Preparation is Key: Tips for Photographing a Rainy Day Wedding
True confessions of a wedding photographer: I usually start checking the weather report as early as a wedding date starts showing up in the forecast, about 10 days in advance, and I probably re-check it as often or more often than the couple getting married. I’m not really sure why I do this because it can fluctuate so much over that time period and even the exact hour-by-hour weather can make a huge difference on a wedding day!
Weather in general can have a huge impact on any wedding and the weather concerns vary across the country - some regions have to watch for tornadoes or hurricanes certain times of year, others can have epic thunderstorms appear seemingly out of nowhere and drop an entire day’s rainfall in a matter of minutes, others can have freak blizzards out of season. The key I have found to weather and weddings is to be prepared.
The topic of this blog in particular is to help other wedding photographers learn from our experiences and lessons learned over the years to hopefully be better prepared! Included below are tips for you to consider as you plan to photograph either indoor or outdoor weddings in the rain, tips for gear to pack, and - our favorite part - what we really love about rainy wedding days. As long as you have a plan for the water, rainy weddings can be some of our favorite!
What I Love About Rainy Weddings
There is a lot about a rainy weather wedding day that can be a tad tricky, but I don’t want to lose sight of what we truly love about these weddings, so let’s start there! The lighting of a cloudy day can be utterly spectacular - a natural light diffuser! Particularly in our mountainous Virginia countryside with the Blue Ridge Mountains, low clouds and fog can seep in on rainy days and provide haunting, unique backdrops.
While some people absolutely do not want to get wet on their wedding day (which I totally understand!), some couples find a child-like joy in getting a little wet and know that they will end up with really interesting photos as a result. If you have a couple that feels like playing in the rain, go with it, and you won’t be disappointed (just have an umbrella handler to ensure your equipment is not a casualty!).
I have photographed countless outdoor weddings where the couples have proceeded in spite of torrential downpours or have gotten caught in light showers. There is something cozy about being caught in the rain that brings out a unique sense of community and family as people huddle together under umbrellas and give their umbrellas to others who were not prepared. You wouldn’t believe the number of guests and family members who are there to celebrate who have taken the time to offer to hold umbrellas over me.
Always Plan for Rain
Here in Virginia, weather averages indicate that on 33% of the days of the year, there is at least some rain. That’s a pretty high likelihood that no one will go long photographing weddings without running into showers that leave us running to protect our gear!
Here are some of our top tips prior to the wedding day to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature cooks up based on whether the wedding ceremony and reception are planned to be indoors or outdoors.
Planning for Rain - Outdoor Events
Back-up plan: Understand the couple’s back-up rain plan for the ceremony and/or reception. Some couples are so committed to getting married outside that they really don’t come up with a back-up plan. Even knowing that will help you prepare!
Go/No Go Timing: Get a sense from the couple when a final determination will be made to proceed with the outdoor option or move the festivities to the back-up location. Some venues can make adjustments up to even 30-45 minutes before the ceremony, others require decisions be made much earlier in the day. All of this may impact your photography timeline, plan, and where you need to position yourself to get those essential wedding shots.
Photo backdrops: In addition to the rain potentially disrupting the actual wedding events itself, it may hamper spots you have picked out for pre- and post-ceremony portraits and group photos. Have a list of spots indoors or under cover that will work as back-ups for those shots and consider how accessible they’ll be. For example, during one of our rainy weddings, there was only one spot inside where we could do post ceremony photos, which happened to be the same room that was being set-up by the caterers for the reception. It wasn’t ideal but a limitation of the venue. By knowing this in advance, we could plan accordingly and coordinate with the caterers to not step on each other’s toes.
Travel Considerations: Particularly for spread out venues or events that have multiple locations, make sure you have a plan for how to travel. No one wants to haul all their gear a quarter of mile down a road in a downpour, and you don’t have time in the middle of a wedding day to find yourself stranded and torn between risking your gear or keeping it dry so plan ahead!
Planning for Rain - Indoor Events
Believe it or not, even if the wedding and reception are indoors, if rain is in the forecast, you still need to factor that in! Here are some top tips to consider:
Photo Back-drops: This one, covered above, applies to indoor weddings, too. Make sure you have plenty of indoor or covered choices for spots where you can take pre- and post-ceremony photos with the couple, wedding party, and family. Particularly for weddings with large wedding parties or that will include large family groups, finding a spot where you can photograph everyone indoors can be a little trickier. My favorite go-to is a covered porch if the venue has one, and then I’ll stand in the rain (with an umbrella) to capture better light on my subjects’ faces. Most indoor group photos require a solid understanding of off-camera flash. We have several soft boxes we cart along for just this purpose, too.
Exit Strategy: Most weddings we photograph these days have sparkler exits, and we have photographed many a sparkler exit in rain. Let’s just say that while the guests waving their flaming sparklers are usually not fazed by rain after hours of partying, it requires a fair amount of coordinating on our part to wait as long as possible to haul our lighting, juggle our cameras and umbrellas, and get set up for that shot that you know the couple wants of their exit!
Travel Considerations: Just as for outdoor weddings, make sure you think through the flow of when and where you need to be and how close your vehicle will be so that you can get around without getting sopping wet!
What to Pack for Rainy Weddings
Wellies / Waterproof shoes - Unless you like to have your feet swimming in your shoes for hours, I highly recommend wearing a pair of wellies, particularly for outdoor ceremonies on rainy days. I find myself traipsing through grass and appreciate being able to change back into dry shoes for the reception. I recommend having dark-colored wellies (mine are navy blue) that can blend in. This is not the time for your adorable bright yellow ones!
Trash bag - You may find yourself needing to ensure your gear is fully protected during a run to your car and having a covering can come in handy! I even once used a (white) trash bag I brought to place it under the bride’s wedding gown during an outdoor wedding in the pouring rain. Wedding dresses tend to wick up rain like you wouldn’t believe, as if they weren’t already heavy enough to wear!
Rain jacket - Again, I recommend having a lightweight basic black (or dark) rain jacket you can easily throw on to prevent yourself from ending up in wet clothes all day.
Golf umbrella - A normal umbrella won’t cut it, especially if there is any wind. We love our over-sized golf umbrellas.
Flash/Off-Camera Lighting - As mentioned above, it’s important to have the right equipment to provide good lighting indoors. We use several mini softboxes on stands, off-camera Canon Speedlite flashes, and a Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter to communicate with those flashes. For more on that and other camera body, flash, lens, and peripherals, check out our blog on equipment here.