Tips + Techniques

Six-Figure Wedding Photography: Seamlessly Incorporating Off-Camera Flash

November 14, 2019

By Ashley Beasley

© Luke and Ashley

Each month, Ashley Beasley is breaking down the stepping stones to becoming a six-figure photographer. She last wrote about solidifying vendor relationships and scoring referrals. Check out more of her ways to solidify business success in the industry at the bottom of this article.

As wedding photographers, we are required to not only have business skills to run a business but also people skills to make those around us comfortable and, of course, technical skills to capture beautiful imagery no matter the situation

Over our eight years of business, we have learned that for us to really grow as wedding photographers and attract our ideal clients, we had to produce higher quality work. That meant creating beautiful images in any scenario.

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Couples are more educated now, thanks to platforms like this that inform them that they need to hire wisely: They need a photographer that has the skillset to photograph their wedding no matter the lighting circumstances. That’s why now more than ever, wedding photographers need to expand from natural light to all different types of light.

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We live in an area with a lot of dark wedding venues. Over the last few years, we have booked couples solely based on their confidence in us to shoot in their dark venue without taking away from the ambience. We’ve turned to off-camera lighting (or OCF) to accomplish this.

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Understanding OCF and learning how to use the gear will only grow your business. When mentoring other photographers or hosting our lighting workshops, we have three foundational points that we share that create a better understanding of OCF and a roadmap on how to get started.

1. You don’t need to change your photographic style.

What do we mean, technically speaking, by photographic style? Your aperture. We love f/1.8, f/2 and f/2.8. Those f/stops help define our style, and we stick to them when we shoot OCF. 

When using OCF, photographers tend to overthink it and assume they have to present work that looks like a bad ’90s glamour studio session. The idea that a photographer can keep their natural light composition (aperture) and still produce fantastic OCF works might seem impossible, but it isn’t.

2. Learning OCF will push your creativity.

You will begin to find new ways to capture images or incorporate lighting design in your images. There are almost no limits to your creativity. 

We have considered OCF as a blank canvas during the reception. Yes, taking the couple outside and getting those ambient light images is excellent, but with OCF you get to create something brand new.

Chase the shadows, the light. Create images that focus on the intimate moment with the newlywed couple and highlight the essential details of each wedding.

3. OCF is easy when you understand its source.

If you shoot with natural light, you are positioning your clients around the light. You’re using window shades, trees, doorways, diffusers, anything to get that light on your clients.

Your flash is a mini sun; all it needs is some direction. Read that sentence as many times as you need for it to set in. Once you understand that you can do the same things with natural light as you can with OCF, you will never be afraid of it again.

Start small and find the equipment that works best for you. We delved deep into using modifiers for speed lights. Our favorites are the Rapid Box from Westcott. We also love the Magmod modifiers. These two companies have made it easy to get studio-quality lighting from speed lights. They are lightweight and easy to use. 

Now, how exactly do we incorporate OCF on a wedding day? Below are four different scenarios.

Shot on a Canon 5D Mark IV and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 1/160 sec. and ISO 3200, with a Canon 600EX-RT M1/32 (main light) and M1/128 (backlight), a 26-inch Westcott Rapix Box Octa Softbox and CTO gels.

The goal of this shot was to just highlight the guys’ upper bodies. Luke placed the main light with the rapid box up high and as far right as he could go. He placed a backlight behind them to help them not blend into the background. This backlight can be seen on the hair and ground. 

Both light sources have full CTO gels due to the tungsten lighting already in the cellar. A shutter speed of 1/160 is a personal sweet spot for balancing ambient light and flash light.

Shot on a Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f2.8 lens at 1/800 sec. and ISO 400, with a Canon 600EX-RT M1/32 and shoot-through umbrella at camera left.

Due to the rain we had to shoot the image above indoors. Fortunately for us, we had a lot of window light and white reflective floor and walls. We could have flipped them and used all window light, but the other side was full of the people. 

The biggest goal of this shot was to balance the ambient light and exposure on the couple. We didn’t want heaven in the background, nor did we want dramatic OCF light coming from camera left. 

Instead we used the ambient light to establish the main light, backlight and edge light on the couple. This helps the couple stand out from the background. Then we added a fill light camera left with a shoot-through umbrella. The trick with this is to add just enough light to the couple’s faces to take away the split lighting. The OCF, in this case, was not needed to be the main light.

Canon 5D Mark IV and  85mm f/2 lens at 1/160 sec. and ISO 3200m with six Canon 600EX-RT M1/16 speed lights and six CTO gels.

In most open-air reception spaces, you have to rely completely on great OCF placement because you have no ceilings to bounce light. What has been a huge breakthrough for us is placing our lights up high. At least 15 feet. This allows for the light to just fall naturally like the sun. 

In this image, we have our lights set up in a rectangle—all four corners of the the reception’s space, plus the middle sides of the rectangle. We used six OCF speed lights, all with CTO gels, to match the string lights. The lights are set up to capture all of the wedding party and guests. We wanted to walk around the whole reception space and be able to capture images with the same quality of light. 

Shot on a Canon 5D Mark IV and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 1/160 sec. and ISO 3200, with four Canon 600EX-RT M1/16 speed lights and four CTO gels.

Wedding exits are always tricky. You can easily use too much light or too little, and locations play a huge role in the overall ambience of the shot. In most of our exits, we use three to four OCF lights to capture the exit. The big reason for this is to have enough light throughout the whole exit walkway.

The image above was taken at a 300-person wedding with a long walk for the exit in a courtyard and a building that was all white. We used the walls of the building to reflect light back into the crowd. We also bumped up the flash power and ISO, and we shot at f/2.8. This helped us shoot through the smoke, yet let the smoke accent the overall feel of the image. We also set up lights as high as possible, which really helps the light fall naturally on your subjects.

If you would like to dive deeper into off-camera-lighting, we encourage you to check out our OCF course for beginners! This will give you a strong foundation in understanding OCF and take your lighting skills to the next level. 

Ashley Beasley and her husband, Luke, are a photo duo based in Virginia who run their own education platform called Luke & Ashley Education.


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