So there you are bragging to your photographer friends that your flash has never been out of your bag, and then pow, that bride you booked last week just changed her ceremony time to 8pm.
First, you are going to let her know that all those gorgeous shots she saw in your portfolio with the perfect backlighting don’t happen once the sun goes down. And you are going to beg and plead her to do all the posed pictures before the ceremony…. because you are the artist and you want to deliver the images she loved when she booked you. But she is firm on it, and now you have the task of delivering beautiful images in the dark. You can do this, pro photographer!
We know, you are thinking, “I don’t want to use one flash, I sure as heck don’t want to use more than one.” But it is SO easy and creates something more elevated than direct flash with pitch black background. You’ll want to invest (or rent) in 2 or 3 on-camera flash units that can sync up. On most of the current models, syncing is as simple as switching over to Master on your primary flash, and Slave on your secondary flashes. And just like that you have three light sources, with so many creative possibilities!
Of course, you will want to practice with your technique before jumping in because you will need to shoot 100% in Manual mode. Initially, choose a forgiving depth of field like f/8, and then decide if you want a shutter speed that is fast enough to allow in only the light that the flash produces, or if you want it slower to catch some of the ambient light. If you choose a slow shutter speed, make sure you are on a tripod.
If you are relying on on-camera flashes, then you need power. Invest in a compact external battery pack that you can wear on your belt and attach to your flash. This will help give you the extra power you will need.
And speaking of power, you might need to increase your flash output. Many flash units have a simple +/- button, and then a dial where you can increase or decrease your flash output. You will need this, especially for the Master flash unit, to light your subject when it’s very dark.
If you are lucky, it won’t be completely dark yet and the sky will be that fantastic sapphire blue. You can use the above mentioned technique to light your subjects, by slowing your shutter speed to let in light and freezing them with the light from the flash units. But as you get more bold, you can do some beautiful “light painting” on your subjects as they move. You can produce some lovely images with subject movement, some blue light, and the slight definition provided by your flash. Play with this technique a bit before you do it on your first wedding. And of course, don’t go overboard on these. There is a fine line between an artistic light painting, and just a blurry picture.
You can also turn off your flash completely and do some walking away shots with a setting of approximately f/8, 1/30s, and then dial up or down your ISO until you get the exposure you want. This technique is best for moving shots, not posed portraits, since there will be some blur to it.
Scout out some spots at your venue where you can bounce your light off a white wall or ceiling. Stuck in a dark church with high ceiling? Then bounce off a reflector or have your flash just shy of straight up, and then pull up that white bounce card hidden in the flash unit (or buy one of the many attachments for flashes that bounce light). When you are shooting your light somewhere besides your subject, some light will get lost. You might need to dial up your flash output slightly to compensate. If you don’t, it will likely allow in too much ambient light, and you do not want tungsten orange subjects. Nope!
Now, it might be tempting to just bump that ISO up as high as you can and ditch the flash. And truly, if you are stuck in an old church and you’ve been informed you will be standing behind the back row, with no flash period... then that is exactly what you are going to do for the ceremony.
But for the posed pics, you don’t want to use this technique. Indoor light usually has a tungsten or fluorescent glow, neither of which are good options for skins tones. And what about the direction? Where are most lights hung? In the ceiling. And where do they point? Straight down. Creating a very unflattering down cast light on your gorgeous bride, not to mention the mother of the bride, who won’t be forgiving you for lighting her in that direction. Ever.
And you can purchase 5600K continuous lights with a flattering color temperature, almost like daylight. We think these are great for supplementing already available light, or creating a drastic lighting effect in darkness. However, they can be tricky to use as a primary lighting source for things like family formals, because it is difficult to pull enough light out of them to give a required crisp, sharpness. And if you can find ones that produce enough light to illuminate an entire family beautifully, then they are often very hot and dangerous. Of course, the technology in this area is improving, and eventually they could be the perfect solution for the natural light shooter. But for now, stick to flash where you have more power output, more sharpness, and more control.
If you are not doing it already, you should be trying to capture posed images and couple portraits before the ceremony.
Don’t be afraid to pull out those flashes, and start experimenting. Grab a tripod and try dragging that shutter speed. And allow the blue light in your camera. You might be amazed with what you come up with. And, you’ll be confident in your abilities once the sun goes down.
Every photographer has their own unique style. Some like to blend in and shoot in a more photojournalistic way. And others prefer to choreograph every image. But most land somewhere smack in the middle.