Top 5 Tips: Off Camera Flash Setup Strategies for Photographers

off camera flash setup strategies for photographers

Of the challenging lighting scenarios you face during the wedding day, the reception provides a handful of issues for you to overcome. From low light, to uplighting, to constant movement from your couple and guests, there are plenty of obstacles during the reception. How can you quickly create light and not miss any of the important moments? In our Online Training: 3 Easy Off Camera Flash Lighting Setups for Wedding Photographers, Matt Kennedy of The International Academy of Wedding Photographers shared his personal off camera flash photography tips during even the most difficult lighting scenarios. Here are 5 off camera flash setup strategies for photographers from the Online Training to use during your upcoming wedding shoots.

1. Know How to Use Off Camera Flash

There are many things you can do with off camera flash (also referred to as OCF photography) while on location, especially during the reception. You can work with ambient or natural light in many situations, but using an off camera flash setup can help you get a better image without completely changing the look of the photo or your style. When you understand how to use flash, you are working to create top images for your clients.

black and white first dance wedding photo

Image by Matt Kennedy Photography

One thing to remember is to use off camera flash to keep your style consistent throughout the shoot, so you do not have a stark contrast between the photos taken during the day and ones taken during the reception. If you are not familiar with how to use off camera flash, your reception lighting may cause the style and feel of the imagery to change. Take the time to get comfortable with the best off camera flash wedding reception setups, so you can use it to quickly capture moments from the wedding day.

Tip: After you create images with off camera flash, send them to a wedding editing service company to ensure they are consistent and match your style.


2. Know When to Use It

It can be helpful for you to know when to use off camera flash for your wedding photography and when not to. There are certain situations that do not require flash and sometimes, the amount of time it takes may get in the way of an image that could have happened at that moment. Matt used a hat as an example to keep in mind when thinking about when to use off camera flash:

“You need to use [a hat] when you have to, such as when it’s raining. Or, when you just feel like it. Sometimes you wear it because you need to get the sun out of your eyes. Think about flash in the same way. Don’t use it all the time, but also don’t shy away from it. If it’s dark outside, use flash. If you know there’s time, and you have a good idea, and your clients will love it, then go for it.” – Matt Kennedy

Tip: In situations where you cannot use off camera flash, think about how you can use the on camera flash. With your camera flash, you can use bounce flash. You can bounce the light off of the wall or ceiling and place a soft light on the person in front of you. Face your camera toward the subject, and position your camera flash head to the light part of the wall or ceiling. Take the shot quickly with on camera bounce flash. Bounce flash helps you move on quickly to the next shot.

Related: Simple Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Stunning Photos

3. Use a Kicker

One way to add interest to your images with off camera flash is to use a kicker. A kicker adds dimensional light, which means the flash you use off camera is something that comes from the side or behind (such as backlight, which we explain more about in detail here) that adds dimension to the image so it is not flat. The on camera flash, if used just facing forward or to bounce light, is much more flat. A kicker allows light to come from the side, which provides more highlights and shadows to add dimension to the photo. There are options to use the kicker in or out of the frame, depending on your preference.


Learn Pro Lighting Techniques

4. Incorporate Symmetrical Room Lights

To continue to produce dynamic images while using off camera flash, incorporate symmetrical room lights in the location. This setup requires 3 flashes but still is easy to quickly achieve. It is your choice where you line up the symmetry, whether it is around the dance floor, head table, speech podium, or the main room in general.

“For 80% of the weddings I do, I choose the dancefloor. I wait to do my symmetrical lineup until it is time for dancing. I have 2 flashes at a symmetrical point and I line them up so when I shoot the first dance in the center of the room, I have a beautiful symmetry lined up with the walls.” – Matt Kennedy

In the black and white image under tip #1, on the right and the left of it, there are 2 flashes sitting between the two pillars. They positioned on the ledge, pointed back toward the dance floor. The couple in the middle of the dancefloor is backlit by both of these and the on camera flash was not on.

Related: Are you using these tips to create proper lighting for any location?

5. Utilize a Kicker and Boom

A final off camera flash setup Matt suggests is to use kickers and a boom. Kickers are just a flash on a stand that you place in the room. A boom is essentially a flash on a monopod. This allows your flash to not be on camera, but on a monopod, and you can pick and choose the direction of the light. A boom allows you to target what you want to be lit in the photo. If you are in the middle of the dancefloor and you have a boom, you can reach high up and have a front facing light and create layers in your images.

bride and groom kicker and rim light

Image by Matt Kennedy Photography

In the image above, it was dark and started to rain. Matt placed a kicker behind them to provide rim light. In the photo, the light comes from the left and is on a boom. If you draw a line from the shadow on the bottom of the bride to the railing, you can see how high the boom is and that places the light on her face without too many shadows.

When you utilize off camera flash during the reception, you can control the light and develop dynamic images. To learn more about Matt’s easy off camera flash wedding reception tips and more, download his free lighting diagrams!

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