A collage of two images and an infographic

The wedding family formals constitute that part of the day where you have to (quickly) gather the couple’s family members and take a few memorable photos of everyone together before the reception and the cocktail hour takes over. It is also that part of the wedding day when natural lighting can differ depending on the location, the timing, and the weather. And when you are out there working on a brief window of time to take photographs, bad lighting can be a bummer! But if you are eager to learn how you can make it all work, this blog could help!

In this blog, we feature a Wedding Lighting Masterclass by Leeann Marie of Leeann Marie Photography, a pro wedding photographer. Lighting is unpredictable, but as a wedding photographer, you ought to be prepared for any type of scenario. This is where your skills as a photographer come in handy - especially when it comes to photography lighting. With multiple people coming together (and their attention spans fading…), how do you create the perfect light to quickly capture these images? Leeann shares the answer in her wedding photography lighting tips ahead.

About Leeann Marie

One of the leading wedding photographers in Pittsburgh, Leeann Marie has created an exclusive brand that is family-focused for the cosmopolitan bride. She’s a national speaker for WPPI and has been in business in the Pittsburgh area since 2009. With a background in industrial engineering, she brings a unique perspective on both photography and the business aspect of it. She relies heavily on systems in her business to accomplish all of her goals. She lives in the city of Pittsburgh with her husband and daughter. She also shared that she loves looking out her back window into the firefly-lit woods, and enjoying a night out for sushi and drinks with friends.

Things To Keep In Mind For Lighting Any Scenario

1. Fast Is Best

Infographic stating work with tools that help you move between situations quickly and flawlessly

Keeping your lighting scenarios as fast as possible could allow you to move between scenarios quickly, while still creating beautiful photography for your couples. Try to make the best use of the natural light, but also don’t be afraid to introduce artificial lighting whenever required. Work with tools that help you move between situations quickly and flawlessly.

2. Location & Timing Matter

It is important to understand that where you are shooting the wedding matters. There are different lighting conditions as per different geographic locations and the timings of the day. So keep that into consideration. For instance, Leeann works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is an area subject to rain on summer days, snow in April, and sunny days in November. So there are varying conditions at every single wedding, and just like Leeann, you might have to accordingly adjust to the situations at hand.

3. Experiment With Multiple Lighting Setups

In the photography world, there are a million ways to light one simple scene. What works best for you might not be the best possible lighting situation for someone else. The methods outlined in this blog are the personal preferences of the respective photographer, and we encourage you to try them and then modify them, if necessary, to fit your photography style and client needs.

Suggested Read: Hard Light Vs Soft Light: Understanding Wedding Lighting

Photographing Wedding Family Formals

Leeann’s approach to this part of the wedding day is to keep everything organized. She mentioned, “I come into the portrait time with an extensive photography list that I have discussed with the bride and groom prior to the wedding day. I work from the largest groups to the smallest groups, catering to grandparents and children first. I always make sure that I have a wedding family portraits list and that I am checking things off, and speak clearly and loudly for everyone to hear me.”

When we talked about posing wedding family formals, Leeann shared, “I choose to keep the ‘formal photos’ (which are typically large groups inside of the church) more formal with lines and tiers of people, and then I ask smaller groups (bride + mom, bride + dad) to take photos in a more ‘casual’ setting typically outdoors.”

“For wedding photography lighting equipment, I have listed a few scenarios below, but I am traveling with two speedlights and MagMod gear or my Profoto B2 with softbox if additional light is needed. I set up my equipment for these formal family portraits prior to the ceremony start time, so we can go straight into portraits following the ceremony. Many of the churches I work in have time constraints on when we must be out of the building, so being prepared to start immediately is important.”

Suggested Read: 4 Time-Saving Apps For Wedding Photographers

How To Approach Church Weddings As A Photographer

indoor church wedding photographyImage Credit @leeannmarieg

Church weddings are pretty common. More often than not, wedding photographers find themselves working at new churches every wedding season. Sometimes, there could be ‘common’ ones, where you know exactly what the settings would be like, but often you could find yourself in new spaces for family photos.

Leeann shared, “When I first arrive at a church, I scope out the surrounding area of the building and find a nice, easy-to-walk-to location with great light and some open shade. This is where I’ll do the ‘breakdown’ of family photos later, and I want it to be easy to get to from the church doors, especially if there are grandparents or children in the groups. I never like to have family photos at a ‘travel location’, simply because it’s logistically a lot of people to organize above and beyond the bridal party.”

She continued, “Once I have this location, I enter the church and set up my photography lighting gear. I usually choose two simple speedlights with MagMod modifiers on Cheetah Stands, since it’s simple and easy to move, come family portrait-time. I keep these with my gear all set up and ready to go (although sometimes I use them for the ceremony as well).”

Suggested Read: Shooting With Speedlights

A Look At Different Lighting Scenarios For Family Portraits


wedding photography lighting setup

Scenario: Family photos inside of the church.

Equipment + Technique: Set up two speedlights off-camera. Leeann’s gear for this setup includes 2 Cheetah Stands, 2 Nikon SB-700 speedlights, 2 PocketWizard Flex TT5 Transceivers, 2 MagMod MagSpheres, 1 Pocketward FlexMini on camera, Nikon D750. Optional: May also use CTO or ½ CTO gels if the space is exceptionally tungsten color.

Leeann shared, “Before I turn on any flash photography, I set my camera into manual mode and my aperture to somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8 (depending on how big the largest group of people will be). I then choose an ISO that is usually <1600 ISO, and a shutter speed that gives me reading at 2 stops below ambient light. In a usual church, that may fall somewhere around f/5.6, ISO 1600, 1/200 sec. If the aisle allows (and I feel like people follow directions, with me standing far back and can hear me), then I like to shoot these on a 70-200 lens for the compression. If not, and there is a smaller aisle or less attention-span), then I will shoot with a 24-70mm. That choice depends a lot on the crowd, believe it or not!”

“Once I have my ambient light set, then I can turn on both of the flashes and set them to equal power that will light my subjects nicely. This usually is somewhere around 1/16 power for each of them. I also make sure to set up my groupings with some space between the group and the back wall to allow for shadows to fall off from the flash. The off-camera flashes are set directly beside me in the aisle or pews (again, space-dependent), and I can shoot away!”

Estimated Time: 5 minutes to set up lights prior to the ceremony; 5 minutes for setup and light testing prior to shooting.


wedding family formals

Nikon D750, 56mm, f/4.5, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)

family formal wedding photos

Nikon D750, 52mm, f/5.0, 1/80 sec, ISO 2000 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)

wedding formal family portraits

Nikon D750, 70mm, f/5.0, 1/250sec, ISO 320 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)


photography lighting diagram

Scenario: Family photos outside of the church.

Equipment + Technique: “After I photograph all the family groupings on my wedding family portraits list inside of the church (which usually includes the large groups), I take the immediate family outdoors to the spot that I scoped out prior to the ceremony. In this space, I photograph the rest of my family photos, which includes the smaller groupings (bride + dad, groom + mom).”

“Again, in this space, I am looking for a nice potentially open-shade area with a simple background. If there is no easy shade, then I look for an area with a simple background and rim lighting from the sun. On overcast days, or if I am generally finding that I have a lot of shadows, I will use fill light, which I cover in a scenario below.”

Estimated Time: 5 minutes for shooting with natural light for images, and working through the family photo list.


wedding photos family portraits

Nikon D750, 122mm, f/28, 1/250sec, ISO 1600 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)

outdoor wedding photography

Nikon D750, 86mm, f/3.2, 1/2500 sec, ISO 2000 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)


family wedding photos

Nikon D750, 140mm, f/4.0, 1/500sec, ISO 500 (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)


wedding photography lighting setup diagram

Scenario: Family photos outside in the open shade.

Equipment + Technique: “An easy, easy way to take great outdoor wedding family formals is to find a place with a simple background and a reflective surface! In the photos below, we chose a downtown location (sidewalks are reflective!) with a clean background and good contrast.”

“It was incredibly easy to photograph these family photos because the sidewalk directed the light up into their faces without the need for any additional off-camera flashes. They were in open shade, and I was standing in the sun. I usually position my subjects close to the sun/shade line to really take advantage of that beautiful natural light.”

Estimated Time: 2 minutes to just find a nice, clean, open shade spot that has a reflective surface!

A Word of Caution: Be careful with the colors that are reflecting up onto your subjects naturally. The grass is slightly reflective, but it also creates a green skin cast. Pay attention to the color of that reflective light!


wedding portraits

ISO 200, 140mm, f/2.8, 1/640 sec (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)

lighting wedding formals

ISO 160, 70mm, f/3.5, 1/320 sec (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)


lighting wedding photography

Scenario: Family photos outside in shade with fill light needed.

Equipment + Technique: “Working outdoors is usually pretty nice and easy, but what if you’re faced with a cloudy day (hello, shadows!) or a shady spot that’s just not reflecting pretty natural light onto your subjects? For this, I usually set up a fill flash with my Profoto B2 on sunny days to provide a nice, strong fill flash on my subjects. I also use this because I like for the backgrounds to remain contrasty and natural instead of blown out in the editing process to accommodate for dark skin.”

“Since the daylight can be powerful, I choose to use my ProfotoB2 with a softbox or large umbrella for these portraits. You could also try with your speedlights if they have enough power with your ambient settings.”

Estimated Time: 10 minutes to set up large light, test + calibrate settings.


formal family portrait photography

ISO 160, 102mm, f/6.3, 1/125 sec (Image Credit @leeannmarieg)

Further Read: Flash Photography Tips: A Brief Intro To Artificial Lighting

We hope these photography lighting scenarios give you a good idea of how to approach family portrait lighting in a quick and easy way. There can always be difficult circumstances thrown your way on a wedding day, but with wedding family formals, it could help to look for a clean background, simple light, and make sure everything is organized and all your groups stay happy throughout the process! With the knowledge of how to properly light in any location, you can use light to create photographs your clients would love every time.

Here at ShootDotEdit, we love collaborating with photography pioneers to bring forth resourceful content such as this blog for the wedding photography community. We also love working toward enhancing the look and feel of your images by incorporating carefully thought photo edits. Want to learn more about us and how we can help you lessen your post-production workload? Take a look at our pricing plans.



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