How to Pick a Wedding Venue that Will Look Amazing in Photos

How to Pick a Wedding Venue that Will Look Amazing in Photos

As a wedding photographer in the Raleigh / Durham area and former event photographer in NYC, I have shot in dozens of venues and spaces.  And let me tell you, some venues are easier to shoot in than others. Below is a list of things inside and outside your venue that will affect your wedding photos.

4 Unexpected Things that Affect How a Wedding Venue Looks in Photos:

# 1: The Ceiling

The ceiling is one of the most important things in determining the look of your reception photos.  Why?  Because bouncing light from your flash off the ceiling provides light that is MUCH more flattering than any modifier you could use on your flash.  A modifier will diffuse and soften the light from the flash, but there is nothing like light that is bounced off the ceiling.  That is why you see so many photographers with their flashes pointed upwards or on a slight angle.  When you bounce flash off of a wall or ceiling, it provides light that is very soft and therefore flattering to the subject.  But, the ceiling needs to be light or ideally white.  The darker the ceiling, the lower the amount of light that will actually reach the subject.  (Black absorbs light, white reflects light.)  This means that it will be harder for the photographer to get a good exposure. (The photos will be dark unless they use more light, and a flash only has so much power.)

Best Scenario:

White ceiling that is 10-20 feet high.  Tents with a white ceiling.

Hazentree Raleigh Wedding Photographer

In the image above, notice how the shadows on their faces and bodies are very soft and don’t have a sharply defined edge.  This was taken at the Hazentree Club in Wake Forest.  The ceiling is white and an ideal height for bouncing light.  The emotional moment is enhanced by the soft lighting in the photo.

Not ideal:

Black, wood, tin or colored ceilings.  A white ceiling that is more than 20 feet high, clear ceilings on tents.  

White ceilings that are more than 20 feet high are not ideal because the flash isn’t powerful enough to bounce off of a ceiling that high.  Clear ceilings on tents are nice for the day (sometimes) but death to light at night!  Colored ceilings make color correction a challenge, but it is manageable.  The image below was shot at Caffe Luna in downtown Raleigh, which has a brownish ceiling.  You can bounce a flash off of the ceiling at Caffe Luna and get nice soft lighting on faces, as you see in the image below.  But, the image of the bride and groom dancing is also a good example of using off camera flash to add dimension.  The light on the groom’s hair and the side of the bride’s face is called edge lighting and adds depth and interest to the image.  

Caffe Luna Raleigh Wedding Photographer


The image above was taken at Bay 7 in American Tobacco Campus.  This venue has great natural light from the sky lights, but it can be challenging to shoot there at night as it has high wood ceilings.  However, if you use off camera flash, you can create beautiful images that have dimension. If you not able to bounce light off of a ceiling, using one flash on the camera produces light that is flat and harsher, even with a modifier.  In the above image, the flash is positioned to the right of the camera and creates interesting shadows on the dancing couples.  The light is not as soft as it is in the Hazentree club image, but it still looks great! If your favorite venue has a ceiling that is not ideal, you need to make sure that your photographer will know how to use off camera lighting. 

#2: Lighting on the walls

Many venues will offer uplighting, which provides colored light pointing up the wall.  This makes a HUGE difference in photos because the light provides dimension and color to the background of your reception photos.  This is great in all spaces, but it is especially good in dark or cavernous spaces, like in the photo below.

First Dance Wedding Photo with beautiful uplighting

#3: Shaded areas

Outdoor photos at weddings are ideal.  The light is beautiful and your photographer will not need to spend time setting up lights for portraits. However, photographers always look for shade when they are shooting portraits. Their subjects are able to keep their eyes open comfortably and the light is very flattering.  So, if your venue has lots of trees and interesting walls, these can be great places to find shade.  However, if your ceremony is more than 2 hours before sunset, the light will be higher in the sky and shade may be hard to find.   Also, keep in mind that high noon is the WORST time to shoot outside because the sun is almost directly above the subject and shade is almost IMPOSSIBLE to find.  So, your ceremony time is a very important determining factor in the quality of your wedding photos.

Best Scenario:

Lots of trees, porches and cool walls/buildings.  Ceremonies that start 1.5 – 2 hours prior to sunset when the light is soft and shade is plentiful.

Raleigh Wedding Photographer Gardiner_315

The image above was taken in a well shaded area.  The lighting the subjects and on the background is beautiful.

Not Ideal:

Wide open fields with no shaded areas or shade that is far away from the ceremony site.  Boring or unattractive walls/buildings.  Mid-day ceremonies.

Raleigh Wedding Photographer Gardiner_280

This image was taken near the ceremony site, which did not have very much shade.  The area that was shaded was too far of a walk for the couple’s grandparents, so the best thing I could do was to turn their backs to the sun so that their faces would be evenly lit and they would not be squinting.  The background in this image is much less pleasing than the background in the image above it.

#4: Walls of windows or aquariums

NC Aquarium Raleigh Wedding Photographer

Receptions that have a great view are awesome in person, but your photographer will be on the lookout for issues with their flash reflecting in the windows or glass.  This is another scenario which requires an experienced professional that can quickly adjust the angle of their flash to reduce reflection.  Newbies tend to struggle with technical issues and this can cause them to miss important moments.  The photo above was taken at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.  I used a couple of umbrellas to light the subjects here and had to shoot on a slight angle to avoid reflection.  This venue was one of the most challenging venues I have ever shot in because it had a black ceiling AND tons of reflective glass.  Plus, it was a million degrees outside and my lens kept fogging every time we went outside for photos because it was so humid!  But, I persevered and the photos turned out great.

The bottom line is if you fall in love with a venue that is not ideal from a photographic perspective, you simply need to tell your photographer about the potential issues and ask them how they would handle it.  Look for someone who has many years of experience and someone who has shot in your venue or a venue that has similar issues.  Ask them to see a wedding from that venue.

I hope this information helps you in your venue search!  As if there aren’t enough things to consider… Happy hunting!  : )