What to do when the church lighting is AWFUL?

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by jason hinds - columbus, oh, Jul 10, 2006.

  1. Hello everyone. I haven't posted in a while, but I've been doing my share of reading. Many of you on here offer great advice, which is really invaluable. Anyway, on to my question. I recently shot a wedding in a church that had some really nasty light hitting the altar/stage area. Probably the most unflattering light you'll ever encounter when shooting a wedding, in terms of harshness and color. I struggled to get a decent exposure when shooting the formals (luckily we took many outside formals as well), and the color varies immensely from a person's head down to their legs/feet. I've attached an example image, but here's my question. I've broken it into three parts... 1) What can you do, while shooting, to minimize the impact of the nasty lights? Should you increase your flash output and deal with the "deer-in-the- headlights" effect, which reduces the amount of ambient fill that is killing the image? 2) What, if anything, can be done post-process to deal with different colors of light in the same image? 3) When you encounter this type of lighting in a church, do you say anything during the formals to the B&G about the lighting conditions? For example, would you suggest another location, or possibly going outdoors, even if that was not the original plan? Any insight would be much appreciated. I don't encounter this situation very often, but I'd like to be prepared for the next time, whenever it may be. Thanks in advance!
  2. That would be part of scouting. Tell the couple in advance of issues you find like that. "I'll be shooting your formals outside because there is really bad lighting at the alter that will make your formal portraits come out looking bad." And if you have examples to show them, it should impress them that you are doing your homework to give them good photos.

    If you can't do advanced scouting before the day of the wedding, at least scout the site early and be prepared to do just as you said, move to a location with better lighting and a pleasing background. I might tell them why you are shooting in a location other than the alter where they might be assuming you would shoot.

    Of course if they still want it there just make sure they understand that you can't control the sun and their photos will be like your example.

  3. For this shot, measure the ambient, set your flash to the f-stop, and then set the ambient exposure 1-2 stops less using the shutter.
    The basic idea is to overpower the ambient without turning the background into a black hole.
  4. Personally i don't find the image that bad. Even the lighting isn't that bad.

    I'd use 2 flash units to fill up some of the shadows and use a Whibal to make sure i get the right white balance. Maybe i'd adjust it to be slightly warmer in ACR. But having the right white balance is a good starting point.

    Using 2 lights one will be on camera and the other to the side about 45 degrees or maybe slightly less. I use ETTL2 for everything. Don't like wasting time with other stuff. Sometimes i just have the ratio so that the off camera flash is slightly stronger.

    It works for me although i do have to watch for background shadows if they are standing too close to a wall.
  5. What about using a scrim to soften and whiten the overhead light? You could fly a 6x10' scrim from some sturdy stands and you'd get much better results from a softer whiter light. You could also get a roll of 1000h diffusion paper to control the light as well. Its used all over the place in the movies for situations like this.

    Also, you should really consider using lights to light up the stage like you want instead of depending on the church lights like this.

    It may sound crazy, but with 3-4 lights you could make a great scene in about 10-20 minutes of setup. But then I don't shoot weddings-more fashion/art/advertising stuff where everything IS controlled.
  6. What lighting setup did you use? And was the church lighting just the overhead tungsten? or was there daylight coming in thru windows, or what?
  7. As far as fixing those that you have shot already.. you might try coverting to B&W.

    It may not fix the lighting direction, but fixes the colour cast problem (providing you have other colour shots to present that you took in better lighting outside..)
  8. Jason

    Some people slate the Lightsphere but I've found it removes any risk of heartache in this kind of situation with minimum effort - either straight on or point up and with the lid off works for me in this kind of situation - minimal faffing around and good results.

    Someone mentioned white-balance - that's something else to make sure is accurate if using digital (I custom set it for the venue before the ceremony starts).

    The only one I've done where it's been similar was nasty yellow lights and yellow walls - so the lighting was horrible and "dirty" - about as far from flattering or nice as you can imagine. As above, the Lightsphere worked wonders, and with the right white balance you can lift a lot of the issues.

    I reckon a polite suggestion of a location that allows you to get the venue in the shot as well (ie. outside!) should work, unless of course it's raining. Also, remember they are paying you to capture their day - with that in mind they are likely to be amenable to your suggestions for the best shots unless they have a strong artistic "vision" that contradicts yours...

    Black and white can also hide a multitude of light-cast-sins so may be worth considering?
  9. Jason, This is a perfect example as to when to use strobes. Dial down the exposure if you have too and either bounce through umbrellas or, as i do, take one strobe and bounce off the back/ceiling of the church. You need to meter the bright light hitting your subject, adjust and then dominate the exposure with your strobe or strobes.I had too do the same thing here.....nasty light/lights Low hung lights in front of the alter and nasty spot lights mixing right over the alter. The church is about 80-100' long and i bounced off the back wall/ceiling with one 1600 white lightening. The results are much more pleasing than settling with the existing nasty ambient lights here and the color casts that come with it. I'm a ambient guy but sometimes you just have to use dominating light.
  10. for post-process:
    In photoshop, go to image/adjust/color balance and click off the check mark for "preserve
    luminosity". then slide your yellow-blue toggle towards blue, and your magenta-green
    toggle (slightly less) toward green. my gut instinct is to say that would work, as it would
    reintroduce blues into the skintones and get your yellows under control. Keep checking
    your highlights/shadows and make sure that they aren't oversaturated or desaturated,
    respectively as you do this. don't be afraid to mess around with the toggles--see what
    you can come up with. I've solved casts like this in this manner before...let me know if
    this helps!

  11. In tungsten lighting, I gel the flash for tungsten (I use about 3/8 CTO equivalent, gold reflectors or a gold omnibounce). Shoot RAW+L jpg and set WB for tungsten. I feel this gives me the most post-processing options.

    Just make sure the lights are tungsten and not HID lights which are a nightmare to WB since there are two major color spikes in their output.
  12. Jammey, that was a great response with pics! Scouting would really pay off here, I had one situation just like this and I did just what Jammey did with two strobes. I lit up the church and background 2 stops brighter than ambient. The subjects were lit with a 60" umbrella and I used a 900w/s pointed up at the ceiling and made my light rule. Sometimes I even unscrew lights (especially mercury floods) that really jack with my whitebalance or turn them off alltogether.
  13. That lighting is along way from AWFUL, especially around here!
  14. Well there's one very simple solution that is my first response. Turn off the spotlights on the altar. They are usually separate from the floodlights on the altar. Then proceed as normal. If you can't do that, overpower the spotlights by just enough that they don't leave a strong visible pattern. This usually doesn't require a change so strong that you get the "deer in the headlights" look. A little golden color doesn't bother me. If you can bounce, with light or white walls, that's great, but if not, and you have dark wood paneling or something, use multiple lights, with a possible background light. I make lighting decisions myself as trying to explain lighting to a non-photographer is difficult at best. Besides, you don't want to burden the B&G with decisions on their day. If you know you will have problems with the location, say something. Otherwise, solve the problem. And even if I intended to shoot most of the formals elsewhere, I would shoot the wedding party and the couple at the altar, regardless of lighting--it is just traditional to do these shots at the altar. And then do these again at the "better" location.
  15. I don't know Steve....looks pretty darn awful to me (not that Jason did awful....just the results of the light conditions). More than anything it's the color casts and shadows due to lack of fill. Jasons post looks like the result of nasty color casted spot lights and possably a mixture of his on board flash (however, it looks to me as if no fill was used). The wide shot i posted above, i overexposed the image @ 3200 F2.8 and the shutter was 1/60 to give you an idea of the illuminance. Also, look at the color cast on the walls on the side overall shot. That cast (and shadows) would have been on my formals if i didn't do something about it. Dominating the light will save your tail under these conditions. If Jason's lighting results isn't a result of awful light.....i sure would like to see another example of bad light.

    The key is not scouting for another location, it is knowing what to do with the existing light as it is. Something can be done.
  16. I've yet to shoot in a Church that was lit for photography ... they're all bad ... some worse
    than others. This one isn't that bad. 3 weeks ago we had one with green stained glass and
    a strip of blue neon running around the alter area (one of those ghastly '60s Churches).

    Strobes as suggested? Strobes aren't an option in 80% of the Churches in our area, and it's
    not negotiable.

    So what's a mother to do?

    Well, in the case of Jason's image, flash played a very small part in the lighting. That is
    evident by the Raccoon Eye and deep chin shadows being cast by the overhead tungsten

    Solutions? Turn off the overhead spot lights, or simply move the subject forward or
    backward if possible so it isn't lighting them directly downward.


    Increase the flash enough to overwhelm the Raccoon Eye while exposing for the ambient
    background (slave more than one flash if needed) ... and white balance for flash or
    daylight if using digital and let the background go warm.
  17. Marc,

    Are you saying that a strobe is not allowed but....that multiple slave speedlights are in your area? That's interesting if so. Why? The set-up time for a single strobe with just the rim is about 5 minutes.....IMO less than slaving multiple speedlights.

    I've had several venues, Catholic ones in paticular, that do not allow flash during the ceremony (Which i would never do anyway)....but never once have i had an officiant say "Do not bring strobes for formals).
  18. Actually Jammey, the one wedding I did (for my daughter) the church allowed NO flash in the church except for the lighting of the candles by the Bride and Groom, and the kiss. Totally forbidden otherwise....no exceptions.

    I could just see asking permission to do a full blown lighting arrangement like you were allowed. Consider yourself extremely lucky with the churches you deal with. There are those that just plain don't allow it. And I was introduced as the photographer first, explained all this, and then introduced as the father of the bride, so as far as the priest was concered it was to all photography he was speaking.
  19. I hope I am not answering the same as someone else here (no time to read all of the responses), but if your shooting digital, start by changing the white balance on the camera. That's what I do, and it works very well. It will get you alot closer to natural looking colors. For example: If images appear too yellow, use tungsten setting. Hope this helps.
  20. Sorry Jammey, NOTHING on light stands and nothing that has to be plugged in. Most
    churches now just flat out allow on-camera flash only. The use of multiple speed lights is
    okay because we are holding them in our hands. Most of these churches around here are
    getting stricter.
  21. In that case Marc, i would suggest bringing a battery unit and have one person hold the pack and the other to hold the strobe. JK..

    Dang, you need to take the rule makers out for a couple of drinks to loosen up a little and maybe bribe them somewhat. Life gets harder every day. Before long they'll band on-flash units...i'm sure they're harmful to the eyes somehow ....it's just a matter of time.
  22. Awesome discussion. But it's AltAR, not alter like the verb to-change!!!

Share This Page