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Low light / brown walls in church

Hello, I'm looking for help with something I struggle with. Low light and dark church walls. I shoot with a canon 5d Mark III and L series lenses. I struggle with this scenario and would love some help. Thank you so much.


  • Hi - It depends what you are struggling with. Are you trying to use bounce flash only, direct flash, off-camera lighting, etc?

  • Yes, how do you usually light your subjects in these situations -- low light and dark church walls?
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited August 2016

    Fast lens f2.8; High ISO (depends on what you are comfortable with and with a 5D MkIII you should get to 2500 no problems) Shutter around 125th, depending on the length of lens, 24-70 and you have good technique to go to 60th, 70-100 125th.

    Then adding flash. On camera speedlite, but here is where an external battery pack would be of *huge* benefit aiding in recycling times.

    Dark/Brown = around 3400K for WB give or take 500K I've found.

    I did a church one a few years back, dark & horrid lighting, ceiling/walls dark brown timber, fluros directly over the altar where they stood, I did have the luxury of having an off camera light set up back of me though plus on cam flash.

    So I was able to have TTL around 0 e/v but you'd probably would want around +2.0 e/v if using TTL.

    Without seeing such venues it's hard to give definitive advice though.


    Edit: Forgot to add, on your flash head, zoom the head in manually to it's maximum, don't let a wide angle like 24 dictate 24mm on the flash head, that spreads the light so much before it even has a chance to get to the bounce source, Canon 600RT's and Nikon's can go to 200mm zoom, earlier model Canon Flash like 580 can only go to 105mm

  • So, Trev, was the on-camera flash in this dark-and-horrid scenario bouncing off the walls, or was it direct - either bare or with a modifier?

    If you didn't have the off-camera flash behind you, hypothetically, what would you have done with the on-camera flash? Same as above?

    Thanks - Dave
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited August 2016

    *never* straight on, I've always bounced, regardless.

    Yes, if I had no external light I could have got away with it also at a push, this is why (and why you should have a bloody good external battery pack for recycling times):

     I also have an extra benefit over Canon shooter with my Nikon, because I am always in Manual Mode on my Camera, but TTL on flash, if I have to really crank up the flash to +3.0 e/v, and still not enough, I can also then go to my Camera's Exposure Compensation and give it a +2 or +3 (whatever) and that has absolutely NO bearing on my Camera Body's exposure, it stays at whatever I've set it to; but, and this it really great, it does add that compensation to the flash so in reality I can have up to +6.0 e/v in TTL.

    You could also stick the flash in manual, but you maybe would need to constantly change it's power settings moving around.

    Oh, one more thing, sorry should have added to top post (which I will do), make sure you change the zoom on your flash head to it's full length, some Canon's (580EX's are restricted to 105mm, but with the latest Canon flashes (600RT) and Nikon's it's 200mm, that will also help concentrate the light to a tighter beam to wherever it bounces from, so when it bounces back it's just that bit more powerful to help.


    Edit: Suppose I should also add that once finished, make sure you change the Camera Body's Exposure Compensation (Nikon benefit only) back to zero, because if you don't and even though you are in manual mode so that EC has no bearing on the shot taken, if you look through the viewfinder and think, wow, this needs to come down looking at the meter level, it's taking that EC you set into consideration, also, next time you are using flash and you are waaay too much and crank the TTL back to -3.0 e/v and still too much, it's still reading that camera body EC value you put in. Been there, done that.

  • Good tips, very informative, Trev, thanks. Interesting, too, that you still don't use direct flash in any shape or modified form, even with the dark walls.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    I have been lucky on that side of things Dave, I've seen some shots of Neil where he has to work with no flash allowed and certainly difficult.

    There has only been one place where I was not allowed to use flash, and was not even allowed to 'move' around, very strange religion, but they had a long narrow church with massive windows on both side of the walls where light flooded in, good stuff you would think, but nope, terrible, because the light was coming in from the sides, and they were near up front where the windows stopped, I had to open up the aperture to f2.8, ISO 1600 just to get their faces up reasonably, therefore both sides of my images were totally blown.

    I stuck with the 70-200 95% of the time, and kept tight crops on them, or, changing settings to suit the sides to capture family/friends in the pews and since I was stuck in the same position (to one side and in front of them to get their faces) luckily my mate was able to stand way at the back, to get back shots.

    The only time I was allowed to use flash was when they were walking back down the aisle once ceremony finished so I could shoot family/friends greeting them, that was a life saver then. Twice I've had to use that church, and twice I hated it, and also it was a VERY male dominated church, all the 'elders' all sitting around the edges on benches and some blocking shots, but it is what it is I suppose.


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