Four Essential Lighting Techniques for Wedding Receptions

Four Essential Lighting Techniques for Wedding Receptions

Have you ever had that gut-wrenching feeling of being defeated after a wedding reception? Let’s be real, it happens. There comes a point where photographing wedding receptions get so frustrating that you either dive deep into off-camera lighting, or you get out of shooting weddings altogether. I can relate 100%. Despite the terrible lighting, there are a couple ways to pull this off without just turning all the lights on in the building and compromising the receptions atmosphere. These are a few of the ways I light a wedding reception.

Method 1: The Bounce Flash

The most obvious of the choices but the easiest and most widely used of all. There is so much you can do with just a flash on top of your camera shooting into the ceiling of the venue. This is the cheapest of the options but comes with limitations.

Pros: affordable, lightweight, easily tweaked on the go.
Cons: added camera weight, limited when used with certain types of ceilings (especially anything painted black).

Method 2: Off-Camera Bouncing

Very similar to the first method but usually done with two to four lights. As opposed to having to constantly rotate your flash, you simply place your speed lights or strobes on heavy duty stands and place them in the corners of the room and bounce off the ceiling or walls. You can do this with one light, but I don’t personally recommend it. This is strictly personal preference though.

Pros: Lightweight, lights a wide range of the room, less on-camera weight. Lights can be moved to taste or as needed through the night. It’s off-camera!

Cons: Still limited by black ceilings, output power may not be enough depending on your light. Potential light fall off or slow refresh times.

Method 3: Off-Camera Diffused

This is my go-to method. The best part about it is that you can do this for ridiculously close to the same price as the previous method. Simply place two to four lights with an umbrella or softbox in the corners of the room and fire away. Be careful and make sure you have sturdy stands or sand bags; when guests start dancing or get completely drunk, you could have a few issues on your hands. Use with a zone controller with your triggering system to get the best results. The biggest benefit of a zone controller is when a light is adding unnecessary light to your shot, simply turn it off from at your camera. No need for running laps around the venue.

Pros: Best light shaping options, able to be completely controlled by the camera/triggering system. If setup with batteries, lights are very simple to move. Soft light that can literally light an entire venue in a way that can cause guests to “pop” out of the image.

Cons: Umbrellas can be annoying to deal with during when moving lights. Can get heavy. Can easily cripple a photographer without a backup plan if something doesn’t work right. Umbrellas can look very unflattering to your client if not communicated ahead of time. Added setup time.

Method 4: Off-Camera Diffused + On Camera Bounce

This is my second choice then lighting a difficult venue. This is simply a combination of methods one and three. For this, you will need triggers that allow for a flash to be mounted on top of them or you can grab a couple strips of Velcro and keep your triggers mounted to the speedlight (while being connected via sync cable to the camera). You won’t always use every light, but it’s always good to have a backup plan.

Pros: Provides a solid backup plan. Perfect in the event you need to step out of the room for a specific shot. Best of both worlds.

Cons: Things get really heavy by the time you factor in a battery grip, speedlight, and a trigger.

Another great way to take your wedding photography to the next level is to purchase and watch the How to Become a Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer DVD from the Fstoppers store. When you're done, watch it again.

These techniques take practice and time to perfect and can be a little overwhelming if you’re not familiar with off-camera lighting. Don’t just show up to the wedding and expect these to work without spending time with them at home. Without a doubt, they will take your wedding photos to the next level as well as teach you how to see light in a bit of a different way.

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I know what you mean for these, but would be much better with photo samples or light setup diagrams.

Lee Christiansen's picture

The problem with all this bouncing is that you can very easily kill the ambience of a venue, (as well as potentially dring the guests mad.

Most of my party work is at venues with flashing LEDs / strobes / lasers, and a bit of smoke machine thrown in just for fun. Any bounced flash would certainly light up the room, but would kill the ambient effect stone dead.

So I prefer to under expose the ambient by between 1 and 1.5 stops and I use flash on camera with a QuikBounce, but usually set for most of the light thrown forward. (The Quickbounce keeps the light higher than the lens when shooting portrait orientation so helps with better shadowing.

If budget allows, I'll have an assistant staying directly in line but behind my subject for a nice speedlight backlight. I set the on camera to ETTL and the remote to manual. (Godox tt865 speedlights are great for this). Both gelled to match ambient colour - usually with a 1.5 CTB gel

I can get unbelieveably natural results and / or with a nice rim light behind.

Jernej Srebrnič's picture

Sounds interesting, mind linking a few of your example photos?

Lee Christiansen's picture

I've only recently started to use the Godox system with the mobile rim light. Alas for these shoots I am restricted by NDA's which mean I can't show the images. (Most of my parties work have non-disclosure agreements due to the nature of the client base).

You can't believe how frustrating it can be to have a great set of images that I can't show openly - and it makes finding new party planners to work with much harder... :) If I can find something that doesn't break my NDAs then I'll post it up.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I used to work with two off-camera speedlights (Godox) on stands and an on-camera flash (Nikon SB-910).

About a month ago I purchased two Godox AD200's and the 860II-N. At my last two events I worked with four off-camera flashes and an on-camera flash (Godox 860II-N).

I put two of them on group A and two on group B and either had all going or just one group. I wish Godox built OFF/ON buttons on their master flashes and transmitter (X1). This way we can turn off and on different groups quickly.

I love when I get rim lights on my subject when I used the four flashes. I also like it when they are in the photos, I sometimes add color to the light star.

Anyone else works with four off camera flashes?