Shooting weddings is so much fun, isn't it? All the giddy anticipation of shooting all of those fabulous wedding moments. A beautiful bride in her stunning dress. A dapper groom gazing lovingly at his new wife. All those well-thought-out details. It's enough to make a photographer's heart skip a beat.
The other thing that can make a photographer's heart skip a beat is talking reception lighting. Only this time, it is usually in fear. A lot of photographers are very comfortable working in natural light, but when flash is added to the equation, their hands go clammy, their mouths go dry, and they get hives. Even if they don't fear the flash, they might be stuck in a bit of a lifeless style of lighting. But it doesn't have to be that way.
We want to walk you through our four flash set up for receptions. It makes lighting much simpler and gives your images a very polished look. Brides and grooms spend a lot of time and money planning their receptions, so we believe in capturing those moments in the best way we can.
Here is a pullback of our flashes towards the end of a reception. If you look, you can see where all four are placed.
We personally use 2 580exiis in this set up and 2 430exiis. We have an arsenal of about 10 flashes, so we can set up almost anything, but we really like this set up. We alternate the flashes so they go 580, 430, 580, 430 and we start at about 1/8 power and adjust to get the light we want. Why do we alternate the lights? Well, the power output of the 580 and the 430 are different so we get a nice lighting ratio with this, so the images are not as flat. Also, depending on where people stand and their angle, we will get different variations of key and fill and hairlight and kicker. The variation is not strictly needed, but it is a nice nuance.
The great thing is we can get this clean, textured light with very little effort on our part throughout the entire wedding.
We get a lot of questions about this lighting, so let me give you the rundown on what you will need.
We point the flashes up to the ceiling and diffuse the light. We usually diffuse the light with collapsable Fong diffusers. They work very nicely for throwing the light over the venue and also for canceling out any colored ceilings. The diffusers will also help the spread of light if you are working outdoors at night with no tent. Fongs are ideal for large event photography. The omni-directionality of their light makes for a very pleasing lighting pattern for receptions.
Our first preference is to use Manfrotto Justin Clamps (see above) for attaching our lights to the corners. It puts them up and out of the way of accidents. But if there is nothing to clamp the lights to, we will use a regular light stand, above the heads of the guests in the corners and usually behind something (so the legs are behind something and the flash head is above the crowd.) People who have not seen this set up in action worry that the flashes will bother guests. Actually, having the flashes away in the corners is less distracting than having a flash on camera and going off in people's face. The light is high up to avoid unwanted shadows.
To trigger the flashes, we actually prefer to use the Cactus V5 triggers. I know they are not one of the industry-standards, but we have spent THOUSANDS on another system and we were so disappointed with that system. It was delicate and SO finicky. The slightest thing would cause misfires. The Cactus, ironically, have been the most reliable and the price can't be beat.
We don't shoot with a flash on camera as well. We find that unless we do a VERY wide (i.e. 16mm) shot, we don't need the extra fill.
When dancing starts, depending on the size of the room, we will turn off 1 or 2 flashes to give a more dramatic feeling.
As you can see, the polish that having that hairlight really make the image. The dimensionality of the light also gives wedding dresses and all of their texture a chance to shine.
Based on how you set your camera, you can also capture the colors of the lights a DJ brings (having a lower shutter speed and letting that ambient light enter the camera) or drown it out a bit, if it is causing a significant color cast to your guests (by raising your shutter speed to allow less ambient light to enter your camera.)
The great part is that when moments happen, you can capture them very easily and stylishly, because your lighting is all set up beforehand.
Which leads to another question. Many people fret that they just don't have time between the wedding and reception. If that is the case, just bounce the flash for the grand entrance and then while people are getting settled in for dinner, etc. set up your stuff. It takes about 10 minutes total. It is not hard to do. We also recommend (even if you DO decide to just bounce your flash) having a battery pack and/or spare batteries for your flashes. We have a few large battery chargers that charge 16 Eneloop batteries at a time. We load it up and then change out the batteries and let the charger keep refreshing our batteries as needed. It keeps our recycle times very short. If your flashes are getting sluggish, swap out the batteries for new ones. If you have notice before big events (cake cutting, bouquet toss, etc.) swap the batteries preemptively. (Do this with any flash, really.)
For a smaller venue, 3 lights or even two will work very nicely to give more dimension and professionality to your reception flash set up. We recommend using a flash off camera whenever possible for these events, because it will set your work apart and more effectively capture your client's wedding preparations.
And finally, even if your venue is not the Four Seasons, this can really let your clients' reception shine. This image was take in the church gym which often doubles as a basketball court at times. It was a beautiful, well-decorated wedding, but sometimes the gym can overpower even the more carefully detailed wedding. But good lighting let the lovely planning shine.
One last note: Having good quality, clean, consistent light will make editing your reception images a breeze. Usually I can just apply one of our workflows (most often for me Basic Workflow from Pure Presets 1) and I can simply tweak it to fit the lighting and then apply it to most of the reception images with very little changes. THAT is a HUGE timesaver.