Tips for Using Strobes Effectively at a Wedding


Every wedding photographer has their lighting equipment preferences. Some photographers bring large studio lights, while others work with small strobes. If you're just getting into shooting weddings and prefer the mobility that these flashes allow you, then you may want to know how you can use your strobes more effectively. Just in time for WPPI 2011, here are a couple of tips you can use. 

Wireless Flash Control is Your Friend

Many wedding photographers leave their flash mounted onto the camera's hot-shoe, and keep it pointed toward the ceiling the entire wedding. These photographers also rely on the output that an attached bounce card will provide for them. While this can work well, this method isn't always the best. Sometimes, placing the flash in another location can help to give you better results.

There are many situations during a wedding shoot where using cables isn't practical; they limit how far you can place the flash from the camera; they get caught on various things or people; cables can fall off a hot shoe. Due to these considerstions, wireless flash control is probably the preferred way to go. Many cameras can trigger an off-camera strobe using wireless infrared TTL, or by using radio triggers. Placing the flash off of your camera will not only aid you in creating different lighting effects, but will give you total control of where the light comes from.

If you don't have wireless flash control available to you at all (though you really should), remember that the head of your flash swivels—so you can bounce the light off almost any nearby surface. From experience, I can tell you to pay careful attention to this detail when the ceiling is dome-shaped. This particular shape can bounce the light in odd—and often unpredictable—ways. To get around this problem, ensure that your flash head is directly aimed towards the ceiling (no matter the curvature or slope angle), or use the surrounding walls.

Lastly, be sure to pay careful attention to your flash's exposure settings. Some photographers tend to forget to change them.

Use Flash Modifiers

Flash modifiers can help you bend, shape, and modify the light output of your strobes. Some highly recommended items are:

Rogue Flash Benders - The ExpoImaging Rogue Flash Benders attach to the head of your flash, and bend the light output into nearly any shape that you could think of.

Flash Benders are available in three different sizes and shapes. Depending on how you bend the unit, it can change where the flash bounces—which in turn gives you a different effect.

Orbis - This versatile ring flash attachment offers some of the most beautiful light output that I've seen. To use it, attach it to the head of your flash and connect the flash to the camera via a TTL cord, or use wireless sync. After this, place the Orbis around your lens and shoot.

Alternatively, the Orbis makes an excellent softbox when used on the side of the camera. We talked with the creator a while back about this.

Ray Flash - Another ring flash attachment on this list, the Ray Flash, manages to deliver professional-looking results while remaining portable. Its design allows users to keep their flash mounted into the hot shoe of their camera. Ray flash mounts over the head and around the lens.

When placed off to the side and used with wireless TTL, it can deliver results similar to that of a snoot (with a spotlight look).

The Ray Flash also seems to deliver more color-accurate results. In comparison, the Orbis delivers warmer images.

Gary Fong Lightsphere - When this item is attached to your flash, it is best used with the camera shooting vertically and the flash positioned upwards. The point of it is to give your flash output a bare-bulb look and effect. They are usually available with different accessories to either warm or cool the light.

The Lightsphere also comes in a collapsible version, for quicker breakdown time and easier transport.

You may also want to take a look at this posting for more flash modifiers. Note that with flash modifiers, you often need to tinker with the flash exposure compensation (or just switch the flash into manual mode).

Use Gorillapods

Gorillapods are special tripods with bendable legs that allow you to position them wherever you can think of—such as on poles, around a banister, etc.

Mounting your flash onto a Gorillapod will allow you to place your lights wherever you need to. The lights can be triggered via wireless sync, and you can even put your flash modifiers onto them. (This is a common method of mine for various lighting effects.)

This can come in real handy when couples are lining up to get their photos taken with the bride and groom.

What flash modifiers do you use for wedding photography? Please let us know in the comments below.