3 Tips to Light Up Any Venue

The weather’s getting warmer and there’s a faint smell of cake in the air, which can only mean one thing… wedding season is right around the corner! But are you prepared?

Let’s see if this sounds familiar: You can create cool getting ready photos in your sleep. Shooting the ceremony is a snap. You’re producing portraits that are well composed and thoughtful. But then you get to the reception and it’s dark in there. REALLY, REALLY DARK. So you settle for bright white faces and backgrounds with no detail. You have no choice but to crank the ISO, blast away with your on-camera flash, and hope for the best, right?

Absolutely, not. There’s a better way!

By using a small set of speedlights or Qflashes controlled by PocketWizards (or even on slave mode if you’re the only shooter), you will be able to radically reshape the lighting in your photographs. Every venue is different, but 3 or 4 extra lights will be more than enough additional fire-power in almost any location. With these three tips, you can create interesting, dramatic images every time, regardless of the challenges you face on site.


Get on-site early to test your lights and select the best placement depending on the layout of the space. Determine where the action will be and arrange your lighting accordingly. For the best results, get your lights up high. Not only does it help minimize shadows, but it keeps expensive gear out of the reach of curious guests. Use light stands that are at least 12 ft high (and don’t forget to weigh each one down with a sandbag so it’s safe). Manfrotto Stacker Stands work great for me because they’re sturdy and they clip together for easy transport. I also use Manfrotto Justin Spring Clamps, which securely attach to the light stand and will clip on to almost anything in a pinch.


Key Light vs. Fill Light

Rather than using your on-camera flash to do the heavy lifting, let the flashes placed around the room function as your key light and kickers together. Then the on-camera flash becomes your fill light for a much more natural and flattering look.  Instead of using expensive modifiers, you can soften the key light by increasing the power and bouncing it off of a white ceiling or wall. When that’s not an option and you need to go with direct light, make sure to bring the power down a few notches.



What do you get when the ambient light in a room is a warm orange but your additional light is cool blue? Crappy pictures, that’s what.

Gel your flashes to match the ambient light in the room to achieve a consistent color temperature. This single step should take a considerable amount time off of your editing process and make your images even and easier to manage.


In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest, most expensive equipment. Qflashes, speedlights or even a $160 LumoPro 160 taped to the tallest object in the room will work if you understand the underlying principles and get the most out of the gear you’ve got.