How to take good pictures in a low light wedding situation

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by cherise_mcclimans, Sep 17, 2010.

  1. Hello everyone,
    So I am fairly new to the wedding side of photography (about 6 months of experience doing weddings) and someone booked an evening wedding with me in October. At the time the wedding was booked the sun was still setting around 9p.m. so I thought okay no problem! Forgetting that later in the year the sun sets earlier. Now that I am seeing the sun is going to be completely set by the time the wedding begins and it's on the front porch of the clients home.
    I have never used flash photography, period. I find it to be incredibly disruptive (especially for weddings and low light situations) and I'm there to document the day, not to intrude.Plus every time the flash is used it has to recharge and takes a while to keep snapping shots. (I have a Canon 50D and Rebel XSi)
    Are there any tips that anyone can give me?
  2. Outside at night? Maybe time to rent some mono lights and stands, much faster recycling and you can trigger them wirelessly so you can move around. At least you have time to practice with them before the big day. Also pay a sunset visit to the site now to see where you can setup and get power and to see what the natural light situation is before dusk.
  3. What time is the ceremony supposed to start? How is the couple and officiant going to be positioned in relation to the porch--what is behind the couple? What is to the sides? Anything to bounce flash off?
    Dusk can still be OK for no flash, but if you have to use flash, you will need to learn how to use it quickly, and do something about the recharging situation. If you are forced to use direct flash, you will have to think about a bracket, perhaps. What flash do you have, if any?
  4. Also ask them if they are going to hang up lights or have candle light, etc. There may be more light than you thought about. Surely they aren't going to get married in pure darkness.
  5. If you are really stuck, you can rent something like a d3s or 1dmk4 that goes up to extreme iso (you can shoot around 8k on those cameras) and use a really quick lens (something 1.4 ish)
  6. Shooting in a dark area really requires, in my opinion it's not an option, 1 or 2 mono lights. When it's dark your flash recharging slowly is only part of the problem. Your camera will have trouble focusing unless you can set up some sort of light, such as a modeling light that is in most mono lights/strobes.

    To get comfortable practice shooting in dim lighting or no lights such as inside your house and outside somewhere. If you spend about 1 to 2 hours practicing you should know the limits of your camera and your flash. Then practice another 5 hours learning how your flash works. Your knowledge of your flash setup will make or break the wedding.

    By the way, you didn't say what kind of flash you are using.

    I would suggest setting your camera to ISO/ASA 800 and 1600 when you are practicing. This will allow you to see the quality, such as pixels, and again, find out the limitations of your camera. As I recall from reading test reports in assorted photo magazines the 50D can handle higher ISO's and get decent images at the ISO setting of 6400. I would make sure you can get decent shots at 6400 before trying this setting at a wedding.

    Some tips to think about - shoot in Raw, carry lots of memory cards, change the flash batteries around ever 100 pops, don't wait for the batteries to totally die. Rent or buy another flash, and if the reception is outside reset your lights, most likely aiming towards the dance floor area.

    Some of the mono strobes modeling lights range fron 60 watt light bulbs to 250 watts. Frankly you only need about 30 watts for your camera to focus. There is a sliding bar or a digital panal that allows you to set the modeling lights accordingly. For example even if the modeling light is a 250 watt light bulb you can use the sliding bar and control the amount of light you wish to use. I'm usually around 20 to 30 watts.

    Keep asking a lot of questions and post some images as you practice. There are several lighting masters on this forum.

    If you can learn how to use mono lights with the flash, learn how to use radio slaves, this will add another dimension to your wedding photo's.
  7. "I have never used flash photography, period."
    Cherise, I think that's a good reason not to experiment with flash photography at this wedding.
    I doubt the ceremony will be conducted in near complete darkness (good idea to speak to the BG about this), so there should be some available light; just not the intensity you're accustomed to.
    Another option along the lines of Benjamin's suggestion is to use your cameras, no flash, damn the noise and take the shot. In many respects it won't be as bad as it seems; your cameras are reasonably low noise, so (as a starting point) if you simply crank up ISO, select a shutter speed high enough for handholding, use an aperture setting for adequate depth of field, and shoot RAW, chances are you'll at least get the shot compositionally.
    Since you're already comfortable with natural light shooting, low light is merely an extension of that with some sacrifice in signal to noise ratio which you can attempt to (aesthetically) recover in post - easier said than done is to use the resulting noise as an artistic element and compose your shots accordingly.
    There's still time to take a few practice shots under anticipated conditions in order to familiarize yourself with the process, and more importantly see the likely results, then make judgements as to how you prefer to go about it.
  8. Here's a couple tips. I think you should keep things simple, until you are comfortable using a flash.
    1. Keep your flash on the camera until you learn how to use off camera flash. A pop up flash will only be good for people right in your face. Use a hotshoe flash. Bounce your flash off surfaces if available, or use it as a fill to compliment the ambient light. Messing with an off camera flash for your first time in this type of situation is just asking for trouble and frustration. Use one camera to experiment with how far you can go with the natural light. Use the other camera (XSI) to get the shot with flash, in case it was too dark to shoot with just ambient light also to guarantee you got an infocus shot.
    2. Learn to use the autofocus assist beam on your flash. Poor lighting can sometimes give your camera fits focusing without it.
    3. If its really dark you can drag your shutter (use a slow shutter speed). This along with a high iso will give you nice ambient light. This will also allow your flash to work much faster since it doesn't have to work so hard. The flash will freeze your subjects if its dark enough.
    4. Keep in mind also that its easier to get multiple objects in focus with a wider lens because you can use it at a wider aperture in low light. (in case you need to get groups of people in focus)
    5. get your hands on some fast primes, the less your flash has to work the better. I'd imagine as a previous poster mentioned, there should be a decent amount of light for fast primes, I can't imagine a ceremony in darkness. If you must use flash, throw it on your Rebel. Use the fast prime on your 50d since it has better low light focusing abilities, the flash has a assist beam that can help your Rebel XSI.
    6. Learn to shoot in full manual on your camera if you don't already know how. This way you can set your ISO / Shutter Speed / Aperture as close to the ambient light without losing too much quality. Let your flash kick in the rest. Since its not working at full power it will refresh real fast. I can get at least 3 shots off with flash in a bouquet toss, on or off camera flash. If you use your auto settings on your camera, you will get cave looking shots, and your flash will work to hard and over power everything and recycle slower.
  9. Yeah, like I said - I am new to the whole wedding aspect so I didn't ask a lot of the questions that were posed here.
    The location is actually 2.5 hours away so going to scope the place out for a few minutes isn't really an option, so it will be done before the wedding and impropmtu basically. So I'm trying to gain all of the information necessary so that I can make the correct decisions when I'm there.
  10. I have never used flash photography, period. I find it to be incredibly disruptive (especially for weddings and low light situations) and I'm there to document the day, not to intrude.Plus every time the flash is used it has to recharge and takes a while to keep snapping shots.​
    I hear this all the time from "professional" wedding photographers that don't know how to use flash. I also would use this excuse before I learned that flash is your best friend at a wedding, no matter the time of day. He who controls the light makes the best photos!
    Now that that's out of the way, I'll get to your dilemma.
    First of all, I'd not use already stated that you have never used flash and I see no reason to experiment on a wedding that you're getting paid for.
    Second, I'd invest in a tripod and remote release. You'll likely shoot at very slow shutter speeds even with high ISO and fast glass. People will move around, but I'd try to shoot at 1/20 - 1/30 sec on a tripod to capture the scene. You may get a bit of motion blur from the couple, but alas, such is the penalty for booking a wedding you were not prepared for.
    Third, speaking of glass, you make no mention of the lenses you will be using. You'll want/need a fast prime to get the shots. You should have a 50mm f/1.4, or at least a 50 f/1.8 in your bag. This lens will be your greatest asset. It would be better if you had multiple fast primes to make sure you can get the framing you want, but outside of the 50mm, you'll be shelling out a pretty penny for fast primes.
    Give us a shout with the lenses you will be using so we can give you some more specific advise.
  11. I don't have a flash, except the on-camera pop up flash. I borrowed a hotshoe flash when I assisted at my first wedding, and I am just not a fan of how photos turn out with flashes, at least not that I've seen. There was one photographer on here a while ago who was featured who said he never uses flash, ever and I loved his pictures. They had a lot more noise but they didn't look bad at all. He mentioned a noise removal program that could be used but I don't remember what it was called.
    She said there would be porch lights and candle lights.
    As far as using mono strobes /monolights wouldn't that be a little intrusive to the wedding ceremony / reception ?
  12. I'm a little offended when you say "I hear this all the time from "professional" photographers". It's as if you're looking down on me when I am asking for help. Just as a definition; a professional photographer is someone who makes 10% or more of their income from photography.
    The lenses I use;
    50mm 1.4
    24-70mm 2.8
    As I already stated I am fairly new to the wedding aspect, and this is why I'm asking for help, I appreciate all of the feedback everyone has given thus far.
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    OK, I understand that you don't care for Flash Photography all that much, neither do I. (but I do know how to use Flash and I have a truck load of lighting gear and I use it when necessary).
    So what lenses do you have? . . . I am waiting on the answer to Richard's question, please.
    "Give us a shout with the lenses you will be using so we can give you some more specific advise."​
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    OK, you were posting as I made the request for information.
    If you want to go sans flash then you will IMO need a 24/1.4L on your 50D and the 50/1.4 on the XSi.
    It would be best to learn, if you do not already know how, to use two cameras rather than a zoom on one camera.

    Also with the 50D you will need to shoot a little wide and visualize the crop on the long sides of about 10%
    I use Spot Metering and F&R mostly.
    The XSi maxes out at ISO1600 and I am not keen on ISO1600 with that camera unless necessary and the exposure is nailed perfectly. Do you use HTP? But if you use the 50mm on the XSi my thinking is this FL will render most low light shots with a large are of highlight (and the people will be big in frame) simply because of the tight area within which you state the Wedding will take place.
    In this regard (the venue and the tight space "the front porch") - I disagree that a fast 50mm lens will be "your greatest asset" - it could likely be quite useless.

    I think you will be working the 50D at either ISO1600 or ISO3200 – it is imperative that you get the exposure exact, on skin tones, and maybe overexpose by about ½ stop.
    I would not use the intermediate ISO settings
    There are many recent threads in this forum on Low Light Photography – research them.
  15. William can you tell us what you mean about learning to use two cameras. And do you think she should work up a flash
    routine for this wedding? The advice above about flash being useful but that it is best left off the agenda here seems right.
  16. I'll go against the grain here and provide a few alternative suggestions that don't involve buying gear you may not be able to afford, or learning flash that you don't want to use anyway.
    You say the lighting will be candles and porch lights ... therefore the atmosphere will be moody, warm and romantic. So, the guest's and participant's eyes will adjust to the "available darkness". To preserve that overall ambient feeling, and not introduce a sudden lightening burst of disruptive light, you only need to lift the over-all ambience a little bit to get it with-in the ability of your camera/lens combo at a bit more reasonable shutter speed.
    You can do this with good old incandescent constant lighting a few different ways: Find out if the owner of the house can install 100 or 150 watt bulbs in the porch lights which are usually 50 watts or less. Also, consider using a strategically placed Tungsten light on a stand to help spotlight the ceremony area so the subjects aren't back lit from the porch lights in every photo (think of it as a stage play). So called "hot" lights are the least expensive form of lighting you can buy. In fact, I've use spotlights normally used for garage lighting that you can buy at the local hardware. Once turned on, all participant's and guest's eyes will adjust to it because it is a constant.
    You still will need to goose the ISO up and use faster apertures ... preferably using a Mono-pod or tripod. On the other hand, the White Balance will be a lot easier to deal with since all the lighting will be a similar warm color temperature with the atmospheric candles being warmer than the other incandescent lighting ... plus you will be able to see exactly what the lighting looks like.
  17. Cherise -- I'm sorry I offended you, I was not intending to. It's just that there are many people in my area that call themselves professional photographers after one wedding or with no experience assisting or seconding, and very little experience, much less experience shooting wedding.
    I frequent a local camera shop regularly and I can't count the number of times I hear someone come in on a Friday night with a T2i or D5000 saying:
    "I've got a wedding tomorrow and I need a flash...what should I get?"
    I feel like telling them to call the bride and cancel so they don't disappoint after the fact. I don't because I'm in sales and I need the shop to stay in business.
    I was disappointed by my wedding photographer and I ended up taking her to court to get my money back. After 10 months, I got my day in court and my money back...and luckily I let my uncle shoot with my equipment, (he hadn't shot a wedding since the late 80's, but he still has a knack for getting the shot), otherwise I wouldn't have had a wedding album.
    BTW, the photographer that you enjoyed so much was likely Jeff Ascough. You will find that his style is very focused on where the light sources in the room are and how to effectively use them. He has years and years of experience as a PJ and is excellent at what he does. He also has a line of Photoshop Actions that help him get the exact look he shoots for.
    I did make a few suggestions before, but now that I know what you have for lenses, I'll give a few more...
    I'd use the 50 f/1.4 for the entire ceremony on your 50D. Your camera should be good up to ISO 1600 and usable at ISO 3200.
    Before the ceremony begins, take some test shots in Av mode. Shoot from wide open to f/2.0 to figure out the shutter speeds you can use. If you can shoot at 1/60 or 1/125 you should be able to hand hold for the entire ceremony. Once you are into the ceremony, I would shoot in Tv (shutter priority) at the slowest shutter speed you are comfortable shooting at. Let the camera select your aperture and remember that it's better to have a smaller aperture so your DOF is a bit larger and you can get more in focus.
    If you can't shoot faster than 1/60 sec, I'd use a tripod and remote release. You may get a bit of motion blur, but if you time the shots right you can usually avoid it.
    Use spot metering and meter to either the bride's dress or skin.
    If you are shooting wide open, keep in mind that your DOF is very shallow so you need to be square on the B&G so they are both in focus. Make sure that you focus on the bride and/or groom's eyes.
    I don't shoot Canon, but here's a shot I just took of my porch so you can see what you'll be getting into:
  18. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “learning to use two cameras”

    I meant carrying and using two cameras at one time – one with a wide lens loaded and one with a slightly telephoto (24 and 50 in this example).
    As opposed to carrying and using one camera, with a zoom lens on it.
    There are two main differences: the first being the understanding of Primes and Perspective and Framing – and understanding that there is no such thing as “zooming with your feet” – because when you move you feet you change the Perspective – when you zoom with a zoom lens - you do not.
    The second difference is the logistics and the carriage of two cameras: right down to how they are slung: for example for those two cameras & lenses I would have the 50D on a wrist strap and the XSi around my neck.
    To be clear – if the OP decides to use the 24L that decision does not necessarily necessitate BUYING a new lens: if it can be rented or borrowed.
    Regarding using constant (additional) hot tungsten light on a stand: I suggest you are versed apropos site insurance, applicable to your situation and locale.
  19. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "And do you think she should work up a flash routine for this wedding? The advice above about flash being useful but that it is best left off the agenda here seems right."
    Answering this direct question, with neither disrespect to nor comment upon the OP nor any other Photographer, specifically.
    My position is: that it is UN-professional to take on the mantle of a Professional (wedding) Photographer with zero skills in Flash and Studio Lighting. Defining “Professional” via a % of income is skipping the point / ducking and weaving - IMO.
    Knowing HOW TO shoot in a difficult lighting situation with fill / bounce/ diffused / multiple Flash / etc and then deciding to go Sans Flash is a different kettle of kippers.
    Being a Portrait Photographer and using Available Light in mostly controlled settings is also a different kettle of kippers: there is leverage in the controlled situation and the sitting can be expanded, postponed, re-gigged, re scheduled.
    But a Wedding is an Event - just like the Pianist sitting down for the Rach V – the Conductor starts – there is the Beginning and the End – and no excuses in between. Break a finger, fall of the stool, no excuses the orchestra keeps playing and the piano must be there, on time, on beat, in key – no excuses, no second go. So if D# is screwed up then the “Professional” plays the whole concerto and never uses D# . . .
    Stating that as my position I now will address the question as it pertains to the OP.
    I have no idea of the skill, discipline, drive or potential of the OP. I do know that she is about 24 years old and seems to have a passion for Photography. It also seems to me, from her previous comments, that she might not know how to get the full image value out of what some term mediocre or inferior gear. That is not a criticism merely a comment, predicating this following comment:
    I believe that for Wedding in October there is ample time for an operator with reasonable intellect and drive and ability to ask the right questions and to listen to the answers - to nail down pat ALL the necessary basic skills using one flash head / bounce / and diffusion to make an adequate coverage given the broad outline of the shooting scenario for this Wedding.
    The reason why I answered the OP’s question as I did (suggesting an addition lens only) - was that she seemed so passionate about going sans Flash and also so passionate about not disturbing the venue with Lights, Flash and Things.
    As to whether: “Do I think she should work up a Flash routine for this Wedding” - what I think is not worth a pinch of Cockie Poo if she is not 100% behind the idea: but my best guess is that if she is behind the idea she will do it – and do it easily. So in this regard I disagree with the opinions that there is not enough time to learn Basic Flash, per se.
    As to whether I think the OP should Master Flash Techniques if she wants to be a Professional Wedding Photographer – Yes, I think she should.
  20. Well...I would still be interested in getting answers to my questions, above. I did think that it might be possible to shoot available light--for the ceremony. However, not for the processional, if it is in the dark outside and below the porch. Also because people are moving. I don't think adequate images can be gotten of the processional without flash...probably...since I don't know the circumstances. The pop up will not be nice at all to use on the processional, particularly for verticals.
    Now, you can arrange to have each couple stop and take a slower shutter image. But even that is probably going to have some motion blur. Also, overhead lighting produces fairly awful eye socket shadows/downlighting.
    My thinking is--if you are going to need an external flash for the processional, you might as well have it in case you need it for the rest of the ceremony, or so that you can use both flash and available light. Personally, going to the ceremony, not being able to see it beforehand at the same time of the ceremony, without having a Plan B, is not wise.
    My suggestion is to get or rent an external flash, get or rent a flash bracket and learn how to use it minimally so that if forced to, you can at least get pictures. You can go to Neil van Niekerk's blog to teach yourself the finer points of bouncing flash. You may be able to learn it all in a month, but there is a lot to learn, and bouncing flash is not particularly easy or simple to do. If you get into bouncing, you will definitely need good NiMh batteries and a good charger, or even an external battery pack.
    You may not be able to answer specific questions about the location, but you can answer questions about the start of the ceremony, and how the processional will be set. You can ask if there are steps to the porch and how many, and what color the walls and ceiling of the porch are, as well as approximately how big the porch is and where the couple and officiant will stand. If you can answer these, you will get more useful suggestions from people, for both available light and flash use.
  21. I'm thinking you still have time to buy a good flash, read up and learn how to get good pictures with it, and practice enough to get it dialed in for decent images. You will have to work at it to get practiced enough in the short time you have, but you can do it. You don't have to use flash for most of your shots, but I think it's worth doing, and it's something you should learn to do well if you're going to stick with this business. There are too many situations during weddings and receptions that beg for good flash work.
    If you do decide to get a flash, make it a Canon 580EXII (not a 430EXII), and also buy the CP-E4 battery pack for it so you don't have to wait for it to recycle. There are other options, but that is one of the least expensive good ones for fast flash work.
    But if you're not going to get the flash, I think you really should get some more fast primes. You can rent for a while, but again, if you're going to stick with this business you really ought to either get some seriously fast glass or a couple good flash units. Probably both. Also, if you're going to go the fast glass route, you ought to consider moving up to a full frame camera soon.
    The 50D can do well enough to work with good raw processing and/or good noise removal software. It will compete fairly well against a new 7D at 3200 and 6400 ISO if processed right. But you will need to use the right software to do it.
    I don't know where the 10% definition for a professional came from, but I disagree with it.
  22. The notion that alternative thinking other than what others always do is pretty narrow thinking IMO. Strobe lighting should be part of a wedding shooter's kit, however it need not be the only solution. I've used constant lighting to accomplish exactly what the OP desires to do creatively and it does work to maintain the look and atmosphere without constant strobe interruptions at a dark venue.
    It should be noted that constant lighting is becoming an increasingly popular alternative with the advent of video capabilities in DSLRs. In fact, very interesting video lighting has come to the forefront for just this purpose ... including cool running LED lights.
    BTW WW, I don't think "site" insurance is a necessary comment at a home wedding featuring lit candle lighting. Photos for money should involve some liability insurance anyway ... but in this case using a constant light isn't any more "dangerous" than a mono-strobe on a stand or anything on a stand.
    Rent or borrow an EF24/1.4? This assumes there is a pretty big rental house where the OP lives, or that she knows someone with such an exotic and expensive lens ... or that if she did, they would loan it out. I sure wouldn't ... not even to my best friend ... LOL!
  23. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    The ADDITIONAL Hot Light(s) (which is what I was referring to NOT the existing lights on the porch . . . and you know that is what I was referring to) and a stand (also what I was referencing - and you know that too) - in a small space and outside = “have insurance” in my book –
    I dunno how you run your business - I run mine carefully.

    AUS is MUCH smaller (in populous) than the USA and we can get a24L overnight in most Capital Cites and two days in country areas . . .
    I didn't know it was so difficult in the States to rent a 24L...
  24. There are lots of very good replies so far with different approaches.
    I was thinking there is a risk of the cart driving the horse here though. There are lots of suggestions about how to get usable images, but I'm thinking that the approach ought to be driven by the aesthetics you want to achieve. Each suggestion will achieve quite different looks to the images. You can experiment and try different approaches to get different looks, there's nothing to say that you have to stick to one suggestion only. Then if you don't like the look of one approach, you can switch to another. Or even better use the different approaches to get creative variety.
    My initial reaction (maybe just based on ignorance of porches) is that it has all sorts of possibilities and could lead to beautiful images. Garden lit by candles, a romantic porch, probably all sorts of decorations and lanterns around, dusk falling, perhaps a roaring barbeque with smoke drifting through the scene etc... Hopefully it's not so much a difficult situation as a great opportunity.
    For me, the starting priority would be recording some of the atmosphere of the party, which would mean starting off by working with what is there, then adding extra light on if and when I wanted it for a particular purpose.
    First of all - don't miss this best of all time when the delicate dusk light is mixing with all these light sources. this is likely to be the time when the loveliest looking images are to be obtained. Don't kill them with a flash!
    After that, when it's got really dark - I'm not very familiar with typical porch light arrangments. But 50W bulbs on a high ceiling are one thing, 50W bulbs on a low porch ought to make people near them nice and bright. Of course, it may also mean that the lighting is predominantly from above. If the porch is painted a light colour, light will get bounced around and if there are a few candles/lanterns around it could be quite beautiful lighting. If the porch is painted dark and gloomy and there's nothing but a few energy saving bulbs from above that may be more tricky, you will get more high contrast across the scene - though almost certainly at a wedding like this there will be some extra lights even if it's just candles, chains of LED's, lanterns or whatever, which should be fine as providing fill lighting. You might like to suggest the bride thinks of sticking some kind of lanterns at a lower level around the scene. Just have a plan to provide a glow from below just in case it really is only hard lighting from above. Hard lighting from above can provide fantastic individual images, but just occasionally they may want people's faces to be visible!
    It's quite possible to take great pictures by candlelight without additional lighting, but generally you'll be concentrating on faces closer to the candles brightly lit by them, or the overall scene. Of course, a tripod to record the overall scene, fields of candles or whatever could be handy - it means you can switch to a lower ISO and record a vastly improved dynamic range.
    Typically the reception will go on for long enough for you to have plenty of time to experiment with all sorts of looks.
    As a Plan B in case I don't like the look of the lighting, and also to allow for posed portraits, I'd take along some kind of a tungsten balanced video light. It doesn't have to be expensive - some kind of traditional light bulb attached to a battery or on a loooong mains cable would do. Not so much for use to rescue the situation, more because you might have a creative idea that involves getting a bit of light into a particular position.
    I'd also have flashes with me, but from my visualisation of the typical porch scenario, I think it'd be hard to get them blending with the existing lighting in a seamless way - too close to people on the porch and the light can look brutal, too far out and it can look too bland and brutal. Because the flash is a small hard light source, you would need some plan to make it merge with existing lighting less obtrusively, like a huge diffuser and having the flash weak, or placing a number of small flashes discreetly at hidden spots around the porch, using an all round bulb flash hidden inside a lamp, experimenting with various colour gels on them, or whatever but they are all pretty advanced techniques requiring some expensive radio slaves, and even then not guaranteed to look good. Of course it's possible to be more creative with flash, but I think the limited area of a porch would require a lot of skill. The alternative is to go for an on-camera Weegee look, or give up and use the on-camera flash to provide a bit of fill on the people closest to you. Hopefully you will have got mug shots of key players earlier on in the day, so the party pictures are more about atmosphere and fun.
    As for lenses, 24mm f1.4 would of course be nice. I would like one myself. The 50mm f1.4 wil be extremely useful, but also limiting in the confined space of a porch. You may end with a lot of close ups of people's faces and not so much dynamic context. 35mm is also a nice focal length, and a 35mm f2 is not so expensive or hard to get hold of (at least in Nikon, I'm guessing Canon do something similar).
  25. Look William W ... I said up front that it was an alternative to preserve the ambience the OP desired to accomplish ... I did not say it was best or a make a competitive statement negating other more conventional approaches ... which I also acknowledged.
    How is "outside" a small space?
  26. BTW, good info on the rentals Richard. Less expensive than I'd have imagined.
  27. For anyone renting lenses, I would highly recommend renting for 4-5 days so you have a few days to practice with the focal length before the event and a few days after the event to play with the lens to see if it's something you would purchase and use regularly.
  28. So some actual experience. When I was doing weddings I did one indoors at night at a waterside inn. The bride and groom wanted all Black and White. They wanted just twelve or so candles with no other light for the ceremony. It was so dark with just the candles that I could not focus tightly. I was using a Bronica body and a Vivitar 283 flash. I warned them that I would have to use flash. I got a ladder from the hotel. It was so dark you couldn't see the ladder. I set the f stop at f 16 to assure depth of field on the 75mm lens I was using, turned the flash output on high, got on the ladder and fired it into the ceiling. I did externally meter before the ceremony. I got some great pictures and had a very happy client. I was using ISO 400 film as I remember. When I started with a local paper the other photographer and I taught ourselves how to use flash fill with the Vivitars. I used fill flash in many subsequent weddings. Flash fill particularly has saved many a picture for me in high contrast settings and where the light, particularly at dusk is very iffy. I still think I got more predictable results from the 283s than I do with my current Canon EX series on ETTL. To me the real enemy in trying to shoot in low light without flash aid is high contrast as evidenced in blocked up shadows or burnt out highlights. I cannot advise the the OP only to say that probably due to my own limitations flash bailed me out of some very difficult lighting situations both at the paper and with my weddings. It was there in the bag so that when I got uncomfortable with ambient light I could pull it out. I have always looked upon it as insurance. If used properly it should be difficult to tell that fill flash was used.
  29. I will probably rent the recommended lens. I do appreciate the help and trust me the last thing I want to do is take awful pictures for anyone. My wedding photographer faked their portfolio and references and completely scammed my husband and I. We have 2 pictures from our wedding that were taken by the "professional", which is why I wanted to get into wedding photography, I have a huge desire to produce the best quality photographs possible because I know how much it sucks not to get them.
    I do plan to learn how to use flash, I just can't afford to buy a bunch of new equipment right now. I understand that it's an investment and I will make the investment when I am able to, right now is not that time though. So I would like to work as much with the equipment that I have available and learn to use it to the best ability that I am able to.
    I understand how to use ISO, and aperture settings, I just thought that some people may have some unique ideas on how to get good shots without being a disturbance, something I may not have thought of on my own. That's why I come here, to learn from people who are better than I am.
    As far as others being rude on here, I think it's unnecessary, different people understand things differently and may have their own opinions on how to do things and "WW" you seem to understand things and can't understand why others don't understand what you already know, but you have to realize that everyone starts somewhere and can't automatically be 'the best'. It takes hard work, determination and learning from those who have been there.
    Thanks for all of the useful information everyone.
  30. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “people understand things differently and may have their own opinions on how to do things and "WW" you seem to understand things and can't understand why others don't understand what you already know, but you have to realize that everyone starts somewhere and can't automatically be 'the best'.”​
    I know that people understand and learn things in different ways.
    I realize that everyone starts and it is a learning journey. I am still learning.
    If there is any point I made here which requires clarification ask me about it, be specific.
    I have just re-read the thread.
    I can see is no point in this conversation, where I expected you, or anyone, including myself, to “be the best”.
    If there is something troubling you or not clear to you in this regard, point to it specifically, such that it can be clarified.
  31. I think lens rental via mail is definitely a reality., for instance, can help you no matter where you live, as long as you can receive a mail delivery. This might help the OP get a faster lens if she needs it, though it seems like she may be well equipped.
    I was concerned about this:
    The location is actually 2.5 hours away so going to scope the place out for a few minutes isn't really an option.
    Why did you take the job if it's that far away and you won't make the drive to scout the location? I am sorry, but that does not sound very professional. This is their wedding and the day won't come again. You know you're new to the business and still need some more experience, and one easy way to help yourself is to scout the location at the same time as the event, bring a friend if you can, and try some test shots. Try a few different equipment strategies. Bring some candles and see how it goes for you. Really, the practice will totally help you. I am just getting started myself and location scouting has saved me every time. Do it. It's worth the gas and the time in the car. That, and practicing at home in similar lighting conditions, will get you the shots you need for this couple's wedding day. I am sure you don't want to disappoint them even though they have a tough lighting scenario, so do what you can in advance, such as scouting. Unless you have to take a plane ride, I don't see why you wouldn't do it. You took the job, which I think implies you are willing to do what it takes to handle their location, even if it's 2.5 hours away. That's professional.
    I understand your feeling about flash, but I think you should at least get a few shots with flash so you know you have something with proper depth of field and enough light. It doesn't have to be popping every minute - maybe just 5-6 times - but if you've practiced with it by the day of the ceremony, it would be good to figure a few places where you'll really need it. Again, this is where scouting the location will pay off.
    I cannot encourage you enough to go and scout.
  32. Cherise, I have to point out couple of things here.
    We cannot know your photographic level of knowledge. It is common for beginners to say they don't like flash because they are afraid of it. I would not be offended so easily. If you dislike flash so much, then don't use it, but give the benefit of the doubt to other wedding photographers who may suggest that you learn it, because it is a big part of covering weddings, even for people who don't use flash a lot. I am sure that if Jeff Ascough needed to use flash--and it would take a lot for him to do so--he would know how to do it. Neil Ambrose, who posts here often, does not use flash a lot, and Simon Crofts, above, also doesn't use flash a lot, but they both know how to use it well, and have.
    Your question is, "Are there any tips that anyone can give me?". The question does not specify that one should not suggest you get a flash and learn to use one, and that if you haven't already, you aren't a professional. Maybe the mark of a professional is knowing when he or she needs to do something different--even the thing they hate--to meet client expectations? I'm not saying you should get a flash, learn to use it and use it for this wedding. Partly because I would not make any such suggestions without knowing the situation, which you say you don't know except it will be dark and on a porch, with candles.
    As for some of the suggestions above, I'd add the following.
    1. Intrusiveness of flash vs. constant light. Obviously, not adding any other light is the best, because people don't notice the light that is there and planned for. I would also say that it would be a toss up for me, as far as intrusiveness of flash vs. a big constant light source on a stand, even if people got used to it. Same for a big and bright spotlight put into the ceiling of the porch. Just because it is constant light doesn't make it automatically unobtrusive. I'm not saying a monolight flash on a stand or flashes fixed into the porch ceilings aren't also intrusive--just questioning whether brighter constant light is less intrusive. Also, most porch light fixtures do not take anything higher than 60 watts--at least the ones on my porch don't. But much depends on the porch itself, which we know nothing about.
    2. Constant light sources can be just as hard and harsh as direct flash--more, even. And since porch lights are in the ceiling, they are downlight, not bounced, soft light. Now, suggesting to the bride that she hang a lot of paper lanterns might be a good idea--softer, lower light but a lot of them, so the overall illumination is raised, but not in an obvious way, and they are decorative. You don't have to use real flames. They make fake flames these days.
    3. I still think the smartest thing to do is to have a flash as back up, and possibly a flash bracket. There is still the processional to consider, as I stated above. When dealing with subject motion, you do not have many choices. There are no good tips beyond (dragging the shutter with flash) increasing the shutter speed to stop subject motion, and hoping you have enough good high ISO to allow you to do so with your wide aperture lenses, which are a bear to focus accurately in both low light and with wide apertures. Flash *can* look very bad on porches, I think, since you have the porch wall fairly close to the subjects, and if you have any stairs behind the subjects, that ugly shadow can be seen. However, if you need flash, you need flash, and flash used as subtle fill does not need to produce those shadows. It is frontal light that porch lights lack (the typical porch lights).
    4. I would also be looking into noise control software. You do know that noise is made worse if you underexpose and try to bring up the exposure in post processing... I just looked at some wedding photos for a venue I shot in last night. Indoors, with very low light. The samples I saw looked good at first (they were online) but when you looked at them closely, you realize that the exposures were pulled up considerably and the Dad's gray suit had the rainbow texture of color noise. Now, I personally would not want to be giving my clients something like this. So I used some flash when I shot there. All aesthetic considerations aside, there are client expectations to consider as well.
    5. Your idea of just showing up with several alternatives may seem like a good idea at first, but when you examine exactly what you need to do to accomplish this, you will be both spinning your wheels and spending money unnecessarily. Not buying anything really, but rentals can add up fast, and if you can't afford to buy a flash unit, not sure you want to rent a bunch of lenses only to find out you really can't use them after all. My opinion--you need to focus your approach much more finely.
  33. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "How is "outside" a small space?"

    Marc - my meaning was Mains Power "outside" & / or Light Stands in a small space (on the porch) with lots of people, could be more dangerous than a reception hall for example.

  34. Why not ask the bride to take a few snaps of location so you know how it looks? It'll save you some gas.
    And try to gain some more intel on how they intend to light the place? I assume you know how many guests will be attending? Basically try to collect as much information as possible to know what you are up against - know thy enemy :)
    Then you can practice in similar lighting so you know what your images will look like. Remember that the camera doesn't see what your eyes do so you may be in for some surprises.
    Personally I would not dare to shoot something like that without having access to flash - at least as a backup plan. Looking at the rental site linked above a 580EX is only 30 bucks for 4 days.
    If you just put the flash in the hotshoe and put your camera in automatic it will look horrible. If you want flash to look good you need to put an orange color filter (CTO gel) over it and you need it to be equal to or weaker than the ambient light. And usually you need to set the white balance on the camera manually. If you shoot flash like this in low light recycling will be instantaneously.
  35. Great suggestion, emailed photo reconnaissance or site visit. There are so many porches. Maybe it will be like in
    Charleston or Savannah, light and airy, but what about heavy Virginia creeper adding to the shade of a California
    bungalow with the stucco done in a dark color? It could be a nightmare.
  36. Just to expand on the use of constant light as alternative thinking because it is a resource not often discussed here verses the standard "flash" answers. Again, I think this application is a good place to think about it as a resource to preserve the ambient mood and feeling of a romantic candle lit outdoor wedding ... whether the OP chooses to use such a notion or not.
    A perfect example to offer here is how many of us actually use a Videographer's light to enhance a near available light situation ... usually at a reception. Neil Ambrose has commented on how he sometimes does that ... I also often use it that way, with or without the use of a speed-light on camera.
    In this specific case I would not place the constant lights in a confined space like overhead on the porch, and never said as much. I'd use it as directional "fill" over-all and it would NOT be a super bright source either ...because it would overpower the existing ambient light. The notion is to simply lift the over-all ambience enough to shoot "available light" more successfully.
    Many inexpensive Video lights come with reostats or ND filters, as well as Tungsten and wide angle diffusion filters that are designed to uniformly cover a 16:9 aspect ratio common to video when shooting in tungsten dominated venues ... like porch lights and candles. Placed high on a stand at the rear of an outdoor ceremony scenario such as this, pointed down to add general ambient fill ... it is neither shining in the eyes of anyone, harsh, nor intrusive. It just generally lifts the ambient level.
    BTW, these can also be rented.
    For those with a preference for the available light feel ... much can be learned from looking at how Videographers use supplemental light since they HAVE to use constant lighting, so speed-lights are not an option ... and if it were that dangerous as implied in previous posts, they wouldn't be using it in a crowded reception or at a wedding.
  37. I couldn't imagine myself going on any professional assignment without at least a few flashes and diffuser attachments in my bag ready to go. As for Jeff Ascough, he's Jeff Ascough and has fantastic equipment and brilliant skills, I'm not him so I'll still bring my flash.
  38. Marc--I didn't say constant lights are intrusive or harsh all the time, or that you were suggesting putting them in the porch ceiling. What I said was, constant lights or flash--both can be intrusive or not intrusive, depending upon use. Being a constant light does not automatically mean it is less intrusive.
    For instance, your idea of putting a video light on a stand at the back of the ceremony for subtle fill is a good idea. But, and I'm not advocating either, a flash at the back of the ceremony, gelled to match tungsten, can also do the same thing. As for intrusiveness--these days, I'm thinking flashes are not noticed so much by people (you'll probably have a lot of guest flashes going off anyway) so personally, I'd call it a wash. Also, ugly shadow production would be the same for either one--it can be subtle or not subtle, either one.
    How about wrapping the porch railings and columns, particularly the entrance, with stings of Christmas lights? I've even seen ones that are mini lanterns--round globes. That could cast frontal fill on the couple if they were standing in the opening.
  39. I wasn't just addressing your thoughts on the matter Nadine ... WW thought I meant putting the lighting on the porch ... i.e., confined space.
    The idea of getting more party lighting is a good one. It adds to the festive feel, and does provide more ambient lighting.
  40. I have never used flash photography, period. I find it to be incredibly disruptive (especially for weddings and low light situations)​
    wait until the uncle bob pulls out his P&S you'd be amazed how disruptive flash can be and there's nothing you can do about it.

    In this situation I always use available light and that's happens to be my flash.
  41. Get a shoe flash right now and practice every day.
    Learn to do fill flash and to find reflectors in the environment if possible.
    In a dark environment, put the camera in program and point the flash straight ahead.
    It's not as disruptive as you think.
    ISO 800 even 1600 with modern cameras and flash looks good.
    The guests will be there poppying away with their pocket cameras. No one will care.
    They will care a lot of your pictures look crappy because you didn't use light.
    Get a Lumiquest pocket bouncer to raise the apparent source of light a few inches.
    If you are 7-10 feet away most people won't notice until the flash goes off. With posed pictures, no problem.
  42. Cherise, You have already received great advice here. As the professional vendor/service-provider that you will be on the day, I think you would be doing the couple (and yourself) a disservice by not getting to grips with flash. It's like the old adage, you need to know the rules before you can break them. These are my thoughts: <p>1. Looking at your kit, you will face challenges when you need to go wider and be able to focus (i.e faster lens/wider max aperture). 50mm is pretty long on your crop bodies. Frankly I think at the very least you will need a flash and then learn how to use it. Niel van Niekerk has some super tutorials on this. Search for his 'tangents' page. Trust me, once you learn how to use it creatively, it will make you that much more confident to document the couple's day (night in your case :)) And it's not that difficult.
    <p>2. Making a pre-visit to gauge what the actual ambient light levels will be nigh on critical in your case. 2.5hrs drive is a relatively small price to pay in preparation for capturing once-in-a-lifetime images.
    <p>3. More than likely, guests will be pulling out their P&S's and possibly dSLRs and snapping away, with flash... So you may well be the least disruptive entity on the night. Remember, it is your job to capture life-long images and if that entails using supplemental lighting, then by golly, do it!
    <p>4. Neither the 50D nor the XSi are exactly known for stellar ISO performance. They are however, both capable cameras. Flash will, IMO, give you that extra bit of insurance.
    <p>5. Having looked at your (small) portfolio here on PN, you seem a competent photographer and I think with focus and dedication, you can certainly deliver on this assignment. Just don't dismiss flash. It is (relatively speaking) the cheapest, most reliable option and will allow you mobility and versatility that you can ill-afford to overlook. Used appropriately, it can be almost imperceptible.
    <p>Finally, you'll need to develop a bit of a thick skin on PN. Many giving advice here have been pro wedding shooters for many years and (rightly so) are very passionate about their craft. If you take offence at some of the stern advice you receive, you'll miss the point and glaze over some critical pointers.
  43. I understand that there are very seasoned photographers on this forum, which is why I asked the question here.. However, there's a thin line between being stern and being rude. I do take offense to some things, but being that my original college major was counseling, I do my best to express that something offended me and give whoever said it the chance to explain in case I misread or misunderstood. It's also a reason I don't always respond right away, because sometimes it can just be irritating and I don't want to respond when I'm irritated, and when I cool off I can come back and re-read the information and pull away the helpful parts and ignore the non-helpful parts.
    I understand that learning to do flash is beneficial, my only problem is the least expensive flash someone recommended was $450, which to those who have been doing it a while it might not be that big of a deal, but right now I really don't have that kind of money. I understand that better products cost more money and that you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to photography, so I'm reluctant to buy anything less expensive in fear that it wont be good quality and I will have wasted my money. So it leaves me in a bit of a pickle, because yes I could rent a flash but in order to rent it to practice with and then for the wedding would almost cost as much as just buying the flash itself.
  44. Personally, Cherise, I don't think anyone who answered has been rude to you. In fact, I think everyone who answered has tried to help you, or they wouldn't have bothered to answer at all.
    That aside, I see that you have several options.
    1. Try to influence the client in putting up as much lighting as possible. Such as the strands of lights I linked to above. Understand the idea is to raise the illumination a bit, particularly frontal illumination, which is why I suggested the strings be wrapped around the vertical posts of the porch, or lanterns hung at varying levels, some fairly low and in front of where the couple will stand. Alternatively, bring them yourself, but this is a much bigger risk, since you will have to find plugs for them and the time to string them up, not to mention the expense.
    2. Rent a continuous light with stand, as Marc Willliams suggested. This should be placed fairly far back, because distance from light to subject influences what is called 'fall off' of the light. Placed farther back, the light 'feels' less contrasty. Put it close, such as right on the porch, and you will get much more contrasty and hard to control light. You have to be able to control the strength of the light, and it should not overpower the actual existing light. If circumstances allow, you could bounce the light off a wall or some other structure, but without knowing the porch and how people will be standing, this is a risk. Don't forget you will have to find a plug for the unit or rent a battery as well, and bring looooonnng extension cords. Also be aware of safety issues--with the cords and with tip over.
    3. Even if you rent a continuous light or raise the actual light levels, you will probably need wide aperture primes. You have a 50 1.4, and that's great. You will need that 24mm f1.4. Realize that focus accuracy is very important in such dim light. Autofocus will have trouble, possibly, and used at f1.4, either lens will have extremely narrow depth of field, but the 50mm more so. Brush up on depth of field. Go to and read up, look at the kinds of DOF you will get with the lenses used at the anticipated subject distances. You may also want to practice manual focus. As I said, focus accuracy and speed will suffer greatly. If you get a flash, learn how to set it so that the flash doesn't fire but the focus assist still helps you focus. It only functions in One Shot autofocusing. I think both cameras can use the pop up flash for focus assist, but that is even more disturbing than using flash itself.
    4. You need not spend $450 for the flash. A 430EX II will do fine, and new at B&H, it is $280. You can try to find the 430EX original, used for less money. Metz makes a 48AF that is comparable for about $225. The difference between the 430EX II and the 580EX II is basically power and some other features, such as being able to use an external battery pack, etc. If you get into flash beyond using it only when you need to, you can always buy the 580EX II later, and then you'll have a back up flash (always good, if you use flash at all). As mentioned several times, start reading Neil van Niekerk's articles on on camera flash. There is a lot to learn. Just remember that outside at night, there may not be much to bounce your flash off, so you will have to deal with the ugly shadow issue if you shoot any vertical images. Go also, to the Demb Diffuser website, if not to purchase the diffuser--to learn how to use your flash tilt and swivel functions for white card bounce. You can certainly make your own white card, and that costs next to nothing.
    5. I would still start asking the client questions about start time, type of porch and how the set up will be. Even ask for a picture of the porch, as suggested by some above. Realize that most weddings start late, so if they tell you a 6pm start time, for instance, be prepared to shoot as much as an hour later, especially at a home wedding, where there is no pressure about time. If you plan for x amount of ambient light at dusk, you may find all of your calculations go out the window because the ceremony starts later.
    6. I would also find out about the processional, if any. This is where you may be forced to use flash to get unblurred images. For this be sure to research dragging the shutter.
  45. Given the time crunch I think a shoe flash is your best option, and something you need anyway.
    To save money, A Sunpak PZ42X is a good option at about $150 from B&H.
    It uses 4 AA's and has a head that turns as well as tilts, which is a very useful feature because you can bounce off all kinds of things.
    It has a full range of manual power settings in 1 stop increments. You can fine tune with your ISO settings and histograms.
    Get a piece of foamcore about 16x20 from an art supply store for your own bounce source. In a dark place you can hold that and your camera and get good light. Or have someone hold it for you.
    Use P mode to start and set the ISO at 800 to 1600. With flash this will look good for candids. For the posed shots not much more than ISO 200 for best quality.
  46. If you intend on shooting with flash, I suggest looking into Nissin Flash units. They're shoe mount and, AFAIK, are 100% compatible with Canon's E-TTL system.
    The Di622 (comparable to the 430EX) can be purchased for around $170
    The Di866 (comparable to the 530EX II) can be purchased for around $330
    A friend uses these for his Canon system and likes them more than his Canon flashguns. Just another suggestion to try to save you some money vs buying Canon.
  47. I would have to agree with the pp that suggested to go out and scout the location. I have two weddings coming up next summer 6 hours away from me and you will be darn sure that I'm going to go out and scout the location. Do you know the bride and groom? Are they friends? The reason I am asking is because I would find it unprofessional and strange if my wedding photographer asked me to send them pictures of the front of my house. 2 or 3 hours is not THAT far away. On the other hand, if you know the couple well, to ask them to send pictures would be a little less intrusive. Since the rude card has been brought up, I'll note that my comment is not meant to be rude or insulting, just my opinion :)
  48. Some reasons to use shoe flash:
    1. Sharper pictures due to motion stopping.
    2. More saturated colors.
    3. Better skin tone.
    4. Less noise in high-ISO pictures.
    5. Focus assist lights.
    6. Better modeling because available light can be very flat.
  49. Hello..hello.. I am a professional photograher but do not shoot it at a daily base.
    However, I am very educated in the profession, and most of the time I get work here there. Of last, I shot a wedding but to my surprise some of the church photograhs were under expose. Now here I am woundering what i must have done wrong.
    I shoot with the mamiya 645AFD my film portra 160VC 400VC. my flash metz T54 with a quantum battery attach to. With the mamiya 645AFD once on auto indoor it read 60 shutter and F stop 2.8 for the lens opening and 80mm lens which is what I use to shoot most of the images indoor. I did not meter the church lighting inside assuming my flash was powerful enough.
    So based on the above if any one can help to point out what i must have done wrong I will be pleased.
    Thank you very much.
    Victor Ngaling
    Saint Paul MN
  50. Victor, the obvious answer is, your flash wasn't powerful enough to light up the whole church. Also, on auto exposure, the aperture would have gone to the widest aperture available (f2.8), and if the flash was on, 1/60th is a common shutter chosen by automatic exposure programs. Moral of the story is--don't rely on automatic exposure for this kind of scene, where you had vast spaces and distant subjects, or if you do, know from experience whether you can get away with it.

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