Simple Flash Techniques for Wedding Photography
When I first started out as a photographer, my flash knowledge was pretty limited. I’d seen some YouTube tutorials on how you should bounce light from a speedlight, did some practice at a family event and away I went. Since then I’ve shot around 250 weddings and experienced all kinds of situations – weddings that took place entirely after dark, group shots when the weather is anything but clement, having to shoot couple portraits in one tiny, modern room with air conditioning units on the ceiling etc.
My MO has always been to try and deliver the same quality of work regardless of the situation and that, for me, is where building up a good working knowledge of flash techniques comes in handy. I like to keep it simple – I don’t like to show off with ostentatious after-dark portraits – and I need my kit to be super portable as I shoot so many urban weddings. Even with the super duper low light capabilities of many modern pro cameras, I find that unless I use a bit of flash, my skintones simply don’t look as clean, and I don’t get the contrast between light and dark in quite the same way.
So here’s a quick and dirty guide to how I use flash in my wedding work, that will hopefully be helpful for couples and other photographers alike. In each case I want my flash work not to look like ‘flash’ but to just look like great light, and to have the same feeling as my ambient light work.
I don’t purport to be an expert in any capacity – but these are the tools and techniques that I use.
On camera flash
Easy, it goes where you go, pop a flash on and you’re done. I like to use on camera flash when I’m moving through a crowd, or where time is of the essence, and by changing the way I bounce flash, I still manage to create the soft light, inspired by short lighting studio techniques, that I like in my natural daylight work too.
When: speeches in dark venues or after sunset (as you can see!), candid shots during the same and for the dancing.
Pros: Simple, relatively consistent, light moves with you as you move round the space.
Cons: Can look a little flat, tricky to bounce in bigger venues.
Off camera flash
Not gonna lie – the thought of this really intimidated me when i first started out – but in reality it’s quite simple. Freeing your flash from your hotshot suddenly gives you a whole new level of creative control about the angle your light comes from and the opportunity to add in additional sources of light. You can use it for so many things, and it’s a real asset to feel confident with.
Although ostentatious portraits of the couple outside the venue late at night don’t really fit with my style and approach, I find it really useful if I need to create after dark portraits or group shots for winter weddings; but one of the uses I find myself coming to most often is cross lighting to create some drama in otherwise flat lighting – venues with light that’s otherwise bright enough to shoot ambient, but which is otherwise maybe a bit yellowy or leads to muddy skin. it allows me to mimic interesting ambient light, and means that I can take stronger images of the speeches or other parts of the day.
Uses: speeches, candid shots in big venues or where you want some ‘interest’ in the light, first dance, details, groups, portraits, faking sunflare (yes!).
Pros: Adds your own visual signature to your work, recreates interesting ambient light, less heavy – as flashes are mounted off camera you’re not bearing the weight throughout.
Cons: Takes practice and skill – crosslighting yields great results in some parts of the room, and terrible results in others.
A quick win – turn it on, and point it. As it’s less powerful it can be an easy little boost of correctly balanced light which you can easily match to the ambient light. Obviously the great benefit is that you can see the effect when you switch it on and before you press the shutter. It’s great when you’re shooting a winter wedding and have a really tight schedule, and no time to stop and set up flash stands and do test shots.
I find it super handy for detail shots where I want to retain some atmosphere but stop the shots being too flat or muddy, and they often add nice highlights to any reflective surfaces. I also like using it for portraits when I just need a bit of light and want not to overpower detail in the ambient light.
Uses: Portraits, Groups, details, Candids outside (with an assistant)
Pros: Couldn’t be easier, and allows you to see what you’re photographing
Cons: Bright – quiet obvious to wedding guests.
On the 15th November I’ll be releasing my e-course – Learn to Light: Simple Flash Techniques for Wedding Photography, if you want to be in the loop and one of the first to know when it’s ready, as well as receive a little bit of a tasty earlybird discount, then you can sign up below.
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