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Thu. Aug 18, 2011 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Off Camera Lighting

Good morning & happy Thursday!

As promised, we are back today with a Pancake Session all about our off-camera light set up and how we use it throughout the day at our weddings. I think a common misperception about off-camera lighting is that it is only something to break out later in the night during the reception and even then just to get some artsy shots. And therefore that it might not be something you need to learn right away. That couldn't be further from the truth.

The truth is not only will having that kind of lighting set up throughout the day really up your game photographically speaking in the images that you're able to create, but at this point it has also saved our butts more times than I can count. Because the fact is, there are plenty of times during the day when either the natural light just isn't cutting it or isn't there at all. And this one simple lighting set up can be the difference between you getting the shot or not. Before we get to the top seven ways we use this light throughout the day, let's first take a quick look at the set up itself.

Our set up is actually pretty simple, which keeps it both affordable and very easy to move around on the wedding day. We start with a strong 13' Light Stand (we prefer the non-air dampened versions for faster break down & set up). Mounted to the top of that is our basic umbrella bracket which allows us to both mount a flash like our Nikon SB900 (or for a less expensive alternative something like this Sunpak flash) and a 43" White Shoot-through Umbrella. We then sync the flash to our cameras with Pocketwizards. We use the Mini TT1's for Nikon, but a less expensive/easier to set up version that will work just fine would be two Pocketwizard Plus II's. And to connect the flash to the Pocketwizard receiver, we recommend this hot shoe sync cord And that's pretty much it.

Keeping with our goal of creating directional light that we talked about here & here, we're going to be using this set up throughout the day in a way that positions us somewhere around the 90 degree mark. We are shooting with both the flash and the camera on manual with flash white balance. The exact settings will of course depend on how you're using the set up and how far away it is from what you're shooting, but a good starting point is 1/125 shutter speed, ISO 400, f1.4 and the flash set to 1/16 power.

And now, here are our top 7 ways we use this set up throughout the day (and how in many cases, it has saved the day)

1. Shooting the Getting Ready when there is no natural light.

We've all had the situation where we've walked into a getting ready room with either very little natural light or no natural light at all. Like the church basement scenario we mentioned in this pancake session. Or, one of my favorite stories for a tough getting ready location, was walking into a hotel suite and seeing an entire wall of curtains that we thought were going to give us a big bank of beautiful window light. But when we pulled the curtains back, there was just wall behind them. Awesome. :) The only other lights in the room were the most terrible tungsten you can imagine. So if we hadn't had this one light set up, we would have had flat, tungsten awful detail shots. And no one wants to see that :)

Below is a picture of Brigid's fabulous shoes. Although there was some nice window light coming into that suite there wasn't a ton. So we broke out this set up and ended up with an image we're really psyched about.

2. In dark churches.

I don't know about where you guys live, but New England is infamous for its dark, cathedral churches. And to be honest with you, we love them. Because you can get such dramatic, nostalgic images from them. But that most definitely wasn't the case before we had this set up. Probably the coolest thing about using the off camera lighting, is that the churches who have a "no flash" policy are much more likely to let you use it because the light stays in one place at the back of the church instead of moving with you the way an on camera flash would.

3. For family pictures.

What we all know, is that on the wedding day stuff happens. The day runs late. Timelines get crunched. And suddenly you find yourself with about ten minutes to do the family pictures and it's too dark/cold/crowded to do them outside. That's what happened a couple years ago when we first came up with the idea of lighting the family pictures with our one light set up inside the church. Necessity happened. And now, to be honest with you, we actually prefer it that way. This is a whole pancake session in and of itself, but the short version is we love the consistent background, lighting and because everyone is right there and very respectful in the church we can get through the set ups very quickly while still getting shots that we're proud of.

4. For Couple Portraits.

In New England in the winter, it gets dark by about 4:30. It is also Artic wind worthy cold. So if a couple doesn't want to see each other before the ceremony (which we're totally fine with) then we need to have an indoor back up plan. With absolutely no natural light, those images could very easily become very flat or impossible to color correct. But with the off camera set up, we're able to go anywhere we want inside and still get great portraits with directional & dynamic lighting.

5. To shoot the reception details.

Like we've talked about in other posts, the pattern of highlight and shadow from directional light is what's giving us that reach in and grab it effect as well as really rich color. Since a lot of our receptions are inside/at night we don't have the benefit of great window light to shoot those details. But we can achieve the same look, while staying very mobile and shooting very fast, by having the one light set up with us at all times.

6. To create dynamic dancing & toast images.

In the same way, that directional light is giving us rich black & whites (more on this in a Pancake Session coming your way soon). And simply popping up this one light in the corner and positioning ourselves to be 90 degrees, we're able to make moments like the dances & toasts take on more of a rich, nostalgic feel.

7. Anytime you can't bounce your flash.

And finally, there are plenty of times when you just can't bounce your flash at all. We've seen it all. A sunset ceremony that ran late and was now a pitch black dark ceremony. A tent that was see through at the top, so the light just flashed through and kept on going. The barn weddings where both the walls and the ceiling are amber colored. Or an event that was completely outside and at night, like this sangeet below. Probably the biggest advantage of the off camera set up is that it is completely independent. It doesn't have to be plugged in and because it goes through a shoot through umbrella, it doesn't require a workable surface to bounce off of. So it can literally be the difference between you getting the shot or not.

I hope that helps! We put this Pancake Session together because we've been getting a lot of questions from people about how to use flash/off camera light. People who've been feeling like they have to call themselves "natural light photographers" in part because the idea of using flash really scares them. And I get that. Believe me I do. It can be a very overwhelming thing to tackle at first. But I had a really great teacher in Justin, who just has a way of explaining light in a way that makes sense. So while this post is a good start, we also decided to put together a seminar for anyone who wants some more hands-on help really understanding their flash and wants to walk away feeling like they can actually put all this to use at their next wedding.

So on September 14th, we are going to be hosting a three hour "Understanding your flash & off-camera lighting" seminar from 6-9pm here at our place in CT that I think is really going to make all of this make sense. And for our part, we are going to be settling for no less than light bulb moments for everyone in attendance. Ba-dum-bump! :) So if lighting is something you've really been struggling with, we hope to see you there. We're keeping the spaces really limited to make sure we have one on one time for everyone, so be sure to sign up fast if you want a spot!!

And finally, to thank you for making it this far through the longest post ever, we wanted to do a giveaway just for you guys. Just post a link to this blog post on your facebook wall & leave a comment telling us you did, and we're going to be picking one lucky winner to receive their own light stand, umbrella bracket & white shoot through umbrella to get you going on this one light set up! And.....GO!!


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