This is the time of year that fills some wedding photographers with dread when they throw open the curtains on a Saturday morning to reveal driving rain and dingy light.
There really is no escape from the fact that if you are going to shoot weddings in the winter you need to have total command of your artificial light sources…
A fear of the unknown has forced some photographers to avoid flash at all costs. Often shooting with ultra fast lenses and accepting the resulting noise caused by very high ISO settings. This might be fine as a deliberate style strategy but there are often times at weddings where the ambient light is awful, not just a lack of it, I mean coming from all the wrong places. Flattering light is needed for wedding pictures and being able to make your own light is the obvious solution to the problem.
Flash wedding pictures the Lovegrove way:
Placing a Speedlight on camera is generally to be avoided. It creates flatly lit pictures that could easily have been taken by uncle Henry. The solution I adopted from a few press photographer friends back in 1998 was to use the Speedlight hand held off camera. I held the flash in my left hand and the camera in my right hand. I still wanted full TTL control so I used a Nikon SC17 coiled lead to connect the flash to the camera. This system of one handed camera shooting was fine with my Nikon F100 camera but not fine with the substantial F4 camera for weight reasons. Ten years on and this system is still used by many of the top wedding shooters.
The Lovegrove flash system – kit choices:
Use a D700 or D300 sized camera, the D3 is just too heavy plus you would need to add more weight on top in the form of an SU800 commander. Use the pop up flash on your camera as a non firing commander, set it to TTL trigger your SB800 or SB900 Speedlight and finally fit the flash gun with the diffusing dome that it came with.
Note: The small but annoying delay that used to be present when using this system with the D200 has all but gone with the latest series of Nikons. There is a great coiled lead made by Nikon called the SC29 that has a focus illuminator built in and my wife Julie uses this instead of commander mode.
Use a 5D or a 5D Mk2 camera, the 1Ds series are just too heavy for this trick. Fit a Sto-Fen omnibounce diffuser. There are other makes available, but try to avoid looking like a belisha beacon :) Fit your camera with a Canon STE2 transmitter and away you go. Unfortunately the Canon coiled lead is a bit too short and the re is no infra red focus aid built in so it becomes next to useless when the going gets tough at night.
Use the Metz 54 MZ4i flash gun fitted with a Sto-Fen omnibounce diffuser. Then connect this to the camera with an SCA 3008A lead. You will also need an SCA3302 adapter. This set up will give you the same off camera full TTL control and infra red focus area illumination.
There are Metz adaptors for all the other emerging and established makes of pro DSLR contenders too like Panasonic, Pentax, Leica, Samsung and Olympus.
The Lovegrove flash system – settings:
Whatever kit you choose you can make small adjustments to the flash output by using the on camera flash exposure compensation or the on flashgun exposure compensation. Simply adjust it to taste using the camera screen as feedback and away you go.
Once your off camera flash kit is set up you just need to know how and when to use it. A combination of speed of operation and ease of use the key to flash picture success at weddings. I have a formula that I stick to and this is my key to producing consistently good results. Once the ambient light level is at EV 7 or below at ISO 800 (1/60th second at f/4), I set my camera to manual exposure, dial in those settings, switch on the flash and start shooting. At this magic setting of ISO800, 1/60th second at f/4, a candle looks like a candle, wall lights look right too and with the flash at a colour temperature of 5600 Kelvin it allows the usually tungsten ambient light to take on a rich orange glow. I always resist the urge to gel up my Speedlight with a warm up filter and alter my white balance correspondingly as this has a tendency to correct the colours in the scene and removes some of the magic. For commercial interior shots a half orange filter on the flash light sources and a white balance setting of 4000k is a good idea to make interior pictures more accurately rendered yet still warm. With weddings pictures I always keep the white balance on auto and choose to record the resulting rich vibrant colours that add to the atmosphere.
Group pictures with the big flash kit.
At winter weddings I can’t just pop outside for the group pictures so I use a Broncolor Mobil battery powered flash kit. I used to take one of my Bowens monoblocks from the studio but I found rigging mains leads a bit of a nuisance especially on staircases. I always use a white translucent brolly and rig the flash high on a stand. My aim is to use ISO 200 as this will give me the image quality I need. I combine that with enough depth of field for sharp focus across the frame usually f/5.6 – f/8. But in order to get some of the ambient light to record on the frame I often choose very long exposures and use a tripod. For this system to work the guest in the group need to be in the dark and I often turn off central chandeliers and I never use a modeling light on the flash either. This system is not for everyone as it can get a bit scary down at 1/10th second but fabulous pictures take a bit of risk at times. You can practice this stuff at home.
Tungsten lights for couple shots.
Continuous lighting is another of the tools I use. I use a battery powered video light for low level ambient light pictures like fireside shots and this works really well either on a stand or held by an assistant.
My all time favourite light source at winter weddings is the Fresnel spotlight. The great thing about working with continuous light is you can see exactly what you are shooting and by adjusting the light focus and barn doors all sorts of light shapes can be created. I usually rig my Arri 300w junior on a stand near the middle of a room. I set my camera to my magic exposure of ISO800, 1/60th second, at f/4 and then call in the bride and groom for a shoot session. Julie and I can usually take 8 or 10 frames in a single room in just a few minutes that will make the album. We then let the bride and groom mingle again while we rigging the Arri in another room.
Winter weddings can be fun once you have complete mastery of your lighting techniques. The majority of the pictures here are featured on the new DVD ‘Lighting Winter Weddings’ available now.
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If you found this helpful, you may also like to read Lurking in the shadows at weddings ~ pictures and technique