Your Ultimate Exposure Guide for Wedding Photography

Photography Tips

As you know getting the correct exposure is fundamental to the final quality of your images; however, wedding photography is notoriously difficult with extreme changes in lighting from one moment to the next. Get the exposure wrong and you could end up with a burnt out wedding dress or excessive noise with grain the size of golf balls. However if you are in Connecticut and looking for amazing wedding photographers then I highly suggest CT Wedding Photographers – Chris and Becca. You will love their work!

Bronze Award for Photojournalism Wedding Photography

Extreme lighting example where I spot metered off the bride's sun lit face for the desired exposure. Bronze Award for Photojournalism Wedding Photography

Knowing how accurate the exposure meter is in your camera is a good place to start.  Digital SLRs are known to underexpose by as much as one stop.  And if you then underexpose to protect the hight-lights your image quality will be seriously affected.

Once you know how accurate your camera’s meter is and how to compensate, the next key decision is to use the correct metering mode.  Using spot metering and the simplified zone system will produce the most accurate exposures.  But spot metering may not be possible all the time with the pace of the wedding schedule.  Therefore, centre-weighted metering will serve you best on the wedding day.  You may have to compensate your exposures for very dark or light scenes; generally the bright dress of the bride and dark suit of the groom will average out the scene.  Centre-weighted metering works surprising well with back lighting as long as the sky does not take up too much of the overall scene.

The advantage of using centre-weighted over zone metering is because it is not effected by the orientation of the camera.  The centre-weighted camera meter will give virtually the same exposure for landscape and portrait orientation of the same scene.  Whereas  zone metering will give very different exposures because it is designed for landscape orientation and allows for the sky being much brighter relative to the ground.

So far we’ve assumed that your camera will always give correct readings.  But what about when the meter is fooled in difficult lighting conditions?

Even spot meters can be fooled if you take a reading off  the bride’s cheek for example – unless you can move in close enough to ensure her cheek fills at least 3% of the scene where you are metering.

This is where the ultimate exposure meter comes in – Your Head!

Wouldn’t it be great to already know what your exposure should be?

Then you’d know if your exposure meter is being fooled and make the appropriate adjustments.

If you are reading this article, I assume you are either a (semi) professional or very serious amateur photographer – otherwise you should not be attempting wedding photography.  And you will be familiar with the classic f/16 rule.

The f/16 Rule

The f/16 rule states that on a bright sunny day your exposure will be f/16, 1/125s at ISO100.  Many photographers prefer using f/11, 1/250s at ISO100, which of course gives exactly the same exposure.

However this rule is not convenient to do quick calculations for wedding photography as you’re working with wide open apertures – typically f2/8 – f/4.  Therefore I decided to make a table of  typical exposures for wedding photography.

Did you know in bright sunlight at ISO100 f/2.8 your shutter speed will be 1/8000s?

Unless your mental arithmetic is very good, you’re going to struggle doing these calculations quickly especially when the ISO changes as well.

Note if you’re shooting into the sun, Contre-jour, you’ll want to add about a stop of light to the figures shown here – to expose for the shade side of the subject.  Otherwise you’ll have a nicely exposed sky and underexposed subject.

Mirror lock-up below 1/30s is to avoid problems with mirror bounce.  You may get away using 1/15s with a standard length zoom but a 70-200 will result in a double exposure even on a tripod!

You Survival Guide to Wedding Photography Exposures

You Survival Guide to Wedding Photography Exposures

As you can imagine a fairly typical example would be photographing the bridal portraits at ISO800 1/30s f/2.8.  And then the mock leaving with her father outside in bright direct sunlight at ISO100 1/4000s or even 1/8000s f/2.8.  That’s 11-12 stops of light difference!

Follow the link for complete information on the ultimate exposure computer going right back to first principles.

Print off or save your reference guide now.


Pat Bloomfield

East of England Wedding Photographer

About the author: Director, Photographer & Artist of PatB Photography. Award winning photographer and member of SWPP & SIFGP. Featured in cosmopolitan.co.uk, Photo Pro, Alt Fashion. Clients include; BT, Samurai Sports, ItalClean, KeyAgent & AutoTrader.

3 comments… add one
  • moudiphotography.com

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  • Pat Bloomfield LSWPP

    I’ve just tried it and images load fine. You’ve probably experienced network problems at your end 🙂

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