Flash photography can be intimidating - I totally get it!! You've finally gotten comfortable using your own camera equipment, posing your couples and then you have to add a flash into the mix. Sheer panic ensues! Don't worry, I have been there too! When I second shot my very first wedding I had NO CLUE how to use my flash. My dear friend just said "put it on TTL and don't worry about!". That got me through my very first reception but I knew that I had to really buckle down and learn how to use my flash on and off camera. I wanted to share with you the gear and resources I would highly recommend to anyone just starting out or looking to up their flash game a bit. Once you understand how to use your flash, you can really photograph just about anything anywhere and that is truly empowering!
Flash Education and Resources: The first thing I would recommend would be reading a book or two (and of course read your instruction manual) on how to use flash. The first book I ever read about how to use my flash was Understanding Flash Photography by Bryan Peterson. It's a great photography book that goes over the beginning concepts how to control your flash from capturing motion, to creating motion blur (on purpose!) and so much more. You can pick up a copy here or rent one at your library. I also watched a ton of free Creative Live courses about how to use my flash from other wedding photographers. I am a visual learning so when I saw other photographers share how they use their flash, it all clicked for me and I haven't look back since!
Pro Tip: I can't express how understanding your gear is going to help you be a better photographer in every aspect of your photography.
Flash Equipment and Recommended Gear: I am a Nikon photographer and I have two Nikon SB-910 flashes (discontinued). The Nikon SB-5000 is the latest model of wireless flashes and I will probably upgrade to two of these in the very near future. Since my flashes aren't wireless, I have to use Receiver and Transmitter to get them to talk to each other wirelessly. I use the Pocket Wizard TT1 and Pocket Wizard TT5. I have been using these wireless transmitters for years and they have never let me down. They are so easy to use and very light on my camera which is very helpful for my back. Pocket Wizard releases firmware updates pretty regularly for their equipment so they are always up to date.
Because of how I like to shoot my flash photography, I prefer to use a flash modifier on top of my flashes to create soft pretty light vs. a harsh light on my subjects. The Nikon flashes all come with a light modifier (Canon's do not - sorry folks!) but I was introduced to MagMod about three years ago and their products have changed my life! Oh boy, are they AMAZING and so worth the investment!! I have MagMod MagGrips and MagSpheres for each of my flashes. I also have the MagBounce and MagMod Gel Set if I need to color balance a bad lighting situation (ie. terrible hotel rooms). These magnetic modifiers are 100% safe for your photography equipment and make your on and off-camera flash so so so pretty! I have subsequently gotten a few of my fellow wedding photographer friends hooked as well!
As for light stands, I use two Cheetah Light Stands and carry everything in my Manfrotto Light Stand Bag. I like the Cheetah Light Stands because the tripod legs automatically come down and open as soon as I loosen the bottom screws. It's just a little time saver when I'm busy getting ready for the reception.
Camera and Flash Settings: I will preface this part with - this is how I like to shoot my receptions and use a flash for my wedding photography. There is no wrong or right way to do anything - just the way that works best for you!
Ok, so I do NOT use TTL. EVER!! I never ever use my flashes built in TTL (through-the-lens) metering system. Why? Because I prefer to automatically set my flash power and output vs. letting the camera and flash decide for me. Just how I shoot in Manual Mode (never automatic or program modes) because I want to control my Aperture, Shutter and ISO settings to achieve my desired look for my wedding photography. You are way smarter than any camera could ever be!
For my On-Camera Settings: My flash power is usually between 1/32 to 1/64. My camera's ISO settings are between 1600 or 2000 ISO with an aperture of f/2.2. I prefer to have as little ISO noise in my reception photos and like to keep the ISO low whenever possible. If the reception venue is very dark, I might bump my settings up ISO 2500 and 1/18th flash power but this is very rare.
For my Off-Camera Settings: I like to setup my off-camera setup is really pretty easy and, in most cases, the same for most weddings. I will put one flash connected to my Pocket Wizard Receiver on my Cheetah Stand hidden by the Band or DJ Booth. Usually right at the edge of the equipment and out of the way of the dancing. I don't want my equipment to be too noticeable inside the actual wedding space because lets face it, camera gear is not attractive. I will use the Pocket Wizard Transmitter, along with my second flash, securely tightened on top of my camera. I will test them both to make sure they are talking to each other before the reception begins. Since the flash is to one side of the room at all times, I will photograph the dance floor from usually three of the four sides to ensure I have the same look throughout the images. I like to rim light/backlight and side light my subjects during the dances and toasts. If the venue has white ceilings that I can easily bounce my on-camera flash from, I will not use my off-camera setup.
Every wedding venue is different but knowing how to properly use your photography gear and flash equipment will help you feel 100% confident going into ANY situation. Whenever I get asked if I've shot at a certain venue before and I haven't, I can confidently say I can light any room and capture my couples wedding in my signature reception style.
What are some of your flash tricks and tips? Do you have any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment below and can't wait to hear from you!