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Flash gun advice for wedding shoot please!

BNA 6 4
11 Sep 2011 7:43PM
Firstly apologies for the length of this, please stick with me though!

I have been asked to help a friend out who is doing a wedding on a budget and take her wedding photos. I like taking photos and am a keen amateur (I shoot in manual) and I have just upgraded my kit to a D7000 with 2.8 24-70 lens and I have just ordered an sb-700 – I am hoping that having good kit will be a good start to getting this right, and of course provide many enjoyable hours using it in the future!

Whilst I know that there are many pro’s out there who are understandably not keen on amateurs doing wedding photos for the biggest day of someone’s life, this is happening and I am going to do the best I can – I have set their expectations low!

Its all a little last minute, – my flashgun arrives on Tuesday and the wedding is on Friday. I have all day Tuesday and Wednesday to practice but I thought I would ask for some advice as I have nothing to lose.

The flash side of things is my biggest worry, I have spent all day researching and I wanted to summarise what I have learnt and either get it corrected if I have misunderstood and get some additional help if people wouldn’t mind.

I hope this will also help other people as there is a lot of info on the net and it can be quite hard to digest! Some positive feedback would be very much appreciated! – I know I can’t master this in the time I have but anything to improve the pics will help – I am OK in lightroom but there are some things that just can’t be fixed so I want to get it as right as possible from the start!

I appreciate that I have massively simplified things and its a lot more complicated than this, but I am working with what I have! Here goes...

Fill in Flash. This is used when shooting outside to eliminate shadows, especially in bright light. Point the flash directly at the people you are photographing, put it on TTL and dial it down between 1 and 2 stops (I think for me to use it manually is a bit ambitious at this stage).

Indoors. Always bounce the flash so that shadows are reduced. Put it on TTL, make sure the surface you are bouncing off is white and consider the angle the flash is at so that the bounce falls on the subjects nicely. Here I have a slight problem. I went and checked out the wedding venue and the place where the Bride and Groom have suggested for the photos is quite dark and it has a low ceiling which I believe from memory has lots of close wooden beams which I am assuming would be very bad to bounce a flash from?

From what I have read quite a few examples have talked about directing the flash over the photographers shoulder (so away from the subjects?) I assume they then have a big bounce card to direct the light back to the subject? – Some guidance in this area would be appreciated please!!! – Any tips on a big bounce card? – Making or buying a good one? (the flash does have one built in but I assume I will need something bigger than this?

The other indoor locations for the photos are not ideal as there are lots of things on the walls which I think would be distracting in the photos – outside is the ideal but I fear its going to rain. My alternative is a well lit staircase, but here its a very background and I don’t really want to shoot up at people as its unflattering and shooting down would be directly into the light – which with the fill in flash may be OK but it feels a little risky to experiment on the day with this!
The flash is controlled by the aperture setting, the shutter setting you change depending on how much ambient lighting you want to let in. I was pretty much planning on leaving the aperture on 2.8 for the group shots, and not really needing any depth if everyone is in a line.

For handheld shots make sure the shutter speed is above the focal length to minimise camera shake (– the one really annoying thing about the 24-70 is that is has no VR!)

Do I need to swat up on slow sync / fast sync rear flash etc?

The d7000 has great reviews at high ISO settings so on the whole I am going to try and limit my use of flash if possible (or try and take two – one with, one without). But I am guessing I will need to use the flash during the day.

Any other tips / links are all gratefully received. Many thanks in advance!

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scottishphototours 14 2.6k 2
11 Sep 2011 9:40PM
Myself and a few others on here have been critical of this kind of question (and you're well aware of it, judging by your 2nd paragraph) and judging by your post this is the very reason why we're against people like you getting involved in what is essentially one of THE most demanding aspects of photography.

Sure, I'll get flamed for saying it but the truth is that I would never ask any FRIEND of mine to come and **** up any kind of job for me - plumbing, electrics, decorating etc - and I don't understand why people are SO willing to bring a friend along to (possibly) ruin the biggest day of their lives by turning up and doing a **** job of their photographs (a truly once-in-a-lifetime event).

The answer to your post is simple - this stuff should be second nature to you, and you should seamlessly move between the flash modes as the setting and subject demands it. This generally takes knowledge, understanding and in some cases, years of practice - which could never be covered in a forum post. You don't even understand the ISO/Shutter/Aperture relationship, so you will undoubtedly receive loads of replies from those willing to impart their theoretical knowledge on you - a waste of time, as you need practical knowledge at this stage...

With regard to your question re flash modes - at yesterdays wedding, I used EVERY type of flash mode available from indoor shots to fill-in outdoors and slow sync for the B&G in the ambient atmosphere to the rear sync for the country dancing at night. So yeah, it's a pretty important technique to master - and the person that posts on here "set high ISO, TTL mode and use +/- to adjust" is just kidding you on. It's just not that simple, sorry.

Finally, let's be more realistic about what you're going to do and where you're going to do it. There is a BIG push by venues in my area (including churches) to demand that the person doing the photography or videography is insured by Public Liability insurance to cover them should they damage the venue whilst doing their job. No insurance, no entry - simple. Perhaps you should look at that aspect of the day before investing in any more gear - no use having it if you can't get in to use it now, is it??....



PS - as a father of two daughters, I'd be RAGING if someone they booked turned up and did a **** job of their wedding pics - maybe something else to consider...
vetcameraman 14 145 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 1:03AM
Well, it is patently obvious to a blind man that the answer to your problem is set high ISO, TTL mode and use +/- to adjust to get the best effect, and you will appreciate that, having asked a detailed question!

For Andy to categorically state that "You don't even understand the ISO/Shutter/Aperture relationship" to someone who is such a 'bad' photographer Wink that he states "I shoot in manual" suggests at best an unwillingness to accept that another member may actually be capable of taking photo's.

You've made it clear to your friend the basis of your taking part - you can do no more than that. As for insurance, you are no more in need of it as a friend taking photo's at a wedding than any other friends taking photo's at the same wedding. Can we work on the basis that you are an invited guest to this wedding who happens to be taking 'official' photo's while you are there?

Flash - from experience - will need some diffusing at times to avoid glare and other unfortunate effects. A large reflector (variety of colours available to get best effect) (with assistant to hold) can be used strategically as a means of bouncing flash in the absence of a suitable wall or ceiling. A specific diffuser or a bounce card SEE HERE FOR HOW TO MAKE ONE can also help.

Read the manual is a good place to start.

Or maybe take Andy's advice - put all your gear on Freegle and go and sit in a darkened room contemplating why you didn't take up professional photography as your nursery school career option when you were four!Grin

Main thing - lots of batteries!

Think about post-event presentation of images.

Good luck and let us know how it goes, if you got sued, and most importantly, did your friend like what you did?
User_Removed 14 3.3k 4 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 1:30AM
Get out and practice, spend hours and hours, even if it's just shooting clothes on a line because you can't get people to help. You're not wasting film.

I do take Andy's point and you pre-empted it. However, as you say, it's been decided that you're doing this.

I suspect bride and groom are on a budget and it's a choice between you doing the photos or no photos.

Watch out for priceless vases at the venue. Oh, you don't need to worry because you're a guest who is taking photos of pals getting married so no need for insurance no matter what scare stories are drummed up to try and put you off.
SophieHart 7 136 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 6:24AM
I was at a wedding a couple of weekends ago. There wasn’t a professional wedding photographer there just a friend who had agreed to take some photos. He wasn’t professional in terms of photography being his only source of income but he does make some money from it. He had one camera, one lens and a flash. The results where amazing. He is just a confident and competent photographer. Is wedding photography really that hard. Isn’t it just a matter of confidence in your own ability as a photographer?
miked70 9 225 3 South Africa
12 Sep 2011 8:06AM
if you can be creative and come up with some fresh ways of taking the shots you will be above 90% of all wedding togs i have seeing try and illuminate the shot and not "flash" it i really hate seeing flash in a shot. you have the gear would have gone for the sb900 but that's me get a remote trigger for the flash forget ttl yes it is harder but you control the shot for your first time maybe shoot rather in p mode forget f2.8 more chance of failure rather use 5.6 to 8 lowest iso you can get away with not even the d3x is great at high iso for low light use a tripod/mono pod don't worry about vr .and remember no wedding tog want another tog to get into the business.Have fun
yes i am a wedding tog but much prefer studio work.getting the shot is worth more than the gear you have. worry more about making the client happy and not upsetting your fried by taking better shots than he did.
peterjones Plus
16 4.7k 1 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 8:39AM
one of the fundamentals of wedding photography is to "over know" your technique; in other words know your technique so very well that you can move from one technique to another seamlessly on auto pilot so that you can then concentrate on creating the best for your clients. That takes a long time, far longer than two/three days.

Many people particularly in today's recessionary times do not want to pay for a wedding photographer, then so be it! I hope that you have been upfront with your friend and advised them of your inexperience! To many clients wedding photography is the least important item on their priority list until the day after their wedding when their photographs, their record of the day become the most important item on their list.

G'luck, Peter.
BNA 6 4
12 Sep 2011 9:07AM
Miked70, sophiehart, Chris_L and Vetcamera many thanks for your supportive words and advice, they are all taken on board.

I think I am probably my own worst enemy wanting to do the best job I can. The last wedding I went to they didn't have an official camera man so I stepped in on the day and took some shots and got an album printed up for them which turned out brilliantly.

Practice is definitely the key which is what the next few days is all about!

Andy - I totally understand where you are coming from, and I hoping that by pre-empting it I would receive prominently encouraging replies with some tips as this is happening regardless. You seem to be under the impression I have passed myself off as a pro and they have chosen me under over someone like yourself - I have not been "booked"! - I can assure you this is not the case - I am a guest at the wedding and the bride and groom know what they are getting. I am well aware that photography takes years to master and that wedding photography is a whole art form in itself - I am not trying to make it as a photographer, I am just a friend who would rather see a couple have some record of their day rather than none at all and wanting to produce the best results I can. Unfortunately not everyone has the budget for a photographer or is that concerned about photos. When I was chatting to the couple about the photo list the groom said all he wanted was one with his mum and dad! I would never take on a bigger project than a small wedding in a pub for some friends. I also understand that they have a studio shoot booked for afterwards for pictures of them so thats a good fail safe to have (not sure why they didn't put the money towards a pro for the day and be done with it, but still...)
Anyway, its clear that your passion for perfection shines through and you don't want anyone to be disappointed when with your experience you can produce perfect results every time which I admire and respect (and to be honest am jealous of!), at the same time the world isn't a perfect place and sometimes we have to do the best job we can under the circumstances. I hope that the other encouraging replies that I have received may lead you to possibly think about balancing a reply in future and helping people out. No hard feelings though, I get it, I just wanted to make the position clear and perhaps clear up any misunderstandings! - In this situation, if you can't even manage a "good luck" I would prefer it if you didn't reply, from reading lots on forums I am well aware of the feelings of the pros in the trade and as I said I totally get why, but this is what it is!
johnp 13 141 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 9:11AM
Well I didn't think much of Andy's flaming. You obviously understand your limitations and the pitfalls and seem to have covered all bases with your "client". As pros, Andy and I obviously get defensive, but as you say, It's Going To Happen, so we must live with that and since we both use ePhotozine I think it behoves us to be helpful. So here is a bit of advice to try to get you off in the right direction. Not a textbook on lighting, just guidelines for your particular circumstances. Please don't call me ignorant of flash, Andy, I'm just providing a bluffer's guide.

First up, direct flash from the hotshoe is the worst of all possible worlds. Harsh, red-eye, .......

Wherever possible, use flash as fill-in not the main light source. In auto mode your camera / flash might get the balance right but you might prefer dialling back the flash a stop. As a Canon user I'm not sure how Nikons handle flash. With Canons in Av mode (and I'm guessing Nikons are similar), the system tries to do fill-in flash until the light is so low that it is forced to use the flash as main source. This can result in some long exposures (1/4 sec, for example) which leaves you prone to camera shake. Does your camera have a function that forces shutter speeds of 1/60 or faster?

Soften the flash where possible, especially in circumstances where it's the main light source. Do that by bouncing it off a white wall (behind you or to the side) or off the ceiling (for side walls or ceiling, you need to angle the flash at around 45 degrees - the exact angle depends on camera-to-subject distance). Remember that the light is travelling further and spreading more than if using direct flash, so you might need to up the ISO.

How critical the beams are depends upon their spacing, depth and colour. If they run from you to the subject, try to have a gap directly above you. If the beams run across the line from you to the subject there's more risk of light loss.

If walls and ceiling are out you could introduce a separate bounce surface - anything from a Lastolite reflector to a piece of mount card that an assistant could hold for you. (Point the flash straight up and get a friend to hold the reflector fairly high above it, angled at 45 degrees).

Remember that a bride in a white/cream dress is a lighting challenge, even in daylight. Wedding dresses usually have decoration in the same colour and tend not to hang dead flat - they fold gently. Recording these things flatteringly is often a matter of recording light and shade. You create that effect with lighting from one side. So ... lay out or hang up a plain white sheet and practise photographing it so that the undulations are recorded, noticing where the light is. By the same token, over-exposure is death to wedding dresses. I don't know much about Lightroom. sticking to Photoshop. I shoot everything in RAW and have Recovery in Adobe Camera RAW as a means of rescuing blown highlights on the odd occasions when I mis-judge exposure. Is Recovery available in Lightroom?

You referred to the location(s) suggested by the bride and groom presenting problems. Treat these as just that - suggestions. You are the photographer so take control and shoot where you feel confident.

Light falls off with distance from the source. If you shoot with flash as your main light source and place your subjects far enough away from a white background it will turn out dark. You can use this effect to "tame" busy backgrounds. When using direct flash, take care not to get reflections off mirrors, windows, pictures, gloss-painted surfaces, etcetera.

Think about poses, not just flash. Don't let people stand square on to the camera. Try to get their feet at an angle to the camera-subject line. Turn bride and groom in towards one another. When couples stand next to one another, it's common for one to put their arm round the other's waist and a set of "alien fingers" appears in your photo. Watch for this. Tell him to move his hand and hold her bum instead. That should get plenty of smiles in the photo!!

Try to enjoy it. It's only a couple of hours of your life, after all. Some of your shots are bound to be OK and you are already managing the couple's expectations. But if all else fails, you might be glad that my final piece of advice is to pack a spare pair of underpants in your gadget bagSmile
BNA 6 4
12 Sep 2011 9:12AM
Thanks Peter - I know - what you take is there for life thats why I want to do the best job I can!

My friends are aware of my level (and I am going to remind them again now - especially after Andy's reality check!)
ianrobinson Plus
8 1.2k 8 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 9:16AM
It is an important event to get right and it is stressful to get right, you have too many parameters that can go wrong, light is one of the most important aspects to understand as i found out on my second wedding, my images were good and sharp but i do confess to over using the flash gun when in some of the cases i didn't need the flash because the light hitting the subjects was beautiful, thankfully i did realise this after 2 shots and rectified the issue, those shots for me were the best ones because of the gorgeous light hitting the couple it was soft and really well toned, so you see you can over cook the flash, just be careful and understand the light your in.
Understanding flash and what setting to put it on for fill flash slow flash as mentioned above is very very important and you do need an understanding of how and where to use these settings and know how to get those settings too.
You will not learn how to use a flash gun effectively in a couple of days you won't even learn in a couple of weeks, it takes many hours and many days to get right and every situation is different.
But good luck and hope for there sakes you do get great results after all the pressure is the fact they will be looking at them photos you produced and if you do a bad job they will be wishing they had gone to a pro, however do a great job and they will love it.
Not an easy job but we do have to learn somewhere, however doing courses on flash photography and weddings is always a good start before ruining someone's special day.
BNA 6 4
12 Sep 2011 9:19AM
Thanks John, the kind of stuff (and attitude!) I was looking for.
Several spare pants will be packed, will just need to time the changing so I don't miss anything Wink
BNA 6 4
12 Sep 2011 9:23AM
Hey Ian,
I have done some courses but the flash element has never been a big part, more the effects you can create, not the exact science behind them. I think a good flash course will be the next thing I do, it is a real shame I didn't have time to do one before the wedding as it seems to be one of the greatest things to master.
If anyone can recommend a good course let me know!
johnp 13 141 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2011 9:48AM
"If anyone can recommend a good course let me know!"

You're welcome to buy a day of my time!!

scottishphototours 14 2.6k 2
12 Sep 2011 9:54AM

A very praise-worthy response from you, very understanding and level headed.

Buy johnp a pint as he has given you some good info. Sorry but I just dont have time for a response like his, with 2 weeks off and 12 weddings in production I just dont have the time...

For the others - the comment re insurance is no scare story, but will be a fact of life within 12 months for mostly every tog working in any venue. As Chris says, watch out for expensive vases!...

I dont believe thers any luck involved in wedding photography, so go out and make the best job you can.


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