As a wedding photographer, lighting is one of the most challenging aspects you face. Every shoot you encounter differs, and it requires you to have a vast knowledge of photography lighting techniques and how to properly use them. We reached out to wedding photographer Mark Condon from Shotkit to discover his secrets to photography lighting techniques you can use for your upcoming shoots!
*These ideas and more can be found in Shotkit’s Lit: The Lighting Secrets of the World’s Best Wedding Photographers.
About the author: Mark Condon is a Sydney based destination wedding photographer covering weddings all over the world. Mark is the founder of Shotkit and author of the Shotkit Books, Lightroom Power User, More Brides and LIT.
Photography Lighting Techniques
Hey guys, it’s Mark from Shotkit here. I wanted to thank the team at ShootDotEdit for allowing me to guest post on their blog today – it truly is an honour… (with a ‘u’ since I’m from the UK!). I’m a big fan of ShootDotEdit’s photo editing services and use it religiously in my own wedding photography business to shave hours off my workflow. When I’m not writing on Shotkit about the latest small camera bag or the best DSLR camera under $500, I love to spend time with my wife and 2 small children. Like so many others, our free time is very precious. Having ShootDotEdit do most of the heavy-lifting in my photography business really helps to achieve a healthy and efficient work, life balance.
For the past few months, I have been working on a book called LIT which focuses on the creative lighting techniques employed by some of the world’s top wedding photographers. Thanks to the interest and enthusiasm of fellow photographers in the industry, LIT has been a great success in the weeks since launch. I hope it continues to be a useful resource for both new and experienced wedding photographers who want to learn more about lighting techniques, or simply need a bit of inspiration.
As for my own attempts at creatively lit wedding portraiture, I’m still somewhat in the experimentation stage. I find that toying around with a flash or LED light towards the end of my wedding day provides a release of creative freedom.
Attempting to come up with ‘something from nothing’ is a welcome challenge, albeit at the end of an exhausting day, and I find it a refreshing way to break the monotony of repetitive dance-floor photography! Far from being a master at off-camera lighting, I’d like to share my rudimentary method of attempting to squeeze something creative from the wedding venue lemons we’re so often dealt! My method revolves around the basics of any kind of flash photography – subtracting and adding light. I ignore any technicalities and hack my way into doing it as fast and efficiently as possible.
Maybe you do something similar? Let us know in the comments.
Step 1 – Subtracting the Light
First, I like to underexpose the scene with my eyes. I do this by squinting my eyes until they’re almost closed, and seeing what objects in the scene are still emitting enough light to register in my vision. You’ll see me walking around a wedding venue at some point near the end of the reception looking like I’m sleep-walking.
In doing this, I’m quickly scanning the scene for (illuminated) objects I may like to include in the composition, or ones that I’d prefer to remove.
When I’ve found a scene that interests me, I’ll move on to the second part of the technique – using Live View to confirm the underexposure. The rise in use of the EVF on mirrorless cameras by wedding photographers these days makes this much easier, but for the rest of us DSLR dinosaurs, we’ll be resorting to the clunky Live View of our camera’s LCD. Live View is a hugely underrated functionality in our cameras. We can take advantage of Live View to preview the exposure of a scene, before taking the photo. Live View effectively does away with chimping, getting us to our desired exposure much faster and more accurately than ever before. With Live View (and exposure preview) turned on, I’ll switch the camera to Manual mode, and start underexposing the image by adjusting my camera settings.
The key here is to use your shutter speed and aperture to decrease light in the exposure, whilst keeping the ISO as low as possible. Shooting at a lower ISO will give you more leeway in your post production, most notably in recovering lost shadow detail. Once you’ve underexposed your image sufficiently so that the illuminated areas are appearing as you wish, next you need to work on your composition.
Since any horizontal and vertical lines such as walls, floors, or horizons will now be lost in the darkness, you’re free to twist and rotate your camera as you wish, using the illuminated objects to frame your subject, guide the viewer’s eye, or simply to be used as compositional elements. In doing this, you are able to inject some energy into even the most mundane location.
Before you bring your subject into the frame, you have the option of attaching your camera to a tripod to ‘fix’ the composition, or you can just try and remember your composition to be used later. I prefer the second option since it gives me the flexibility to tweak my composition if I’ve got something slightly wrong.
If you plan to return to the shot later, another tip here is to utilize your camera’s Custom Settings. By saving the camera’s exact settings to one of the ‘custom memory banks’, you can switch back to whatever usual mode you shoot in, in order to rejoin the wedding action, safe in the knowledge that you can return to your ‘LIT’ photo settings in an instant.
Step 2 – Adding the Light
With your settings saved or your camera in manual mode, you’ve just dealt with one big variable of the puzzle – the ambient exposure. If you’ve fixed your camera on a tripod, you’ve also partially dealt with another variable – the composition. Now it’s time to deal with the next variable – the additional light.
At this stage, it’s worth noting that the more experienced you are with using flashes or other lights, the quicker you’ll be able to estimate things like light distance and light output. However, as this is a cheat’s guide to getting the photo, we’ll be resorting to a bit of light-chimping. So, place your flash (or alternative light source) in whatever location you’ve chosen to light your subject:
- Perhaps you want a rim light, so position the flash to the rear of the subject.
- Maybe you want to rim light the couple, but include some of the background too, in which case you can point the flash towards a wall behind the couple, still keeping them close to the flash.
- Or perhaps you just want to light the subject properly, in which case you can point the flash at the subject from whatever frontal angle you choose.
At this stage, I’ll sometimes grab a member of the bridal party to use as my subject. Depending on your scene, you’ll need to adjust your flash output and the distance from your subject appropriately, but for most situations, you can start with flash output at around low-medium power and adjust from there.
I’d recommend placing your flash on a stand and leaving it in the same place (or instructing whoever’s holding it to remain still) and just adjusting the flash output.
Remember, you need to deal with all the variables one by one to un-complicate your shot. By keeping your light in one spot, you’ve just dealt with the distance/position variable. Since you won’t be able to see your subject through your camera’s Live View with the ‘LIT’ photo settings, I’d recommend you use one of the auto settings on your camera (such as Program mode) which will force the camera to adjust its exposure to allow you to view the scene. Then it’s just a matter of directing your subject into your chosen position.
Finally, switch your camera back to your saved settings, tell your stand-in subject to get back to the dance floor, and go and find the newlyweds to take their place. You can, of course, do all of the above whilst using the newlyweds as your actual subject, but I find it far smoother to set everything up in advance. Then it’s just a case of snap-snap… one creatively LIT photo complete. 🙂
Obviously, the above lighting technique is just a quick and dirty guide to producing something interesting out of an uninspiring situation, just by the use of your lights. This is just the tip of the iceberg – you’ll find many more original and inspiring lighting techniques in LIT. I hope that you feel motivated and inspired to get out there and get creative with your lights at your next wedding.