Three Light Setups That Will Tackle Any Wedding Reception

Three Light Setups That Will Tackle Any Wedding Reception

I often get asked about my lighting setup for wedding receptions. Receptions can be an unruly beast to light properly without good equipment. You never know what you’re getting into with things like ceilings, available light, and even the white balancing nightmare of the DJ’s LED light system. Don’t assume that these setups are going to make you a better photographer over night. 

These are the systems that have worked for me personally as a wedding and portrait photographer and may not necessarily work for you and your style of shooting. You need to take time and learn your system and what works with your shooting style. Gear doesn’t make up for a lack of education or practice. Here are the three kits I’ve used over the last couple of years:

Kit 1: The Single Light Setup

Cost: $720-$1150

I love this setup, I use this on 99% of my shoots. Mostly it’s because of how comfortable I am with it. I highly recommend this as your starting point for the sake of building a solid foundation to upgrade on later. You can do a mixture of walking with the stand and leaving it in a single spot with this one.

Canon 430exiii or Canon 580exii Speedlight
Either of these are great choices, I’ve owned both and neither one has failed me.

Pocket Wizard MiniTT1

Pocket Wizard Flex TT5

Cheetahstand C8 Stand
This stand is my absolute favorite. I don’t want to sound like “that guy” but I won’t buy another brand of stand. I love being able to simply lift the stand and the bottom feet raise up with it. Using other stands make my head hurt now.

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter

LimoStudio 2x 33" Studio Lighting White Umbrellas
I used to use nicer umbrellas, but I break them on a regular basis. Between the wind and my dog, it’s not wise for me to purchase anything more expensive that this.

Kit 2: The Duel Light Setup

Cost: $1280
This setup is ideal for doing those pesky group photos after the ceremony as well as lighting the dance floor. It’s a little more pricey and bulky but you won’t regret it when you see the results. Pro Tip: hire an assistant to keep from wanting to kill yourself at the end of the night.

Canon 430exiii or Canon 580exii Speedlight (x2)
Don’t mix and match speedlights, use two of the same model or you will find yourself getting super confused as well as fighting different output power.

Pocket Wizard MiniTT1

Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 (x2)
Can’t stress enough how sturdy and well built these are, plus I don’t like using the hotshoe/umbrella attachment for my stands.

Cheetahstand C8 Stand

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter

LimoStudio 2x 33" Studio Lighting White Umbrellas

Kit 3: The Quad Light Setup

Cost: $2350
This is my standard kit as of lately. Having a mixture of “permanent” and portable lighting during a wedding reception is a game changer. Beware though, you will instantly create sucky photos if you don’t get a firm grip on the proper lighting techniques first. Is it overkill? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Sometimes, yes.

AlienBees B400 Flash Unit (x3)
I don’t always end up using the third light in this setup, so you can adjust accordingly if you feel like two is more your speed.

Cheetahstand C10 Stand (x3)
If you're going to use the Alien Bees, be sure to pickup these stands, they’re a good deal taller as well as incredibly reliable.

Vagabond Mini
Somewhat optional, but more of a fail-safe. You never know when you won’t have access to power outlets, plus this battery pack can comfortably power two of the B400s all night long.

Canon 580exii Speedlight
This gives you a portable option that you can haul around the venue.

Hotshoe/Umbrella Mount for C8 Stand
An obvious yet essential part for your portable light.

Cheetahstand C8 Stand
For the speed light, no need for added weight. Just be careful on the dance floor!

PocketWizard Plus iii Set of 2 (four units total)
My favorite trigger system that I personally own. With the zone triggering options I’m able to tell my lights which one I’m shooting with from across the room. Nice piece of gear I would have never known about if it wasn’t for the How To Become A Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer Tutorial.

LimoStudio 2x 33" Studio Lighting White Umbrellas

Pelican 1650 Case (Optional) $230
Don’t be stupid, protect your gear and your sanity.

Obviously in photography there are many different approaches you achieve the same result, but this is what works for me. What are you using to light difficult venues?

Zakk Miller's picture

Zakk Miller is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He is known for his unique blend of natural and artificial light. Zakk has built his career by shooting many genres of photography such as weddings, seniors, families, live events, as well as concert and commercial work.

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Loved the humor in this article. Good content too!

Weddings are fast pace, keeping it simple and small footprint is a huge advantage :) I have noticed you use umbrellas at your receptions, yet umbrellas spill light like crazy so the images look flat from my experience...even with deep Profoto ones... I am a Nikon shooter and trust the gear I use, the one thing I found annoying though were pocket wizards TT1 TT5 not being reliable and consistent on me... / used them from 2012-2015 /... this would be a long story but I found solution. Youngnuo transmitters and 56 IV flash series. These are cheap to buy AND work better then PW IMO. Last 2 years I had no missed shots, no misfire, if someone knock my stands / btw I like C10 too :) / it cost me $60 to replace a unit and keep going, the Nikon flash would be $600 replacement / Happened to me 2 times :( / . Never use umbrellas with them, just bare head or Magmod modifier for certain looks... works magic for me.. For more styled shots at venues where portraiture before the reception is important I bring 2 profoto B1 or D1 and Elinchrom rotalux for freaking unreal soft 3D lighting of subject... then just put the away for dancing part and youngnuo takes over for the rest of the night :)... Just my 50cents, happy shooting and you can find sample of receptions images on my site - Cheers. Jozef

speedlights with triggers are amazing for this kind of photography. Some of the best photographers out there use a flash on the left hand (or assistant) + ultrawide zoom to bridge the gap between key and ambient light, its a little tough to get right but the results are great

To be honest, these are not good samples of wedding photography. Unflattering angles and too much motion blur. Im no wedding photographer, but ive shot my fair share of events over the years and all of these images would and should be rejects.

" the one thing I found annoying though were pocket wizards TT1 TT5 not being reliable and consistent on me... / used them from 2012-2015 /'

oh thank goodness - I was hoping that I wasn't going crazy while reading this article. that system is just horrible - I almost lost a magazine job because they failed in the middle of a shoot in front of clients. They use non-standard batteries (try finding those flat cells at midnite during an event) and literally had me in tears for being even worse than useless.

oh! and it's "Dual" not "Duel"

I found the PW to be unreliable. My kit now is a Godox set with built in radios and Li-on batteries. I used to use the SB-910 (on camera) with the Godox trigger but now I have the 860II-N and so far so good. No cables, no hanging trigger, it's all built in.

No umbrellas in the reception hall, either the flashes are point up to the ceiling or directly at the dance floor with 7" reflector defused with a sock.

If possible, family portraits are taken outdoors. I now use the AD200 with a 80cm softbox to help with the family portraits outdoors. If it is taken indoors, I use two AD200 with 80cm softbox.