Let’s talk about wedding photography flash and what you need to know. Flash shooting can be daunting if you’re just starting out, but it can free you up the more you know how to use it. There may be times when you must use flash and there may be times when you choose to use flash.
Therefore, you might as well figure it out!
Before you can understand flash, you need to understand the basics of how light and shadow impact photography. Then you can use flash to help control light in situations where you need or want it.
When to Use Wedding Photography Flash
Let’s talk about a few instances where you might want or need to use flash in your wedding photography.
The first and most obvious time is at night, when it’s too dark for your camera to see what’s going on. Evening wedding receptions or indoor weddings often require additional lighting, especially since they dim any artificial lighting in the room, such as for a dance party.
Another time you may need to use flash is to combat bad light, like overhead lighting, which creates a ton of shadows on your subjects’ faces. For example, in group shots, if you can’t find clear shade to shoot in and you’re working in midday sun or poor indoor lighting, you may need to light your subjects.
Sometimes you may choose to use flash to isolate your subject or reduce distractions. If a scene is evenly lit, you can use your flash like a spotlight to focus on your subject. Or if a scene is super cluttered, you can use flash to darken the distractions.
When you need flash: fill light to reduce shadows, isolate the subject, reduce distractions or just because it’s too dark. Isolates the subject and reduces distraction.
Types of Flash Wedding Photographers You Need to Know
There are a variety of flash types that wedding photographers should be aware of and they have different circumstances for which they work best.
In-Camera Flash (aka Bounce Flash)
The first technique is the flash built into the camera. It is as it says where the flash is mounted on your camera. However, unlike your iPhone’s harsh, raw flash, we give light direction and softness by bouncing it around.
Therefore, let’s call it “bounce flash” because we’re not just going to shine our flash at the subject and create a harsh light, but we’re going to bounce it off a wall or ceiling or even just a bouncing map to create something a little more appealing and a little sweeter.
An alternative to bouncing is to use some sort of modifier such as a diffuser to make your light less harsh.
An example of when you can use bounce flash is when you’re moving around a dark room with low ceilings trying to capture well-lit images. Many photographers have a preference for off-camera flash which we will discuss next. However, there are times when you can’t use an off-camera flash because you’re moving too much or the ceiling is too low, so it’s good to remember how to fall back on your bounce flash.
Off-camera flash is a great choice for professional wedding photography because it creates more interesting light and you can control it more. Sounds like it sounds, flashes are off-camera and usually mounted on something like a light stand and then placed at a flattering angle to your subject, such as 45 degrees. You use a trigger attached to your camera that controls flashes.
There are different strategies for the off-screen. The most basic is one of my favorites because it’s quick and nimble, which suits my shooting style well. This is called stick lighting and it’s basically placing the flash on a stick (light support) and pointing it in the direction you want your light to come from, of course, this means you might need someone to hold the stick.
Since I work with my husband, we can often quickly hold a light stick for each other if there’s a dramatic shot we want to create where we spotlight the subject. Or sometimes we use it for quick transitions between speeches, cake cutting, and dances. We might have a four-light setup for the dance floor, but the cake is in the corner, so we need to be able to light it up quickly.
I also use an off-camera flash setup to set up shots when I want to isolate my subject – it’s the same idea as stick lighting except I have to mount the flash somewhere because I don’t have no one to hold it or the space for someone to hold it.
Another common off-camera flash technique is to use a 2, 3 or 4 flash setup on a dance floor. This allows you to move around the dance floor but still have your subjects lit in an interesting way.
Other Fun Flash Techniques
There are a few other fun flash techniques I’ll mention because they’re fun to use when creating beautiful images.
The first is the backlighting of your subject, sometimes you want to add peripheral light to separate your subject from the background to place a flash behind them.
Another technique for separating the subject from the background, or lack thereof, is to illuminate the background such as a cold wall. You could allow the subject to be a silhouette in this case.
Dragging the shutter to get ambient light or to create playful dance party effects can also be a lot of fun. This works best if there is a constant light source such as flickering lights that you will be exposing while illuminating your subject.
wedding photography flash equipment
The main benefit of using flash in your wedding photography is that you can create more dynamic, interesting and professional images. None of the guests or uncles with their iPhones create the quality of work that you are. It also allows you to shoot in less than ideal lighting conditions and still create a great job.
It’s also important to know when not to use your flash, don’t let it get in the way of getting the best shot which is sometimes just the shot.
The worst part about using flash in your wedding photography is that it dramatically expands your gear list. My camera, lenses and batteries can fit in a backpack that I can take anywhere. But you add all the lighting equipment and suddenly I’m not so mobile.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your gear list simple for the majority of the day, then have a catch bag for hard-to-light evening entertaining. Below is a sample flash gear list to give you an idea of what we use. We’re pretty minimalist and yet it’s quite a long list.
Sample Flash Equipment List for Wedding Photography
- Godox AD200 x4. Used to illuminate receptions and portraits
- Godox V860II. Used for bounce flash and to illuminate night portraits
- Godox X-Pro-S trigger. Can trigger AD200 or V860
- All flashes have MagMods with grids, can also easily add a gel (½ gel CTO)
- Lume Cube. Good for night shots where constant light is easier for hard-to-focus environments like a sparkler release – the built-in gels and grid are nice
- Godox AD-B2 dual flash mount. When you need the power of 2 AD200, for example to light something in the middle of the day when you need to dominate the sun
- The light rises. 2 x 8ft and 4 x 12ft travel shorts with sandbags for traditional dance floors plus a few clamps and suction cups for prep rooms
- Have a reflector but rarely use it
Wedding Photography Flash Summary
In summary, it is important to know not only when to use flash in your wedding photography, but also what techniques to use. Using flash can make your photos more dynamic and allow you to take pictures in difficult-to-light situations. However, using the flash can slow you down and cause you to miss the shot.
My suggestion is to start simple, master one technique at a time, and find the right time of day to play and experiment. Hint: it’s probably not the ceremony.
As part of a husband and wife team, I work with my partner to identify times when each of us can play and experience as one of the benefits of working with your spouse in photography. If that’s not in the cards for you, practice at home, we once installed reception lighting and took pictures of our dog dancing when we were trying out a new system.
About the Author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga instructor and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “Love. Adventurous. They are dedicated to telling stories of adventures in beautiful places.