A fast and efficient approach to off-camera flash


I found this photo going through my hard drive and thought I would share how I generally do lighting for formal wedding portraits.

There are many ways to light a bride and groom at a wedding.  Some use large umbrellas.  Some still rely on speed lights mounted on the camera (NOT recommended in my opinion).  Many use studio strobes.  The Quantum has become a popular choice.  The way I choose to light the bride, groom, and family for the formal portion of the day is primarily a choice based on speed and simplicity.

The above photo shows my “Lightsaber.”  It consists of only a few things.  I generally use a Nikon SB-910 speed light mounted on a Manfrotto monopod.  This image shows a Pocket Wizard wireless transmitter/receiver.  However, I have since changed to the Phottix Stratos since they allow for easy mounting and also a TTL pass-thru.  It can then be held by an assistant and moved easily.  During a reception, if working alone, I can mount this on a tripod and work in a similar fashion.

This Lightsaber is so easy to use and makes lighting more simple and reliable.  More importantly, it is FAST.  I will usually try to find a nice place to put the subjects, ideally in the shade so I don’t have to worry about over-powering the sun.  I can then have the assistant hold this light about 10-15 feet away and angled towards the center (see above image).  I will start at about 1/2 to 1/1 power on the speed light.  My camera settings will “usually” begin in Manual Mode with a shutter near the native sync between 1/160-250 and an aperture at around f/5.6.  The ISO will be as low as I can go and with a D3, that would be ISO 100.  I will then take a test shot and make changes from there.  You have to start somewhere and these settings will usually get me in the ballpark.  I may tell the assistant to back up a few feet if the subjects are overexposed.  I may just bump up my ISO if they are underexposed.  It is as easy as that.  The image below shows how nice the results are.


The best part is that this approach provides consistent exposures every time.

As long as the distance between the flash and the subject remains the same, I don’t have to make any camera adjustments.

If people stand a few feet further back in the next grouping, I will have the assistant move a few feet forward to compensate and nothing changes in camera.  The initial exposure will be the same.  If my assistant does not keep the same distance from the people then I will lose or gain more light and have to speed up or slow down the shutter in response.  That is the only real variable.  But, it is a lot more simple than trying to use TTL on camera with distance changes and varying skin tones, clothing, etc.  TTL, or “Through The Lens” metering will often get confused.  This just leads to making more adjustments every shot and complicates an already complicated situation with people wandering around waiting for a photo.  Plus, off-camera lighting is far more natural than a speed light mounted to the hot shoe.

So, that’s it.  A fast and simple approach.  I hope it helps.


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