This is part 3 of a Flash Mini Course for Light and Airy Photographers. If you’ve missed it, you can go to Part 1 (Understanding Flashes) and Part 2 (Understanding Modifiers and Bounce).
Set your aperture like normal to wherever you want it. Make sure your shutter speed is at 1/250 or slower. Then I like to put my camera to the highest ISO that I know it can handle well. On my Nikon d750, that’s an ISO of 3200 (sometimes I’ll go up to 6400, but I try to stay at 3200 if I can). Put your flashes on TTL.
Ambient light is just a fancy term for the light that already exists in the room. The background light. Your ISO controls how bright that ambient light is in your camera. So because I’m going for a light and airy style, I want that ambient light as bright as possible before I have to supplement it with flash. This means my ISO is going to be pretty high.
Higher ISO with lower flash power = Bright and airy look. The background and the subject are both lit up.
Low ISO with higher flash power = More dramatic “flash” look. The background is really dark, but the subject is lit up.
My go-to setup whenever possible is having two bare flashes in the back corners behind my subject, and one flash on my camera, pointed straight up, with a sphere modifier. Basically, I’m making a triangle around my subject.
The two flashes in the back help light the background and give that glowy look behind my subject. The flash on my camera lights the front of my subject and the modifier diffuses that light so it’s still flattering on them.
I don’t mind the bare flashes in the back getting into the photos (I think of it kind of like a sun-flare), but I do try to avoid it during more romantic shots where I don’t want that distraction. The easiest way to do this is just to put the off-camera flashes up as high as possible on the light stands. Putting your off camera flashes up high also shortens shadows on the dance floor, so it’s a win-win.
Sometimes during cake cutting or something else, the subject is up against a wall and it’s not possible for me to put two flashes behind them. When that’s the case, I use two off camera flashes with umbrellas on both sides of me. My on camera flash doesn’t fire at all, I just use it to control the other two. The off-camera flashes shoot straight through the umbrellas, creating a huge diffused light that lights them equally from both sides.
I do care about ugly umbrellas being in my shots, and I also care about how they can affect the viewpoint of other guests. So it’s a good idea to talk to the DJ before hand and ask him where the couple will be placed for each event. Then you can decide if there’s a way for you to get those umbrellas in there without them being in the photo or disturbing other guests.
Remember: If your flash is in front of your subject, it needs to either have a modifier or be bounced. Never shoot someone straight in the face with a bare flash.
If all else fails or if you’re panicking, turn off your off camera flashes and use just the one on your camera. Make sure you have your sphere modifier on, and point it straight up at the ceiling. This will ensure that at least your subject is lit with a pretty diffused light- but it won’t do anything for the background. Remember your subject is always the most important part of the image anyway (especially when your subject is a bride and groom), so if you’re in a bind, this technique will still give you useable images!
Sparkler exits are a bit different because I don’t want to take focus away from the lights coming off the sparklers. In this situation, I usually put only one bare-bulb flash right behind the couple, pointed at them, so it gives them that pretty glowy light in their hair, but doesn’t light up the background too much.
You have to make sure that their bodies are completely blocking the flash back there as they walk, so I place it at about chest level, right in the center of the walkway. Then right before they walk down it, I just tell the couple to step around it and come back together after they pass it.
I also use my on-camera flash with the sphere modifier to light their front. Because I still want the sparklers to look lit, I turn my exposure compensation on my flash down, so it only uses a low power.
Flash Kit Total: $1,229
Budget Kit Total: $469
Some photographers won’t use flash at all during the ceremony because they feel it takes away from the moment. While I definitely try not to overshoot during the ceremony so there’s not a constant flash going the whole time, I don’t see an issue with using it sparingly. I always send out a wedding day questionnaire for the couple to fill out before their wedding, and flash during the ceremony is something I ask about. (How do you feel about using flash during your ceremony? ▢ Please refrain from using flash during our ceremony ▢ If you need it, go for it!)
I have had couples mark that they prefer no flash during their ceremony before. If they mark that, and I know that their venue is going to be very dark, I just make sure to double check with them. I tell them that I love how committed they are to experiencing the moment, and I just wanted to let them know that because flash won’t be used, their ceremony photos will be a bit darker than the rest of their gallery. No worries though- the photos will still turn out beautiful no matter what. Don’t forget to really reassure them that the photos are going to be gorgeous with or without flash. You don’t want them feeling unhappy with their photos before they’re even taken!
Arrive at the venue early, talk with the DJ about placement, and scout out your flash setup before the wedding starts. Don’t be afraid to grab a random person (or your assistant if you have one) and test out your lighting scenarios with them before it’s the couple’s turn.
It might be scary to use flash at first because you’re afraid of annoying people or taking away from the moment. Remember, no one cares about it as much as you do. People just aren’t paying that much attention to you. If you’re nervous about using flash during a wedding, talk to the bride and groom about it before hand. Ask how they feel about you bringing a lighting setup. Getting explicit permission from them will help you calm your nerves and help you remember you’re doing exactly what you’ve been hired to do.