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Making the Most of Any Location

As a storyteller, I always describe the wedding venue as the setting for the love story, which is why learning how to navigate any wedding venue location is crucial.

If you see the wedding venue as the setting, you can see why it becomes important to use it as the backdrop for your storytelling.

With over 13 years of experience as a wedding photographer, I’ve worked in a wide variety of wedding venues, from drab to epic.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the ways you can prepare to make the most of any location.

I’ll share how understanding the vision the couple has for the venue can help you develop and align your own vision for your wedding photography.

And then, I’ll tackle some of the issues that arise with the more challenging wedding venues.

The Importance of Making the Most of Any Wedding Venue

Before we get into the details of wedding venues and how to photograph them, let’s talk about why this is so important.

Some couples choose an epic and expensive location for their wedding venue while others utilize a location that’s more approachable and affordable.

Regardless of the budget of the couple, the wedding venue becomes the setting and the backdrop for their wedding day.

Weddings are important and memorable events in the lives of a couple and their families.

Whether or not the setting is perfect shouldn’t impact the incredible memories that the bride and groom will cherish for years to come.

Therefore, as wedding photographers, we should do our best to make every location the setting of a fairytale, even if it’s an ugly reception hall instead of a magical kingdom.

And of course, if the couple did spend a ton of money on a majestic venue, you can imagine it’s even more of a priority for them to feature where they got married.

If a couple chooses to get married on a beach or nestled in the mountains, it might be because it’s important to them, and as wedding photographers, we can help showcase that.

But how do we make the most of any wedding venue? It starts with a plan.

Researching and Scouting Wedding Venues Ahead of Time

Before you wake up on the wedding day ready to grab your gear and start snapping pictures, you can plan for success.

Researching and scouting wedding venues can help you prepare for the challenges that might arise.

While we’ll dive deeper into handling specific challenges in a later section, researching a venue is going to be your best bet to anticipate challenges.

When you’re on-site at a venue or looking at it online, you’ll want to look for interesting attributes as well as challenges.

You might see potential backdrops in the form of stunning views or intricate architectural features.

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Or you might notice the variety of lighting conditions from interesting twinkle lights to challenging angles.

One good tip is to make a note of where and when certain events will be taking place so that you can determine what the light will be doing at that particular time in that particular place.

This might help you choose locations for different portraits, advise the couple on the best time for the ceremony, or just bring awareness to the lighting challenges that will be present.

Another good thing to note is any backup locations in case of tricky weather. You want to know what you’ll be working with if the plan falls apart.

As you gain experience shooting at more and more venues, the need to scout will reduce because you’ll be able to shoot in any conditions.

But sometimes it’s about having the time to get the lay of the land in which case you’ll want to at least arrive early on the wedding day.

Which is always good practice anyway!

Embracing or Highlighting the Venues Atmosphere

A wedding reception takes place under a white tent illuminated with string lights at dusk, surrounded by trees and a dark blue sky, with a couple dancing in the center.

But before we talk about the plan falling apart, let’s imagine it’s the perfect day.

How can we make the wedding venue look its best? I already alluded to some answers above when I mentioned that we should be looking for any interesting views, angles, or architectural features.

We should also be looking for interesting lighting so that we know the best time to shoot different shots.

Will a wide venue shot look best at sunset or closer to the blue hour when the twinkle lights are on?

Not only can we look for what types of images we want to create, but we can consider when we might want to create them as well.

When you’re looking at a venue online, you might see different interpretations from various other photographers.

I like to use these images to get inspired by what seems to be the atmosphere of the place, but also to try to come up with something different than what other photographers have done.

What seems to be the vibe and how can you use your creativity to highlight that and show how it felt to walk the halls or enter the ballroom?

Can the mood of the venue be embraced and used as a storytelling tool to show the mood of the day, whether complimenting it or even to contrast it?

Understanding the Vision the Couple Has for Their Venue

Now, when it comes to getting inspired by the atmosphere of a wedding venue, it helps to know what your couple has in mind.

Why did they choose a particular venue? What do they like and dislike about it? What do they picture and envision on the wedding day?

When you ask a couple why they chose a venue, you might get exactly the answer you expect.

Then again, they might surprise you. That’s why it’s helpful to know what their vision is.

Maybe you like the rustic charm of a place, but they want to downplay that and show modern elements.

Or maybe they have plans to transform the ballroom beyond recognition so all that scouting you did won’t matter in the slightest.

Getting an idea of the vision the couple has will help ensure that the photos you take will make them happy.

Sometimes, I feel like photographers are so focused on pushing our creativity that we forget who we’re supposed to be serving.

We can challenge ourselves creatively to come up with something that the audience of our images will cherish.

How lucky are we that we have the opportunity to interview the future buyer of our art and therefore design something that will delight the viewer of our photography?

Developing and Aligning Your Vision

So, once we’ve got a good grasp on what we’re working with by researching and scouting the venue, then we get to know our couple and what they’re looking for.

From there, it’s time to develop and align our vision with everything we already know.

Maybe our initial reaction to the aesthetic of the venue changes once we know what the couple wants.

Or perhaps we have a better understanding of the ambiance the couple is hoping to create.

We can then brainstorm composition or lighting techniques that might communicate that vision properly.

Taking the things that inspire us as well as the things that inspire our couples and putting them together, we can build our vision.

Sometimes I like to have specific images in mind that I want to create. Other days, it’s about an image series that shows a particular feature of a place.

The more impressive the venue, the more pressure there is to capture it in a way that exceeds expectations.

However, sometimes the challenge of making a boring venue shine is what makes us worth what our couples pay us.

With every couple and every venue, we have to do our best to make things look great, which means preparing for and dealing with potential challenges.

And that brings us to the final section of this post where we’ll dive into some tips for handling the stress of a bad wedding venue.

But as you’ll see, you’re already sort of prepared!

Dealing with Challenging Wedding Venues

Silhouetted couple stands close, facing each other, near a building at sunset. Trees and a setting sun are visible in the background.

In this section, I’m going to talk about how to deal with challenging wedding venues.

As you’ll see, I’ll try to avoid describing things as just plain ugly or unphotogenic.

While that may be your first reaction upon seeing certain wedding venues, it doesn’t really help your cause.

It’s easier to have a positive mindset, as much as possible, and see it as a challenging venue to photograph.

While I love shooting stunningly beautiful venues that are designed to be perfectly photogenic, we can’t always control where we work.

What I like to keep in mind is that if a couple has chosen a less-than-desirable venue, they are probably not expecting you to make it look like something it’s not.

We’ve even had couples comment to us before hiring us that they’re venue isn’t as beautiful as some in our portfolio.

I always tell them that it’s my job to make it look good and that I’ve worked at all kinds of venues.

Finding Beauty

A bride and groom in formal attire share a kiss on a rocky outlook with a mountainous landscape in the background.

Therefore, that’s job number one. Find something beautiful.

This might mean scouting the venue and finding the best spots in the best light, like we talked about earlier.

It might also mean scouting the area around the venue for possible portrait locations.

We’ve even done day-after portrait sessions if a couple wants portraits somewhere beautiful beyond their wedding venue.

And remember that sometimes beauty isn’t epic architecture or majestic nature, sometimes it’s just nice light on a clean backdrop.

Also consider the gear you use and how devices like drones can expand your perspective of the venue.

Time Constraints

As I mentioned above, sometimes one of the challenges is time constraints getting around the venue or to nearby locations for venues.

This is when it’s important to do some preparation by being involved in the planning.

If you can help influence the timeline, you can make sure you have enough time to take group portraits in nice light on a clean backdrop.

This might be a time to insist on a first look or get more realistic about any unrealistic shot lists.

You can also build trust with your couple through an engagement shoot and everything will go faster on the wedding day because you’ve worked together before.

Crowded Spaces

Another potential challenge is crowded spaces. Sometimes venues aren’t quite large enough for the number of guests and therefore finding a clean backdrop can be hard.

This is when, again, pre-planning will help you identify that maybe you do need to adjust the timeline properly.

But sometimes locations are simply crowded. One time, we shot portraits on a crowded beach and used our composition techniques to make it look like we had it to ourselves.

You can block a distracting background with your subject, or get low so that it fades away.

Additionally, you can use bokeh to hide distracting backgrounds.


Adverse Weather Conditions

Sometimes the venue challenge comes down to unforeseen circumstances like weather.

I always think it’s a good idea to prepare for the unexpected.

What’s the plan if it does rain? What does the backup location look like?

A person in a wedding dress holds an umbrella and stands near a rustic wooden cabin. Another person with a backpack and a camera is photographing them. It is an overcast day in a rural, grassy area.

And, more importantly, how will the couple cope if you have to change their wedding day vision because of adverse weather conditions?

These are good things to think through and prepare for.

In my experience, when it comes down to it, most couples are happy just to be finally getting married.

As long as you make the most of whatever backdrop you end up with, they’ll love their photos.

Difficult Lighting Conditions

Lastly, difficult lighting conditions are often the source of wedding venue challenges.

This might mean ugly lighting, unbalanced lighting, or lack of sufficient lighting.

This is where it’s important to know how to not only maximize natural light but also how to use light modifiers, bounce flash, or other off-camera flash photography techniques.

We’ve already addressed a plan for this above; scouting ahead of time will help you know when and where to capture the best light.

Make sure you also understand your camera settings for various lighting conditions. Learn more about this in the video below.


Summary of Navigating Wedding Venues

As we discussed, photographing the wedding venue in its best light (pun very much intended) is an important job.

All it takes is some preparation for and execution of a creative vision.

With that, you’ll be able to navigate challenging wedding venues and make the most of the most stunning ones.

Wedding photographers have to master a lot of skills, from documenting emotion to capturing reliable traditional family portraits.

We take storytelling candids, from getting ready photos to late-night dance parties.

Learning to tackle challenges and turn them into learning opportunities will help you prepare for future photoshoots.

Hopefully, this guide on dealing with wedding venue challenges will help with a positive mindset and practical approach.

Have a plan, but then be flexible and adaptable to whatever arises.

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