How do you light a wedding reception? Do you stick to one set up or switch things up as the night progresses?
If you haven’t tried many flash photography techniques, we’re here to help you experiment!
Trying new things in photography is just another way to be prepared for any shooting challenge. When it comes to lighting, the more techniques you know and actively try to master, the better your photos will turn out! So that’s the goal of this blog – to make sure you can navigate a variety of flash photography challenges, no matter the reception venue.
For a fresh perspective on lighting, grab a pen and pad. We’re going to take you through a list of flash photography gear, tips for using them, and finally, post-production suggestions for making your photos pop.
photo by Lindsey Paradiso Photography
Flash photography gear for wedding receptions
Speedlights are small flashes that help you enhance the exposure of a shot. They come in handy when you need a bright but portable light source that you can bounce off ceilings, walls, or other nearby objects. Unlike the pop-up flash on a DSLR, speedlights can rotate on a swivel for a wide variety of light-shaping options. You can attach them to the hot shoe of your DSLR, then twist the flash head in any direction to create interesting shadows in your work.
Want to get the best speedlight on the market? Grab one of these photographer faves:
When you need a soft, even light source, you can eliminate harsh shadows by sticking a speedlight into a softbox. It’s a simple process: Once the speedlight is triggered, light enters the softbox’s translucent cloth, and that creates a diffused glow. It’s the next best thing to natural window light, so it’s kind of a big deal!
Softboxes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but these four are popular with many photographers:
- Westcott 26 inch Octagonal Rapid Box
- Neewer 32 inch Octagonal Softbox Speedlight
- waka Flash Diffuser Light Softbox
- Fstoppers Flash Disc – Portable Speedlight Softbox
The first two can be used with light stands, but the waka softbox is small and fits right over your on-camera speedlight. If you need to be agile in a crowded reception, use it to shoot on the fly. When you need a larger, handheld light source, go for the Fstoppers Flash Disc.
Pro-tip: Pair the Fstoppers Flash Disc with an extension handle like this one to get better coverage/angles!
photo by Caroline Ghetes Photography
For some wedding receptions, you may want to use multiple flashes. But of course, they’ll need something to sit on! That’s where light stands come in handy; you can use three to four stands to secure off-camera speedlights, plus their softbox companions. Ideally, you’ll stick them in key corners of the reception venue – near the dance floor, the cake-cutting table, the newlyweds table, etc. Then when you’re ready to shoot, you can trigger each flash remotely.
Light stands should be sturdy because there’s always a chance someone will bump into them. But no worries. Invest in any of these products, and they’ll be standing tall at the end of the night:
- Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand
- Impact Heavy-Duty Air-Cushioned Light Stands
- Matthews 40” C-Stand With Spring-Loaded Base
Learning to control light can be tough, but grids make the process much easier. To enhance the mood of a shot, you can use these little lifesavers to constrict a beam of light to one focal point. All you have to do is fit the honeycomb-like structure over your flash, then adjust the degree of light spread. Typically, grids can either widen or restrict light by 10, 20, 30, or 4o degrees.
Here are some great grid options to get you started:
There are two ways to use gels – to balance color temperature or add fun hues to your shot. These colored sheets are perfect for correcting the warm, yellow lighting at most reception venues. Beyond that, you can use them creatively. The sheets come in many colors, and you can experiment with all of them by attaching them to a speedlight!
Get started today with these gel brands:
photo by Will Khoury
Flash photography tips for wedding receptions
1. Cast a “softer” light with on-camera bounce flash
Direct flash can be harsh and unappealing. If you want to avoid hard, shadowy lines in your photography, try bouncing your flash off of nearby walls. To do this, you can rotate your on-camera speedlight to a wall on the right, left, or front of your subject to add dimension to any focal point. You’ll love this method because the resulting light is softer and looks more natural.
Here’s a quick bounce guide to get you started:
- For soft, even light, point your flash toward the ceiling.
- For split-lighting, point your flash toward an adjacent wall.
- For portrait-style lighting, aim for a ceiling corner on the side of your subject.
2. Light larger venues with off-camera bouncing
If you have a lot of space to cover, you’ll need several light sources. For off-camera bouncing, you can set your speedlights on top of light stands, then place them in the most important corners of the venue. Once you’ve done that, you can bounce light off the ceilings or walls. And best of all, because you haven’t added a softbox yet, the speedlights + stands will be fairly portable. That means you can reposition your lights throughout the venue without much hassle.
photo by Chelsea Abril Photography
3. Use softboxes for off-camera diffusion
Softboxes work well indoors, but some of their best lighting happens after dark. If you’re shooting an outdoor reception at night, you can create beautiful images with just a speedlight, softbox, and the added ambiance of the venue’s lighting.
One disadvantage of large softboxes is that they sometimes act as a fill light, illuminating the entire scene. If you don’t want to lose the ambient light of the venue, opt for the Fstoppers Flash Disc. With this portable softbox, you can fire a small flash that illuminates your subjects only. This creates a beautiful contrast with the background, which is much better than a flat scene with no variation in lighting.
Pro-tip: For challenging venues, mix on-camera bouncing with off-camera diffusion. That way, if something goes wrong, you’ll have a variety of tools ready to go.
4. Create dramatic lighting with flash grids
Sometimes you’ll want to use multiple flashes at once – and by all means, you should! But before you add more light, take some time to harness the light you already have. For example, if you have a softbox + speedlight but want to add even more light, duplicating this setup might not be the answer. An extra softbox could spill light into unwanted areas – your subjects, the background, and everywhere in between.
When this happens, whip out some grids. They’re great for casting narrow beams of light that highlight important details – the ring on a groom’s finger, an emotional father-daughter dance, the bride’s expression during the bouquet toss. To create drama and intimacy like never before, make the most of these tiny, directional “spotlights.”
photo by Gilang Uthe
5. Use gels to balance color temperature or cast appealing hues
When natural lighting is hard to come by, gels can balance the color temperature of your shot. You won’t always need them, but you’ll miss them when they’re not around! That’s because most of the time, they’re the best way to color correct unflattering scenes – like the yellow-orange lighting in most venues.
In this scenario, you could use a CTO gel (color temperature orange) to bring things back to normal. It’ll convert those warm, daylight hues to cool tungsten. Another problem you might encounter is venues using fluorescent lights, which emit a green color cast. Adding a minus green gel to your speedlight would take that away and make your shot look natural.
There are so many gels to use, so when you’re not color-correcting, experiment with all of them to see how creative your shots can become!
6. You don’t always need a flash
When the natural lighting hits, it hits. So as a wedding photographer, it truly pays to embrace the gift of ambient light. Its presence means you don’t need to run and grab a flash, softbox, or anything “extra” to make the shot work. If it conveys the right mood, don’t worry about making it perfect. Just relax and shoot!
Some of the best ambient lighting mimics the flash grid effect, where some part of a couple is illuminated and the surrounding scene is dark. Other times, the venue lighting itself creates dazzling photos. For example, you might encounter accidental rim lighting from a nearby lamp. In this case, a couple has a glowing “rim” of light tracing their silhouette – and these types of photos always look awesome.
photo by Sara Rogers
Post-production tips for bringing flash photography to life
Now that you’ve got some flash photography chops, it’s time to make your good photos great! You can do this by tweaking several elements of your images – exposure, shadows, highlights, and more – in Adobe Lightroom’s develop module.
Start with the basics
There’s a panel in Lightroom called Basics, and it’s a great place to start your post-production journey. Here you can set the overall tone of your image – exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks. You can also change the white balance profile. Your options there are to keep the photo “as shot” or select preferences like “Daylight” or “Shade.” You can even determine an image’s presence, adjusting things like clarity, vibrance, and saturation.
There’s no one way to apply these changes, so experiment and use your best judgment!
With this tool, you can tweak the highlights, shadows, lights, and darks of the RGB color profile. By manipulating tones of red, blue, or green, you can drastically improve the color of your image.
Best of all, this tool can also make your images darker or brighter, even in select areas. To do this, navigate to the Tone Curve panel and click the top-left icon. Once you’ve done that, you can tweak the values of specific tonal regions. So for example, if you wanted to darken a shadow, you’d start by clicking on a dark region of your image. Then on the Tone Curve graph, you’d pull the slope line downward. To make shadows lighter, you’d do the opposite, moving the line upward.
photo by Brittany Gilbert Photography
Want to change the color of your shadows and highlights? Split toning is the way to go! When you don’t want to change the color temperature of an entire image, this tool lets you warm up or cool down shadows and highlights.
To use this tool, pick a hue to adjust in both the highlights and shadows sections of this panel. Then adjust the saturation slider for each, weakening or strengthing the effect to your personal taste. Lastly, adjust the balance sliders to create a sense of harmony (or not!) between the shadows and highlights.
When you need to make subtle color shifts, open your HSL panel. This tool empowers images to be more photorealistic, and you’ll love the results; yellow-tinged grass can become earth green again, and faded blue skies can return to their cerulean glory.
HSL stands for hue, saturation, and luminance, and you’ll see a section for each element in this panel. But most of the time, you’ll just need the hue section. Navigate there, then use the Targeted Adjustment Tool to adjust specific colors and tones in your image. This is as simple as clicking on the part of an image you want to change, then adjusting the color sliders, which are red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta.
If you want to adjust the overall tones in your image, you can do so in the calibration panel. Just be sure to do light edits! Everything you do in this section applies RGB changes to the entire image.
Most photographers use the calibration tool to create an ideal skin tone for their subjects. It takes some time to fully understand and master, so take your time with the learning process!
photo by Page and Holmes Photography
Take your flash photography to the next level!
For wedding receptions, you can master flash photography in three key areas: curating your gear, using your equipment to solve creative challenges, and bringing photos to life during edits. Each is just as important as the other, so take the lessons you’ve learned here and apply them out in the field!
Now that you’re a pro at flash photography, use these Lightroom presets to streamline your editing process!