had a room that was painted completely black.

Modesto wedding photographer

When I was told the room was black, I was a little worried, because I knew there would be no bouncing flash off the walls, and there was the possibility of the ceremony being very dark. The day of the wedding, when I surveyed the room before the ceremony, I was delighted to see they had set up spot lighting on the stage. I set up slave flashes so the bridal party wouldn’t be too dark in the photos, and I adjusted my camera settings to cater to the specific lighting.

Modesto Wedding Photographer

It was great lighting for photos, as well as for the guests. Everyone could see what was happening during the ceremony, which was great, because there was a LOT of emotion and special moments during this ceremony.

Modesto wedding photographer

Remember to take into consideration that a photographer will be photographing your ceremony. I know that this seems like a given, but it’s not always something couples think about.

I shoot a lot of weddings in traditional Catholic churches. Typically, they don’t allow flash during these ceremonies. If you’re getting married in a traditional church, be sure to talk to the coordinator about what the photography restrictions are, and what, if any, control you have over the lighting. Pass all this information on to your photographer, so the photographer can be prepared for the circumstances.

Below, we see a shot from Alma and Joe’s ceremony. There was no flash allowed during the service, but there was plenty of light inside the church, and I was prepared, so I had the right lens and settings to make beautiful images.


Okay, so let’s hit the high points. My basic ceremony lighting tips are:

1) Have SOME form of lighting.
2) If the room is dark or dim, put a spot light on the bride and groom.
3) If using candles for primary lighting, use TONS of candles. Go overboard.
4) Test the ceremony lighting before-hand to be sure there’s enough light.
5) Talk to the coordinator of the site to find out what photography restrictions there are.
6) You can never have too much light.