Time for another segment of Saturday Light, and this time it’s the Wedding Edition. Back on the last weekend of July I had the privilege of shooting the Grove-Bartkovsky wedding here in Scranton. Both the bride and groom were former co-workers of mine, so we already had a good relationship – and element that makes it so much easier to get into the flow of the day and capture some great shots.
There’s a pair of posts on my professional site about the day, with additional photos, if you’re interested. Suffice to say it was a really, really great time. Which you might have guessed from the opening photo. But I’m going to skip over all of that here and get right down to the lighting. Because that’s the fun part!
There are three distinct portions of the wedding in terms of lighting: the ceremony, the bridal party shots, and the reception. This division holds true for the majority of weddings, although you may encounter a few where the lines are blurred or even removed.
Being a traditional church wedding, and even more so a Catholic ceremony, the first portion of the day was pure ambient light. Now to be fair, the priest did tell me that I could use flash during the ceremony, albeit somewhat reluctantly. But I still elected not to. A big consideration is that it’s distracting – I’m already up in the front, moving to capture moments. I don’t really need to be popping a flash every few seconds and drawing attention away from the happy couple during their moment.
And on a practical level, flash just wasn’t, well, practical. This is a cathedral-like church, with very high ceilings and reflective, polished marble everywhere. A ceiling bounce was out of the question; the best I could have hoped for was to have the hotshoe flash tilted up at the ceiling with a bounce card in place to push a bit of that light forward for fill. But at the distances I was working, it was slim odds. And since I was shooting with prime lenses, ISO 640 still gave me plenty of shutter speed at relatively low noise.
The flash did come out for the post-ceremony, in-church group shots. These are fairly typical and there’s nothing very special about them from a lighting standpoint. It’s the FL-50 speedlight on-camera, in bounce configuration, with a bounce card. The same setup I talked about a moment ago, except now I’m working at close range to my subjects, so there’s enough output to make the bounce card effective.
And just for kicks the bounce card is nothing more than a 4×6 inch index card, held onto the flash with a rubber band. Yes, several companies sell bounce cards made from plastic or whatever, but there’s no point. The index card works as well, looks about as good, and I can get a whole pack of 100 for a buck.
Ceremony done, we’re on to the bridal party portraits. And here’s where the elements conspired against me. We’re now shooting at nearby Lake Scranton. It’s 3 o-clock in the afternoon, almost full sun, and mid-80s. In short, a long way from ideal lighting conditions, and not only do I have to worry about that, but the fact is that in about 10 minutes, my tux and dress-clad party is going to be a miserable, sweaty mess. Forget the usual 30-45 minutes that gets planned for this session, I’ve got 20 minutes at absolute best before a mutiny breaks out. Oh yeah, and during the first five minutes it rained on us. Out of the clear blue sky.
This is run-and-gun territory now. I’m shooting with the Leica 25mm and actually have a 3-stop ND filter on it, just to knock down the ambient in hopes that the flashes can pump out enough power to match. Luckily they can, two YN-460 IIs on a lightstand, with a 43” white umbrella. I’m shooting into the sun; it’s at about my 2 o-clock, which is behind my subjects. The umbrella and speedlights are just enough to fill in the frontal shadows at close range.
It works well and I get several group shots before going down on the grass for a few of just Paul & Ashley. Same setup, working both in the sun and in the slim shadow cast by the old stone pavilion, or whatever it was. (In retrospect, I probably should have gotten the whole group down into that line of shade and used the old stone as a backdrop. It would have made another nice shot.)
From there, the bridal party went off in their bus with several bottles of champagne, while we headed off to the reception hall. No rest for the wicked; we had to keep out of the hall staff’s way while they finished setting up, then grab some detail shots of the hall, tables, decor, etc before the guests showed up and used it all. Detail shots are generally pretty easy, since the subjects don’t move. Since it was still afternoon, there was some decent ambient coming in through the hall windows, which I augmented with a mix of on and off-camera flash.
As the bridal party arrived, and then the guests, I setup the YN-460IIs again; same two speedlights on a stand, only with a smaller 30″ umbrella due to space restrictions. It was wedged into the back corner of the DJ’s little stage, aimed at about a 45* angle out onto the dance floor. The speedlights were set to S1 mode, which means that they were optically triggered by the FL-50 speedlight on-camera. The reason for this is simple: I wanted the frontal fill light provided by the on-camera speedlight, bounced off the ceiling + equipped with a bounce flash, and with the speedlight on-camera, there was no way to get the radio slave Tx unit on, too. (I used S1 mode instead of S2 because the YN-460IIs didn’t seem to recognize the Olympus pre-flash in TTL mode, so I switched the FL-50 to manual.)
Here’s the diagram; this kind of light it beautiful and, because it comes from two sources at once, it has a great sense of depth to it. There’s an interplay of shadow and light, which creates that depth, and a bit of drama. I did several detail shots with it, such as the boutineer on one of the groomsman’s lapels. Love the look of it.
As you can see here, it works great for full-length shots as well, and everything in between. It also does a great job of wrapping anytime the on-camera light is coming from an angle towards the off-camera, such as the garter shot above. Or, if you take another look at the very top-most image of Ashley dancing, it kicks into more of a glamour/club style shot when you put them right into each other. Fun light, and simple.
My only concern here was that in S1 mode, the guests’ cameras might set off the optical triggers. Fortunately, that happened only a few times, when guests were shooting into the lightstand at close range. The other 96% of the time, the flash was all mine. And I pushed it hard. Both speedlights were firing at full power during the lakeside shoot, and the same batteries got them through about half the reception, at one level below full power. I was impressed that the batteries held up as well as they did, especially in the heat.
Biggest lesson of the day? Next time, I’m bringing a white balance target. When I reached the editing stage, I was nearly beating my head against the desk trying to get the WB tuned perfectly. With the flash shots, it was almost spot on – but for the detail and ceremony shots, the mix of lights, and changing levels, sent the color all over the place. A small WB target – which I have – would have made life a lot easier. Shoot a test shot with the target, then shoot like normal and measure the WB settings off it later in ACR. (Or even use it to set an in-camera custom WB.) Even during the ceremony this would have helped, as I could have had my assistant stand at the alter with the target for the measurement shot, and then gone from there.
I’ll leave you with one last shot, which was the last capture of the evening. This crew partied harder than any other wedding I’ve been to. They didn’t just dance, they danced! It was an incredible amount of fun to shoot. As for this gentleman, I have no idea what he’s doing. Some form of the hula, perhaps. But one thing is clear – he’s having a hell of a good time in the process!