Some photographers have an aversion to using a flash. A photographer who once assisted me on weddings told me that he “never needed to use a flash.” Instead, he preferred to open the aperture as wide as it would go, and crank up the ISO! The problem is that you’ll end up with lots of noise in your photos and your depth of field is so small that if your subject moves slightly, you risk them being out of focus. Your flash is a tool – whether you use it all the time or sparingly, you should know when and how to use it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll shoot with available light as long as it’s ACTUALLY available and produces a great image. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always the case. The simple solution is to bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall to soften and diffuse it. I prefer bouncing the flash off a large surface whenever possible to get a softer, more subtle light as opposed to the harsh look of direct lighting. However, simply bouncing the flash is often not an option. The venue may not have white ceilings or walls. Or the ceilings may be 50 feet high. Or they may be exposed wood. Bummer. Fear not! Wireless flash to the rescue!

© Casey Fatchett - www.fatchett.com
When a venue is too dark for available light, I use two to three speedlites. I have a flash on my camera that I point straight up or at a 45 degree angle toward my subject (depending on how dark the room is). I usually use Stofen or Gary Fong diffusers, or something similar.

Then, I set up two wirelessly-connected speedlites (at both ends of the dance floor). I keep them on different wireless channels and use them for backlighting, rim lighting, or to boost the overall light level in the room. Some photographers attach small softboxes to their speedlites. Many mount them on light stands. These techniques aren’t always an option. There might not be a convenient place to set up a light stand – especially because you’ve got to stay clear of guests! Your clients might not want a softbox disturbing the ambience they have created. So, carefully consider placement. What do I do in these situations? I use clamps – like these!
diffusers

Clamps come in many shapes, sizes and prices – ranging from ten dollars to fifty dollars. Make sure you get something that supports the weight of your flash and wireless trigger. You don’t want your flash falling on someone’s head during the event. (Yikes!) Once you have clamps, though, they open up a wide range of possibilities for mounting lights. I’ve mounted my speedlites on shelves, DJ speaker stands, pipes – you name it! Here are some important things to keep in mind: First, ask before mounting your flash to something. The DJ might not want your speedlites attached to his keyboard! Second, make sure whatever you’re mounting your flash to can support the weight. Otherwise, you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

© Casey Fatchett Photography - 2011 - www.fatchett.com

Now, you can play with the off-camera flash settings to achieve the desired effect you want. I usually set them manually to 1/16 or 1/32 power depending on the size of the room. As you can see, location lighting with speedlites opens up tons of creative potential. Try it on your next shoot and let me know how you liked the results. Comment below!

casey-fatchettNew York based wedding photographer Casey Fatchett has spent more than a decade capturing  images of couples on their big day. In that time, his work has been published in numerous wedding  and photography magazines, blogs, and even international art publications. He considers himself very lucky to do something that he loves for a living and when he is not taking pictures, he can be found either entertaining his wife with bad dance moves or walking his dog through the streets of New York.

His upcoming workshop for photographers, “Aim to Thrill, Shoot to Please,” is scheduled for October 2013 in New York. LEARN MORE HERE.

4 Comments

  • Ed Atrero says:

    Totally agree, Casey! I love using clamps for receptions. So much cleaner than lightstands! Thanks for the article!
    Ed Atrero
    San Diego Wedding Photographer

  • emma says:

    How do you use a flash on-camera and pocket wizards to trigger off-camera flash. I’m assuming, the pocket wizard is connected to the pc socket. What would the flash be set on (master) or does the PW fire all flashes?

    • To answer Emma and Joel/Amber’s questions.

      1. I use the Pocket Wizard Mini-TT1 on camera – my on camera flash slides into the hot shoe on the mini. Off camera flashes are controlled by Flex TT5’s (2 of those) or the PLUS X (two of those, flashes have to be manually set and are connected with PC cable).

      2. Separate channels means I can use the light I want. I don’t want all flashes going off at the same time.

      3. Depends on the size of the room. Mid-height ceiling I will bounce. Low or high ceiling – point it on the dance floor.

      4. TTL or manually set the flashes to 1/16 or 1/32 power – just want a little pop!

  • Great article Casey, but I do have a couple follow up questions.

    1. How do you wirelessly trigger your flash if you have one on your camera? In other words, how do you trigger both your on camera flash and the off camera one? Or do your flashes have built in triggers?
    2. Why do you have your off camera speedlights on separate channels?
    3. Do you prefer to fire the flashes directly onto the dance floor or bounce them (if available)?
    4. How do you avoid having the off camera flashes getting to bright when the action is happening close to the flash, or too dark when they’re farther away?
    Thanks in advance!

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