How to make the most of natural light?

I find that most wedding couples prefer their videographer to stay in the background and to be as unobtrusive as possible. They've already got their photographer organising everybody to capture the groups and poses that they have agreed to get. They don't need another person with a camera telling them where to stand or what pose to strike.

My style as a videographer is more about recording the events of the day as they happen but I do like to take still images when I can. The still images can be added to the video just like a movie clip

The photographer and the videographer are both working with light as one of their main tools. Lighting is just as important to your videographer as it is to your photographer unless your photographer is using flash. Even then most photographers will prefer to use natural light if they can get it.

Inside during the ceremony

Most venues are well lit from the side by windows or by room lighting or both. As a rule of thumb an aperture of F5.6 or F4 is usually sufficient for indoors. The disadvantage of going for a really wide aperture is that the depth of field will be very narrow and you as bride and groom may be in focus but your guests behind may start to get out of focus if the aperture is very wide. Sometimes we want a soft focus in the background but maybe not for the ceremony unledd there is no alternative.

Of course if the interior is really poorly  lit then a wider aperture becomes necessary and probably a much wider angle lens to allow as much light in as possible. I'd much rather use a wide angle lens opened up wide and miss the zoomed in shots than I would start putting a video light up to illuminate the scene.

Hard and soft lighting

Photographers and videographers talk about hard and soft lighting. The more direct and intense the light is the harder it tends to look. Although the subject is brightly illuminated ir can lead to very strong contrasting shadows and these are not usually very flattering to someones portrait. 

Soft light leads to beautiful skin tones with less ugly shadows. Lighting from the side is more flattering than lighting from above and natural light during the Golden Hour is most flattering of all. During the Golden Hour sunlight is less intense because it is travelling through more of the Earth's atmosphere to get here which acts as a natural diffuser.

Filming outdoors with hard light

I was taught by my trainer Len Bateman to always remove the top-light by which we mean light coming directly from overhead which is what happens mostly around midday especially in summer. Top light is very unflatterring to the human face as it casts shadows under the eyes and under the chin. It is always better to have a portrait where the light is coming in from the side.

For that reason photographers and videographers too will try and find a location at midday where they have some overhead shading. In fact its almost better to film on a slightly cloudy day than it is to film under a dazzlingly clear sky. Shade can be found under a tree for example or in the lee of a church wall. As long as the light isn't coming directly from above. You don't want ugly shadows under your eyebrows or under your chin.

The other trick that Len taught me was that the softest light in the sky usually comes from the North (because the sun is in the South). So getting your couple to face North is often a good way to ensure that your couple is illuminated with soft light rather than hard light.

Camera aperture for outdoor filming

Len’s rule of thumb for setting the aperture outdoors was:

Middle of the day under a cloudless sky F16

Some moderate cloud cover - F11

Overcast and gloomy - F8

Shooting a video in natural light

Filming during the golden hour

Don't be surprised if in the afternoon your photographer keeps an eye on the time and the weather outside and at some point suggests that you go off as a couple to a chosen location for a photo shoot. I will always be delighted if I'm invited along as well as I know that your phtographer is looking to photograph you in what is know as The Golden Hour.

The Golden Hour

The golden hour is the hour before sunset. As long as there are no clouds in the way this is one of the best times of day to film the wedding couple. The still image at the top of this page was a happy accident. The sun was low in the sky but I noticed that the light was bouncing off a row of parked cars, hence the light in this image was coming from near ground level. It was probably very soft as well due to the curvature of the side of the car spreading the light upwards and downwards. A reflector is potentially a useful tool to try and replicate this set up if you can get someone to hold the reflector.

I have an app on my iPhone called Sun Seeker which tells me what time the Golden Hour is. There are two Golden Hours each day, as the sun is rising and just before sunset.

This works just as well indoors if you are near a window where the setting sun can stream in through the window you can also get some great shots using the natural light from a sunset but you’ll probably need to pose your subjects to get the best effect. Try positioning a couple so that the light reflects off one person’s face onto the other’s face.

Side lighting indoors

If given the chance to pose people indoors I will always try and film them next to a window. In this situation you may need to suggest to them that they face towards the window as their natural inclination may be to look into the camera and give shadow on their face.

 This works in the same way giving light that comes in from the side rather than directly from above.

Having a reflector mounted opposite the window to reflect some light onto their face on the other side would be a bonus but I don’t often find that there is the time or the physical space to organise this in the midst of a wedding party.

Another occasion where you have an almost ready made posing situation is when there is a photo booth. Guests are having fun choosing masks and glasses and all sorts of wacky items and they then sit inside the photo booth where they are surrounded by side lighting and posing in crazy ways. I always make a bee line for the photo booth when I see one in action.

Occasionaly during bridal preparations I find that your make up artist will have a ring light of some sort to illuminate your face. Some of these lights are fantastic and have a really wonderful softness to the light they produce. So I never say no to a make up artist's light source as they are usually designed to achive exactly the effect I'm after.