Thirsty Thursday: Reception Lighting

So I’ve gotten a couple of questions recently about how I handle reception lighting. Before I begin though, I want to stress this isn’t any kind of secret, ALOT of other photographers light this way so don’t think I made it up. When you first start shooting weddings (or anything) you’ll walk into a dark room, throw your 50 1.8 and snap a quick shot. Oh Shit. That was waaaayyyyy too dark. So you struggle through the first one, you use the videographer’s LED light for all your light and barely make it out alive. So you go out and buy a flash. You go to your next wedding, strap that baby on and start shooting. Much better. But it’s still missing something. The background is too dark, colors are wrong, maybe it’s still a bit too dark. Enter off camera flash.

So we all know we aren’t supposed to shoot with on camera flash right? (right?) Bouncing is OK and I do it a lot but not to light an entire reception area. We need to get multiple lights set up around the room, and do it quick. Bride and Groom are making their entrance in 3 minutes.

I use manual speedlights. Almost any speedlight with manual settings will work. I use Lumopro LP160s most of the time, and Yongnuos when I run out of them. I have 8 lights so buying 8 580EXIIs would be financial suicide. And the 580s are a total pain in the ass to use off camera anyway. I also use Cactus V5 transceivers. I don’t use pocketwizards, again because it be too expensive. Imagine buying that many pocketwizards. Overkill. The cactus V5s work great. I try to place 4 lights if I can. One in every corner of the room, ONLY IF IT IS NOT A TRIPPING HAZARD. I can not stress this enough. If you are throwing light stands everywhere and not noticing traffic patterns through the room, you are going to get sued when someone trips and breaks their hip. I have a few different mounting options. I have a couple 15 foot stands, 7 foot stands, and Gorillapods. Gorillapods are worth their weight in gold. I attach them to light fixtures, DJ’s speakers, columns, where ever they might fit. This way no one trips on them. Genius. Anyway, I get these lights on their stands, all at least 7 feet off the ground. (The higher the better) I put them on 1/64 power 99% of the time and aim them directly at the floor. I know most people bounce but I like the look and I don’t like the huge hotspot it makes on the wall when it bounces. If you use lots of flashes on low power you can get away with aiming it right at the dance floor. If you only had one or two off camera lights, I’d bounce it because you won’t get the same 360 degree coverage. I also use a flash on camera to fill in any shadows made by people between the subject and the flashes. If its a low ceiling I’ll bounce, if it’s a tall ceiling I’ll use a gary fong diffuser. Got all that? Here’s the setup for my camera:

I rubber band the Cactus to the Flash, and directly wire in the Cactus to the camera. They sometimes get loose when you are dancing, so I like to have it locked down at the flash, it’s much stronger. My whole aim is to ADD to the light in the room. I don’t want to actually light the whole room with flash. I shoot at ISO 3200 most of the time because I want to get as much ambient light as possible. And here are some examples:

There are a ton of “starburst” pics thrown in here to show you that it is not bad to shoot into the light. I obviously don’t try to get it in every photo but it’s usually not that noticeable. I’d rather have a flashburst in a small area then a blown out wall.

These were all done with 2-5 lights. Like I said above, try to get as many as you can if the room allows. It usually doesn’t allow 4. Sometimes only 2. But those 2 will serve you better than bouncing off a 30 foot ceiling.