Lighting for Dark Weddings Using an Off-Camera Soft Box

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any photograph. This is especially true for wedding photography, where lighting can often be difficult to control. In a church ceremony, for example, flash photography is usually prohibited, and the wedding photographer will have to rely upon fast lenses and high ISO speeds to get the shot.

soft box for wedding photography

“kissing” by Mandy Austin

Reception venues and hotels can often be quite dark, especially in the winter months, and if the weather is cold and/or wet, then the only option is often to do the portrait photographs indoors. Most wedding photographers simply resort to using an on-camera speedlight, either directly pointed at the subject or bounced off a ceiling or wall.

Bouncing the flash usually gives a more pleasant effect, as a wider area will be illuminated, including the background behind the subject. However, the limitations are obvious. Firstly, the ceiling or walls may be too distant or dark to reflect much of the light, and if they are an unusual color, an unpleasant color cast may result. Additionally, there are limitations creatively concerning the direction of the light as you are totally reliant on the surroundings. Removing the flash from the camera and triggering it remotely can give much better results.

There are three main ways of achieving this.

The first is using a wire connection from your camera, this is very reliable, but rather impractical in a busy wedding environment; I wouldn’t recommend it.

The second is using an infrared remote system. Both Canon and Nikon supply systems like this. The infrared systems are quite reliable and are compatible with auto flash exposure settings (TTL), but when used outside they require line of sight from the camera transmitter to the flash receiver (indoors the signal will bounce off walls, etc.).

The third option is radio triggers. These come in two types. Basic models are simple triggers and are incompatible with TTL, which means the flash brightness needs setting manually. More expensive systems provide TTL compatibility. Personally, I use the Canon ST-E2 Infrared system.

wedding photo dark light

photo by Tatiana Garanina

If I’m on my own, I can mount the flash on a lightweight light stand and use an Ezybox (a soft-box produced by Lastolite) to soften the light. If I have an assistant with me ,they will collapse the stand legs and use it as a pole so that they can position the flash for each shot. At a recent wedding at Knowsley Hall in Liverpool, we used this setup to great effect. When shooting with the Ezybox, you should dial up the flash exposure a little (approximately one stop) to compensate for the diffusion caused by the soft box.

An additional tip is to attach a tungsten gel to the flash when in a tungsten lit room, as this will balance the color of the light from the flash with the ambient light and give a much more natural look. If you do this, you should dial up the flash exposure compensation a little further as the gel will absorb some of the light.

About the Author
Sarah is a Wirral based wedding photographer working in Cheshire and Liverpool.

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