I’ve had this problem for years when it comes to an entire wedding collection I would post on my website.  Great getting ready, great portraits, beautiful ceremony, and the light is sweet, then we grab the stellar sunset shots and then the reception hits and I’m left with horrible lighting when the DJ turns the lights down low.  I was never really happy & satisfied with the quality of the light on the images with my on camera flash and therefore I just hated to use the images.  So my slideshows stopped with the first dance.  As the years went by I got on camera flash down, but off camera flash was always touch and go.  I could get some of the shots to turn out great, but when the action kept moving and people got in the way of the flash units, things just didn’t come out consistent enough.

Reception Off Camera Lighting - Photographer Mike Larson

That was then.  Last year I was on this shoot in Germany and my pocket wizards didn’t work.  Bummer.  I had to nail this shot.  So we twittered for any extra wireless units and then this guy came from Hamburg and brought these little units that had a chinese name and I was thinking, “what the heck are these things!?”.  I tried them out and they worked like a charm.  Then he told me they were about $20 buck on ebay!

When I got home I ordered 10 receivers and 5 transmitters.  That cost me a whopping $300.  Then I used my existing 550ex, 580ex and 580exII flash units.  I had 4 of them and used them all at 1/128th power to get 3-4 frames a second.  We have all 3 shooters shooting on the same setup and the 4 AA batteries would last all night.  I was blown away by the simplicity of the device, even using manual and not TTL.

How amazing is this light on these shots.  I could finally get insane reception shots, of the 1st dance, speeches, and all the events and all on manual.  It was so ridiculously easy.

Reception Off Camera Lighting - Photographer Mike Larson

Here is how to do it:
Off Camera Lighting at Receptions - Photographer Mike Larson

You want to make sure you have the flash units circling around, dead spots will occur when the flash units are too far apart.

Here are your camera settings: (yes, its really this simple).

Aperture: 1.4-1.8
Shutter speed: 1/60-1/125th, (depending on ambient light)
ISO:400
Kelvin: 5000-6000(depends on amount of ambient light)

Speedlight Flash Settings:

Zoom: 24mm zoom
Power: 1/64th

Other Gear used to secure flashes:

Gorilla Pods($99)
11′ Matthews Light Stands ($59)
12′ Manfrotto booms ($150)

There are always places to put the flash units, the most common locations are out of the way from people at as low profile as possible.  You can put the gorilla pods on top of the DJ speakers, and lightstands around the columns.  If the tripod bottoms get in the way of foot-traffic, you can put booms there and attach to the side of the wall, or pillars near the dance floor.  Attach with Gaffers tape or zip ties.  You can hide these in curtains, or wherever the decor permits.

Important lighting placement thoughts to mention:

– Have flash units as high as you can get so that people don’t block light from hitting the center of the dance floor.

– Space them evenly apart.

Optimal distance away from center of dance floor: 12-25 feet. (25 feet may require flash at 1/32 power).

Reception Off Camera Lighting - Photographer Mike LarsonReception Off Camera Lighting - Photographer Mike Larson

Below is the range of the devices and the technical data.

Off Camera Lighting at Receptions - Photographer Mike Larson

Mike Larson is teaching his last & final workshop of the year, (Dec 6-7th) sponsored by Calumet in Los Angeles CA, Hands on shooting, and dialogue for you to ask questions and grow your business, are you ready for 2011!?  Click here for details http://bit.ly/dBPoWc" onClick="recordOutboundLink(this, 'Outbound Links', 'http://bit.ly/dBPoWc'); return false;.  Its only $199.

Mike Larson is an international photographer who began his career traveling the globe in search of photographing exotic locations, amazing surf, and beautiful cultures. Since then, he discovered his passion for photographing people who are in love and enjoying life. Residing in Southern California when not traveling, Mike is honored to be sought after to photograph spectacular weddings around the world.

37 Comments

  • So these little Chinese transmitters…what are they called?

  • Neil Landino says:

    Definitely would love to get the name of those transmitters! I have a big event coming up that I was going to buy supplemental lighting for!
    thnx..neil

  • Yes, I would love to know this too…what’s the name?

  • Allan Mueller says:

    How I find these 10 receivers and 5 transmitters ot order?

  • Hey Mike!!
    You so rock! Love it, we so could write the same story (well the first part)! Those shots are amazing, and those would help us rock our reception world!! Do share what they are!!!

    Travel safe,
    Steven & Sherry Ann!!

  • Great images Mike, love to know the name of these ebay gems? and the lighting set up you are using in these rooms. Would love to come the LA workshop but it’s a bit far from London.

  • Precisely, where can we find these Chinese transmitters??

  • I’m interested too sounds like a really great solution to lighting at recptions

  • Lisa Redfern says:

    I believe he’s talking about the RF-602 units… mine works great too!

  • Love the reception lighting! Yes, do tell! What are these little Chinese pieces of magic called??? Thank you!!!

  • Mike Larson says:

    Update to this post. Ok, so here are the details They are called YongNUO Wireless transmitters and the best place to get them is on ebay. This is really a wierd distribution of the product. The company that makes them, does not sell them directly except on ebay. A few stores have picked them up and sell them for more. If thats easier for you, they are still a screaming deal. Seach ebay for this “YongNuo RF-602 Canon”. Here is some text that was not included in the original post. The post will be updated soon!

    Here are your camera settings: (yes, its really this simple)

    Apterture: 1.4-1.8
    Shutter speed: 1/60-1/125th, (depending on ambient light)
    ISO:400
    Kelvin: 5000-6000(depends on amount of ambient light)

    Speedlight Flash Settings:
    Zoom: 24mm zoom
    Power: 1/64th

  • ditto. nice blog post! but not terribly helpful without the name of “these little Chinese transmitters … “

  • Emily says:

    I’m assuming we’re supposed to take Mike’s workshop to find out the name of the transmitters, but for those of us who aren’t on the west coast, is there any way to find out this info? 🙂 This blog entry was a bit of a tease. 😉

  • Greg Johnson says:

    Thanks Mike.

  • Mike Larson says:

    Emily, I put that info in there and for some reason it was not included, and this made it look like it was a tease! I feel horrible after I saw that and got 2 comments about it.

    I PROMISE this was not my doing. Pictage will fix this on Monday and make things right. ALL the info was in there with diagrams and such. It may have been a technical mistake. I spent an hour preparing this for you all! I hope it helps.

  • Lisa Redfern says:

    Another question for you, Mike — are you using any light modifiers on your flashes, or shooting through anything? Are they just bare, pointed at your subjects?

  • Niki says:

    I just checked out these (YongNUO Wireless transmitters) and they were $150 each on eBay. Seems like the price has gone up.

  • Niki says:

    Sorry! I see that is the transmitter only at that price. Perhaps it’s not too good to be true 🙂

  • emily says:

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for your comments here!
    I just wanted apologize for not posting the correct content originally.

    Its updated now, sorry about that!
    Emily

  • Jim Collins says:

    Hey Mike! I just ordered a set from Amazon. (For my own use and for us to play with at Pictage). I went ahead and ordered another flash too – from Adorama used. I love that i can use manual and low power so I don’t HAVE to go out and buy a bunch of 580s.

    Hey Niki. I got a price of $44 from Amazon for the transmitter and a receiver. I bought another receiver from them as well for I think $24. So the price is correct as stated above. Don’t know where you guys are looking for these but I’d guess someone is making some money on them on eBay. Just go to Amazon and search the product names and they all pop up.

  • Mike Larson says:

    Jim, awesome, I can’t wait to see what you get from them. I may recommend to buy a set of a few. I first bought 2 Tx and 4 Rx, then when I was so amped, I bought more so i could have 5tx and 10rx. We used these for backups and so that we could have all 3 shooters at a wedding firing away. One wedding in Lake Tahoe this summer we had 9 flash units, and all 3 of us used them all at the same time, maybe around 1000 flashes, and replaced the batteries in 2 of them all night!

  • Rick Rosen says:

    Hey Jim,
    I use these and have featured them in all of my lighting workshops. They work great. Let me know if you have any questions.
    Rick

  • Mike you need to buy stock in Yongnuo because I just bought a bunch on ebay! 🙂 For anyone interested…

    I third shot with Mike about 1 month ago at a wedding where he used this set up. It was my first experience with using these triggers and this type of lighting rig. Let me tell you, it is LEGIT. It was totally easy to dial in and it completely blew my mind how much better the shots look from traditional on-camera flash, or having 1 backlit flash on a stand. In addition to the reception, he used a modified version of the set up to do all the family portraits outside at night which also came out awesome. Like Mike, I’ve always been a little bummed with the quality of reception shots compared to outdoor, natural lighting shots. The problem is now solved. Thanks Mike.

    For Niki (and anyone else)- here’s the link on ebay for $28.88:
    http://shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p5197.m570.l1311&_nkw=yongnuo+rf-602&_sacat=See-All-Categories

  • James says:

    Do they have these for Nikon Products? Specifically the Nikon D700?

  • James says:

    Mike,

    Are you using an on-camera flash as well to fill?

  • Ryan Burney says:

    We Sony shooters weren’t blessed with an ISO hot shoe. We inherited the proprietary Minolta shoe as a carryover, and don’t have the option of a big ugly PocketWizard without an equally ugly and expensive adapter. And nobody makes one that’s TTL specifically for us, but I did find and ordered 2 sets of the Pixel Warriors thru eBay. Receivers look a whole lot like the YongNuo’s, but the transmitters are a different shape. The Warrior goes for a little more $, but works with studio strobes also, does A,B,C,AB,AC,BC,ABC grouping, and is still a fraction of the cost of PW’s or RadioPoppers.

    http://www.pixelhk.com/Proshow.aspx?pid=247&id=93

  • Joel Treadwell says:

    James- They do have them for Nikon. I’ve got a D700 also. Just ordered my set off
    eBay w/ one transmitter & three receivers.

  • charles howse says:

    The link to Mike’s workshop (Calumet) is still leading to the canceled September event.

  • Emily says:

    @Mike Larson– wow, this is some awesome info! Not a tease at all anymore, absolutely love it. Thank you so much! 🙂

    Em

  • This is awesome! Thanks Mike!

    I’m currently using two PW Plus II’s (one in the hot shoe, the other on a 580 EX II/stand) and have less than optimal results at receptions. I was considering buying more PW’s and 580’s but it’s just too much dough. I’ll be picking up a couple of these for sure!

    Anyone who has used these have any idea if the receivers here will work with the PW Plus II’s mounted in the hot shoe? Trying to get an idea how many of these babies I’ll need.

    Thanks – digging the Pictage blog lately too Jim. Great content.

    Cheers.

  • Hey Mike – this is good stuff. I’ve been using the YongNuo’s since you introduced them at the San Diego PUG last year and loving every minute of them – nailing the reception shots. Best $70 I’ve spent on lighting (got 1tx and 3x for that price). Thanks for sharing the love!

  • Brooke Roberts says:

    We just ordered ours off of e-bay. Got them super cheap and love them. Thanks for the great tip!!!

  • Thanks for the great article. I love using flash coming from behind the couple while they’re dancing. My son is my assistant and I have the cybersync transmitter and receivers which work very well.

  • Janine says:

    I just ordered these..seem to work well so far! The transmitter does not tighten into the hots shoe though and it EASILY slides out of my Mark II. Any suggestions for fixing this??

  • Off camera lighting is the new and only way to shoot weddings after dark or indoors.
    We use snoots and mini softboxes too.
    If you want to go mobile, get a light on a stick by getting your flashes on a monopod. Manfrotto has a sweet one that is a one-hand-adjustable type.

    And yes, the batteries will last forever if your iso is reasonable and you’re mixing ambient light too.

    Thanks Mike for the inspiration as always.

  • Jashim says:

    I just ordered one transmitter and receiver out of sheer excitement, but probably should’ve asked this prior to ordering.

    Does anyone know if you can dial in and control the off camera flash power through these bad boys like the pocket wizard tt1 and flex tt5?

    I’m sure those settings will work 99% of the time, but what if I wanted to get creative with flash power from different flash units, would I have to climb on the dj booth to get it down and change settings?

    Pardon me if this is a silly question.

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