Lighting a Wedding indoors with no windows

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by john_sebesta, Sep 24, 2010.

  1. As the title says, next week I will be shooting a wedding in a church with no windows (it's in an old warehouse building). There are no windows in the main hall where the ceremony will be held, only lights from directly overhead. The ceiling is also very tall (30 feet +) and a dark color, so bouncing seems out of the question. For the ceremony, I will be right in front of the stage and there are no near by walls to bounce off either.
    Here is the gear I am working with:
    Nikon D90
    Tamron 28-75mm 2.8
    Nikkor 50mm 1.8
    I also have some flash modifiers, including what is basically a foam bounce card; yet, I've never been able to achieve satisfactory results with this. I also have a bounce and shoot-through umbrella, but I don't think this will work practically for the ceremony. As with all this I do, I want to do the best I possibly can and deliver the best possible image. I usually shoot with natural light and the flash is a bit intimidating to me. What technique do y'all recommend for getting enough light to the bride and groom?
  2. flash is a bit intimidating to me​
    Using flash isn't any different than Studio Lighting which you list as one of your skills on your website? If it were me, I would gel my flash to match the ambient light (probably tungsten). You can probably get away with handholding the 50mm with a high(er) ISO. And just point the flash straight forward, not much of a choice. Ideally, Sto-fen makes an amber colored diffusion dome. I would use the 28-75 on a tripod so that I could drag the shutter, maybe even to 1/30th- maybe even without flash. If you don't have a tripod, you should. Otherwise, shoot in bursts of 3-frames. This should mean at least one frame is sharp. However, I don't know if the SB600 could keep up with a 3-frame burst (no external battery pack), so for that you would need to rely on ambient only.
  3. I don't see how your situation is different from a dimly lit church where no flash is allowed during the ceremony. Ambient light, wide aperture primes, maybe a tripod and good timing. If you use flash during the ceremony, use it as fill or drag the shutter deeply. For the processional/recessional, use white card bounced flash, dragging the shutter. Not as nice as regular bounced flash, but better than just direct flash. Don't know how you are using white card bounce, but I use the card directly up toward the ceiling from the tilted flash reflector. Any peripheral/residual reflectance from nearby objects is better than none.
    Also, read Neil van Niekerk's blog on using on camera flash. Even with white card bounce used the way I describe, you may need an external battery to keep up with the fast moving parts, like the processional/recessional.
  4. Have you considered using your SB600 off-camera, attached to a light stand? This way, it's off camera so you can get a better angle for your lighting. I can use that with my camera (D200) flash in "commander mode". I have to use the pop-up (usually ratcheted down to -2 ev) to get that to communicate with the SB600, but it works as long as there's not much blocking the communication path between the two units. Will your D90 allow this?
    If the D90 will allow you to use your flash in "commander mode", you could attach your flash to a light stand and move that as needed, if you were discreet, during the ceremony. For some posed shots after the ceremony, you could use an umbrella to bounce the light if need be or set up (or have an assistant) use a reflector or a bounce card to light them better.
    I agree with the tripod suggestion. You will need that here.
  5. It's good too your lens isn't too wide, less angle of view to deal with and light. I only use a 28-85mm on the crop bodies too, just slightly wide-nice, easy to manage. Tripod I think also what I would use as I could and then higher ISO with some fill flash to freeze action. Bounce of any kind isn't going to do squat in there so a good foward diffusion. Do you have extra body to set up 50mm on a tripod and hand hold the other? Anyway, have fun. And I forgot, there might be mercury vapor lights if old warehouse.
  6. Rent a 24/1.4, put the D90 on ISO 3200, shot raw files and process them very carefully (don't sharpen too much) and if needed apply noise reduction with dedicated noise-reduction software/plugin for instance noiseware or others (but not the raw converter).
    Shoot as if you are using natural light and use flash to just add a touch of light. Remember that at f/1.4 and ISO 3200 you can bounce your flash very far. Shoot flash with the head manually zoomed to 85mm pointing at a wall or roof. If you put your flash in manual instead of TTL you'll get up to 1/3-1/2 stop more power (no power is wasted on the pre-flashes) so use manual if you can.
    Manual mode is better on the camera as well since it can be tricked by high contrast, lots of dark backgrounds in low light and it doesn't take manual flash in account.
    Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have tested it thoroughly in similar conditions before the wedding.
    PS. Recommendations above was for the ceremony. I'll shot as low as 1/15s with the 24mm on a crop camera when people are not moving.
  7. What are you all bouncing from, the 30ft ceiling? It's a warehouse....
  8. "What are you all bouncing from, the 30ft ceiling? It's a warehouse...."

    Dave, I have a feeling the readers missed the part about the 30 foot ceilings! Anyway I chuckled at your response.

    i would suggest shooting RAW and color correct, if needed later in photoshop. I usually don't use a flash in churches, mainly due to other photographers screwing it up for everyone. I hardly ever find a church that allows a photographer to use flash with the exception of the bride walking down the aisle, the kiss and walking out of the church.

    I have and use a color meter. They are hard to find these days. If you use a color meter, meter the altar only and set your camera to whatever the Kalvin reading is. Then you won't have to color current in photoshop. Digital cameras are far from perfect so try not to use the AUTO setting. Churches have assorted light bulbs so it is often hard to figure out the currect camera settings are.
  9. Dave - ISO 3200, f/1.4 and the wits to zoom the flash head and remove any gizmos goes a long way in bouncing of high ceilings, far away walls or even the floor. Unless everything is pure black like some night clubs :)
    When bounce truly is impossible or more DOF is required I like the Lumiquest Softbox III for on-camera flash. It's the largest diffuser I found that can still be mounted to the flash when it's in the hotshoe. Even better when one can hold it in the left hand while shooting.
  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "What technique do y'all recommend for getting enough light to the bride and groom?"​
    Using the gear list you outlined, I don't think you have many choices other than to use the white card and keep the Flash mounted and use it as fill as you deem necessary, and employ judicious dragging the shutter.
    I use a White Card Bounce similar to how Nadine described. However, I do have an Off Camera Lead and a quick release Flash Head and deploy the Flash Head in my left hand at times.
    Depending upon the ambient EV and how far you want to push the ISO (3200 maybe? 1600 is nicer) the 28 to 75 might be too slow for AL capture and also Long Shutter Drag, which leaves you with a fewer options as using the 50mm lens will require a necessary shooting distance – around 25ft for a FL shot.
    Expanding: "What could I do if I used other gear?" . . .
    Well getting the Flash, off camera will allow vertical framing and white card bounce, so that means you can work closer with the 50mm . . .
    Getting a second Flash would allow setting an Off Camera Flash on a stand for the ceremony (I like that) . . .
    Getting a fancy diffuser thingy would allow other stuff . . .
    Getting a fast Prime about FL = 24mm would allow easier AL shooting – which you prefer: but to use it effectively you will require the ability to roam . . .
    Using a monopod will allow slower Tv for shutter drag, a tripod will too and also allow easier use of the 28 to 75 if the ambient EV is very low.
    I like all these options above which require using extra gear: but the one I like the most, for you, is getting a fast 24 and ensure the ability to roam, and forget the flash – as you don’t like using Flash, anyway.
  11. Yeah, at ISO 3200, f1.4, a shoemount flash can easily do 60-70 feet (30 feet x 2). Unless it is all black, as Pete points out, although, you can even bounce off an all black surface--it just takes more flash power. I wouldn't use f1.4 or try to bounce (save for white card bounce) for the processional/recessional, though.
    As for the Lumiquest III softbox, it will block the focus assist, which you will need for the action parts of the ceremony, unfortunately. Might be OK with an ST-E2 in the hotshoe for focus assist.
  12. At the shooting distances the Lumiquest softbox won't be doing any softening. You could use a dome if you wanted some diffusion.
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    . . . F/1.4 is going to be tricky for any shot even the most static:
    Full Frame Full Length Shot (Standing at Celebrant for example) using Vertical Format @ about 15ft with the 50mm loaded - you're playing with about only 15" DoF. Get closer and you can be history, very quickly.
  14. John D.--technically the Softbox III will soften, in comparison to a shoemount's bare flash reflector, it just won't soften appreciably in *most* cases. However, you will see a very slight difference on mid and close subjects. I know it is a picky distinction, but thought I should clarify it anyway.
    John S.--I have a feeling you are looking for the one technique that you can use for the wedding, maybe the entire wedding--that will give you the kind of lighting you want, which seems to be bounced flash. While there are weddings for which you can do that, most weddings require that you use a variety of techniques well, to get the best quality of light you can, given the situation. William W. has given you a list of different possibilities, although I would not recommend off camera flash if you have never used it before, particularly for a ceremony.
    1. I looked through your website portfolio, under the wedding section, and don't see any examples of a church wedding with no flash. Does this mean you have not photographed such a wedding before?
    2. Does the place you will be shooting in have a website so we might see what the conditions are like?
    3. Do you understand dragging the shutter, particularly for the processional/recessional and for the reception, if it will also be in this space?
    4. What is your back up camera and lens? Is that your only flash?
    5. What is it about the results of your foam white card that you don't like?
    Don't be afraid to answer the questions. I, for one, feel that if you do, we can be of better help to you.
  15. First of all, thank y'all so much for your words of wisdom and advice.
    I will respond to Nadine's questions and hopefully that will help:
    1. I looked through your website portfolio, under the wedding section, and don't see any examples of a church wedding with no flash. Does this mean you have not photographed such a wedding before?
    -I have photographed a church wedding before, but this church had large stained glass windows that let in lots of light. Though the stage was not lit very well, the light from outside helped immensely. They weren't my favorite photographs, but they were properly exposed.
    2. Does the place you will be shooting in have a website so we might see what the conditions are like?
    -I've tried their website ( ) but the only photos are small and their album links are dead.
    3. Do you understand dragging the shutter, particularly for the processional/recessional and for the reception, if it will also be in this space?
    -I do understand dragging the shutter, though I haven't used it too much in real weddings.
    4. What is your back up camera and lens? Is that your only flash?
    -Unfortunately, that is my only camera and flash. I did not list my entire lens collection, but the ones I am likely to use. Here are the rest:
    Nikon 18-55mm 3.5-4.5
    Nikon 55-200mm 4.5-5.6
    Sigma 10-20mm 4.5-5.6
    Nikon 105mm macro 2.8
    5. What is it about the results of your foam white card that you don't like?
    -In my experience, any time I try to use a white foam card, it always delivers the same harsh light that a bare flash would. Perhaps this is just my inexperience.
  16. John S.--I looked at the venue's website, and the one small image at the bottom pretty much tells you what you need to know. The light level, if it will be the same for the wedding ceremony, is not all that dim, as dim wedding ceremonies go. The biggest difficulty may be spotlights, if they are used. I also see white areas on the walls that could be used to bounce from--not for the processional, but if you are allowed to use flash for the ceremony, it can be very useful for fill against down light spotlighting. Otherwise, wood usually gives a reddish/orange/yellow tone if you bounce flash off it.
    Find out if you are allowed to use flash during the ceremony, and whether you are allowed to move around, and if so, what the limitations are. In my experience, one is 'normally' not allowed to use flash once the bride has reached the altar and been presented to the groom, and movement restrictions vary from being immobile at the back of the aisle (or one spot of your choice) to being able to move around, but mostly not *on* the altar or behind the the officiant.
    If I were you, with your gear and experience, I would shoot the ceremony primarily available light. Meaning you will probably need a tripod. The 50mm f1.8 may allow you to shoot handheld at f1.8 or f2, but since that is the only focal length you'll be able to use handheld, I'd get the tripod out anyway and use it. The only other possibility is staying on a tripod at the back of the aisle and then, if allowed to go up the side aisles or a distance up the middle aisle, shoot without the tripod for those, only, with the 50mm f1.8.
    I know a fellow who uses a D90 to shoot weddings. He tells me the highest he'd comfortably go with ISO is 2000. As you may or may not know, underexposure and the resulting pull up in post makes any noise appear worse. So don't underexpose if using the extremely high ISOs.
    When you are shooting with such wide apertures, you need to be able to focus accurately, meaning you need to understand your autofocus system in your camera and be confident in your ability to focus accurately. Practice, and do some research on DOF. You should know what kinds of DOF to expect at the distances you will be shooting at. See William W.'s posts above.
    When shooting with slower shutter speeds, you also need to pick and choose when to release the shutter. I try to stay at 1/60th and faster, even for the most static moments. Any subject motion will cause blur, even at 1/60th, although some small amounts can be acceptable if the images aren't going to be enlarged greatly. And yes, if I can use a tripod, I use a tripod. I much prefer this so that I can keep my shots to a minimum, and take my time about getting the peak moments of actions, rather than shooting multiple shots in hopes of getting 1 in focus. You *could* rent the 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens, but then, VR does not stop subject motion. Also realize that any kind of more active event, like people bringing the communion items up to the altar, is still just not possible to shoot completely 'frozen', in most cases. If you don't have a quick release for your tripod, get one. I personally use a different method for my tripod, but that is another story. You could also, if you had two cameras, keep one mounted on a tripod at the back, and one on you, for handheld use with the 50mm f1.8.
    Given the above, another thing to know would be the sequence of the ceremony. This way, you know where to be when. When you need to stash the tripod, or change your settings back for processional/flash shooting. This is the one thing I find, that is overlooked by many starting photographers. They want to be able to just roam around with an IS or VR lens. With planning, you can easily use a tripod and fixed focal length lenses. You may want to go to the rehearsal.
    As for the processional, I'd still use white card bounce, with some shutter drag. It isn't going to be beautiful light, but what is the purpose of processional pictures? I've always thought it was to show the people, in their clothes, and in the case of the bride and dad, their expressions as well. So good, sharp, unblurred images are what you need. While you can make your own white card, I'd suggest maybe getting a Demb Diffuser kit. Then study the tutorials on the site and practice a lot--possibly in the same venue. The hinge on the Demb Diffuser does make a lot of difference, although you can mimic card angles with the foam card and velcro.
    Also research shooting the processional--re autofocus and how much shutter drag. If you don't have at least a 2 stop or more difference between the flash exposure and ambient, you will get ghosting. Consequently if your flash underexposes, you may be cutting into that margin.
    I would look into renting another camera body, flash, and possibly a wide, wide aperture prime, such as the 24mm mentioned by William W., above. I would get a tripod if you don't have one already, with a quick release. Or rent it, but owning is better, since tripod technique needs to be practiced.
  17. A micro softbox like Softbox III has roughly 15 times the area of a stofen omnibounce. Two things change when you increase the light source - the shadow edge transfer and the specularity.
    The shadow edge transfer will be about 4 times larger with a Softbox III compared to a stofen or bare flash head and the specular highlights will be about 4 stops lower in intensity.
    Size matters when it comes to light and if you want "soft" light bigger always wins.
  18. Pete--yes, you are right. I think the key thing here, in regards to shooting a wedding ceremony with something like the Softbox III, is the word, "appreciably" in my statement above--"technically the Softbox III will soften, in comparison to a shoemount's bare flash reflector, it just won't soften appreciably in *most* cases."
    Most wedding ceremony subjects are not mid to close subjects, where you would be able to easily see the difference a Softbox III will make. I see the difference with the silly, 5" diameter, circular softbox I have for my shoemount, but not so much for farther subjects.
  19. Regarding high ISO shooting - according to lab tests by Nikon's D90 has currently the best low light performance of all APS-C sized sensors, including D300s, 7D, 50D, 40D etc.
  20. Nadine - I agree but I think for shots 10ft or closer the softbox is nice. And I get the same f-stop loss from both the softbox and the stofen - a little less than 2 stops. But of course there are more than one way to skin a cat :)
  21. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    For clarity - the fact that I like the idea of using a Second Flash on a Stand, does not mean that it is the answer for you. If you do not have the experience setting and doing then it is not a good idea.
    A Wedding is not an appropriate condition to try entirely new techniques. However it is often necessary to ADAPT techniques with which one is familiar.
    The premise of my contribution and advice is predicated upon the facts presented - and you are clearly not comfortable with intricate Flash on Site; do not have a Second Flash unit anyway; however, you are experienced with Available Light Capture and prefer same – so I suggested that method; and you have some experience with on camera modified bounce flash.
    So my bottom line suggestion is to modify and adapt what you have done previously, with the gear you have and leverage that for this situation – i.e. keeping it as simple as possible and the changes as few as possible.
    And that is why I suggested, if you are to acquire additional gear, a fast 24 should be on the top of your list. BUT that is obviously useless if you are relegated to the side of the Altar at a distance of 30 ft for the entire Service - these FACTS you need to know - or - alternatively have the GEAR to cover all likely contingencies.
    Knowing the probable EV of the venue would be useful also. I note you have looked at the website and that is pretty useless to gain any idea - Have you done a site reconnoitre:
    It is possible that the 28-75 is OK to go at ISO1600 - we are poking around in the dark here with suggestions & comments without at least a RANGE of likely EV (pun intended).
    One of the best ways to address how to adapt to gather as much knowledge as possible about the new shooting scenario and also is to KNOW the limitations. And in this case there are a few other things which can go belly up, to which which I would like to alert you:
    1. Conditional for any Wedding Coverage - having only one camera body is dancing with professional suicide.
    2. Similarly, is one uses Flash: so is having only one Flash.
    3. The range and quality of results when using Fast Primes (and to some extent limited range zooms) for AL coverage – is proportional to the ability TO ROAM and or the CHOOSE the camera Vantage point. I.E. you can score better shots if you can move about or at least choose where you are to be static. Knowledge of the “RULES” during the Service and if necessary pre-arrangement and or negotiation is leverage for you in this regard.
    4. There are conditions when the Subjects are MOVING where some additional light is better than very low light – I.E. the processional and the recessional and maybe at some times during the Service – Exchange of Rings and Kiss, as examples. These are a record of the event and many Clients want that record, so often we must compromise the artistry of the light for the capture of the moment.
  22. John, you may find William Au's article on, "Dragging the Shutter" helpful.
  23. The larger the light source in relationship to your subject, the softer the light. Shooting a ceremony with the softbox isn't going to soften the light because of the distances involved. The sun is HUGE, but it is still a point light source because of it's distance. The softbox (or a Sto-fen) will diffuse the light which will reduce specularity and contrast.
  24. A cheap and rather good idea would be to put the flash off camera, on a stand (nothing new here so far), close to the couple, pointing upwards (here's where it becomes interesting) with a Gary Fong Lightsphere (the one shaped like "tupperware") diffuser WITH the cap on! This way it would bounce most flash power down and around, providing ample lighting (at least for a wide area around it) to cover the ceremony, even from a distance.
    You can mount the flash just over head height, add a bit of flash exposure compensation and you would get much, much better results from your SB600 than with - I think - most other ideas.
    Any comments on that anyone?
  25. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "Any comments on that anyone?" . . . yes: additional advice and a comment as requested.
    Considering the OP has only ONE flash unit and if it is deployed thus he should get another for the Processional and etc - but I kind of covered that before.
    Ergo – the idea might not be so “cheap” as it seems. And also - I like the idea.
  26. much better results from your SB600 than with - I think - most other ideas.
    Any comments on that anyone?​
    My comment is the same as before.... why waste the flash power? The GFLS is a notorious waste of flash power. At the shooting distances the OP will be shooting at, the only benefit to be gained is diffusion and that can be achieved via other methods that don't waste as much light and are far cheaper. The only way the GFLS will soften the light is if it is able to bounce, which is this scenario is unlikely and again, other products will do the same for less.
  27. I tend to agree with John D. I have a Lightsphere and have used it with the dome on. Used this way, the results are not much better than from white card bounce/Demb Diffuser. I believe Marios' idea is to use the flash like a bare bulb flash, so that the flash bounces off as many surfaces as possible. In a smaller room, this works OK. In a larger space like the one in question, the flash with Lightsphere will work in a more focused way, as will a bare bulb flash, actually. You will not get diffuse shadows and nice, soft lighting.
    In addition, I wouldn't recommend John S. use his only flash off camera or when he has no experience using off camera flash. Not to mention he'd have to get triggers, etc.
  28. I am glad to see so many responses here that are helpful. There are also a few pointers that may help but it may not apply in this case because it may be too late. many people attempt to shoot weddings with equipment that does not really handle the uniqueness of that type of event very well. Just as you can't drive in the Indy 500 with a Prius, you really need to research the kind of gear that adequately does the job at weddings. Second...if flash is intimidating to you, and you want to do weddings, you need to put your fears aside and just learn the techniques. Your portfolio of weddings, while small, has some very nice available light shots but does not represent most of the aspects of wedding photography throughout the wedding day. Your landscape shots are terrific and show that you have a lot of skill in that area, so assuming you have a very good grasp of exposures and composition, you just have a few things to concentrate on to put your wedding setup together. Fast lenses! Landscapes and travel photography do not require speed. Weddings do..and then some! If you expect to increase your wedding portfolio you need to gear up with the right stuff. Weddings are a specialty and that requires some specialty tools. A couple of fast lenses will get you there easily. You should have the 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8VR. That will cover almost everything for you in the beginning. Learning your flash techniques will get you the rest of the way.
    Also, you indicate you use the D90. I'd use that as a backup and move on up to a D700. That really helps in low light. If you have a D700 and 70-200 for a dimly lit church, a wee bit of flash should go a long way. Of course, you may not always be able to use flash during a ceremony. For a really dark place, just putting the lens and camera on a tripod and setting the iso at 1600 or 3200 will get you in the ballpark.
    Hope that helps! Have fun.
  29. One more thing...a fast prime of the 85 1.4 or 50 1.4 variety may also help you. If you can't get real close to the altar, the 85 1.4 is a great way to get some good light!
  30. I would have not expected such in-depth, specific and helpful advice. Just reading through all of your contributions, I feel more comfortable about this wedding already :)
    Y'all are a wonderful community of photographers and I hope that one day, I'll be able to help others as y'all have helped me. Thank you, sincerely!

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