Epic Wedding Photography: Taking Dramatic Wedding Photos

Everyone loves to see incredible wedding photos. I think this is because we have all seen the standard, flat and evenly lit, and typically posed portraits.

Dramatic wedding photos do a better job of showing the emotion and grandeur of a wedding day and tend to be the ones that viewers stop to take a few extra seconds to view. These are also the ones that brides and grooms love to frame.

Learning to take dramatic wedding photos can be a powerful way to blow your clients away. Here are a few tips for getting those epic shots:

Almost sunset wedding photo

Wait until the sun is low.

Dramatic photos usually need dramatic lighting. When the sun is low, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, the possibilities for an epic shot are much greater.

Why? First, the color of the sky in the background will be much more colorful — ranging from dark blue and purples to reds and oranges if there are clouds or a haze in the sky. Second, the angle of the sun gives you a powerful and sharp backlight or sidelight, making for bright highlights, glowing hair light, and dark shadows. This adds some punch to the image. And third, the landscape has the most texture at this time, while trees and buildings have long and interesting shadows.

Shadows and silhouettes

Sometimes dramatic photos don’t show the subject in it’s entirety. Maybe you only see the outline of a silhouette. Maybe you only see the outline of a shadow. Maybe you only see part of the subject and the rest is dark. Leaving something to the viewers imagination adds to the drama. Limiting your light sources, lighting from the back and the side, and careful placement of your bride and groom in partial light can all work to make for interesting and not-so-boring wedding portraits.

Bring your own light.

If you are not able to shoot at sunrise or sunset or the lighting options available are all typical overhead lights, consider bringing your own lights. No matter the time of day, I always carry speedlights with me at a wedding just in case I need to create some interesting light to add to the composition. A single speedlight bounced off a wall or used as a backlight can work wonders. You could add in additional lights or soften them with white shoot-through umbrellas to create different looks.

Speed lights and posing direction to add some wedding photo drama

We used our own speed lights and gave posing direction to add some drama

Poses and placement

It is a slim chance that your bride and groom are going to pose themselves in a way that adds drama to a photo. It’s also unlikely that a still life of their rings, dress, shoes and other jewelry are going to be laid out in an awesome and dramatic way before you arrive. It will take some thought to position the subjects of your photos in a way that adds drama, so they are lit just the right way.


Adding in a light behind your clients is a quick and easy way to add some drama. When someone views a photo, they typically look toward the brightest spot first. If the brightest spot is right behind your subject, that is where the eye will go first. The backlight can create a silhouette, a shadow in the foreground, and can add texture to anything that filters the light between it and the camera.


A dramatic background is also an easy way to make a photo more epic. Look for something with amazing scale, texture, color, or detail. Your background can easily set the tone for the rest of the photo. After you have found your dramatic backdrop, add in some low sunlight, a backlight and a dramatic pose, and you are officially an epic photographer!

Learn to make even more drama in your wedding photos with unique, emotional shots in the Craftsy online photography class Documentary-Style Wedding Portraits.

Have any other tips for dramatic photos? Let’s hear them!

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