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.


Thirsty Thursdays Q&A: Xmas Tree pics

Q: What is the best way to take a picture of a lit-up Christmas tree? I can never get it right! I have an older Canon EOS Rebel if that helps.

A: It depends. What are you going for? If you just want a semi-sharp snapshot of your tree, make sure your room is decently bright and set a high ISO. You should be able to handhold a shot of your tree. Now I’ll go over some common problems/looks for a Christmas tree. (You will need a basic understanding of your digital camera and exposure for these tips) First is that ugly yellowish cast to your photos. You know what I’m talking about. It’s very easy to get rid of. As long as you aren’t using a flash, you can go into your camera settings and change your White Balance from Auto to Tungsten (for normal lights. If you have rainbow lights you’re screwed.) That should straighten it out. If you have photoshop you can do it on the computer too.

Auto WB
Tungsten WB

If you use your flash, it will mess up the colors. The little lights are yellow and the flash is white. so when you try to blend the two either it will still be very yellow or the white will start to look blue. Plus, the flash will drown out the glow from the lights and it doesn’t look as good. You might have to use a tripod or set your camera on something because your shutter will probably be at a very slow speed without flash. Here are 2 images concerning flash:

No Flash.
Straight Flash.

Yes, I broke my window and I used painters tape to fix it. You all think photographers lead a glorious life? Ha. Anyway the image without flash is much better in my opinion Now onto the lights themselves  You know some pictures of trees where each light is like a beautiful starburst? That is because they are using a narrow aperture. When you use a wide aperture, you get a very shallow, beautiful depth of field but the lights are just blobs. When you narrow it down, you get more in focus, and you get starbursts. Check out the next few images.

f/ 2.8 @24mm
f/ 8 @24mm
f/ 16 @24mm

You can see you get these nice “stars” at mostly f/8 and above. at f/8 and above you will probably need a tripod. These look nice, but sometimes the best shots are up close macro shots of trees:

These will give you big beautiful blobs of light in the background. Looks great. Or, you could get the whole tree out of focus and get creative by putting your significant other/family/pets in front of it. Here’s a shot from a very recent shoot I did with a Xmas tree:

Have any other questions about Xmas trees? Leave them in the comments! Internet points to anyone who can find the Rugby ball in one of the above pictures.


Bonus content: Christmas Puppies!


Thirsty Thursday Q&A: Dodge and Burn

(Disclaimer: this in part was from my old blog, with some new material added)

For my first Thirsty Thursday Q&A we are going to take a look dodging and burning. Keep the questions rolling in, don’t be shy. Before I start answering new questions I have some old ones from before the blog I’d like to put up. Someone asked me not long ago about how to add contrast to an HDR image without turning the sky black. I talked a little about dodging and burning and the strength sliders in HDR programs, but this post will be on the dodging and burning. It was an un-edited HDR straight out of photmatix. Taken in the Black Canyon of the Gunneson in Colorado, it is your typical HDR. Sky was bright, foreground was dark, why not do HDR. The problem with this is that sometimes you get a very flat image with HDR. Sometimes you get a very 3 dimensional image. It’s always different. I have this beautiful light on this rock face but its not simple enough. There is too much going on with the rocks and it all looks like its on one plane.

I wanted to create some separation of this close rock face from the far ones on the right. So I use a little dodging and burning. Now, I personally do not use the dodge/burn tool in photoshop, I use a different method. I will make a copy of the layer I am working on, and fill it with 50% grey (edit -> fill…). I then change the blending style to “Overlay”. You will now be looking at the same picture you had before. Without going into all the details, Overlay basically makes lights lighter and darks darker (It’s not that simple, but for now it will do.) Now to darken areas, paint with black. To lighten areas, paint with white. Paint at like 10% opacity. Any pixel brighter/darker than 50% grey will be lightened/darkened. This way skips the highlights/midtones/shadows boxes and is easier to use, and I think looks better. It also doesn’t keep changing it as you hold the button down, to give you more precise control.

Anyway, brighten the area you want attention on (your eye is drawn to the highlights in an image) and darken the areas around it. Using this method, I made the close rock face more prominent and the right side less so. you can see in the side by side that the bottom half looks more appealing. Now, this isn’t an award winning photo but I just wanted one that would show this effect well.

Here is another example. It’s a (lot) bit over done to show you the difference (don’t judge), but you get the idea. Forest shots are notorious for not looking the same way as when you were there. I always shoot them a stop (at least) darker than what my camera meter tells me. This one is a bit bright to start with. Just take the same idea, paint with black on things that should be dark/things in the background, and paint with white on the subject (if dark, if not dark don’t) and things that should be lighter. Here’s your before and after:

And there you go. Try it on landscapes, people, macro, whatever. Most pictures benefit from some dodging and burning.

Keep the questions coming!