Night Time Photography Lighting and Special Effects Techniques

I’ve had lots of requests to do a blog regarding my special night time photography lighting techniques, so here goes!

When I started out as a wedding photographer some 20 years ago, I was always frustrated by the lack of daylight hours for capturing the stunning surroundings of the venues I worked at, especially during the shoulder seasons and the depths of winter. So I set about doing something to transform my outdoor evening work, thus making the darker nights actually work to my advantage.

All photographers know what’s required to floodlight backdrops effectively, but unfortunately these traditional methods are just not practical for use at a wedding as they’d take far too long. Big outside lights with cables running everywhere is just not an option, and I’d need a team of assistants and outside power generators.

Instead I created a technique that replicates all of the above lighting effects, except in a fraction of the time and without cumbersome equipment, cables or assistants.

To demonstrate how transformational these effects are, these before-and-after images show you the challenges I usually encounter. Mostly I’m stood with the venue, the bride and the groom shrouded in complete darkness – at this stage most couples think I’m a little off the wall with my thinking! But I know exactly how these pitch black backdrops will be transformed just moments later with the most surreal results!

The illuminated night shots you see throughout my portfolio are virtually impossible to create on the computer. These lighting effects are all created in real time, in camera at the actual wedding itself. I’ve refined these quirky and unique techniques over the past 20 years using directional lighting.

These night shots are easily achievable for any photographer when the wedding venue is already floodlit; unfortunately I’d estimate that 95% of the venues I attend are not lit up at night time. After sundown almost all venues look similar to the pre lit images you see here in the examples below.

My night time lighting works beautifully with dramatic architectural features, and against natural or formal garden landscapes too.  Over the years I’ve illuminated woodland scenes, wheat fields and countless wedding venues.

My favourite moment is always just seconds after I’ve created the effects when I show the image to the newlyweds on the back of my camera – the elated wow reaction is the same every time!

In this image I’m stood inside the cloisters of a building at The Dairy on the Waddesdon Estate. This shot is especially challenging as I wanted to illuminate everything from 5 metres to 50 metres away.  In this pre-lighting effects shot you’d be right to wonder what on earth is happening in my head.

Here is my final shot, and I’m sure you can now see why so many of my clients are keen to venture outside for some of these surreal images. When I’m lighting my images, I want every little flower and minute detail to be illuminated, and for the image to jump from the page.

Night time photography image of couple at The Dairy Waddesdon Manor

Again I’m on the Waddesdon Estate for this pose. This is a shot I’d wanted to do for ages, and finally at Laura and Steve’s wedding I had my chance! The couple were guided into position along a narrow walkway by torchlight under the darkest of night skies, and as always the newlyweds asked if my thoughts for this shot were really achievable. I know from previous experience that nobody believes me until they actually see the back of my camera after my lighting tricks have been deployed.

Steve and Laura gave me such a big hug when they took a glance at the back of my camera – they really were speechless! In this instance I’m illuminating everything from 10 to 100 metres away, and with every little detail of Waddesdon Manor clearly visible. The biggest challenge was illuminating the main Manor House, it was a vast area to light up.

Floodlit nighttime image of couple at Waddesdon Manor

Chenies Manor House in Hertfordshire was the setting for this wedding, with the most colourful and striking flower borders. You can imagine this couple’s frustration when we had non-stop heavy rain and black skies for the majority of their wedding reception, but thankfully my lighting tricks enabled us to achieve a few images during the evening once the rains had passed. Tamsyn & Michal were guided into position by a hand held torch, and they didn’t care that they were getting more than a little soggy. Despite the damp and cold conditions, this lovely couple knew this would be the only chance they had to capture an image of them with this glorious garden as the backdrop. In this pre lighting shot it’s hard to imagine how this setting will be transformed, but I’m pleased to report that they had total faith in me!

Looking at the final photograph it’s hard to believe that the couple were stood in pitch black surroundings and on totally waterlogged grass! Despite the British weather not playing ball, this couple’s determination really paid off; how they both smiled so beautifully for this shot I’ll never know! I’m so thrilled with this image, and I now have it framed as a large display print on my studio walls here in Chesham.

Night-time photography image of bride and groom at Chenies Manor House

At this wedding I was asked to capture lots of the interiors of Taplow House – it looked amazing with all the uplighters the couple commissioned for their special day. Both the hotel and the couple wanted me to employ my lighting tricks if required to really add to the wow factor in these picture requests.

I knew exactly what was required as I stood in this room interior, so many of the details were not lit up in the way I knew was possible. With my directional lights in this final shot I’ve illuminated so many of the details that make this photograph now jump from from the page. I’m pleased to report that both the hotel and the couple were thrilled with the final results.

I fell in love with the Grove in Watford on my very first visit, and I was really keen to use my lighting tricks with some of their stunning waterside backdrops. When the moment came, I’d already planned my shots and lighting techniques, now I just needed to add Miranda and Peter my bride and groom for the day. It was very dark all around, but once again I knew the effect I was after.

Here is the final shot, I was really thrilled with this one, again this photograph is now on my studio wall. In this instance I’ve illuminated everything from 5-150 metres away, and again with every detail showing.

This next setting is Nether Winchenden House, and to date this is the only wedding I’ve ever attended at this glorious venue. At my pre meet with the couple I proposed a few options for some of my night time imagery, I’m pleased to report that Charlie and Dave were very enthusiastic. This was the backdrop I was most looking forward to capture, albeit the main challenge was the vast area that would need to be illuminated.

In this final image you can now see the final results; I was thrilled with how this one came out. The trickiest aspect of this photograph was illuminating the distant area beyond the arches in the foreground, as I was really keen to show every detail in the distant courtyard.

Couples visiting me at my Chesham studio will be shown many more examples of these dramatic before and after results. My portfolio has floodlit photographs captured in some truly unique wedding settings – the examples above are just a small indication of what’s achievable.