Is it Possible to Shoot a Wedding with no flash?

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by jon_kobeck|1, Jul 10, 2011.

  1. With todays high iso DSLRs and fast zooms, is it possible or even desirable to shoot an entire wedding with no flash? I'm curious
    about this because in my personal work I hate flash and never use it.
    Thinking about a Nikon D7000 with a fast zoom.

  2. It's certainly possible. I've done ones in which very little flash was used, and I probably could have gotten away with none at all.
    The more relevant question perhaps is it advisable. In answer to that, I would say a completely unambiguous no(!). While you could explain away (and perhaps very reasonably so) no flash in many, if not the vast majority of shots (depending of course on how you shoot), I find it highly unlikely that there aren't always going to be some instances where flash will be either required or at least helpful, whether it's using the flash as fill to break up facial shadows in harsh daylight, or bouncing it to freeze motion later in the evening. I can't say I've ever been to a wedding where a flash didn't at some point become very very very helpful in making beautiful images better.
    As a further comment, this isn't your personal work. I hate flash when I can avoid it, but when somebody's paying me to get the best pictures I can, then I feel obligated to get the best pictures I can take given the limitations of the setting, rules, proper etiquette, and portable equipment. Flash is an essential part of that, and the inability, or unwillingness, to do that is completely unprofessional.
    In a nutshell, I guess I'd summarize with: Yes, but don't do it(!) :)
  3. It makes as much sense to 'hate flash' as it does to hate light. Flash is frequently needed according to the conditions.....and it would be better for you to learn how to use it as an asset.
  4. it


    If you have a wedding with perfect lighting conditions, or you are Jeff Ascough, it's easy.
    Otherwise, you better have a flash (or two) in your bag and know how to use it.
  5. Ian I just had a look at Jeff Ascough's site. The images on his site and blog are quite remarkable!!!
    Any ideas on what kind of gear he uses and what his technique is? I see no mention of it on his blog, not surprisingly.
    My guess is high speed film, I see a lot of grain.
  6. Jon, there's a lot of information on this site about Jeff Ascough:
  7. An aspect of flash photography that's often forgotten is that it's more than just something to use when needed, it can be used as a distinct part of your palette. You can use flash to create interesting light that did not otherwise exist. Two very good resources are and
    To address the original question, is it possible ... yes, but why limit yourself?
  8. One could, but I wouldn't. Flash helps the faces and eyes stand out. Not all photos require flash, but many do.
  9. Yes, you can shoot an entire wedding sans any flash. I just did one yesterday. 450 shots. Zero flash.
    It was mostly outdoors on a nice day. But a bunch of shots were also inside an old farm house.
    Because I didn't use a flash doesn't mean I hate flash or don't know how to use it. Force yourself to learn how to effectively use the lighting tools available to you, and once you master it, you can choose not to use it when you wish.
    Shooting available light is not as easy as just not using a flash. It really requires mastering the ability to see the light and use it effectively ... where and how to place a subject ... or in the case of candid work, where to place your self in relation to the subject and the ambient light direction. It means not only seeing where the light is, but evaluating the quality of light that's available to use.
    Many, if not all, of the masters of candid photography (aka: Decisive Moment), shot available light. None of them had the tools we have to work with today.
    However, be aware of what the pitfalls are: If shooting color, there are a whole other set of things to be aware of when shooting ambient light only ... for example if shooting outdoors in a wooded area, the prevailing cast is green from the foliage ... which can taint the brides dress and produce ghastly skin tones, especially in the shaded areas of the face. You can pretty much forget about using auto white balance in a case like that.
    You also have to know how to expose in ambient conditions, especially high contrast conditions. The dynamic range of most popular DSLRs is not up to the task ... so you have to make decisions about the lighting and expose accordingly ... knowing full well that something will have to give on one end of the tonal scale or the other.
  10. um, I would say that I hate using flash too and go without whenever I can. With that being said, I do know how to utilize flash and use is effectively :/ Hating flash =/= hating light.
  11. I would say that unless you get to pick where the bride and groom are standing, and where all the lights in the room are (or the sun outdoors), then yes - you need a flash.
    Now I doubt that you'll need a flash for all, or even most, of the shots. But a lot of your scenes WILL be backlit, and you should have a flash for that. There are plenty of other reasons that were already mentioned, but at the very least you should never be putting yourself in a situation where you can't get the shot.
    And as mentioned, paid work is not personal work. If you ever get to the point in your career that they are one and the same, then I salute you. But until that day, a photog's gotta' do what a photog's gotta' do.
  12. Someone has taken a whole lot of very professional environmental portraits promoting hand washing in my workplace.
    In a way they look like stills from an American daytime TV show. I ask my colleagues whether they notice anything odd
    about them. Many do but they can't say what. No flash. Must have been taken with one of the wonderful new DSLRs.
    I'm learning about flash and will use it more.
  13. I learned how to use flash effectively a long time ago. It is just another tool in the camera bag. Knowing how to use it has saved a lot of weddings for me.. Some examples: strong backlight at an outdoor wedding, having to go indoors at an outdoor wedding because of dark, inclement weather, shooting candlelight weddings, achieving proper white balance amongst greenery as stated above, giving life to subjects in bland light, giving detail and sparkle to things like rings etc. I could go on; like the time I had to do a wedding with about six candles for illumination in a dark room. There wasn't enough light to focus. There are times when one can really enhance weddings by use of it like dancing in very dim light. I shoot swimming in large venues. Some of the corners of those venues have such high contrast with backlit windows that my camera does not have enough dynamic range to expose a swimmer's face with a huge window behind without completely washing out the water in the pool. You can reduce that high contrast with flash. I did a lot of outdoor weddings where the setting sun was directly behind the bride during the ceremony. There was a good example of that in one of the wedding forums here on PN recently.. Use of flash prevents completely washing out the background. Effective use of flash fill at say two stops under ambient reading is not very evident in a finished print, except for catchlights, but it can do a lot to eliminate excessive shadow contrast on a face. There are times, I believe that proper use of flash can improve wedding pictures; and, it can also, when not properly used when it can make pictures much worse. I hate it when I use flash badly but rely on it when I use it well. What I hate is high contrast out of dynamic range. I run into it often. Flash at least helps reduce that high contrast. One has to know enough about flash, dynamic range and contrast to have an idea when it will be effective IMO. I sometimes do.
  14. Plenty of photographers never use flash....or for the most part don't. I only use flash a bit at receptions. Other than that, all natural. In fact, for the most part, my flash units sit idle.
    Jeff Ascough is but one. You can check out the work of Riccis Valladares, Jose Villa, Jonathan Canlas, Leah Mccormick, Leo Patrone, etc, who only use a flash at receptions as well. Other than that, it's natural light.
  15. Ummm, former contributor to this forum Neil Ambrose?
    Total wedding photography genius, photojournalist, very little flash.
  16. On my 7D, I usually have my 24-70 lens on it with a speedlight. On my back up, I usually have my 70-200 lens - no flash. I switch between both at weddings. Whenever I edit the 40D photos that are taken with no flash (this would be in big churches most likely), I always wonder why I don't use it more often. I think my flash is a crutch, and I should learn to use it less during ceremonies.
  17. It is possible to shoot weddings with no flash.
    Can you shoot all weddings with no flash? Probably not. If you shoot a lot of weddings over a number of years, you will run into situations where you will need it, particularly when no light = no image or very low light = compromised image.
    Should you shoot most weddings with no flash? You can, but this depends on your clients' acceptance of your judgement on this issue.
    Should you learn how to use flash so that you can use it well when you need it? Yes.
  18. Yes Nadine. That's my point said better than I did. I think a professional should master the trade and that includes flash among many other skills.
  19. If you want to use no flash maybe you should have in mind some very fast prime lens, and not fast zoom lens.
    Working with no flash is more chalenging, you must always search for the best light and stuff like that. On the other hand, at the end the client must have the photos. It would be for the best if you explain before the wedding about your style and all that it involves.
    Have fun!
  20. Yes, it certainly is possible. I always take a couple of speedlights with me, but rarely use them (maybe a few shots every other wedding). For the shots that I really want creative lighting, I tend to make use of natural light.
  21. You are only limited by your own imagination. But you should learn flash and there a lot of help out there if you look.
  22. I used to shoot all fast primes and "available light." I think it was more so that I feared my speedlite than anything else. I grew up using manual flash. And I just couldn't get myself to trust this thing called i-ttl CLS by Nikon in recent years.
    Don't know how I ever got a long with out it. Now that I know exactly what I am doing with my flash. Using the proper flash modifier (i use either a lightsphere if I want to open an entire room up - or a BFT - black foamie thing a la neil VN - when bouncing for any other shots). My shots these days are noticeably better and more professional at indoor locations.
    I'll shoot sans the flash if I recognize an extremely contrasty scene and I'm going into that shot with the idea of using it as a black and white before hand. More shadow detail usually means better black and white, I usually add a lot of burning and dodging to my black and whites and mask people and add high levels of grain to them to give some pop. (unless you're going for one of those white on white black and whites. I call them Vanilla Ice Cream Black & Whites - btw thats trademarked me! made my own photoshop action for it :)
  23. Nadine nailed it. Sure you can. But wouldnt you want to be able to throw beautiful, soft edged, will placed shadows on you subject when they arent there from the ambient? Bambi Cantrell said "expression trumps perfection" but why not move closer to perfection if you can. I watched Denis Reggie do that in his seminar in Atlanta with 40-100 foot-each way- bounces. Joe Buissink also taught at that seminar and commented how he often shoots with right hand gripping the camera and left on the flash head to constantly position it. Those guys charge $30-50,000 per wedding and are considered among the best wedding shooters so when they talk, I listen. And of course, they still shoot good available light with their 1.2 and 1.4 and 2.8 lenses. Like someone said above, it's part of the craft. It may not be studio control, but much can still be done with shadow and specular edge transitions and contrast to the diffused. You can be more proactive rather than reactive, ie, accepting and working with what mother nature or artificial lights happen to provide. Uncle harry does that for free. I agree with Robert Cossar, it isnt flash I hate, its bad light. But on camera flash can improve it. As they said in Young Frankenstein, flash good. I no longer recoil from it as the monster did from fire. I like McNallys quote about using flash, take it out of that slot in your bag that has glass over it saying "break only in case of emergency."
  24. I can't imagine not using flash at all to shoot a wedding, unless maybe if I had f/0.95 lenses and ISO25600. Otherwise, receptions = no go most of the time, and the light is frequently bad (causes raccoon eyes and other unpleasant effects, etc.). Flash is my friend. I could not have gotten this shot, which reminds me of a shot by Joe Buissink (who did not use flash for his shot), without flash:
    One might consider flash to be a tool that opens doors not otherwise available. If you don't have/know how to use flash, then there are fewer situations you can take optimal advantage of. It basically expands your options.
  25. Bear in mind that I am not putting myself (a sub-$1k photographer) in the category of someone who charges upwards of $30k to shoot a wedding. My shot has similar contours but not really a similar feel or processing style.
  26. I shoot only with available light and if it happens to be flash, then flash it shall be.
    Strong points of photographers like Jeff A are composition and timing, not light. He very much shoots like Cartier-Bresson. At least he's is inspired by CB and takes the light as it is, but composition is primary, that's why he uses lots of BW images. It's easier to use dodge and burn on a BW image than on a color image. If you use flash the right way you can hardly see the difference.
  27. Certainly you can, but I would not advise doing so. A DX camera and f/2.8 zoom isn't going to cut it though; you need f/1.4 primes and something like a D700 or a D3s to do this (so that you can get good image quality in the lowest light levels encountered at weddings). However, the quality of light (i.e. softness, direction, color) is in many situations going to be inferior if you rely 100% on available light. Thus while I have done this a couple of times, there are situations where the outcome is considerably better if you add some flash light. A particular example is when all the existing light comes from a window which is behind the couple. E.g. in cake cutting this seems to be common. And sometimes the dinner tables are seated in this way that you have to shoot into the light and for this situation you should use flash.
  28. No D3s will solve your contrast ratio problems.
  29. No D3s will solve your contrast ratio problems.
    It does to some extent. Such cameras have very good dynamic range at high ISO. That, together with fast lenses, and appropriate direction of shooting relative to the subject and the light source is one way to tame a high contrast low-light scene. Using flash presents its own problems if there are no neutral colored walls or ceilings to bounce from and if the room is packed with people ready to trip into your remote stands making them smash on the floor if you're not quick enough to catch them. This happens, you know. And even if you are able to use flash thanks to a white ceiling or wall, preserving the feeling of ambient light in the scene may require the use of high ISO. Personally I prefer to keep my flash light, if present at a sufficiently low level so that people hardly notice it. This usually means f/2 or f/1.4, ISO 800-1600 in the evening when window light is weak.
    If, however, you mean contrast problems in bright daylight, then you're correct, it won't solve them. Thankfully I don't live in California and I don't have to shoot in that kind of light ;-)
  30. As with any camera, the higher the ISO the lower the dynamic range. Everybody is carrying some sort of camera nowadays, so the guests are blasting away with their camera's, so my flash won''t hardly be noticed. During my last wedding a video guy used some horrible fluorescent light that killed the mood during the first dance instantly. The bride complaint (to me) after wards, she dared not telling this to the video guy. I was glad that I had my remote flashes: they reduced the video guy's light to a candle and recreated a better mood for images of the first dance. Try shooting that with available light, you can instantly dump the images. So be prepared for any situation.
    Thankfully I don't live in California​
    Jeff A, lives in near Scotland where most of the time they have an overcast sky, so low contrast ratios.
    Again use flash if you need to, but don't make any shooting style into some sort of religion. You have to deliver in any circumstance.
  31. another
  32. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Thinking about a Nikon D7000 with a fast zoom. Thoughts?
    Commenting on this portion of the question only:
    I wouldn't be thinking that way.
    I'd be looking a a couple of 135 format cameras (aka "full frame") and a fast 35 and a fast 85 - one lens on each body.
    I'll defer to the Nikon folk to fight out which cameras - but a pair of D700 or D3s, would be the general direction I would be heading, for Nikon DSLR.
  33. is it possible or even desirable to shoot an entire wedding with no flash?​
    In short: yes!
    Whether or not it's a good idea for you, no one can tell you but yourself. I shot the great majority of weddings without a flash. Recently I took to carrying one (well, actually, three or four) with me a lot of the time, but I know I don't need them. They're not there to make it possible to take pictures when I couldn't otherwise, they just give a rather different effect, and sometimes I like different. If they're there to make the photographer's life easier, then IMHO they are more likely to make the picture worse than better. I also (personal opinion) think that most pictures I see that have been taken with flash are worse for it.
    So, my opinion is: yes you can shoot weddings without flash, no that doesn't mean that you have to avoid using flash, in most circs where people use flash they'd be better doing without, but flash does give interesting creative possibilities when used for particular purposes, and flash can be fun.
  34. For those commenting about Jeff's success as an available light photographer. As some mentioned it's almost incessantly cloudy in his part of the world which helps a lot for outdoor photos contrast wise. But also take heed to his processing style. If his photo gallery is anything similiar to his delivered product, it's 85-90% black and white photos (very forgiving in terms of improper lighting conditions) many of which are post processed to have a grunge feel to them with added noise/grain in many of them via his action set. In my personal opinion, mister ascough didn't just become popular from being good at spot metering in available light situations. A lot of his photos look more like art than they do photographs. Something with a 17th century gothic feel to them. They love that sort of thing over in the Britain/Scotland area. I doubt if it would fly where I'm from (southwestern ontario - canada) but I've never seen anyone from around here doing that sort of thing. Then again our population isn't nearly as big to have steady business from a particular niche market (again, in my opinion)
    I also would like to add, I *used* to be an available light shooter only, as J.A was in fact to me, as Cartier Bresson is to him. However, I since have become mesmorized by mister van niekerk who has taught me a lot from his blog about how to properly use flash. Now I couldn't imagine not using it in many circumstances, again, unless I was going for something very specifically niche like J.A in terms of final product looks. My personal work is very B&W grunge similiar to the way J.A's wedding photos turn out... but I simply can't bring myself to try to market my wedding photography in the same way. My market here seems to prefer the crisp clean color photos.
  35. In my experience, flash is must in the wedding photography. As there may be moments where the proper lights are not present, in that case if you have a flash, it will add the light and lights in photographs will be perfect.
  36. The bride has a good expression and is well lit but the groom's eyes are half closed, which is quite typical in flash photographs (with luck and increasing the number of shots you can perhaps avoid it). The couple are both obviously posing for the camera. The top part of the cake is burned by the flash. The color mismatch between the foreground and background is not appealing. (So yes, thank you very much, I'll take J.A.'s black and white, though I don't like added noise.)
    Available light photographers often do so in order to avoid making it obvious to the subjects that they are photographed just then and there. Expressions frequently change when the first flash goes off. Eyes are blinked. Lighting gradients appear which were not at the scene at the time of the event. New color is given to the scene (it can be good or bad). Complicated additional accessories are needed and sometimes guests trip into them. Nothing really looks like it did at the time as remembered by the guests. The photographer who uses flash will often take a good part of the attention at the event. So the outcome had better look pretty amazing if the event itself is so much less important than the photographs to warrant this kind of distraction.
  37. Not sure I agree Ilkka, even though I am a proponent of ambient shooting whenever possible. I seriously doubt that use of a speed-light is a distraction at any modern wedding. A lot of the guests are also shooting flash photos ... and I mean a LOT.
    Closed eyes can happen just as often with available light as with flash use. Speed-lights with pre-flash are more prone making people blink, so turn it off if it happens to often.
    Burning out foreground objects is due to using on-camera flash and too much of it ... as opposed to dragging the shutter and using the ambient. A simple off-camera cord can allow you to hold the speed-light higher and pointed away from the foreground objects. Off camera lighting fired with a radio trigger allows use at positions to avoid the foreground altogether.
    Many folks over-use flash so it gets a bad reputation ... but like anything, it just takes practice and perseverance until you master it.
  38. Indeed it is possible, but as has been alluded to, it's difficult to do it well. I have found my style has evolved a lot; I now don't use flash for the getting ready or ceremony shots but I do so for the reception and dance (off camera).
    I think that perhaps a lot of people don't use flash because they don't really know how to use it well. Very few IMO can shoot the entire wedding sans flash and produce consistently good images with sufficient contrast, retained highlights and sufficient shadow detail.
    I will also say that the tools can and frequently do affect the trade. My 5D2 allows me to get images that would be nigh-on impossible had I used my trusty but long-in-the-tooth 400D (Rebel XTi) even with the same glass...

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