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  • Manon Douard

Rainy wedding and indoor couple session : here comes chiaroscuro!

Bonjour toi,

This summer, as all French vendors would probably agree, the weather has been downright terrible. More than half of the weddings I've attended since the start of the season have had to deal with rain, more or less briefly. The weather forecasters are already predicting the wettest summer in fifteen years (wonderful news, I know). Well, having spent my summer 2022 covering weddings while pregnant in the middle of a heatwave, I still think that rain isn't as bad as 43° in the shade, but I'm not sure that all the brides and grooms agree!

A few weeks ago, I covered a wedding at Château d'Haroué, south of Nancy, and it rained for a long time. Basically from the end of the religious ceremony until the evening. As a result, the entire cocktail was held indoors. As is often the case with wedding planning, a plan B had of course been devised in case of rain during the cocktail party, so guests were welcomed indoors without a hitch (well, they didn't have a hitch - I personally broke out in a cold sweat photographing people huddled together in a dimly lit room covered entirely in dark wood panelling).

The other activity directly impacted by this capricious weather was, of course, the couple session. Initially scheduled to take place in the majestic park of Haroué, we had to abandon any desire to shoot outside.

So here I am, walking around the château during the cocktail, looking for a way to create quality images in an environment that is not the one I intended. Inside the château, I have to deal with sharply contrasting light: the woodwork is dark in most rooms, and the high windows let in only a little light, which is a long way from bathing the entire room, especially as the sky is gray and stormy, so the luminosity is not good. In short, it is a bit of a nightmare and since I am not suggesting the bride and groom to postpone their couple session, I have to come up with a solution. Preferably quickly.

The couple's indoor session due to a rainy wedding day

Because of light constraints, we end up shooting 90% of the session in a location I decide to use for almost the entire session: a high window overlooking a room not used for the wedding. This gives us the privacy I consider so important for couples during their wedding session. After all the social demands of the day, they need a little quiet time together. This is all the more true as they also have to give up the atmosphere they dreamed of for their couple session - a lovely and warm moment at the golden hour in the park - so enjoying this moment is bound to be a little more difficult for them.

In this case, I consider impossible to create outside-like-luminous photos: there isn't enough light, the interior is dark, and the time of day isn't when I usually do indoor couples sessions. In short, I don't think it's possible to go for something very bright. And fighting against light isn't a good idea. You can't win that battle, and all the post-production in the world won't be enough to create a fake sunlit rendering if there wasn't any that day. In any case, I don't think it's desirable: images of a wedding should reflect the atmosphere of the event as it happened. Cutting out the bride and groom's silhouette and pasting it against a paradisiacal Maldivian backdrop, assuming it could be done discreetly and harmoniously, wouldn't allow them to relive the memories of their day, so there's no point.

So, in my opinion, we have to go with the decor and the light, and explore a chiaroscuro approach to this session: lots of contrasts and shadowy areas for a "painterly" rendering that I hope will please the bride and groom. I discovered chiaroscuro last year (I talked about it in this article) and this year, I must admit that this aspect of my work helped me enormously to get round the constraints of a frankly uncooperative weather. I was all the more tempted to go in this artistic direction as I knew that the groom loved it - we had discussed before the wedding their desires in terms of image aesthetics. So off we go to the chiaroscuro!

Here's a sneak preview of the result:

The most important for this session, as for any wedding, is for the bride and groom to be happy with their images, and make sure they don't experience this session as a regret for what they should/could have had. I keep telling them - and I'm no good at lying, so I do mean it - that I'm personally very happy for their images (because chiaroscuro for me is like the mine train at Disneyland, and if the rain gives me an excuse to go in that direction, I'll just run for it), that I can't stand greenery photos anymore, and that I'm personally in love with images that have an old-fashioned painting rendering. In short, I sell them this very particular aesthetic, but I'm totally convinced of what I'm telling them!

Of course, I show them the images on the camera as the session progresses, so we all make sure they're happy with that new direction and the result doesn't come to them as a surprise.

In the end, both were very happy with their session and their images, so the obvious catastrophe that would have been an outright cancellation of the session was fortunately avoided!

But it got me thinking, because when it comes down to it, I didn't really get to grips with indoor lighting until I started getting interested in it. Up until I started thinking "I like this rendering" and went on analyzing hundreds of images offering this type of rendering, I wasn't able to recreate it. I got out of the aesthetics considered, in France at least, as 'Fine Art' to try other things, and this curiosity and taste clearly saved me on this wedding, because if I'd never done chiaroscuro before, it would have been very complicated to set up this session. You really don't wanna experiment something for the first time under stressful conditions such as finding a plan B for your couple because outside-- well, a storm is going on, basically.

At the end of the day, I feel like I managed to create images that would suit my couple because I already liked and knew chiaroscuro. But what about a photographer who don't have this sensitivity? This reflexion leads me to a little piece of advice I'd like to give you, if you're a groom or a bride-to-be.

Ask your wedding photographer how he approaches shooting indoors

As a groom or bride-to-be, when you start looking for a photographer, you first look at websites and instragam accounts, where we all display mainly photos taken outside, especially if we're Fine Art photographers. That can stop you from taking into account the work we do when we're outside: what if it rains? What if your venue has a darker or ancient atmosphere? What if the setting is busy? What can you expect then it termes of photos? What will they look like? Those are vital questions, because even if the day is all sun and joy, you will have pictures inside, for the getting ready session and even the couple session if you're willing to make a few pictures inside to take advantage of this beautiful venue you fell in love with in the first place.

Photo d'une robe de mariée pendue à une fenêtre un jour de mariage à l'Abbaye des Prémontrés de Pont-à-Mousson

Of course, chiaroscuro isn't the only answer (and won't be anyway if we have enough light inside). It's a particular kind of rendering, and there are surely a thousand and one ways to manage an indoor session on a dark and rainy day in a perfectly aesthetic and acceptable way without going in that direction. But in my opinion, it's important for the bride and groom to make sure that the rendered images will suit them for every aspect of their wedding day - and indoor photos are of course part of this.

Ask the photographers you're considering for your wedding complete galleries (this advice doesn't change) and talk to them about possible options if you can't get outdoor shots.

I know you don't want to think about this possibility. It's normal, I didn't want to think about it either. But I realize that this clearly put my head in the sand, that I didn't even have this conversation with my wedding photographer who, fortunately, with her ten years of experience, would have handled it like a queen if she'd had to. But if that hadn't been the case, I'd have had to endure the rain and no plan B. I refer you to my article on finding your wedding photographer for more advices on what I think is important for you as you're looking for your wedding photographer.

As wedding photographers, we all work mainly with natural light. This is especially true in France, where I have the impression that aesthetic trends are not moving towards intensive use of flash on wedding days - unlike in North America, where working with light and shaping it is an integral part of the job, including during the day and not just in the evening. As a result, some photographers use little or no flash on wedding days, and therefore couldn't rely on this option in case of bad light on the big day (and I say this without judgment, I'm training this year to correct this technical weakness that I also have). Except that, in the event of rain, a professional's ability to create or exploit lighting that's different from what he's used to will be my guarantee of quality photos whatever the conditions.

Every photographer has his or her own sensibility and approach. But, chiaroscuro or not, flash or not, it's important to make sure that the person you entrust your images to is capable of creating quality work, even indoors. Of course, we all dream of a magnificent table set in Italy or in a garden in Provence in the shade of olive trees with cicadas singing (or maybe it's just me, having grandparents who've made you read nothing but Marcel Pagnol since you were 7), but if you ever have to deal with the weather, you'll want to rely on a professional who can present you with quality alternatives.

Ask for complete galleries and talk to him/her about how he/she will manage the couple session in case of rain, so that you arrive reassured and confident for your big day, whatever the weather!

You can view extracts of my weddings on my portfolio, and contact me via the form on my website.

See you soon!


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