When I started shooting weddings the hardest part of the day for me to get great photos was during the reception when the lights would turn down low. All day I would be outside using natural light and I’d be getting gorgeous images I couldn’t wait to share with my clients but when it came to the reception I felt like my photos were lackluster and only a step away from being compared to Uncle Bob and his point and shoot. And then I discovered off camera flash…
For those of you who don’t know, off camera flash gives you the ability to take complete control of your light. By literally taking your flash off of your camera and putting it on a light stand you’re able to direct the light wherever you want it at any given moment. In order to make this work you’ll need a couple of speed lights, a light stand, transmitter, and a receiver. And because there are a bunch of ways to set up off camera lighting for receptions I’ve decided to start by sharing a simple setup to get you started.
But before we get in to the setup let’s break down the gear you’ll need. All of the equipment below is what I am currently using. NOTE: I recently picked up some Yongnuo flashes and can’t recommend them enough. They are extremely reliable and are available at a fraction of the price of Canon/Nikon name brand flashes. I’ve had issues with guests knocking over my light stands in the past and replacing a $500+ flash sucks. With the Yongnuo’s I’m a little less worried because they cost less than $75 a pop so if it gets knocked over and broken it’s not as big a hit to my wallet.
Canon 580 EXII (Discontinued)
Yongnuo YN560-III ($70 on Amazon)
Yongnuo RF-603C’s ($30/pair on Amazon)
**Please note that these receivers do not lock in to your camera. To keep it the receiver from falling off your camera you may need to use a piece of gaffers tape to hold it in place.**
Bowens Portable 11.5’ Light Stand ($70 on B&H)
Two Light Setup
With a basic two light setup you’ll be placing one flash on a light stand in the corner of the room or dance floor, connected to a receiver. Then, connect your other flash to a transmitter and place it on top of your camera. To help keep things consistent throughout the night I recommend setting both flashes to manual mode and typically between 1/32nd and 1/16th power. The flash that is on the light stand will act as your rim light to help separate your subject from the background while the on camera flash acts as a fill light to ensure you still have light on your subject.
If you don’t quite understand what I’m talking about, not to worry! I drew up a little diagram to help explain things. 🙂
When I use the setup diagramed above I like to place the light stand away from the DJ. I do this so that I can use the flash on the stand as a rim light on the dance floor and still shoot from angles that show the room in the background. As much as possible I try to shoot from an angle that hides unsightly elements like the DJ, speakers, equipment, etc. Bonus: This single light setup is not only good for dancing shots but works well during all aspects of the reception. Time to shoot cake cutting or bouquet toss? No problem! Simply move the flash that is on the stand and place it behind and off to the side of the subject to keep that beautiful rim light consistent.
The following are some examples of images I’ve taken using this two light setup.
In the photo above I have placed my flash out of frame to camera right to help light the line of people dancing through the tables
In this one I also have a flash set up behind the couple (right of camera) set to low power and aimed at the table to add rim light.
In this photo I have placed my flash stand behind the girls and off to the left side to help illuminate not only the girls in the background, but also the bouquet in the air. The flash on camera helps to keep the bright bright in the foreground.
Again, flash stand is behind the couple and outside the frame to the left. Notice the subtle rim light around the bride and groom that helps separate them from the twinkling lights in the background while the flash on camera keeps them bright and in focus.
So there we have it! A Simple OCF technique to help bring those reception shots to the next level. I’d love to see some photos from you showing how you’ve used OCF to enhance your reception images. And be sure to tune in next month as we dig deeper into off camera flash techniques for receptions and portraits!