Using Off and On Camera Flash for Wedding Photography

February 27, 2018

I know…I know! You all know me as a natural light photographer, and for those of you who have been ridin’ with me from the beginning know I started with portraits using a single light set up. I quickly ditched the flash and decided that natural light was my thing and I only wanted to know enough about flash to “get through” a reception. I decided two years ago that I really wanted to learn to master lighting not just natural light, and there is a process to that, you don’t just find shade and go for it, however we will cover that on another day. I really wanted to learn to master lighting in a way that I could create some interest in an image instead of just playing it safe. Here I will walk you through some of my favorite images where flash was necessary and where I placed the flashes and how I used the light. In some cases the flash may barely look there, as I used it more as a fill vs. the main, or key light. In other instances, it is the main light source.

Here are a few of my must have’s to really get into some fun creative images.

  1. Two to Three flashes that are capable of high speed sync
  2. A remote to control your flashes off camera
  3. Stands to hold your flash

I currently use the Canon 600 exII as my remote, and two Canon 600 ex to go off camera. I mainly use a three light set up when working on receptions, however there are times when I use my flash on camera, and bounce light, let’s walk through some images for a better look.

If you are a bride reading this and you are having a night time wedding reception, indoors or outdoors, it is important that you vet your potential photographer and ensure that they are comfortable with their flash and can show you images that you feel will capture your whole day, not just a part of the day.  The reception is where you spent most of your money, you want to make sure that the details are covered with as much care as your beautiful outdoor sunset portraits.



This image I used a single flash on camera pointed towards the sky so that the light wouldn’t be too harsh on the couple. It was still light enough outside where the background was still in view and you could still see the bistro lights so I decided to keep it super basic. The flash was modified with the Gary Fong.

I absolutely love dress shots, however this shot was taken at a time where the sun was blasting through the window and totally washed out this gorgeous gown. This is where high speed sync (HSS) comes in to play. Most flash only allow you to go up to 1/200th or 1/250th on your shutter, but HSS allows you to go all the way up to your camera’s max shutter. The reason why this is important is your shutter controls your ambient light, where in this case was the window, I wanted to lower the ambient light of the window and pop just a little flash on the dress. I did this by bouncing the flash on the wall behind me, while being modified with the Mag Mod.

This was right around the time that I started getting comfortable using Off Camera Flash (OCF) while using HSS. To achieve this look, I actually exposed for the city scape, because I knew once the sparklers started I wouldn’t have enough time to achieve this look, so before the sparklers started I exposed for the city scape, prior to ever turning on my flash. Once you get your settings right, and you will need the HSS to ensure that the couples movement will be sharp, I had one flash modified by the Mag Mod pointed directly at the couple, and I had a bare bulb flash behind the couple. On camera I was firing at 1/2th power and behind the couple 1/16th. Keep in mind when firing in HSS the power of your flash lessens so you might need to pump up the power.

This is another two light set up, although it has the look of three. I have one bare bulb flash camera left on very low power pointed directly at the group being held by my assistant. On camera I am bouncing a modified flash (MagMod) on the wall behind me. Because I was so close to the wall behind me slightly angled camera right, as well as light streaming through the window camera right as well, it gave the look that there was light coming from all three points, looking like a three light set up. Because I wanted to have a more natural light, I kept my ISO somewhat high giving the image a bight light look.

Raeven and her bridesmaids were so much fun, I wanted to give them a little drama to go with their sass! On this look I had modified flash pointed right up to the ceiling, and a bare bulb flash coming camera left. I did put this one into HSS because I wanted to maintain the ambient light from the chandelier and the sconces. If these were blown out it would have been a total distraction from the overall image.

When shooting cakes in a reception hall, to create some interest I will add a bare bulb clash either camera right or left. Adding another flash into the mix just adds a little interest to a shot that may have came off a tad flat without the additional flash. In this image, modified flash on camera pointed backwards, bare bulb flash camera right.

Same set up as previous cake image, just placed flash camera left.

Same set up as previous image, I placed OCF behind the cake table firing directly at the couple, you can even see a little light flare in the image, which I chose to leave in, because it created a little interest. I then moved myself around the table so that I could create some interest with the flash, an get both of their faces into the image.

This is the same light set up as the above image, however the flash is directly behind the bride on this one. I normally like to shoot where you don’t see the flash, or lower my aperture to around F4 to make the flash look like a sun flare. Because I was moving in a circle around the bride to catch her throw and capture the crowds catch, I chose to leave the set up as is. Play with the starburst it can look really cool in images.

I used a three light set up on this gorgeous wedding ceremony. One light on camera to catch the front of the gorgeous florals, and two bare bulb flash camera right and left in the back corner of the room. I shot this in HSS to ensure that I maintained the uplighting in the room. A lot of times brides pay additional money to have uplighting so it is important that your flash don’t kill the lighting that they are paying for. Also, this room had a gorgeous fireplace so I wanted to to again maintain the ambient of the fireplace.

For this image, I wanted a more evenly lit feel. I was not as concerned about ambient but more concerned about ensuring I captured special moments like this one. I had a flash modified on camera tilted towards the bride and groom, not direct, but tilted up and towards them, not up and back like I normally shoot. I had two bare bulb flash camera right and left pointed towards the walls, to create a softer light.

This image was a three light set up with two bare bulb flash firing camera left and right directly towards the flowers at the back of the image and an on camera modified flash pointed directly up just to give it a little pop of light on the front of the gown to give the image a little balance.

This ceremony was probably one of my most challenging but funnest ceremonies ever! This wedding ceremony took place in a wine barrel room of a winery and it was completely dark besides the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling as well as a flood light that was coming in from directly over the client. On my final color edit I ended up having to brush temp onto the client which may have been accomplished with a gel flash, but at that point I had to make a decision. Expose for client of expose for bridal party, I am sure you know what I chose. Flash on camera modified firing directly at the client because of how far away I was, and as I moved it I tilted the flash up to take harshness off. There were two bare bulb flash camera left and right pointed directly at the bride and groom.

I love using a three light set up similar to what I use for ceremonies when indoors. This image I wanted to maintain the ambient of the candles on the tables and still maintain an image that matched the romance of this wedding. I used a three light set up camera left and right as well as a modified flash on camera pointed up and back towards the wall behind me. This was a large room set up for almost 200 guest, however I chose to photograph a table near a wall so I could use the wall behind me to bounce flash.

When using OCF, sometimes changing your body position can greatly impact the look of the light, for example. This did have a three light set up, one on camera and two in the corner of the room, but because they were dancing I was moving, so I ended up photographing in line with the flash I did have camera left, taking this from a three light look to a two light look. I was using the light as fill vs. main light in this image.

Just like in the previous image, there were three lights but I intentionally positioned a light behind our bride to catch a hair light, and again I shot in line with our third light camera right so it really ended up being a two light set up. I had a flash on camera bouncing light behind me.

  1. Interesting – thank you for the detailed information!

  2. Alekandra says:

    Great article! Question about HSS; could you get the same look by lowering the shutter and raising the ISO to get ambient light?

    • admin says:

      You could but the issue is slower shutter means more chance of out of focus images especially when they are moving subjects so I try and be a little careful with that. Also, higher ISO causes a bit more noise in images

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