Do dark churches, give you the heeby-jeebies when it’s time to take family formals at the altar? What about reception halls with no windows, or even just regular evening receptions? What makes these scary for natural light photographers is the word that makes us all cringe: FLASH. In order for pictures to turn out in any of the scenarios I just mentioned, you must use off camera flash, whether you like it or not!
Instead of running away from those weddings, or relying on the ambient light in the room & cranking up your ISO, I encourage you to take your guard down and give me a few minutes to walk you through how I approach these settings. It’s not that hard, I promise!
Let’s start with the basics. Here’s a list of the gear I currently use in my OCF (off camera flash) setup:
What I really like about the Yongnuo flashes is that they are very reasonably priced. I can have multiple backup flashes for the price of one Nikon flash. They do the job well and are pretty heavy duty – I can’t tell you how many have gotten knocked off light stands just this wedding season alone! For now, I’m happy with them!
The two parts of the day that I always utilize flash are the indoor family formals and the reception. For the family formals, I mostly use one OCF with a shoot through umbrella. The umbrella is like a giant diffuser. It softens the light and doesn’t create harsh shadows like a plain speed light off camera would. This stand is usually set up slightly off center, right behind me. By moving the flash out from the middle, you do create some shadows, but this allows for some depth in your final portrait. If the church is really dark, then I will set up two stands with shoot through umbrellas, on opposite corners.
Next is my favorite part of OCF, the reception! Over the years of shooting weddings, I’ve found that I prefer reception images when I’ve used on-camera flash as compared to natural light. Even more so, I LOVE my images with I use BOTH on camera and off camera flash! This is because my on-camera flash illuminates my subject, while the off-camera flash brightens up the background!
To start off the reception, I almost always have one speed light on my camera that’s either bouncing light off the ceiling or a white card, and one on a stand. For the introductions, toasts and first dances, I use the shoot through umbrella on the stand as well. I love the softness the light brings to the image. If the room is really dark, I’ll set up a second off-camera bare flash in the back corner to help illuminate the room so it doesn’t look like a black hole.
In the below picture, the umbrella was off at an angle to the right. My on-camera flash illuminated Kinzie and Dylan’s faces, while the umbrella illuminated their backs to create somewhat of a halo effect. Finally, the bare flash was in the very back left corner of the room, so that flash filled in the shadows and brightened the background. While photographing with an umbrella on a stand, note where the umbrella is. This may be obvious, but it limits the angles with which you can photograph because the flash is stationary, and you are not. There’s nothing worse than capturing a beautiful moment, only to find a GIANT white circle illuminating the umbrella in the background because it’s incredibly distracting!
As the night continues on and we move onto open dancing, I take off my shoot through umbrella. This leaves me with one speed light on my camera, and one on a stand off-camera (or two if I keep the original bare flash). The flash off camera is pointed directly at the dance floor; it is not being bounced off the ceiling like my on-camera flash. The reason I do this is because I really like shooting into the flash for this part of the night. It can create a “halo” effect, or even a starburst in the background. I think this is a great way to playfully capture a fun environment! It also gives you a lot more flexibility to move about the reception since you don’t have to worry about avoiding the light stand.
Alright, now that we’ve been through the way I approach my flash set-up, here’s a quick recap:
Where to place the off-camera flash:
Alright last but not least… night portraits! These are not something I typically do, but when I have the chance to, I LOVE them!
Do you want to learn exactly how I set up this snowy night portrait? I created a how-to guide that walks you all the way through the process. ENJOY!