I’m definitely one of those gals who loves natural light all day long. But what about all night?
Using artificial light is not easy. But I’m also gonna tell you it really isn’t all that hard either. If you figured out how to shoot your camera professionally, you can figure out flash too. Here’s how to take better wedding photos with flash. Or not even a wedding reception. What about when the bride gets ready in the church basement? Or you have a ceremony after dark and you have to do all the family photos in a candlelit cathedral?
I’m not writing this blog as a blow by blow tutorial on how to turn on/setup a flash. There’s already more enough articles and youtube videos for that. But I’ll tell you WHAT equipment I have, the gist of how I use it and some terms/keywords you can research yourself.
(Before we go any further and for the sake of keepin it real around here…there’s an affiliate link disclosure/explanation etc at the bottom!)
I personally choose flashes over strobes or other artificial lighting systems because…lightweight, quick setup & more than sufficient for what I need.
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite x1
Yongnuo Flash YN600EX-RT Speedlite x2
I arrive at all my weddings (and engagements…you never know what you might need) with three flashes. I bought this setup in early 2016 after much research and with the intention of using my Canon as my master and the Yongnuo flashes as slaves. They are all equipped with the newer/more reliable wireless radio transmission system. This way all my flashes can talk without external transmitters or additional equipment. After three full wedding seasons with these workhorses, I really can’t tell the difference between the Canon and the YN (same recycle time even) and when I upgrade I’ll probably just go all YN. Rumor has it Canon makes the YN flashes anyway and holding them side by side makes you think the rumor might be true because they are basically clones.
Early on, I spent HUNDREDS of dollars on the “best” Duracell batteries during wedding season. Even then I struggled with flashes overheating and they took forever to recycle or were often failing to transmit to each other. I thought I hated my flashes until I switched to Eneloop Batteries. Holy moly they made all the difference in the world.
Tip: The charger is all backwards and messed with my mind for a while. Green lights mean CHARGING not charged. No lights mean charged. Also. Know it takes a good 8 hours to charge these puppies…that green light stays on a looooong time.
I have a whole pile of tripods and light stands. These Amazon Basics 2 Pack Lights Stands and these Flash Mount Attachments are great in most situations. I also always travel with this beast I’ve had for 6 years now, the Ravelli Tripod that I will use where the ground is especially uneven or it’s a high traffic area (but still enough light people wont trip over it.) I’m just listing it because it is what I have and use…but I bet you could find a lightweight one that works just as great or better.
Research for yourself: Setting up a Master & Slave(s) for OCF (Off Camera Flash), Flash Shutter Sync Speed, ETTL vs TTL vs Manual Settings, One Shot Shooting Mode, Back Button AF, AF Illuminator
How I set my flashes: Most of the time I’m shooting with flash they will be set to ETTL and have them all set to use radio for the wireless communication. I use flash exposure compensation when needed. It’s the easiest/most reliable thing for my style of shooting a wedding reception…which is a lot of moving around and fast action. If I’m in a stationary studio situation and I want to really dial in my settings then I will switch to manual…but I’m never in a stationary studio situation anymore.
How I set my Camera: I personally shoot Back Button AF (Auto Focus). When shooting flash my camera will always be in manual and with a shutter speed of 1/180 or lower (because of the sync speed). And while my shooting mode is Al Servo during the day I switch everything to One Shot once I pop the flash on because in that mode, when I hit the AF-ON button the flash with put out a “focus grid” or the correct term…an AF Illuminator. In low light situations, this is THE way your camera/flash/lens will work together to focus on your subject to take a sharp image quickly. Without this, your lens will just be searching aimlessly for something to focus on in the dark.
Ok, I won’t make you do ALL your own googling and research. This is a great article I just found when trying to find the correct term for what I usually call “focus grid.”
Please don’t ever use direct flash. And if you can’t bounce it off a tent ceiling or a barn wall… get a diffuser or bounce attachment.
Magmods. Amen. I own the MagSphere, the MagBounce and three of the MagGrips. Each of my flashes are outfitted with the MagGrip, and then I can change what attachments I want faster than you can say “switch.” The magnets are soooo strong the diffusers have never fallen off the flashes even with them swinging around at my side. However, I did super-glue the magnets inside the diffusers because if they come out of their little “holes” and magnet together…it takes a husband and a hammer to get them back apart.
Whenever I am shooting on-camera my flashes will have one of these attached. I happily use the MagSphere with my 35mm and the MagBounce with my 85mm or 70-200mm lenses.
Because of these magmods, I can still skillfully light an open air reception without OCF if needed. Keyword “if needed.” See where I say “Everything is situational” below.
Yet you should know how to do it anyway. Some photographers will really diss on others who aren’t rocking a crazy technical 4 tripod OCF setting up at a wedding reception. That’s not what I’m doing or saying you have to do. I’m saying if you are representing yourself as a professional photographer and are charging money (any amount) for your services, then you need to own a higher quality flash and be able to shoot on AND off camera at the drop of a hat.
Everything is situational. While I can and DO pop multiple flashes onto tripods and light up a whole “open air” pasture, sometimes I won’t. If I have a particularly drunk bunch of guests, setting up tripods at the edge of a dance floor, in a crowded barn or out in a dark field can become really hazardous…and yes I have liability insurance, but I still don’t want someone tripping/falling. I’ve seen it happen a lot in my time with particular crowds. It’s a personal call I make and it changes based on the wedding and situation. At the wedding example shown above I had one tripod on the band trailer and the other I had my assistant grab a chair and physically sit beside the tripod on the ground for two hours so she could sit there and warn people not to trip over it in the dark…because it was completely dark.
I know that I can handle whatever situation I find myself in with this setup! And I hope this helps you know how to take better wedding photos with flash.
Still not sure what you need? Much buying equipment is how it works/feels in YOUR hands. I utilize a company called Borrow Lenses to test drive newer equipment or compare competing brands (Like the Canon vs Yongnuo Flash ). Get $30 off your first Borrow Lenses rental if you use this Borrow Lenses Referral Link
*Disclosure: Keeping it real around here. Sometimes (not always) the links in my posts are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. (Like a whopping $0.13 you all.) You will never get charged extra through affiliate links…and sometimes you’ll even get a discount! BUT you can always trust that I link these products or companies only because I BOUGHT them with real money and USE them in real life…and not because of any commission I may or may not receive from your purchases. Whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.