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  • Writer's pictureTomasz Budzyński · Fotosceny

Using flash light in wedding photography

Guide - how to use speed light effectively in wedding photography

by Fotosceny


In this article I present my experiences and practices related to lighting wedding scenes - whether it's a photojournalism of the ceremony, a wedding party or an outdoor or engagement session. I do realize, that every wedding photographer has his/her own preferences and experiences in this area, and I would love to hear your opinions as comments on this article.


The light from the remote flash located on the back and the front illumination from the flash on the camera

The light from the remote flash located on the back and the front illumination from the flash on the camera



Table of contents:


Let me start with the fact, that my favorite light for photography is ambient light, because it is the most natural and it allows me to capture the photographed scenes in such a way. No need to take additional equipment with me in the form of flashes, tripods and transmitters also facilitates the process of shooting and moving. However, in my photography I appreciate very much and widely use artificial lighting - flash, which is mainly due to two facts. Firstly, apart from natural photography, I definitely like creative photography, which allows for controlled interference in the image of a given scene, in order to emphasize certain aspects of it and create different and unique shots, showing, for example, well-known places in a different way than the commonly known ones. The second reason for using flash lighting is simply due to the poor level or specific type of ambient lighting, which is most often the case indoors or when shooting evening and night sessions outdoors. In some cases you may be able to cope by setting the ISO to a high enough level, which, especially with modern sensors, gives very good results, but high ISO always has a negative effect on the color tonality and sharpness of the image, making it flat and less attractive even after advanced processing.


1. Flash light in outdoor photo shoot


When going for an outdoor session, I always analyze the locations I am going to with the couple and choose my lighting equipment accordingly. If we are planning a more mobile session, during which we will be visiting different locations in the area - then I try to take at least one flash, a simple diffuser, a wireless transmitter for the flash and a light tripod, packing everything into a backpack with the rest of my photography equipment. If, on the other hand, the session is planned to be more static, such as in impressive rooms or buildings, then I take at least two flashes, larger diffusers, and an appropriate number of tripods.

When using flash outdoors, I always set my flash to Manual mode, which allows me to have full control over the effects I achieve.


The example below is from an outdoor wedding session, taken in the ruins of San Galgano church in Tuscany. The photo was taken in the evening, when the walls of the building significantly limited the flow of natural light and a photo taken without flash would be simply dark and the bride and groom barely visible. And here's a hint - the tripod on which the flash and softbox were mounted was held right next to the bride and groom by an assistant. After taking the main picture, I took the second one - without lighting, where the assistant went outside the photographed scene. Taking two of these two photos, in a very simple way allowed me to cut out in Photoshop the assistant with the flash from the frame of the first photo, and to replace this place with the content of the second photo. This is a very simple technique to achieve very interesting effects.


Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session in Tuscany - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash

Photo in original version, with the assistant holding the lights visible


Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session in Tuscany - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash

Resultant photo



Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session in Tuscany - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash

Photo in original version, with the assistant holding the lights visible


Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session in Tuscany - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash

Resultant photo



The second example is the realization of a portrait of a bride and groom by lighting their figures from behind, i.e. setting the flash on a tripod behind the couple - in relation to the place from which I am taking the picture.

The photo was taken in winter, during the snowfall, the lighting of which makes the picture even more attractive. Analogous interesting shots can be obtained for example during rainfall, or just by creating such precipitation in an artificial way (on a clear evening).

Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated with flash set up behind

Photo taken with backlighting



A third example is lighting a bride and groom under an umbrella. It is enough to attach a lamp in the upper part of the umbrella's handle, which will be fired remotely through a transmitter. In addition to static (posed) images, very interesting effects can also be obtained, for example, while the bride and groom are walking on such an umbrella, in the evening or after dark, in places with more passers-by. By positioning yourself at a certain distance and using a lens with a larger focal length (e.g. 200mm) you can record interesting images with all the interaction of surrounding people, amazed by the sudden flash of the umbrella.


Speedlight in wedding photography - outdoor session in Venice - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by a flash placed under an umbrella

Photo taken with flash attached inside the umbrella


The fourth example is to gently illuminate a character as dusk falls. This is probably one of the most common uses of lighting, that allows to preserve the level of natural light of the surroundings, as well as to gently illuminate the figures. In this case you should remember to match the color of the flash light to the ambient light. You can easily adjust the color temperature of the flash light by applying an appropriate color filter to it - if you are shooting during golden hour, you can attach an orange filter to the flash, so that the illuminated face will have a hue similar to the setting sun, creating a natural complement. You can also use filters in a creative way - for example, deliberately changing the shade of the background in the photo. By applying a blue filter to the flash and shifting the white balance in the camera towards the oranges, we'll get a natural lighting of the figure, while the background (e.g. sky, water) will receive shades of a much deeper blue.


Flash in wedding photography - outdoor session during golden hour - bride and groom portrait lit by flash with orange filter

Bride and Groom Portrait - Flash Illumination with Orange Filter


Flash photography in wedding photography - outdoor session - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash while retaining the natural character of the background

Portrait of a bride and groom - lighting with a flash while maintaining the natural character of the background



2. Flashlight in wedding photojournalism - wedding preparations and wedding ceremony


This case is relatively simple - if I need to use the flash because of too dark interiors, I use the flash mounted in the camera shoe and set it to TTL mode. This is due to the fact, that in reportage shooting scenes often have their own dynamics - so I prefer not to waste time adjusting the flash parameters each time depending on the current scene. For this occasion, I have one of the camera's function buttons set to deactivate the flash, which allows me to instantly switch to shooting without it, with no need to turn off the flash itself. Re-activating the lamp in the same way is also instantaneous. This approach allows me to react quickly and adapt instantly the proper lighting to any scene.


Flash in wedding photography - wedding ceremony in church - portrait of a bride and groom illuminated by flash

Photo taken during the wedding ceremony in the church - illumination of the bride and groom from the front


Wedding photography indoors, in civil offices and churches, quite often has additional challenges - these are the different color temperatures of the lighting used there. It often happens, that the lighting consists of many points of light, where different types of bulbs are used - incandescent, energy-saving, led, sometimes even fluorescent. Each of these sources of light gives a different color of light, which can be visible in the pictures, giving an adverse effect. How do I deal with such cases? Well, there is no perfect solution, but you can always try to minimize the negative effect. If there is a necessity to use flash light, then it is worth to correct its color temperature accordingly. In such cases, just before the ceremony, when all the lights are already on, I take a series of test shots trying to identify the color of the dominant light. For example, if it is incandescent light, I put an orange filter on the lamp, which makes the light from the lamp close to the main light, giving a more natural effect - a balanced color throughout the photo. At the same time, I shift the white balance in the camera (or in the RAW file processing itself) towards the blue light. Without that, the background light would be yellowed and the color of the faces of the people in the foreground would be unpleasantly bluish. Correction of this effect in post processing is a significant additional work, that can be avoided in this way.



3. Flashlight in wedding photojournalism - wedding reception


A wedding reception, due to its usually much longer duration, allows for a slightly more sophisticated lighting system, affecting wedding photos in an attractive way. This is also facilitated by the obvious fact, that the reception is the last part of the wedding day and takes place in a fixed location, so additional lighting can be very carefully and effectively placed and used according to the scenes taking place.

For this type of shoot, I use lights that work in manual mode to give me complete control over the flash lighting.


Flash in wedding photography - wedding reception - portrait of bride and groom and guests illuminated by flash

Rear flash light during wedding revelry


My wedding reception flash consists of two basic components - a flash mounted directly on the camera and additional lights set up in various places in the wedding reception room.

The flash mounted on the camera does not need special discussion - it is for the illumination of the object in front of the lens, which is of course is not necessary at all times.

The lights of the remote lamps, placed in various places of the hall, work mainly as effect lights, giving brilliant possibilities of illuminating the scene from the back or from the side. In the darker moments of the reception, they act as light spots, complementing the composition of the shots in a very attractive way.

This type of lights are rather not suitable for direct lighting (as if from behind the photographer) - firstly it gives a flat and unattractive lighting, secondly - very often it causes the appearance of photographer's shadow on the photographed objects.


Flash in wedding photography - mistake in flash lighting - photographer's shadow on the bride's back

Photo taken with external light on behind photographer - photographer's shadow on bride's back



In practice, depending on the effect I want to achieve, I use the following configurations on a regular basis:


  • flash on the camera hot shoe: in specific moments - such as the bride and groom entering the venue, portraits of wedding guests, playing directly at the guests' tables

  • flash on the camera hot shoe and remote lamps on tripods: in this configuration the flash mounted on the camera serves as a gentle illumination of the main subject in the photo, as well as allows to control and trigger all or selected remote lamps

  • remote lamp transmitter/controller on the camera hot shoe: it allows me to control the remote lamps when there is no need to illuminate the main subject directly in front of the camera; this configuration relieves the whole camera, the weight of which becomes noticeable during long-time shooting


4. How many remote lights and how to place them in a wedding venue?


In my case, the number of lights depends on the size and geometry of the main ballroom. It also depends on the type of ambient light, as well as the lighting, static/dynamic, that will be used by the DJ or the band. I always take at least 2 lamps with me, maximum 4. I get the best results with remote lamps when they are placed in front of the camera (shooting against the light) or on the side. If I have the possibility to use 4 lamps then it's simple - I set them as evenly as possible in the corners of the room and use those, that give the best light in specific moments. In case when I can't use more than 2 lamps, I place them in potentially most beneficial places - anticipating which direction of taking pictures will be the most attractive. If possible, I move the lamps to other places on a regular basis, for example during meal breaks. Having the reception schedule prepared by the bride and groom, I know what is going to take place at a given time and I can prepare the lighting in advance for each point of the plan.

In most cases I set the lamps on light tripods, strong enough to avoid the risk of them toppling over, e.g. at their maximum height, when the center of gravity shifts upwards. It is crucial to place the tripods in places that will not disturb the wedding guests - during a wedding party it is quite easy to get hooked on the tripod's legs, which may end up with the lamp falling down. It is always worth to go to the hall beforehand to check its size, architecture and possibilities of lamp placement. If there is a chance to mount the lamp in a different way, such as on a column or a bracket, it is worth taking advantage of it.

The placement of remote lamps should be effective, i.e. such that their light is not overshadowed by various elements such as columns or arches, which could introduce unfavorable shadows to the pictures.


5. What to pay attention to when creating a flash system for wedding reports


Naturally, all components of the system - lamps and transmitters should be from the same producer, and although it is possible - it is not worth combining in one system products from different companies. Only then we can be sure, that the whole system will work smoothly and effectively. There are several good solutions - in my case I use products available under Quadralite and Godox brands which work perfectly, use a long-range radio system and are available at reasonable prices.

I use the Quadralite Stroboss V1 (equivalent to the Godox V1) as my main camera-mounted lamp, which also has the option of working as a controller for other lamps, which is very convenient. When I don't need to use a lamp on the camera, I mount a light Quadralite X Plus controller (equivalent to Godox X2T) in the camera hot shoe, which I use to control the work of external lamps. The advantage of this controller is the presence of an additional hot shoe enabling me to mount additional accessories (e.g. a microphone during filming or a LED with a continuous light) as well as to use a flash on the camera, which comes from another producer and does not work with this wireless system - e.g. Nikon SB-810.

I mainly use the Quadralite Stroboss 60 EVO as an external flash - its definite advantage is one large capacity rechargeable battery, which lasts the whole time of photojournalistic coverage of the party. It's a lightweight lamp, that doesn't require sturdy, heavier tripods and has the added advantage, that I can use it as a backup in case my main V1 lamp fails. Thanks to Stroboss lamps I got rid of countless AA batteries, which charging as well as replacing them in the lamp on the tripod, in the conditions of reportage and often low light, created unnecessary complications for me.


Quadralite X Plus Controller for flashes

Quadralite X Plus Controller (equivalent to Godox X2T)


In special cases, I also take with me the Quadralite Reporter 200 (equivalent to Godox AD 200), which has much more power. This lamp has a larger battery capacity, which in combination with the fact, that I need to use only part of its power, makes it sufficient for even longer work, and the lamp charging time is much shorter compared to the Quadralite Stroboss 60 EVO. However, it also has its drawbacks - it is heavier and requires a more solid, and therefore a slightly larger tripod with a wider leg span, which may be a hindrance in some cases. The lamp is also a solid block - it doesn't have a movable and rotating head, which may cause difficulties in case when there is no possibility to set up a tripod and you need to use another way of mounting it - e.g. on some elements of the columns or other holders available at the wedding venue. Another issue is its value - it is twice as expensive, which makes the loss much greater in case of potential damage.

Quadralite Reporter 200 i Quadralite Stroboss 60 EVO Lamps

Quadralite Reporter 200 i Quadralite Stroboss 60 EVO Lamps


An additional thing, that is also worth considering in a flash system is a solution, that allows for quick installation/replacement of additional light modifiers - like color filters, grids or gates. The Quadralite V1 flash is natively adapted to use round magnetically mounted accessories, which is a great solution. In the case of the Quadralite Reporter 200 and Stroboss 60 EVO (or other lamps with an analogous rectangular head shape), a special adapter (e.g. Godox SR-1) allows to use the same accessories with magnetic mounting.



Godox SR-1 adapter and AK-R1 light modifier set

Godox SR-1 adapter and AK-R1 light modifier set



6. What else is worth keeping in mind?


In my work, when I am shooting a wedding photojournalism, I practically always use the Auto-ISO function available in my camera. This solution works perfectly for me - especially in situations when the photographed scenes take place very dynamically, when the distance from the photographed objects or the level of brightness of the environment changes quickly. This allows me to focus on just two other parameters - i.e. depth of field and shutter speed, freeing my attention from having to constantly monitor the ISO level.

Note, however, that the Auto-ISO mode only works well with the flash attached to the camera and the TTL mode set on. When you switch the flash to the external flash control mode (Master mode) or when you mount a flash transmitter in the hot shoe, the Auto-ISO mode does not work and you have to set the sensitivity of the sensor manually. This is a bit of an inconvenience, however a wedding venue is a more static place, i.e. with predictable lighting, so during a wedding party I always use manual ISO setting in the camera anyway - one setting is enough for practically every particular scene and allows full control of lighting.


One more tip for the case, when I want the light from external flashes coming into the lens to look attractive. Whenever possible, I set my camera's aperture to a larger value - around f/6.3 - f/10 - so that the captured flash light has very nice rays spreading outward. The smaller the aperture, the smaller the depth of field, the more diffuse the light becomes, introducing an effect similar to hazy light.


Flash in wedding photography - wedding reception - portrait of the bride and groom and guests illuminated by flashes placed behind

Photo taken with two lamps in front of the camera - with an aperture value of f/6.3






Comments


mariusz, 29-08-2022


Super article. I'm still unclear how to set the lights in case I plan to buy 2 Quadralite Reporter 200 + V1 Stroboss on camera ? Manual reporter 200 and V1 TTL or how ?


Tomasz Budzyński - Fotosceny, 31-08-2022


Thanks! For me, such a set of 2x Reporter 200 + V1 Stroboss works great (although I often use Stroboss 60 evo instead of the Reporters - the power is sufficient freely, and the lamps are smaller and lighter tripods are also sufficient).


I always set the Reporters to Manual mode to have full control over these lights. I usually set the V1 on the body to TTL mode - especially in situations when the scene is highly dynamic and I don't have time to adjust the lamp settings for each shot (e.g., during dance parties, when I move with the camera all over the scene). However in the case of a group photo, where the scene is more static, I set everything to Manual mode.



mariusz, 08-09-2022


And is it worth it to add to the pro version ? From what I've found it's not worth it , because the changes are probably cosmetic. Maybe you have better knowledge in this topic ? Also recommend a specific tripod for these reporters, because my tripods will probably be too light. Thank you :)


Tomasz Budzyński - Fotosceny, 16-09-2022


The changes in the Pro version are actually on a smaller scale, however three of them are noteworthy: the option of stable light color temperature for different ranges of lamp power, slightly shorter charging time after each firing, and one step wider range of lamp power setting (from 1/256). For common applications, however, these improvements in my opinion are not of special importance and you can save a bit by not buying the Pro version.

As for the tripod, it's actually better to get a more powerful and stable tripod - I chose Quadralite Air 260 , which have additional air cushioning that allows you to lower the lamp smoothly and without sudden jerks. The tripod a little more expensive and, of course, heavier, but well made and increases the safety of the lamp.


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