When it comes to weddings, I’ve learned a *ton* over the last few years. If you’ve known and followed me for the last few years, you’ve seen how much improvement I’ve had over that period of time. One of the main things that’s changed the way I take pictures at weddings is the addition of Off Camera Lighting! I touched on it a few months back on another blog post, and ever since then I’ve been getting questions and emails on how I light weddings, receptions, and use lights in general.
short answer: very carefully!(I kid, I kid!)
The answer to that question is pretty complicated, simply because lighting doesn’t work the same way for everyone and in every scenario. I use lighting as a tool that I have in my belt when it’s needed. I’m not one to bring out the lights to every shoot or every bridal, but if it’s necessary and the shoot calls for it… bring it on!
For wedding receptions, however, that’s a whole different story! Every wedding reception I’ve done in the past 2 years had lights. every. single. one. Reason being, I like the dramatic look that lights gives the reception hall, the tricks I can play with lights to make the reception look different, and not to mention, it helps me not have to rely on the ISO sensitivity of my camera to capture an image. And just so everyone knows, I rarely go above ISO 1600 at any given wedding.
Back in August, I put a simple status update on my Facebook Fan Page ( <— shameless plug… you should totally go and be a fan!), asking if anyone was interested in knowing how I light my wedding receptions. within an hour or so, I had a good number of people respond wanting to know, so I promised I’d write a blog post about it before I got too busy with engagement sessions and weddings! So here it is… the lighting post. Now, to explain what this post will and will not be about.
I want to write this post, not to teach anyone how to do lighting, but simply tell you the tools I use and how I use them. I’m also assuming that you know how to use a flash, and you know what most of the pieces are pictured below! I don’t want to get too technical, simply because if that was the case, this blog would be never ending. Instead, if you want the technical aspect, (as I’ve said before) do one of two things… and if you can, do both!
1. Pick up Zack Arias’ OneLight DVD
2. Go to Zack Arias’ OneLight Workshop.
I promise, you will learn everything you need to know on the technical aspect and then some. I own the DVD, and I’ve been to the workshop. Both are well worth every penny, in my honest opinion. Ok, enough of that… onto the good stuff.
The first pic below is the stands I use. I’ve gone through a few over the last couple of years and these have (so far) been the toughest ones I’ve used. I originally got them when I got a set of Alien Bee lights to use with the lights, but quickly realized that they were sturdy enough to withstand the kicks and the bumps that wedding guests usually like to deliver as they walk by. Also, the head you see on the right is a Manfrotto Swivel Umbrella Adapter with a cold shoe mounted on top. I own 2 of these stands and adapters.
Now on to the equipment. For every wedding reception, I use 3 lights. 2 on the stands you see above, 1 attached to my main camera. The flashes I use are the 3 pictured below. 2 SB900 units, and 1 SB800 unit. SB900s are always on the stands, with the SB800 on my camera. Reason being, the SB900s have a different output of light than the SB800, and I want the lights I have on a stand as uniform as possible. Both flashes on the stand are in manual mode, by the way!
I trigger everything you see above with what you see below! These 4 Pocket Wizard Plus II units are all I use to do what I do. I know there’s a whole new TTL system out there that pocket wizard has and its awesome… but I’m happy (for now) with my manual mode stuff and its working well for me. And to be honest, I’m just not in the mood to drop $1,000+ on a whole new trigger system to replace what I have currently.
On a side note, if you’re using velcro to secure your pocket wizard to anything, do yourself a favor and buy these FlashZebra Caddy units. it’ll be the best $15 you’ve ever spent… I promise!
Once everything is hooked up, it basically looks like it does in the pic below. this is what each of the stands that I use looks like, every time!
The tricky part to all this is to know how to setup the flash on your camera to fire all 3 flashes at the same time… or just fire the ones on the stand without firing the camera one. What I do is this… I strap a pocket wizard to my flash, connect the cord to the side of the flash itself and make sure that the other end of the cord is in the “Camera/Flash” connector vs. the “Flash” one. This allows a lot of flexibility when you’re shooting on the fly.
Not only is my flash triggering the 2 flashes on the stand, but it also allows me to turn off the on camera flash and still be able to trigger the lights on the stands when needed. I’m no Canon expert, but I know you can also do the same thing with Canon cameras… but the cord “might” have to be connected to the body of the camera vs. the side of the flash. Again, don’t quote me since I’ve never shot Canon!
So once everything is setup and connected, this is what my main camera looks like at every wedding. A nice little Frankenstein of a thing with shit hanging all over it. Its not the prettiest thing in the world, but it gets the job done! It’s also not the lightest thing in the world.
On my secondary body, I usually just slap a Pocket Wizard on it with no flash, leave the 70-200 VR lens on it, and keep it at my side. This allows me to get the silhouette shots from a distance and shoot into the flashes for some cool effects without getting knocked around during the dancing and partying. I don’t use this setup as often as the one above, but it gets its fair share of use at a wedding.
Now that everything is setup, I usually mess with the flash settings until I like them. Not every venue is the same, so not all your settings on the flash are going to be the same. When I started using these 2 lights on a stand, I realized quickly that I didn’t need them to be at a higher output, so I started cranking them down until I was able to shoot everything in the venue at f/2.8! Some venues, that means 1/8th power, others, its 1/32nd or 1/64th power. I’ve even gone down as low as 1/128th once… so there’s no single way to tell how each venue is going to be. You just have to mess with it until you get it right.
The other thing I learned is that the zoom on the flash itself creates a different cone of light at each venue. So now that I’ve messed with them for quite a bit, I can almost walk into any venue and know exactly where I need to be at before I mount the flashes on the stand. It just becomes second nature after a while!
Now when it comes to positioning the lights, thats a personal preference you have to make. I like to shoot into the lights, and knowing that the light fall off at such low powers I’m using is such that I can almost use it as a normal light source, I position my lights in a way that i don’t have to move them the whole night. I know some people make their assistant carry a stand w/ a light and a small softbox on it as they take dance pics, and others just don’t use their lights on the stand when the dancing starts… but knowing that I need to choose my locations carefully (and out of the way!), I want to be able to use my lights all night. With and without the on-board flash I have on my primary camera.
After I do all this and setup my lights, I usually stick my second shooter (or assistant, given the size of the wedding) in the middle of where I want the lights to look good and take a sample shots. It only takes small adjustments to know where we need to be, then we’re off to the races!
Yes folks, your eyes do not deceive you… that’s the lovely Amber Strickler making that lovely face and she does shoot Canon. I have no hate toward Canons, just prefer my Nikon. That’s all.
After all is said and done, what we end up with is shots like the following at different weddings.
Each wedding is different. Each venue is different. This lighting might not work in some venues, but maybe using only a single light would. You’d have to be the judge of that and how it translates into how you shoot a wedding!
And now, after every word written in this post, I’ll be the one to tell you that this is not the right way to go for everyone. This ‘method’ of lighting has taken me a while to get down, and I certainly don’t think I’ve mastered it yet. BUT, I think I’m comfortable enough with it to understand it and know what it can and can not do. I’m sure I’ll modify it in the future, change it, or just stick with it and leave it the way it is. Either way, lights are a way of how I do what I do at weddings and I hope this looooooong post helped the few that read until this part of the blog.
If you have any questions regarding any of this, please don’t hesitate to email me about it. I’ll answer the best I can! my email is email@example.com
Thanks for reading.