Fiery wedding photo of Michael Wolber & April Hartley

How to Make the Most of a Smokey Backdrop With Your Wedding Photos

When you’re planning a wedding, your goal is to make sure everything runs smoothly. But the reality is, there are some things that are completely out of your control. Weather and natural disasters fit into the “can’t control” category—including fires.

So, what happens if a wildfire breaks out or smoke is looming on your wedding day? First and foremost, make sure that you have a backup plan in place and keep your guests safe at all costs, especially if an active fire is impeding your wedding venue. If you’re getting married outside, you may want to consider cutting down your ceremony time so that guests won’t be sitting in the smoke and smog for very long.

If the fire is at a safe distance, then figure out how to make the best out of the smokey atmosphere. There are some unique ways to have the smoke appear in your wedding photos, and many couples have used this natural, unplanned backdrop to their advantage. Here are some tips on how to make it work, whether you want it or not.

Photographer taking a photo of a bride & groom
Photo Credit: moneycrashers.com

Game plan with your photographer

The first thing you should do is talk with your photographer. Hopefully, they’ll know some easy tips and tricks on how to capture the smoke in a neat way. If they haven’t dealt with this before, here are a few pointers:

  • Shoot the smoke with dark clouds, if possible. The darker the background, the clearer the smoke will appear.
  • Switch the camera to manual mode. You want to be able to control the shutter speed, aperture, and zoom.
  • Smoke is constantly moving, so use a faster shutter speed to avoid blur. This will create a crisp smoke trail so you can really see the smoke in motion.
  • Use a low ISO so your smoke won’t show up grainy or noisy.

If you’re wanting to avoid the smoke, the best thing to do is photograph inside or under an awning and avoid the sky as much as possible. If you still want some photos outside, try to find a spot where the sky is as light as possible. As we mentioned before, smoke will be more noticeable with darker clouds in the background.

Photoshop is your friend

Whether you want smoke in your photos or not, Photoshop is your new BFF. You can play with the brightness, shadows, etc. to create the exact pictures you want. Again, this will fall on your photographer to tweak, so let them know if you want to lean into the smoke and flames in the background or if you want to try and remove them completely.

Real weddings

Need some photo inspo? These brides and grooms used fire and smoke to their advantage on their wedding day. Check out the awesome photos below!

Fiery wedding photo of Sara McLaughlin & Michael Kramer

Courtesy: psmag.com, Photo via Alexi Hubbell

In June of 2018, a raging wildfire forced this Colorado couple to change venues at the last minute. The blazing fire was visible from the house where they got married, so they made the best of the flames and bright orange smoke. The photos went viral, so the photographer asked any media outlets that were sharing the photos to donate to the ongoing fire and rescue efforts.

Fiery wedding photo of Michael Wolber & April Hartley Smokey wedding photo of Michael Wolber & April Hartley

Courtesy: today.com, Photos via Josh Newton

In 2014, these Oregon newlyweds really leaned into the fiery, smokey backdrop on their wedding day. A small brush fire got out of hand and a fire truck pulled up just a half hour before the bride walked down the aisle. Luckily, the couple was able to cut their ceremony time in half and then quickly move to a new reception location. Obviously, their stunning photos went viral.

Smokey wedding photo of J.T. & Carly Morrissey

Courtesy: abcnews.go.com, Photos via Pixel Dust Photography

A five-alarm fire gave this Arizona couple a wedding day to remember in 2016. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt as extreme heat caused a fire to erupt at a nearby apartment building. The billowy smoke in the background made for a super-cool photo op while the couple had their first dance.

Ombre smoke bomb wedding photo

Courtesy: greenweddingshoes.com

Smoke bombs

Want smoke in your photos but there’s no fire? Smoke bombs are the way to go if you’re wanting something dreamy or whimsical for your engagement or wedding photos. Just like with real smoke, use a faster shutter speed, and adjust your ISO and aperture to compensate.

If you’re looking for thin, wispy trails of smoke have the bride and groom walk quickly. The slower they move (or if they’re standing still), the thicker the smoke will appear. Remember, smoke bombs only last about 90 seconds, so you have a limited window to get the shots you want.

There are some things to be mindful of while using smoke bombs. Some bombs require you to light them, which is a huge fire hazard. Stay away from dry areas and don’t light them if it’s too windy. Again, if a fire does threaten your wedding plans, it’s better to be safe than sorry if you need to change up your venue at the last minute. It may not be what you want to do but keeping your family and friends safe should be a top priority.