March 10, 2021

Using Flash in Orange Barns

Using flash in orange barns

Or other venues with rubbish light….

From a wedding at the Ivy House in Nunhead, there is almost no natural light at all in this function room they use for weddings.


Today’s blog post is for the photographers, and is a quick guide to how I use various types of flash, both on and off camera, to add zest and dimensionality to my images in venues where the light leaves a little to be desired. Although this is obviously more of a problem when relying on warm, flat tungsten lighting either after dark or where there was not much natural light to begin with; but certain types of venues often present more problems – barn venues with lots of wood, period properties with lemon yellow walls or even stark white warehouses if the lighting is a little bit ‘unconsidered’.

As photographers we know the kind of places, and it’s always my aim to bring the kind of dynamic and interesting lighting into the images that I favour when working with natural light, into those with artificial light that is less than pleasing. And although I prefer to never need to use flash, and capture atmospheric shots using available light, we all know that sometimes, it’s just too dark, or too yellow, and that’s where we need to get creative.

So read on if you want to avoid any mid wedding flash related meltdowns – I know we’ve all been there!

I’ve got two approaches, and I use each depending on a couple of factors.

  • How much space I’ve got to work with
  • How much time I’ve got
  • Where the wedding is

What’s your style?

Firstly, how do you like your daylight images to look? How do you love to use natural light? You want the look you achieve with artificial light to look the same as the rest of your work, which I’m sure will have a carefully developed aesthetic style – are you bright and colourful, and favouring flat, even lighting? Do you love moody shadows? Is your work light and airy? Because however you shoot when the light is good should play into the tactics you choose you use when it’s not.

On camera Flash

The quickest and easiest approach, as well as the most flexible, is simply to use on camera flash. But if I want to try and make the light interesting and directional still, my top tip is to avoid bouncing the light off the ceiling, which gives a wider spill of light and often interesting shadows on the face, and instead position the flash to bounce at 135 degrees off a wall or similar. This gives me really good results, with minimal effort.

Getting good results with flash in barn venues

Natural results with bounce flash

I’ll use this approach if the timeline for the day is tight – perhaps it takes all of the reception drinks to shoot enough candids, get some couple photos and all of the family formals and you’re dashing right into the speeches. Or sometimes if the room is pretty compact, and I know that there’s no way I can safely use light stands, or again if the room is a strange shape and off camera flash just isn’t going to bounce around the room nicely – that might mean pillars in the way, rooms that are L shaped or any other kind of funky business. Keeping the light with me as I move around the room also (factoring in for the travel distance of the flash to the wall and back to the subject) also keeps it relatively consistent. Obviously it helps if you have pretty things in the background like fairy or festoon lights that you can play with an add interest to the frame.

Off Camera Flash

My preferred method, because I like to be fancy pants, but also I because I love the way it looks and how it brings the quality of my work after dark in line with my natural light work (and therefore hopefully thrilled couples); is to use off camera flash.

One of the simplest solutions is using a technique known as cross lighting – put simply, two static flashes on lightstands, designed to work across the room. I often set them up so one is brighter/more powerful and acting as a key light, with another slightly less bright/less powerful to act as both a fill and rim light. I ensure they are set up so that the best light is wherever the action might be (and will often move them around as we go through the various events of the day) so that means that the light will be different as you move around the room – the best way to describe this is probably using the speeches as an example – the best light is on the top table, but it will be different as you move around and capture various guest reactions. Some will be in terrible light (though usually the people at the edges of the room) but for most, it will be great, and it will always be interesting.

Ivyhouse wedding photographer

I tend to do this when I have a little bit more time to set up and test the lights – the best case scenario is that you can test them while everyone is eating but before the toasts, and when I have a little more space to put the light stands. I have simpler, modified ways of getting this look if I’m shooting an urban wedding where I don’t want to be carrying my lighting kit around multiple venues, a slightly condensed version of the one I use if I have access to a car. Though it’s worth mentioning that I am absolutely not a gear head and I always try to keep my kit lightweight and stream lined.


If you want to know more about how I work with flash, why not check out Learn to Light – my complete guide to how I use flash at weddings, covering creative portraits, on camera and off camera flash and featuring 3 live shoots and four hours of tuition videos.

And if you’re not sure you can sign up for a free lesson here too.