How To Light Wedding Posed Pictures In A Church

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.

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.

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Previous comments

My predetermined method in dealing with low lighting conditions inside a Church are some what different to what is being explained.

My focus is more on making use of the available natural and artificial light available inside a Church. For that very reason I use much higher ISO levels along with a B.L.TLL flash from my SB910. My ISO is set on auto from a minimum to a maximum selected level acceptable without significant noise. I there for do not have an issue using my dedicated Flash system straight from the Camera. Any slight brighter spots can be easily corrected after. I opt not to want to cart about portable Strobes, setting up reflectors e.t.c. It is too in cumbersome for a solo Photographer and in trying to catch up with the procession of the Wedding. You are more likely to miss some shots because you are too busy packing up your gear so as not to get it flocked and to go to the next point. All ok if you have an Assistant. How ever" I am a reportage Wedding Photographer. I tell the story of a Wedding. I mainly use my Camera on a single point focus as I like to get in focus what needs to be in focus. I prefer AP priority setting. It allows me to change the aperture to a desirable setting to suit the shot I like to take. The settings are pretty much the same on my second Camera except that being a 200mm Lens I have it set on FP 125 sec so as not to end up with slightly blurred Photos. The only gripe I encountered in my shots where that I had inadvertently had both Cameras still set on Active D Lighting rendering the Photos darker than I wanted them to. I also encountered some light contamination on the white Wedding Dress. This was caused from the light shining through a purple window toward the Couple. I also tend to use +0.7 exposure compensation to help counter the often pain in the Bud of a white Dress v a dark Suit e.t.c. Most of all I have my white balance all pre arranged using a Colour Monkey colour Chart profile. The rest is all fine tuning each Photo to a professional standard finish. There is always more ways to skin a Cat ;-) > Remember > Switch off your ADL!

Hello, I am hoping someone would be able to help me with some guidance. I have watched and read bout shooting wedding ceremonies. As I have heard and read a lot of photographers would use ambient light or bounce flash either on walls or ceiling once white. Which is all well and good with me for understanding. What if there is a situation say the Church ceiling is too high or of a different color and the walls are not white and the lighting in the church is very low. Of course you are able to use flash, how and would flash modifier is recommended here to obtain the best results in such situations. Thank you in advance for any such help and suggestions. God Bless