Easy Off Camera Flash For Wedding Photographers

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a writer for the Photography blog http://www.fstoppers.com and I’ve enjoyed sharing some helpful tips for photographers and writing articles over the past year and a bit. Here is one of the articles that I wrote on Off-Camera Flash and based on what people are asking me about lately, it seems relevant to post it on here as well!

If you want to really learn how to master Off-Camera Flash, I would love for you to check out my online recorded workshop here

So without further ado, here’s one for you photographers out there!

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With so many options out there for off-camera flash gear, how do you know which is best for you? More importantly, how do you learn how to use it in a real life situation? Maybe my techniques and approach are just what you’ve been waiting for!

Do you remember the last time you were shooting at a less than ideal time of day, or maybe a less than ideal location for light? Think back to it. What did you do?

Were you a bit scared about what to do?

Did you crank the ISO and embrace the noise going for the natural look?

What about direction of light? Was it flattering for the subject?

I think back to the days before I knew much about flash and I can see a very clear and quick progression. At first, I was irritated at blurry, slow-shutter photos that never seemed to have the right color to them. Then I realized that I could pop my built-in flash up and get crisp light on my subject, but then I had red-eye, battery drainage, and flat, boring pictures. Then I got a hot-shoe mounted flash and played around with ways to light my subject, or the room, or even both at the same time. I bought rigs to always have my flash on top of my camera even when nailing a “dutch angle”. I bought plastic domes to put on my flash head to make my subject look like a supermodel.

Then, one day I stumbled upon off-camera flash! No wires. No bulky brackets. Total control!

This control was a good thing, or so I thought. With all of this new found control, came new ideas, challenges, failures and successes. I would learn so much about light in such a short amount of time that it was all I would think about! I finally realized what direction of light meant, and how I can control light with my tools of the trade.

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I think of off-camera flash like a hat. I wear them when I have to, or if I just feel like it at the time. Sometimes I wear it just to cover up some craziness that’s going on that I can’t take the time to deal with right at the moment. Sometimes I want to spruce up my look and go for something a little more fun.

In the same way, I use flash when I have to, or if I just feel like it. I don’t use it all the time. In fact, I try not to use it almost at all if I can. I’m able to do that because of what I’ve learned about direction of light and camera settings. So when I’m adding flash, I’m really going the extra mile either creatively or technically, or I’m in a situation where I need to use it because of the lack of good available light.

Something I always keep in mind when at a wedding is the experience of the couple. This means that if I think their experience is going to suffer because I’m going to be taking some time to setup an off-camera flash shot, then I will likely find another way of doing the shot. If I’m really motivated about a certain shot and it needs off-camera flash, I will have my assistant set it up while I’m photographing the couple somewhere else, or give them a bit of down time together and frame it as a positive time for them instead of them waiting around for their photo shoot to continue.

THE GEAR I USE

There are hundreds of options of flash triggers, speedlights, and other accessories that you could use for your off-camera lighting setup. Here are the items I use regularly at weddings:

Nikon SB-600
Nikon SB-700
Cactus V5 Flash Triggers (Transceivers)
Umbrella Reflector (shoot through/bounce)
Umbrella Bracket
Light Stand
Monopod

I go over the use of these in my recorded workshop on Off-Camera Flash

WHEN I OFTEN USE IT

Bride & Groom Portraits

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Depending on what time of day you are doing your Bride & Groom portraits, you may want to use flash to bring out the mood of the moment. This shot was from a wedding in Cancun and we had a chance to sneak out after the ceremony for some pictures with just the two of them before their reception started. We had done a first look earlier in the day, so we had lots of Bride & Groom portraits already, but they were shot at midday. This timing allowed us to get some shots at sunset, so I setup my flash out of frame on the right and zoomed the speedlight to light them evenly without spilling unwanted streaks across the sand.

Reception Speeches

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This was shot late at night in Tuscany, Italy. The reception was outdoors around a pool, so there were no ceilings or walls to bounce flash off of. I had one flash setup by the head table and one off to the side on a grassy area so that the speaking area was light with two speed lights from slight angles. Lighting in this way allows me to shoot overtop of the heads of people in the seats without lighting them up more than my subject, so your eye is drawn right to where I want it drawn to. If you had on camera flash and tried to do this shot, you would light up the people right in front of you more than the Bride and her father.

First Dances

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This was shot at a Vancouver, BC venue that was a large room with high ceilings. I wanted to show the ambiance of the room while keeping the focus on the father’s expression, so I adjusted my settings to allow for the room to be slightly under-exposed at 1/200 shutter speed, and then added flash from the side on a stand. With this type of setup, you can get various shots all in a row by just changing your position and waiting for them to come around for the shots that you want.

Party Dancing

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This was shot at the United 2013 Conference Reception in Santa Barbara where I was teaching my system for lighting the dance floor. These fun-loving photographers gladly jumped on the dance floor and made an impromptu party in seconds! This is showcasing the 2 light setup that I run at wedding receptions where I get my second shooter or one of the guests to have fun with me and hold the monopod with my flash on it. This is a hit at weddings with the guests I choose, and always leads to building referral relationships with them.

ONLINE WORKSHOP

These all require slightly different techniques and light placement which I go over in detail in our online workshop. Click here to see more information and to find out about the other classes available – ONLINE CLASSES 

Comments

comments

  • Michelle Brooks - Great article! I do almost these same things when using OCF. I would have ot say my biggest challenge is not in getting my subjects lit as I want them, but getting the surrounding (backdrop) as I want it. Often it is either too light or too dark.

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