how to use off camera flash

One of the most challenging aspects of being a wedding photographer is that, often times, you have absolutely no control of the situations you encounter to photograph. One specific aspect of that challenge is the lighting conditions you encounter. Knowing how to use off camera flash and when to use off camera flash can help you overcome these challenging wedding photography lighting scenarios.

On a wedding day, one of the first scenes you encounter is the getting ready location. This can happen in a variety of places, such as a hotel room, a house, or a room provided at the wedding venue. Depending on the location, you might be able to shoot most of these images with natural light. However, using off camera flash during the getting ready scene is a great way to add drama to an otherwise potentially dull scene.

How to Use Off Camera Flash

In the Off Camera Flash Techniques for Wedding Photographers Guide, created by ShootDotEdit, a wedding photo editing company for wedding photographers, and SLR Lounge, we discuss a few scenarios that may occur during the getting ready part of the day. Below, we show you how Pye Jirsa from SLR Lounge and Lin & Jirsa Photography personally sets up the lighting for the getting ready scene to create unique and dramatic images.
pye jirsa headshot


dramatic getting ready image with the bride

Image by Lin & Jirsa Photography


Part of Wedding Day: Getting Ready

Location: Hotel Room

Lighting Condition: Natural light from the windows

Subject(s): Bride and Hair Stylist

In this scenario, the goal is to create a dramatic image of the bride as her stylist applies hairspray. To achieve this, a mixture of ambient light is used from two windows in the hotel, along with one Phottix Mitros flash with a CTO gel on it. Note – if you don’t have the specific flashes that are referenced, you can always supplement with your Canon or Nikon off camera speedlight.

Related: Do you know how to shoot with backlight to create stunning imagery?

As you can see in the image below, the bride is seated in a chair with her profile toward the camera, and her stylist behind her. The flash is set to auto zoom so Pye can control it from the receiver on the camera, and the light is placed to the left of the bride, directly in front of a window.

off camera flash setup getting ready images

Image by Lin & Jirsa Photography

Take a look at the image above again to see the off camera flash setup. The placement of the flash is crucial in this scenario to how it lights the bride. When setting up the flash, Pye positions it so it is high enough to shine down on her, rather than lower and angling it up toward her face.

This creates a flattering light and does not highlight certain areas, such as her chin. Additionally, Pye makes sure the flash is hidden from view as he frames the shot – this is when having an assistant or second shooter can be especially helpful!

Related: Do the common myths of flash prevent you from using it on every shoot?

Once the flash is properly positioned, as shown above, the next step is to get the proper exposure for the background. This is important because if the background is too bright, the hairspray will not be visible. In the image below, you can see how the hairspray disappears into the bright background, and because of this, Pye needs to make some adjustments to the image

raw image off camera flash setup for bride getting ready

Image by Lin & Jirsa Photography

To adjust this, Pye takes the following steps:

  • Step 1: since he cannot adjust his shutter speed and is already at the lowest ISO, he stops down his aperture from f/1.4 to f/2.8 to create a darker background.

  • Step 2: he moves the flash closer to the bride and reduces the flash power from 1/4th to 1/8th. Because he adjusted his aperture to let less light in, he doesn’t need to adjust the flash much in this scenario.
  • Step 3: he partially closes the curtain to the left of the bride to darken the area the hairspray will reach. As you can see in 1D, he leaves the curtain par ally open to keep a rim light on her face.
  • Step 4: he opens the window curtain in front of the bride to act as a fill light for the front of her face. This keeps her from becoming a silhouette in the image.

With these four adjustments, the hairspray shot is created, as seen below.

getting ready images with off camera flash and hairspray

Image by Lin & Jirsa Photography

By combining artificial and ambient light, you can create a dramatic image during a getting ready scene. This is just one of many images you can take during the getting ready portion of the wedding day. Even better, this basic wedding photography lighting setup can be utilized in other scenarios during the wedding day.

Discover additional resources for your wedding photography business with SLR Lounge Premium – learn more about it here.


Understanding how to use off camera flash during the wedding day shoot can help you quickly create images for your clients. Discover another way to use off camera flash during getting ready, as well as how to use an off-camera flash for portraits, and during the wedding reception when you download our free Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Wedding Photographers Guide! Click the banner below to download your free copy.

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