We recently released our 14 hour tutorial on How To Become A Professional Wedding Photographer and as promised, we will be releasing excerpts from it for free over the next year. In this video I show you my go to method of lighting posed pictures in a church at weddings. I've tried every method of lighting but I find it easiest to light up the whole sanctuary with my Profoto D1 monolight.
When you are lighting up a group of people for a wedding inside a church there are a few things to think about. First you need to shoot at a fairly high Fstop so that you can keep everyone sharp. F 2.8 will not work well in these situations because you may be forced to shoot multiple rows of people. If you focus on the front row, you need the people in the back to also be sharp. Most churches are dimly lit already so stopping down to F5.6 is going to make it even harder to shoot natural light.
In some extremely rare cases the church will be professionally lit and it will not require that you do anything extra. This may have happened once in my entire career. In most cases the churches built-in lights are extremely unbalance from the background or are over the heads of my subjects firing down on them. You don't want bags under your subjects eyes so you are going to have to light the scene yourself.
Lighting with an umbrella or softbox
Lighting with a strobe on a light stand pointed towards your subjects is probably the most standard method of lighting posed pictures at a wedding. There are a few things to worry about when you are lighting this way. 1, your subjects may be appropriately lit but your background may be too dark. 2, your subjects may be unevenly lit if your light is on one side of your camera. This is always a problem when you shoot large groups. 3, a small light source will throw shadows behind your subjects on the background or the back row of people.
Lighting up the entire church (my method)
The key to lighting up an entire church for posed pictures is power. In some small sanctuaries on camera flashes can work but for the vast majority, you are going to need some considerable power to pull this off. I personally use Profoto D1 lights for 3 reasons: They are small, they are powerful (1000 watts), and they have radio receivers built in. I've used other power pack systems in the past and they work fine but they are much more complicated to set up and at a wedding, time is always an issue.
I always arrive to my weddings early, really really early. I want to be prepared for any big issue like a flat tire or a car wreck but I also want to be able to set up my lighting before the ceremony begins. It's important that your clients do not wait around after the ceremony for you to figure this out. When I arrive I look for white walls or ceilings. I will then set up one of my mono lights with a reflector dish and fire the light towards a large white surface. If the church is made of wood I will attempt to bounce off of different areas of the room and test to see if it is possible to white balance out the red reflection. In most cases it is impossible to bounce light off of wood because of the color temperature but in the video above I show you an example where it actually did work.
If I cannot bounce light then I must go to a standard off camera softbox or umbrella lighting scheme. I NEVER direct flash my posed pictures with an on camera flash and you shouldn't either. Your clients are paying you to take professional images so it's important that you learn to light professionally. The last thing you want is for your pictures to look like the pictures their guests are taking.
You can download our full wedding tutorial by going here.