However you want your wedding day to look, your venue will likely be your biggest expense and also make the biggest impact on your design style – I mean, it is literally the stage for all of your events and your photos.
We all know budgets are a very real thing and a massive factor in choosing a space. Most often when looking at venues, you’re not just considering the look of it, but also the amenities, any included rentals, the logistics of the space, if you’ll have to bring in additional rentals, etc.
I love a good deal, but sometimes that can supersede the actual style of the venue…and then that leaves you in tricky territory. It can be very difficult to make a venue look like something it’s not.
For example, if you’re going for something more coastal, you will need a venue with neutral tones that you can add texture to; if you’re going for a garden theme, then you will need a space with a lot of natural space booked at a time with seasonal florals blooming.
While you can bring in elements to change the look and feel of a space, it can be costly to try to fully transform it.
First, you should understand what photography style you like.
It’s kinda strange to think about photography before you’ve even chosen the space, but different styles of photography fit better with different types of venues.
Of course there are hundreds of shooting and editing styles but for example: “moodier” photographers do well in spaces with dynamic architecture, interesting textures, and can do better with darker lit spaces, where the “light and bright” photographers do well in open spaces with windows, open shade, neutral colored walls, and non-cluttered spaces. Film photographers need a lot of light. Darker spaces with no natural lighting need a photographer proficient in flash.
I would suggest exploring what style of photography you’re drawn to and then analyzing the trends in the spaces the photos are taken. There has to be a reason they look so good, and you can start there to recreate them!
For people who are unsure about photography styles, I define myself as brighter, true-to-life color, but also leaning towards the “light and bright” category.
Yes, and the decor too…but I would argue your photographer has just as much as an impact. It won’t matter if you use vibrant florals if your photographer shoots and edits more muted.
To help you get the most out of your wedding photography, I’m going to give you a few things to look for when choosing a venue.
*screenshots to take on venue tours*
Access to natural light, lots of windows, and a lack of mix lighting are the most important things to quality photos, truly regardless of style.
A quick explanation of mixed lighting (without getting too technical) is that the light from the window and the light from a warm colored light bulb are two different colors, or temperatures, these temperatures mixing throws the color off and can make things look two-toned or orange, so it’s important to choose one type.
(I will almost always choose the natural light, which is why often you’ll see photographers turning off all of the lamps, LOL)
I’m going to sound like a broken record when talking about natural light; It’s important!
Natural light, natural light, natural light, natural light, natural light *record scratch*
Another thing to think about is the overall color of the space, this is most apparent in barn weddings where the inside is mostly orangey brown wood – everything in the photos will have an orange cast to them, no matter what.
It is impossible to photograph a space to be something it isn’t. While I can do my best to make it pretty, dark wood and poor lighting still shines through (pun intended).
Neutral colors in a space are preferred because they don’t “cast” colors onto skin (ex. If you stand next to a blue wall, you will look blue). I do love a colored space, as long as it still has access to natural light and works with the scheme of the wedding!
The first part of the day takes place in the Bridal Suite. Make sure there are big windows with natural light (preferred) OR only artificial light.
It’s okay if the bridal suite doesn’t have this because I can pull you out to another location as long as it is clean and free from a lot of distractions.
I’ve photographed brides “getting ready” in foyers, kitchens, bathrooms, back porches…and you would never know.
This was taken on a pack patio!
This was in her grandparents’ living room!
This was in the church lobby!
Both of these were taken in kitchen / dining rooms!
A space that doesn’t have a lot of decor and furniture is another thing preferred. One large statement piece of furniture can add interest to the room, and if the decor matches the style you want, then it all works.
(I am notorious for taking art off the wall and rearranging the room. I will take down or move anything that detracts from the photo. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.)
It also makes the day easier if there is a room separate from makeup and hair and where everyone is getting ready. One room for everyones stuff to be everywhere, and another that looks clean and pretty.
(We can always shuffle things around to create a clean corner. It just takes some extra time.)
Also to save time, it’s good to have a separate space that the bridesmaids can get dressed in while the bride has her “getting ready” photos made.
Some venues don’t have a Groom’s Suite, but it is important for the guys to have an area to have an area to hang out in (and also a space to hide their things).
It is a bonus if they have something to do like a pool table, dart board, etc. so we can get photos of them hanging out. It’s a lot easier to have them doing an activity to show their “getting ready” portion of the day since they typically don’t have as many photogenic steps as the girls.
We want pretty outdoor spaces, and also, somewhere close to shade…especially in the summer.
It is important to think about the season you’ll be in as well. Summertime is not ideal for photos in an open field, and if it’s in the winter we’ll want somewhere close to heat.
If the venue is downtown (which we love), make sure there are easily accessible (less than a five minute drive or walking distance) areas that are large enough for your bridal party size.
Unfortunately rain is always a potential scenario, so make sure there are also covered spaces that you love in case we have to utilize them for the larger group photos. Just because we can “make it work” doesn’t mean it’ll be something you really want. If you can relieve the stress from less-than-ideal weather, then why not. Love your rain plan!!!
If it is outside, you either want the sun behind you or be completely in the shade. The most important thing is that the light is even on both of you.
(A wedding with the bride in full sun and the groom in full shade is a nightmare to edit.)
I would consider going to the venue at the time of your ceremony to see where the light is to make sure that both the bride and the groom are in the same light, and that you like the way it looks. Again, ideally the sun would be behind you to have pretty backlighting but if it’s shining towards you that will work.
If you’re inside, it is important to have a light shining ON you. Backlighting doesn’t work well when you have two different exposures (bright outside, shaded under the cover).
While standing in front of a large window is gorgeous in person, it also probably means you won’t be able to see out the window and you’ll get lost in bright white light, unless you have a photographer who is proficient with flash (and you’re also okay with flash during the ceremony.)
Here’s the broken record again…also take note of the light, making sure there is only or no artificial light. A lot of the times if it is mixed, I will choose to turn the artificial light off.
Another thing! If you want your ceremony photographed from different angles, the photographer needs space to move around that is not the center aisle. This is something to think about when setting up your chairs in the ceremony space, and also when choosing your venue.
Most older, traditional churches have rules about where the photographer can be which limits us to only a few vantage points, so make sure to ask and be okay with that as well.
If you want up-close photos of specific moments during the ceremony, we have to be able to enter and exit the space without being a distraction.
This should be a separate space from your reception, so we have time to photograph the reception area before guests come in and set their stuff down.
It allows us to photograph everything you want when it comes to the decor.
If this isn’t of as much importance to you, you can either have the decor photographed while guests are enjoying the space OR have it completed earlier in the day and allocate time to have it photographed before the ceremony.
This is another place to think about color.
Barns and wooden spaces photograph orange, any other strong color on the walls will cast onto the photos, but white, especially on the ceilings, is great for light.
However, a fully white or gray room photographs really cold, so I recommend bringing uplighting to change the space.
(Some DJs bring their own uplighting – ask about this add-on!)
The size of the dance floor is also important. It needs to be small enough that it encourages people to dance, but not so small that the photographer can’t cut through the crowd and get good dancing photos.
Ambient lighting is useful because it makes the camera easier to focus, especially if you are using another option other than sparklers.
It is also important to consider space. If you are in a downtown or city location, make sure you have a street available that you can create a tunnel of your guests safely.
And if you want to make it an actual exit, you need a place to pull up a car and get a quick cute photo with it!!
Choosing a venue is the first, largest, and most impactful investment for your wedding day, so don’t feel rushed to make a decision. Dates can be booked quickly but do your research to make sure you find a space that you really love.
If you are wondering what a real wedding looks like at a venue with different types of photography styles, google “wedding at *VENUE NAME*” and look through some photographer blog posts.
This is my own first step when I am shooting at a venue I’ve never been to. It gives me a good idea of the space, the way it photographs, the areas available for portraits, etc.
Sometimes you’ll even find a wedding day where they had to use the rain plan or how it looks in different seasons (what’s blooming, the colors, etc.). Super helpful for my visual people!!
If you need help or an opinion, you can always reach out to your potential photographer to see what they think. I’m also happy to help!! 🙂
I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.
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