Wedding Photography Wednesday: Conquering Backlit Ceremonies

In a previous post, I did say to never use a flash during a wedding ceremony, but there are always exceptions to the rules. When photographing an outdoor ceremony that is backlit, sometimes it may be beneficial to have a small speedlight flash set up on a remote somewhere to add a little extra light to help fill in the shadows,¬†and since the light behind the couple is so intense, most people won’t even notice a flash as it goes off.

Just to clarify, by backlit, I mean, what happens during an outdoor ceremony when the sun or most of the light is shining into the guests faces. When you go to the back of the seating and face the couple, you see mostly silhouettes and few details.

Of course, if you can balance the light on the couple’s faces using your spot light meter, then use that and don’t worry about an extra light. But sometimes the backlight is too severe or uneven.

Preacher, Bride and Groom Praying During Ceremony

So, here are a few tips for lighting a ceremony without being noticed.

1. You need to use an off-camera flash.

The whole point of using a flash during a ceremony is to pop in some extra light to fill in the shadows when there is a lot of backlight. Having the flash on your camera will not accomplish that; instead, all it will do is really startle people when you are standing behind them and they see a flash of light out of the corner of their eyes.

Flashes have limits on how far they can travel. Every flash is different, so look it up online or in the manual, but in most cases during a ceremony having a flash on your camera is going to hurt more than it will help. By having a flash on remotes in an out of the way place you can roam freely away from the guests and action and always have a well lit photo.

Master the techniques of using an off-camera flash to get the look you want in Neil van Niekerk’s class, Off-Camera Flash Photography

Preacher Reading to Bride and Groom Holding Hands

2. Find an out of the way place.

Don’t set up a light in the aisle after the bride walks down it, or in front of a guest in one of the rows. Find an out of the way place, I saw one photographer attach a flash to a beam above the ceremony site. Get creative, as that is the plus to using a small speed light flash. It can be attached anywhere if you get there early enough. The goal is to just splash a bit of fill light on the couple without being distracting to anyone.

Couple and Preacher Praying at Arched Alter

3. Don’t use the flash for every photo.

It’s not really necessary to light every photo you take during a ceremony, especially if it’s an outdoor ceremony. If you are using pocket wizards to control your flash, just turn off the transmitter once you know you have a good photo in the beginning and turn it back on when it’s time for the first kiss. By limiting the times you use the flash you are making yourself less distracting.

Wedding Couple Kissing

I still believe in most cases you won’t need a flash or any extra light at all when shooting a wedding ceremony. These cases are very rare but if you feel the back light is going to be a problem, get there early and set up an out of the way flash. If you already have it set up you can turn on your transmitter quickly and easily and if you don’t need it then keep it off. Being prepared and giving yourself options is a great feeling and really reduces the stress that comes with photographing a wedding.

How have you found success with backlighting during weddings?

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