Low-Light Weddings: How to Shoot in a Dark Church

One of the common questions I hear floating around is how to take good photos in a dark church. As photographers, we frequently have a lot of creative freedom with where we photograph our subjects, but weddings are the exception. When you are photographing a wedding, you have to be prepared for just about any type of lighting situation. Whether the ceremony is outside or inside, you never know if you will be faced with harsh midday sun, or a dark church with limited natural light. Knowing how to shoot in a dark church really comes down to a few basics. We wanted to share with you some tips for how to get the best photos possible in this type of situation.

All images below by Cole Joseph Photography.

How to Shoot in a Dark Church

The Right Equipment

Having a good understanding of your equipment and it’s capabilities and limitations goes a long way to getting the results you are after in any type of shooting situation. While these things are not required for shooting in a dark church, they can certainly help you get the best results and are worth considering.

Full Frame Camera: Generally speaking, a full frame camera will afford you better low-light performance, and more tolerance for quality images at higher ISOs. Because of the larger camera sensor, it is able to “gather” more light than a crop-sensor camera.

Prime Lenses: Whenever I am shooting in any type of low-light situation, I prefer to use prime lenses whenever possible. Prime lenses have wider apertures, allowing more light into the camera’s sensor. This is not to say that you should only shoot with prime lenses in a dark church, but if you are struggling to get enough light, the wide aperture of a prime lens can certainly help.

how to shoot in a dark church

Use Your Settings Wisely

Knowing the ways your camera’s sensor receives light is critical when you are shooting in a dimly light area. Ways to increase light into your camera’s sensor are to open up your aperture, raise your ISO, and slow down your shutter speed.

While flash is a great way to add light in low-light situations, once the bride is at the altar, flash is generally not allowed during a wedding ceremony for the distraction it can cause. Bouncing your flash for shots of the bridal party and bride coming down the aisle is a great tactic, but once the ceremony begins, you may need to resort to other strategies.

Aperture: By opening up your aperture, you can allow in quite a bit of light to your camera’s sensor. Because your bride and groom should be on the same focal plane, there is no reason why you can’t shoot relatively wide open while they are at the altar. You can read more about shooting wide open here.

Shutter Speed: Slowing down your shutter speed is another way to harness more light. Just be careful that you don’t lower it so much that you begin to affect the sharpness of your images or cause any motion blur.

ISO: Raising your ISO will be necessary if you are in a dark church. Raising your ISO increases your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light, and will result in higher exposure in your images. You can read more about ISO and how it affects your images here.

how to shoot in a dark church

The Fear of Grain & Noise

When we begin raising our ISO, we also begin to introduce Noise, or grain, into our photos. Photos taken at a higher ISO tend to have more noise, and is often a concern for photographers. While grain may not be avoidable when you are shooting in a dark church, you can lessen the amount of grain in your images by ensuring you are exposing properly in camera, since raising your exposure in post-processing introduces even more grain. Also keep in mind that a grainy photo is much better than a blurry photo, or one that is out of focus!

Read more about Noise & Grain here!

When it comes knowing how to shoot in a dark church, there really is nothing to fear if you have a good understanding of the right equipment, and how to use it. With these tips, you can go into your next church wedding with confidence!