How to Photograph Wedding Photos in Harsh Light

Dear Jasmine,
I am from the UK and when we do get sunshine, our weddings can quite often get the high harsh light. I shot a wedding in this the other week, and as much as the guests love the sun it makes it hard for portraits. Your most recent wedding looked bright at Ponte Vineyard, but you executed the images with no one squinting. Would you be able to post on how you work your magic? 😉
Light is so important to what we do, and I just want to know how to make it work for me.
Many thanks,
Wannabe Light Tamer

Dear WLT,
It sounds much cooler to pretend I work magic, but I assure you, there aren't any tricks where my camera is concerned. Although I have to admit it'd be great to make doves fly from my lens during family portraits…that'd get everyone's attention when I need it most!

The wedding you're referring to was a lovely day for a perfect couple…but, yes, it was bright. The sun was high in the sky and it was 104-degrees when the couple saw each other before the ceremony. This–coupled with the limited shade on property–was enough to make make me a tad nervous.The key was to keep in mind the following things:
1. Save the shaded areas for last.
It's easy to feel tempted to shoot your subjects in open shade, but when it's limited, save it for last as it'll likely yield the best illuminated photos (when you're shooting in midday light). Because of this, you want the couple to be comfortable, so give them time to relax in other areas before leading them to your favorite spot. The the large trees blocked the majority of the harsh light, but at the same time allowed a nice glow from behind and produced pretty photos in tough light.
Here's a sample of the shaded area that worked best for photos. I opted to shoot family portraits in this area because it was just large enough for a group setting.
35mm f/4.0 1/320 200 ISO

2. Keep the sun behind the subjects.
In the event of shooting in full–and unavoidable–sunlight (like shooting alongside a vineyard), shoot the couple with their backs to the sun. If the sun was shining on their faces, it would have made them squint and likely blow out details on the bride's dress. When the sun is behind the subject, I meter for the skin to ensure the photo is exposed the way I prefer.
85mm f/2.0 1/1600 100 ISO

3. Use natural reflectors.
I've said this a thousand times before, I rely heavily on natural reflectors on really bright days. Natural reflectors are elements in nature or the environment that help push light back onto my subject when s/he is strongly backlit. Because the sun was so bright on the wedding day, I relied on illuminated portions of red clay/dirt in front of the bride to reflect warm light back onto my subject's face. You can read more about natural reflectors on my blog (here, here, and here), but I was able to leverage the light coming from the ground, which worked out well for JD (who captured this photo).
50mm f/3.2 1/1600 160 ISO

I hope these three tips help clarify how I approach shooting a wedding on a bright day. If you'd like to read more about how to shoot backlit check out THIS post…or you can always watch a video tutorial with tips.

Stay Fabulous,