After the year we’ve had, the landscape of wedding photography has altered from the previously large group gatherings to smaller backyard weddings filled with emotion and intimacy. Whether you are navigating how to downsize your gear or wondering how to condense an entire wedding timeline into just a few hours and still maintain your same level of quality and consistency, we’ve got the answers for you. Backyard wedding photography is likely to become a new normal for many couples and has existed for those that are more budget-conscious or have the space to do so.

1. Gear You’ll Need

2 intimate wedding photographyWith smaller weddings comes a smaller equipment list. While this may not be an intuitive decision, take a moment to consider the circumstances you are photographing. A much smaller group of people, mostly natural light, confined spaces, and not a whole lot of time. Reconsider which lenses and lights you’ll need with your for more intimate wedding photography. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Wide Angle Lens: (35mm, 24mm, 24-70mm, etc.)
  • Portrait Lens: (50mm, 85mm, 100mm)
  • Action Lens: (16-35mm, 24-70mm, etc.)
  • Light Stand: Handy for so many things pertaining to lighting, but also useful for hanging up dresses!
  • On/Off Camera Flash: You’ll want to be prepared for any terrible lighting scenarios thrown your way so having an on-camera flash you can pop on for some fill light is a great asset when working in small confined spaces.
  • Small/Medium Strobe: You’ll want a bit more power for family portraits, harsh lighting conditions, or nighttime lighting.
  • Constant Light: This is the less invasive option for lighting and perfect for dramatic, spotlit images.
  • Reflector: A perfect portrait tool that every photographer should have. This works great to lift shadows if you’re photographing portraits in small, dark rooms.

For recommendations on specific lights and lenses make sure you check out our Wedding Photography Training System! Whether you are focusing on more intimate wedding photography or large-scale weddings, we’ve got the options for you.

2. Location Scout & Use Google Maps Street View

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During your talk-through with your client make sure to come to a clear understanding of the timeline for the day so you can find pockets of time to take them out from their backyard. A great tool to use is the app Sun Seeker to find out the light direction at different times of the day, this way you can plan ahead of what locations to use when. Google Maps is also a great asset for photographers when traveling to unknown locations to get a better lay of the land. The last, and the most important aspect of planning, is location scouting once you arrive. I like to arrive 30-45 mins prior to my start time to figure out what possible spots in the house, outside, or even across the street I can use for backdrops. This also allows you to test different angles before actually shooting the clients.

Rewind: What You Should Check Before Taking a Photograph | The C.A.M.P Framework

3. Look for Pockets of Light

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One of my favorite parts about these intimate weddings is the challenges that come up. There are so many unknowns and it has been proven, that time and time again, the job of a wedding photographer is to somehow make it all work and make it look like an entirely different scene. A lot of this comes down to lens choice and what you choose to include in the frame and not to, but finding the right light is what comes next. If you refer to the C.A.M.P Framework we refer to in our Flash Photography Training Series, you’ll recall that starting with your composition sets the intention of the photograph, then we move on to our ambient light exposure that helps dictate how much of that scene we want to be visible to help tell the story of the photo, and lastly, we add or modify our existing light and photograph. Find any possible light source you can use to shape and create interesting light, like the skylight pictured in the example above.

4. Anything Can Be a Backdrop if You Want it To

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I said what I said. Anything can be a backdrop if you want it to and you shoot with the intention of doing so. Often times we are working with pretty slim options for backyard wedding photography because all of you have is the interior and exterior of a house. Rather than using a white wall, look for greenery, decor, trees, flowers, textures, patterns, anything that can create interest without competing with your couple.

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Lit using a Godox AD100 just to the left of the camera.

Let’s circle back to our previous point of location scouting. This shot above was something I saw earlier in the day and it just didn’t feel powerful enough because of the flat light. I had my assistant stand in to test the shot and used the decor as the foreground to help frame his face. Once the sun had set I set up a constant light coming from camera-left and placed the bride in that same exact spot and made it seem as she was walking through the wall of flowers.

5. Anticipate the Emotion & Be Ready to Capture

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We’re already familiar with just how much emotion can be found in every moment of a wedding day but there is something a little bit more sentimental about getting married in a childhood or family home. Stay focused on the VIPS of the day and make sure to keep an eye, and an ear, out and anticipate the emotion that might unfold. I usually have my assistant focus strictly on photojournalism while I take care of some of the more posed portraits of the day because as I direct the subjects, there are great secondary angles that can be found, even though you wish you could be in two places at once.

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Hopefully, these tips help you navigate a new and evolving facet of wedding photography. Backyard weddings or smaller, intimate wedding celebrations aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With these pointers your clients are likely to be highly impressed with what you can make with that little you are given and to top it all off, you managed to create images in a place that is so familiar to them yet so unrecognizable in the final product. If you’re looking for more in-depth training on how to pose, capture, and impress your wedding clients make sure you stream our Wedding Photography Training System in SLRL Premium.