Lighting indoor reception venues can be a challenge. Every reception location is different, and every location introduces new obstacles. Lucky, we have lighting tools at our disposal that allow us to overcome these obstacles. In this article we’ll walk through the options available to photographers to create the best light for their wedding reception photography. The four major types of lighting are: on camera flash, strobes, on camera bounce flash, and ambient light.
1. Raw On-Camera flash
This is the simplest flash lighting possible. Nearly every camera comes equip with an on-camera flash. They are incredibly efficient for pushing the most light as possible to your subject.
Similar to the raw on-camera flash, this method is used to soften the light to give a more appealing look. Relatively cheap devices, such as the Gary Fong Lightsphere, are used to achieve this look.
On-camera flash is fast, efficient and almost always ensures that your subject is correctly exposed. Direct flash can be used to achieve looks ranging from generic to high-fashion. On-camera flash is fantastic when you need to be up-close and agile for keeping up with your moving subjects.
Since the point of light is very close to the camera’s sensor, the lighting on your subjects can be unflattering and amateur. This close proximity of light source and sensor will also give the skin of your subjects a sheen or reflective quality. Additionally, most on-camera flashes have a small point as their light source which creates hash shadows.
2. Remote Strobes
By far the most elaborate, setting up off-camera strobes requires the photographer to have at the very least 1 set of strobes. This includes a light stand, a strobe, a transmitter, and a radio receiver. Radio transmitters and receivers are needed to trigger the flash from your camera. An example of these would be the Radio Popper JrX’s. Note that you do not need a strobe flash. Setting up speedlights, such as a Nikon SB-600, can achieve a similar effect.
Using strobes to light reception venues is the most challenging lighting method. It will take time to perfect this technique, but those who do create wonderful photographs.
One can point a strobe directly at the subjects for dramatic lighting or point them at walls to illuminate the entire venue with a clean, soft light.
Photographing indoor reception venues with strobes can give a very unique look. If done properly, a photographer can create very dramatic and emotional images, all while having the lighting appear natural. This method is considered by many to be the most professional set-up; however, it depends solely on the style of the photographer.
While using this lighting technique, you’ll need to pay close attention to the position of your strobes. There will be angles that will be unflattering or strangely lit.
This lighting method is also the most expensive. You will need to purchase several light stands, radio triggers, strobes, and probably battery packs to accomplish this set-up in its entirety.
Auto-focus can be difficult since you will not have access to your flashes’ infrared focus assistance. A darker reception venue will pose a challenge to your camera for quick focusing.
3. On-Camera Bounce Flash
The on-camera bounce technique involves pointing your on-camera speedlight up and away from your subject. The idea here is to illuminate the ceiling and have the reflected flash be the light on your subject. This lighting technique requires you to have an on-camera flash capable of pointing upwards and able to pivot at the very least 90 degrees. Typical angle is turned 135 degrees left and angled 45 degrees up.
Similar to the on-camera direct flash, this lighting technique allows the photographer to be agile with how they shoot. Unlike the direct flash, this method does not create heavy shadows or annoy guests. Instead, it creates a soft light that is reflected from the ceiling. This light appears natural and, since the light source is coming from above, creates flattering shadows. Additionally, since you will be using a speedlight, you will be able to take advantage of the focus-assist infrared light from your flash.
The drawbacks of this method should be obvious – you will be pointing your flash backwards, so you will need to be aware of guests behind you. Nobody likes being flashed in the retina.
Another drawback is that since you will be bouncing off of the ceiling, your flash will need to compensate for the lost light that did not reflect onto your subjects. This results in your flash exerting more power per flash. Keep spare batteries handy. On this note, dark venues with dark ceilings and walls can be very strenuous on your flash. You may need to bump your ISO high or use another lighting technique if this obstacle is present.
Note: bouncing your flash off oddly colored ceilings or walls may affect the color of the flash bounced back. Typically, this is handled wonderfully buy the auto-white balance, but it can pose a problem if the ceiling/walls are vibrantly colored.
4. Ambient Light
This technique involves using no light source that you create. Using the available light in the venue, this lighting method, or lack of method, is ideal for photographers looking for the most photojournalistic feel to their images. If the venue has excellent and interesting lighting, perhaps from the DJ or lighting team, this method might be another reason to use to take advantage of the ambient light.
This strategy is a very natural and photojournalistic approach to capturing images. The lack of your own light source has the potential to incite more emotion and a strong sense of candidness. Sparkler exits, using the videographer’s light during a first dance, or photographing centerpieces with candles on the table are examples of how you can creatively take advantage of external light sources.
Since you’ll be relying on the other light sources, you’ll be at the mercy of the whatever light you have available. It can be difficult to work with these sources if they are too low in light, strangely colored, moving around, etc.
You will need to up your ISO and/or shoot wide open in order to pull as much light as possible. This will lead to noisier images and/or very shallow depth of field.
Last, it may be difficult to focus your camera in dark situations. This is a huge challenge when your subjects are moving or you need to catch an important moment quickly. TIP: use your speedlight to assist you in focusing. Turn your flash to manual power and set it to as low as possible. This should result in very little light from the flash, but will greatly help you in auto-focusing subjects.
My one-shot, zero-setup, sure-fire guide to photographing wedding cakes
This guide is what I do during wedding days, and I typically photograph the cake right when I enter the reception location. Overall, I take 4 shots of the cake: 1 vertical, 1 horizontal, 1 detail of topper, and 1 detail of the base or whatever is the most interesting on the cake. This process takes me literally 30 seconds. That’s it; done. Move on to centerpieces. This guide is for photographing real cakes on real wedding days for wedding photography professionals. There will be some assumptions such as you know how to expose properly, etc and that the cake is indoors or lower light (think reception lighting). If you’re interested in photographing cakes in studio, this is not it, but the idea could definitely be translated into studio.
- 200mm lens
- Flash with 90 degree (or higher) swivel and point-up ability.
- Delicious wedding cake (preferably red velvet, am I right?)
The lens you select to photograph a wedding cake is absolutely crucial. You’ll want to grab your longest focal length lens. I use Nikon’s 70-200mm 2.8, but if you have the cheaper 200′s with 5.6, that works fine, too!
What matters most here is that the 200mm will do 2 things:
1. Compress the view, allowing the cake to be the prominent subject and, if the venue isn’t organized, remove a lot of the clutter surrounding the cake.
2. Keep most of the cake in perfect focus, yet having a nice out of focus background. This is the wonderful thing about telephotos. With lower focal lengths, you cannot have both an out of focus background and retain focus throughout the cake.
Shoot at F4 for “fill the frame” cake shots and F2.8 for “big picture” shots containing more of the ambiance and venue decor.
The idea for flash is that we’ll be using our flash to ‘bounce’ light from the left off of a wall or whatever is available. This will create a pleasing soft light that will hit the cake from the left and will give an appearance of softbox or window light. The trick here is to aim the flash directly left, and not up or down at all. When shooting vertical framing, the flash will be pointed directly “up” from the camera’s point of view. When shooting horizontal framing, the flash will be 90′ left. It’s important to remember not to have the flash pointed up at all, unlike photographing people where you would want the flash to be aimed towards the ceiling. Be mindful of guests; they do not like being flashed in the face. I’m leaving it up to you to exposure for the ambient light and to make sure your background is how you’d like it. I typically expose 1-3 stops down depending on the mood I want to create and depending on pre-existing light. Set your flash to TTL if it is not already. Max out your flash shutter sync speed (Nikon is 1/250, Canon is 1/200).
Your resulting image will be a very soft left-to-right lit cake. I light left to right because that’s a more natural look. The more of the frame that the cake takes up, the better your result will be with lighting. When you are first doing this technique begin with a very tightly framed cake and work out from there.
Below are few straight out of camera images using this technique:
Article by Michael Doerman of Doerman Photography – a Nashville Wedding Photographer
Before we throw down our money, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of camera does a wedding photographer need?
We need everything and we need it lightning fast. Amazing image quality for our high-paying clients. Focus accuracy that does not falter. Focus speeds in milliseconds. High ISO ranges which you’ll be confident shooting in.
There are no re-dos in wedding photography. We need a camera that does not compromise. The D4 delivers.
The new Nikon flagship, the D4, is aimed at working professionals who are out in the wild using their gear on at least a weekly basis. Although the camera is aimed at action and sports shooters, many wedding photographers will be choosing between the D4, the D800, and maybe even the D600 for their DSLR upgrade. We’ll be focusing (heh..) our attention in this review on what the D4 can offer for professional wedding photographers: image quality, focus speed/accuracy, and ISO quality.
Mega Pickles: I’ve found that 16-mp is my sweet spot at this technological point. I couldn’t imagine shooting wedding after wedding with a D800, only to have my storage drives fill up. I simply do not need large files and neither should you. Even the 12-mp of my D700 were enough to handle large print requests from clients. 20”x30”? No problem!
FPS: The Frame Rate of the D4 is 10, but you can reach 11 if you turn off AF (I can’t ever see me doing this). Ten FPS is actually a bit overkill for how I work. It’s probably in your best interest to keep your camera in a single or low FPS setting. Nothing is worse than an annoying photographer at a wedding. It totally kills the mood and everyone will think you’re a douche bag. The only time I crank my cameras up to the maximum FPS rate is when the groom is popping that champagne cork, because, you know, that’s a cool picture.
Silent Mode: On the topic of not being annoying, this handy feature can be a lifesaver during the ceremony. I’m always conscious about how I am perceived by guests and my clients. Wedding photographers should always go out of their way to respect the events at a wedding and to allow the guests to enjoy the special moments. The D4′s regular shutter sound is fairly quiet; far more quiet than my D700, but the silent mode really takes it a step further for ceremonies and stalker/PI photography. Note that while you’re in Silent Mode the auto-focus beep is muted.
Image quality is what you expect from a flagship product. Although not as incredible as the D800′s IQ, the D4 is more than enough for anyone looking to print smaller than 40”x60”. If you’re printing larger than 40×60, definitely pick up the D800. If you’re printing larger than 40×60, please give me some salesmen tips!
Overall, I’m very pleased with image quality. My first shoot with the D4 was this Bridal Session at Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. My bride that I was shooting had the absolute most beautiful eyelashes. It wasn’t until I was in post when it really dawned on me how incredible this camera was. Her eyelashes popped with incredible detail and life. No sharpening, contrast, or clarity was needed at all to enhance her eyes.
Sample from bridal session:
Additionally, I’m able to pull far more information out of my shadows and highlights. With my D3 sensor, I always noticed some peach-colored tinting when bringing my highlights down. The D4 sensor brings highlights down very cleanly. As for shadows, it looks like we’re seeing about 3 stops worth of pulling without noticing any noise/artifacting. I’m really excited about this because sometimes I like to shoot 1 or 2 stops darker to ensure that I have cloud detail or dress detail. It’s wonderful bringing those darks up without any detriment to the image quality!
Focus Speed + Accuracy:
Coming from the D3/D700, this new focus speed is too fast. I’m shooting about 33% more images during weddings now that I have the D4. It’s so fast that I’m able to grab those shots that otherwise I’d miss. This is fantastic while shooting, but my post-editing side hates sifting through all the images. The good news is that I’m getting more shots and more shots in focus. This is the reason I purchased the D4.
Ever been shooting a wedding in a dark reception venue and just couldn’t quite grab that tiny eyeball from the bride popping over her new husband’s shoulder fast enough? I definitely have. I never want to miss those moments. This is why I upgraded to the D4. According to Nikon, this new camera is able to focus with less light required. They never quantified this, but said “able to focus in moonlight.” I’m not really sure what that means, but I have noticed that I’ve been able to focus faster than my D3/D700. The accuracy is about the same, but the speed has been increased. Less hunting and less hesitation.
How do you focus? Auto? joystick your single focus point? Center point + adjust? I’m always curious how photographers use their auto focus! Let me know below in comments how you use yours!
High ISO + Noise Quality:
I’ve always been confident shooting at higher ISO’s with my D3/D700, as Nikon has always held a conservative view with noise. Technical specifications for the D4 difference in ISO noise difference state about 1 stop better than the D3 and about equal to the D3s. I agree with this finding. My comfort level on my D3/D700 was 2000 ISO. I’ve now found that my comfort for the D4 is 4000. I love this sweet spot because the colors still pop, yet if I want a B&W, the noise looks like beautiful film grain.
The noise has improved from the D3 to the D4, but what has not has been the clarity. As you select higher and higher ISO settings the detail of the image lessen. I am noticing that at higher ISOs (2000+) the amount of detail is still quite muddy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still beautiful and I’m ever so grateful that I can even shoot at these ridiculous settings. It’s just not quite an improvement for detail from the D3/D700.
Wedding photography (and sports) is really pushing the limits of high ISO. The ability to hand our clients clean shots for every event of their wedding day is the holy grail for wedding photographers interested in absolute quality. The ISO performance of the D4 is more than one small step for mankind, but it isn’t a giant leap.
The LCD screen has a green tint
How did this pass testing, Nikon? Totally blows my mind how this could possible pass any review phases. When viewing your images, it looks as if you shifted the Green/Magenta white balance to around +5 to 10 to the green side. The files themselves look fine; it’s solely the screen. I hate this because I often work with differing color temperatures within the same image, so I rely on the screen to have at least a somewhat accurate display of what’s going on. Additionally, it’s very embarrassing to show people what I just shot.
Many owners report that their camera does not have this green tint, and a Nikon firmware update (1.02) supposedly fixes this. However, I upgraded to this version and I am still noticing the white balance is off. If anyone knows what is going on with my version, I’d be happy to hear from them!
Fix (Update) :
I sent my camera in to Nikon and mentioned that I’d like them to look at/fix my screen issue. They had stated that the camera was “working as intended” and that “the new screens look different because they more accurately display the proper RGB values.” I was given option to revert the LCD screen back to how the D3/D700 screens looked and I agreed to make the change. After receiving my camera back, the colors on the LCD finally are true to what I see in real life and are indeed working similar to how the D3/D700 screens operated. The process to have the screen changed is $30 and it will cost approximately $70 to ship your camera to Nikon (freight + insurance). Overall, I’m pretty irked that I had to lose my camera for 3 weeks and spend $100 to fix something that Nikon is too stubborn to admit is incorrect. However, it is operating how I like it to and I am pleased.
On our vacation to SFO, we made the must-have stop at Yosemite. Although I’m not much of an Ansel Adams fanboy, I couldn’t help but snag a few shots of the renown and famous Half Dome. I’ve spent my entire life on the east coast and have never truly witnessed surreal nature. This experience was just that. Studying Adams and his work in Yosemite in history of photography class, I could have never fully appreciated his work until this visit to the park. I’m incredibly lucky for the following images that I shot. Lighting was on my side and so was the wildlife! My only regret is that I brought along my D7000 instead of my D700. I wanted something light!
All pictures taken with Nikon D7000 and Nikon 16-35 f4 lens.
Enjoy these photographs of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park!