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Church Wedding Lighting

dhalkett34dhalkett34 Member
edited September 2012 in wedding photography
I will attempt to tackle my first church wedding shoot next weekend. The church is of course, poorly lit, high ceilings and HUGE. At my disposal, I am shooting with a D7000 with a Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 with OS, 50mm 1.8 prime and nikon 18-105mm. I also use wireless TTL capable triggers with two nikon sb700 speed lights. The church will allow for the use of flash. Should I set up two flash units at opposite sides of the alter? or one, with one on camera (TTL or manual)? or shoot at high ISO and forget the flash if I can shoot wide open to avoid the flash distraction at a catholic ceremony? I also shoot a lot with one speed light on camera with a Gary Fong and the second off camera w/umbrella? Looking for some advice? Thanks everyone and keep on shooting.


  • I must be unpopular.. lol Everyone other entry has comments but mine. wow...
  • I thought about responding, but resigned due my lack of expertise. Actually I am also in the same boat for a church wedding next month.. My strategy is to shoot with D3s or D4 Nikkor 24-70 2.8 70-200 2.8 (high ISO) and bounce using SB910, some help with on camera flash is better than no flash. I own a d7000 but opted for d4 for high iso performance. Your approach with off camera flash and pocket wizard should also be fine as long as place the lights high 12-15 feet and strategically place for maximum coverage.
  • Gary fong gives direct flat light, not recommended by me. As for other equipment, you might need assistants to setup and help, if that is not the case, then less is more as far is gear is concerned.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited September 2012
    What color are the ceiling and walls, you should be surprisingly fine if a light color just from high ISO and bounce flash [TTL] on camera.

    If dark/wood, see if you can place your off camera flashes in a discreet location, still using the on camera of course and you would need to check your WB, from dark/wood you certainly need to see what you get.

    I would not put the flashes beside the alter though, place them, in my opinion, about a third of the way [2/3rds down the aisle from the entrance] before the alter, to give light a chance to be bounced forward towards, not from the side.

    Any chance of a trial run, go see the Priest, Minister, whomever, maybe you will be allowed a brief look and take test shots, most are very accommodating these days.

    I believe the D7000 is good on high ISO, I don't have one.

    Power settings: Off camera, depends, but definitely manual, probably give it around 1/2 or bit less power to help with recycling time, then your on camera flash in TTL mode and let it adjust itself. If you have an external battery pack/s, the better for the on/off camera flash.

    You may be around the Zero on compensation with the on camera flash, or a bit below/above, you will need to see.

    Make sure you have the heads of the off camera flash/es not just pointing straight up though, point towards the external walls and just slightly towards the alter, around the 45 degree mark, that way it will bounce onto the wall, and come off at same angle towards the alter. Also, zoom the flash heads right in [200mm Nikon] to give more power and greater bounce.

    Oh, forget the 'Flong Dong', unless you are *really* struggling with flash power, but you should be fine with ISO in the 1600/2000 range, around f3.5 or f2.8 if you need to be, shutter around the 80/100th and the off camera flashes.

    If you do need to use the 'Flong Dong', I suggest to see if you can put a sheet of white card inside, towards the back, so more light will bounce from the card to the front also.

    Good luck.
  • dhalkett34dhalkett34 Member
    edited September 2012
    Saqibzul and Trev, thank you so much for your responses. I guess I am really nervous about using the flash in the church, even though they allow for the use of lighting. I don't want to be a distraction, especially if I am firing away with the shots. I like the idea of flash away from the alter. I am thinking to the right and left (just under the side arches) at a raised height (8'-11' foot range?) I only have the use of two speed lights for either off camera, or one on camera and one off. Any suggestions? Also, is the on camera effective if I am shooting from 2/3 of distance down the isle? Do you shoot right u near the alter the whole time? I was thinking of using the 70-200 from center isle? From the picture, it looks like I will be okay with lighting with a higher ISO. The D7000 is excellent to 3200 in terms of noise in my experience. I have shot higher, but the noise gets pretty bad at 5K plus.

    I included a picture of the church, any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    P.S., the "Flong Dong" will not be used in the church..lol

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited September 2012
    okie, 1 flash on camera for sure, the other off camera.

    Position of off camera I would suggest on the right hand side, since when shooting vertical with camera and on cam flash, the natural orientation of the flash would be on the left side, so having the off cam flash on right will balance.

    When shooting landscape/horizontal, you can easily augment any flash left/right/straight behind you to help fill in shadows.

    Regarding position during service, well, when you get to the church, speak to the Priest and ask him, they are generally good about that, obviously you will not want to be any closer than around the 5 meter [15ft] mark, but ask.

    Yep, certainly use the 70-200.

    Now, judging by the looks of the church [that looks fantastic to shoot in btw] if it was me I personally would not bother with off cam flash, I'd have 2 bodies with on cam flash and shoot willy nilly.

    If you only have the one body, D7000, any chance of getting a second?
    Do you have a back-up?
    You will be severely restricted by trying to swap out lenses, missing critical shots, if not.

    If you do not have use of a 2nd body, then for sure put flash on cam and the other off cam.

    The interior of the church looks very clean and even though ceiling may be high, you will be surprised at what you can get around the 2-3k ISO mark and having flash bounce.

    Remember, zoom the flash head in manually to concentrate the power coming off walls/ceiling.

    Re church again, from the looks of it, the front rows of pews are a decent distance from the alter, you may be able to just shoot from there. I would not go any further past the first row, since that would seem to be 'intruding' too close in their 'space' so to speak, but, ask. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Getting the bridal entrance down the aisle, I would make sure I am not that far away from my final position of shooting, as you don't want to be walking behind her if you are right up near the entrance, or, go shoot a shot near entrance, and walk back down prior to her coming in.
    I am unfamiliar with what you guys do in the US, but where I am I can do that easily.


    PS: From the looks of it behind the altar has a lot of lighting there, I have one church in my area the same and getting the correct, or near correct exposure for that light and having to light the front of the couple you will need to be sure.
    Having a tad over-exposure for the back light is fine, but you most certainly would not want it blown too much, will look very ordinary.

    See what you can get with just ambient exposure for that back light, then maybe open up aperture 1 click [1/3rd stop] or if you have some headroom, leave it at correct exposure and fill in front with flash.
  • Trev,

    Thanks so much for the advice. It was great and I will be following a lot of what you said. I will attempt to get out there sometime before the wedding day to take some sample shots and to have a look at the lighting.

    I will place the off camera flash to the right and one on camera with the ceiling bounce. Good advice on the positioning of the bride entrance. I will make sure I am in a good spot so I am not shadowing her down the isle.

    From the looks of the pic, I will be able to get some great shots if I flirt with the area of the first row of seating. I think that with the first few rows being offset, will allow me to get shots from the right and left of the center isle without too much interference.

    No back up on the body (I know, I know, I am taking a huge risk) I am low on funds as I have invested over 4k+ on gear to get started out recently. I just purchased the 70-200 2.8, which was pretty expensive. My next purchase is a Nikon FX body (waiting for the D600). My plan is to use the D7000 as a backup/second camera in the future.

    Thanks again, and I will check out behind the alter. Would hate to lose the church mural detail or have it blown out. Thanks!


    If I check out the church before hand, I will throw some images on for everyone to check out..
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited September 2012


    Here is a case in point re behind altar being brighter than rest of room on recent wedding I did.

    1 Quantum off to camera right, on camera bounce on left, with background around 1/3rd stop over in that altar area.

    Image: ISO 1600; f3.5, 80th Nikon 24-70 @ 48mm


  • The off camera flash quantum really separate the background from the subject. I like the exposure. Where exactly did you place the off camera flash? What height, with diffuser? bounce card, etc? Just curious.. Thanks Trev. T-minus one day to the wedding shoot. wish me luck!

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited September 2012
    Actually, with the Quantum I took off the diffuser [which made it bare bulb] pointed straight up [because the bulb is actually exposed, no diffuser surrounding it at all, like taking the shade off a table lamp] so the light goes in all directions.

    Remember, the background was already illuminated more than the foreground.

    Placement of the off camera flash was to my right, and about 45 degrees in front of subjects [see the shadows on the floor] and I raised it to around the 12ft+ mark.

    No bounce card on my on camera flash, but I did use the Spinlight 360 attachment with the flash head zoomed right in to the 200mm mark [you can use the 'black foamy thing' Neil invented] for your own on cam flash.

    The on camera flash was tilted up slightly, and around 30+ [it worked out to '1 click'] degrees behind my left shoulder.

    It was a v-e-r-y awkward church to shoot in, since the ceiling was a dark brown timber and it was on a massive slope around probably 30 degrees+ sloping from altar [highest part of it] to the entrance, [low point] so that was another factor I had to vector in Victor. [sorry, could not resist play on words from movie Flying High]

    WB I set to around 4400K but in post I had to lower it to 4200K.

  • Trev,

    Just wanted to show you some samples of the church wedding ceremony we were talking about. Turns out that the upper portion of the ceiling had several large windows that let in a ton of light. It was still dim on some spots and the church didn't have great overhead lighting. I shot these at 1600 ISO with my 70-200 2.8 and my 50mm 1.8. I didn't even end up using my flash setup as I originally intended. I thought that it would have been too much of a distraction, so I chose to rely on the camera's ability to capture with ISO adjustment. Thanks again for the advice. Let me know what you think.

    Halkett Photography
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Hi Derek,

    Well done, certainly a ton of light as you said and I notice with BG walking out I can see how the background had a lot of light as we first thought from the original church pic.

    There is some slight movement I can see and some noise but the noise won't print like that, it just looks not so hot on screen. :)

    I love the shot of the Father/Bride and the dude shooting on the left.

    Do you use Continuous Focus or relied on the shutter/shoot?

    The images are certainly very acceptable, great job on your first church wedding. The main thing is you captured it with mood and the bride won't even notice any little faults since those types of shots rarely get beyond the 5x7 range in an album, etc.

    Any of static shots, during the actual ceremony itself? but no need to upload full res, just resave to say quality 8 to reduce size a bit. [make sure you don't overwrite the original file of course. Any location shots later outside? 1 or 2 of each would be nice to see.

    Again, good job, if this is your first effort you will certainly get better and more comfortable with experience. Like Neil says, the church coming down the aisle is probably the hardest part of a wedding to shoot.

  • dhalkett34dhalkett34 Member
    edited September 2012

    I am pretty upset with the blur and was not expecting it as I was in continuos. The noise is a bit more than I wanted also, due to the fact that I could not hand hold, walk and have a slow shutter. So, I shot some of those at 3200 ISO to get a correct exposure. The static or formal shots came out great, but the church was brutal to shoot, even with the good light in the church.

    I am looking to purchase a second body and am thinking of the D600, hoping that I will have better ISO performance. I shot all of those shots with my sigma 70-200 2.8 OS lens.

    I attached some other shots from the day. Let me know what you think. Thanks again for the feedback. I have my second wedding this Saturday and another one on the 6th. Things are picking up quite a bit, which is great!

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    There is no doubt that you will need to get the Nikon 70-200 sometime in the future, I would opt for better glass first up, as that Sigma is not going to be as good as Nikon glass.

    The little flower girl is a fabulous shot.

    The couple with the dog unfortunately is not sharp, the dog is, couple aren't and in a shot like that, you need the couple to be really out of focus and all attention to dog, or all in focus. The groom is a tad sharper than bride and that's because from the positioning I see he is just that bit more forward. shot at f4 500th sec. you could have opened to f8, make sure the couple are on the same plane and have the dog snuggled into them more

    The couple kissing is great exposure, great skintones [presume you metered for them since bkgrnd blown] however, the composition or should I say the background detracts from the image which is a pity, that fountain coming out of his head, and the people are a big distraction. You could severely crop, but end up with a square pic.

    The sepia 'thinking' groom just needs attention to the composition, tilted too much, and too much space top, you can crop tighter, straightening it up more. [I've attached a 'crop']

    Couple on bridge, great idea etc. but unfortunately really blown highlights, there is no detail whatsoever in the brides dress. Reading 255 in 90% of it.

    Can you bring it back, looks like a good 1.5 stops to get detail unless you already have.

    I've left message in your inbox above.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    dhalkett34 said: The noise is a bit more than I wanted also, due to the fact that I could not hand hold, walk and have a slow shutter.
    I never walk backwards, I position myself where I want to be mainly, then zoom in start taking shots of them coming down aisle, and gradually zoom out as they get closer, saves a lot of trouble and not looking like a git if I stumble over something as I walk. :)

  • Trev,

    wow, i really feel like an idiot...lol They are that bad? I didn't walk backwards on the isle shots and even with continuos focus, they are blurred? I think I was at 125th, which I know violates the "at least the focal length matching the shutter" rule.

    I agree with the need for better glass, but the Sigma 70-200 OS lens is supposed to be a comparable lens. I need to get the Nikon 24-70 2.8. That is my next lens, after I get another body (fx).

    The dog shot, I wasn't at the right aperture, which caused me the focus issues. I was attempting to get them all in focus. The shot of them kissing with the fountain will be cropped. I always try to be conscious of things like that, but I was not in the best position at the time.

    The 'reflection shot' of the groom was, as you know; tilted intentionally. I like the cropping you suggested, makes the photo pop a bit more.

    In regards to the bridge shot, should I have metered for the dress?, would that have brought the dress detail out?

    I obviously have a lot to learn, which is one of the reasons I am on here. I truly appreciate your advice and welcome the criticism. It is the only way I am going to improve and evolve as a photographer. Thanks again!

  • TrevTrev Moderator

    No, you were NOT that bad, just merely saying what I thought and since you said it was your first wedding, well, you did admirably in my opinion. I, like many others here have seen some awful stuff coming from supposed pros with years of experience.

    The exposure of the couple on the bridge with the blown dress, no, you really don't need to 'meter for the dress', the simple 'sunny 16 rule' will get you the correct full daylight exposure regardless of where you are in the world.

    Sunny 16 rule was coined a long long time ago in film and goes like this.

    Full daylight [sunny] ISO 100; Shutter 125th; Aperture f16 = perfect exposure for anything in daylight. Now, obviously if the sun is coming down onto a face you will have racoon eyes with the shadow cast from the eyebrows.

    These days, you would set the equivalent settings in digital to get same results, but you can juggle these and still get the exact same exposure.

    So, ISO 100, 125th, f16.0 or ISO 100, 250th f11 or ISO 100, 500th f8.0; or ISO 100, 1000th, f5.6 and so on. Each shutter speed is one stop faster so you need 1 stop more open aperture.

    Of course if you need to use flash you are then also at the mercy of the Sync speed.

    So when outdoors and with full sun like the couple on bridge, you immediately set a setting comparable to the sunny 16 rule, and if you need to use fill flash, set the fastest shutter sync you can, and the appropriate aperture. Nikon 250th so f11.0

    Now this 'may' need tweaking either 1/3rd stop up or down depends, but that will get you so close without you even having to think of what the settings are.

    Also, you could have with the black in the groom's attire and the white of the dress, merely zoomed in a bit first, have equal parts of the groom's black clothing and the bride's white dress, and then adjust settings until the meter is zeroed. Simple. Since the black and white cancel each other out in terms of shadow/highlight.

    If you had 'metered' for the dress and zeroed, it would have been underexposed by 1.5 stops at least since the 'meter' is looking for 18% reflective grey, it sees a hell of a lot of white, and will think there is too much light and try to compensate.

  • saqibzul said: by

    I`m not an expert, but I have also my first wedding behind me with a lot of surprises, which I had to handle myself. Lucky, that everything ended up fine.
    Anyway, it`s not about me here :-)
    I think you did good job as your first time wedding photography. I opened your images and checked exif data. According to that, you mostly have shot in Aperture Priority and Spot Metering. Have you tried to change it sometimes? The noise produced by D7000 is not bad at all and you can fix it easy, first of all if you used RAW.
    The picture in the Church viewing at 100% shows a woman on the left along with a man taking photo sharper than couple itself. I@m not sure whether is a lens or direction of your focus.
    I don`t know whether you have enhanced some photographs or not, but I can say that colors are very nice. I`m sure your next wedding will be good or even better ;-)
    By the way, I rented second camera with second flash, battery pack and lens in order to avoid sudden expensive investment. Think about doing it too.
    Good Luck and Keep Good Work
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