I have yet to meet a career wedding photographer who hasn't developed some seriously strong opinions regarding venues. Over the years, we all end up with a list of favorite places to shoot - and a list of places that make us want to just hide under the covers all day while whimpering softly to ourselves. It's a simple fact of life that some venues - including places that are otherwise lovely, feature-rich, and utterly fantastic - are going to be much harder to shoot than others. As wedding photographers, it's our job to know how to make the most out whatever location you choose.
However, if getting excellent wedding photos is one of your top priorities, there are a few things to know before you commit to a venue, and over the coming weeks, I'll be exploring the specifics in much greater detail. For right now, I'm just going to share...
1) My absolute number one, top-of-the-pile, highest priority ceremony venue selection tip:
Please - and I cannot emphasize this enough - before you sign a contract, please, please find out if your potential ceremony venue allows flash! If it doesn’t, then unless the venue itself is deeply significant to you, I would very strongly suggest looking elsewhere.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to get decent wedding photos at a venue that won’t allow flash. We’re wedding photographers - it’s our job to get good photos no matter what difficult circumstances get thrown our way. I'm also certainly not saying that every wedding photographer would agree with just how... emphatic I am on this particular point. However - especially when dealing with dimly lit rooms (and most churches, for example, are very poorly lit) - flash can be one of the most powerful tools in an event photographer’s arsenal. Also, even if your venue is unusually bright, the quality of light really matters. Personally, every single time that I have shot in a venue that forbids flash, the room has either been A) extremely dark or B) had lighting that seemed as though it had been purposely designed to be as unflattering as humanly possible.
To put it in my own simple (admittedly odd) way, shooting a wedding ceremony without flash feels an awful lot like trying to take photographs with my chin. Is it possible? Sure. But it’s also awkward, uncomfortable, and the pictures simply aren’t going to be as good as they could have been. In the end, even if flash ends up being entirely unnecessary, I'd much rather have the freedom to use whatever tools I feel will get you the best possible photos.
1a) While you’re at it, find out if your potential venue has any other photography restrictions.
Are the photographers restricted to specific areas? Are there places we can’t go? Are we allowed to move around during the ceremony? Are there times when we aren’t supposed to take pictures? Now, I’m not saying that restrictions are an absolute deal breaker - the majority of ceremony venues place some constraints, and there’s usually a good reason - but there’s a huge difference between enforcing a respectful code of conduct and trapping the photographer somewhere where s/he’s stuck shooting nothing but the back of the bride’s head.
So, before you book your venue, please ask about photography restrictions and - especially if they seem particularly stringent or extreme - check with your photographer before you sign that contract!