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Wedding Photography Part 2 - available light technique

Mike Upstone explains how to make the most of available light when shooting weddings.

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Available light technique

Wedding photography technique
Wedding photography technique
Wedding photography technique
Wedding photography technique

Top images show the use of balanced compositions, wide-angle lenses and lighting to create dramatic images.
Top left dragging the shutter + flash (reflector!)
Top right the base density filter is used to 'hold in' the sky.
Lower right shows saturated lighting (the sky is exposed at the mid-point reading and flash is bounced off a reflector to light the subjects).
Lower left - natural lighting and dramatic camera angle
NB All photographs in this module were taken on the wedding day under 'normal' conditions.
All images on this page Nigel Harper 2002

You can use studio lights indoors in case of rain, but the time constraints and logistics involved make their use in wedding photography a serious disadvantage unless you have plenty of time, space, and an army of helpers. Normally a couple of powerful Metz flashguns are just as good - one should have a slave attached to allow it to be triggered automatically when the other flashgun is fired.
NB Take umbrellas for the bride and groom + plastic sheets, clean linen sheets etc. for sitting and standing the bride on, and cloths to dry and clean your camera gear.
Few days are rainy throughout! Use breaks in the weather to dodge outside for essential group shots and bride and groom work.

Rain priorities
Set up smaller groups to keep things running quickly.
Use uncluttered backgrounds - you are more likely to work close-up.
Get vital groups done first. NB few indoor venues permit you to move groups easily to introduce background variety.
Watch the time scale.
Bulk out the photography with plenty of candids - the real action of the day.
Ensure confetti is not thrown directly onto the wedding dress, any stray pieces must be removed immediately, before the dress is stained!


Wedding photography technique
Sun - meter from the shade to retain detail in the dress with contra jour lighting.

Shooting with the sun often leads to subjects squinting - the solution is to shoot into the sun to let the sun back light the subjects and this is also particularly flattering for the veil and dress. A lens hood will help to stop stray light from flaring into the lens - the effect is easily missed and much easier to spot if you momentarily close the aperture right down and depress the depth of field preview button while you look through the viewfinder.

Wedding Photography Part 2 - available light technique: Wedding photography techniqueThe importance of camera angles and client rapport to 'peak' client expressions (available lighting). Note contra jour light through veil.

The exposure latitude of negative film requires metering for the shade (and from a mid-tone such as a grey card - not from the white of the bride's dress!),this should preferably be done with an ambient light meter such as the Minolta 5. The meter must have the correct film speed set (many top UK professionals use 400 ASA) and the dome of the meter needs to point from the shade in front of the subject back towards the camera position. Care should be taken to stop direct sunlight from hitting the dome directly when using negative film.With digital cameras meter for the highlights.

Wedding photography technique
Fill-in flash -1.5 stops to -2 stops.

Fill in flash
Fill-in flash is a tremendously flattering and effective technique when it is done well. The fill-in subtly lifts shadows, and adds a small 'catch light' to the eyes. If done badly it can produce double shadows and destroy subtle modelling effects which 'shape' the face. Many photographers get it wrong - many more are unreasonably fearful of a technique which is very straightforward. The secret is accurate metering in the shadows to establish the camera settings, and subtle (under) use of the flash.

Dull days
Set up your camera as above (say the shadow readings meter 1/60 at f5.6). On a dull day set the Metz flash with the correct (eg 400 ASA) film rating, with an exposure 2-2.5 stops wider than on the camera (f2.8). i.e.If you add 2 stops more power it will expose the subject fully. You could set the flash gun for 1600 ASA and use the same aperture to create the same effect.We do not recommend this - it leads to confusion when you step indoors to work in the church or reception.

Sunny days
Wedding Photography Part 2 - available light technique: Wedding photography techniqueOn a sunny day use 1.5-2.5 stops of fill-in, with groups take the fill to 1.5 stops. (The flash's internal meter can be fooled into dropping the output in bright conditions, if so set it to a lower ratio - 1.5 stops of fill-in.)

Moving indoors/direct flash
When going indoors to the church or reception, simply up the flash to match the aperture set on the camera and drop the shutter to 1/60 or 1/30 for hand held work on a standard lens. Always check equipment settings, especially when going into or leaving a building.Watch out for very changeable light conditions - on bright sunny days with a breeze and small, dark clouds, exposures change greatly in seconds!

Wedding Photography Part 2 - available light technique: Wedding photography techniqueBounced flash is more flattering!

About the Author
Mike Upstone Ba (Hons.) CrGWP, LBIPP, LMPA won the Sinar 50th anniversary calendar competition in 1997 with a digital image. Mike is Managing Director of alienideas and created Procedures for Professional Imaging (PPI), the first complete training manual of professional imaging techniques. The manual has already been described by industry insiders as 'the industry standard for digital imaging' and is available as PDF files on CD, and as an online download from the web-site.

This article is part two in our four part series and kindly reproduced from the Procedures for Professional Imaging manual. It is from the A02 Professional techniques - weddings module. There are another 440 or so pages with loads of essential information for photographers wanting to turn pro. See our review here or go to alienideas to view the contents of the manual.

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