Mixing TTL flash with manual flash – wedding receptions
A common technique used in photographing wedding receptions, is to use additional lighting to lift the general light levels in large reception rooms. The additional lights can be wirelessly controlled TTL flash – but more often the additional lighting would be manual flash. Then you can use an on-camera flash, either in manual or in TTL.
My preference when working like this, is for my on-camera flash to be used in TTL mode, and the additional light(s) to be in manual. In the photograph above, taken during a wedding reception with a large boxy room that has a high ceiling. The ceiling is too high to easily good results easily by just bouncing an on-camera flash, although by going to a high ISO, it is entirely possible to just use on-camera bounce flash as the only light source. This is the same venue in this article – Bounce flash photography & The Inverse Square Law. So the choice is there if you’re willing to go to higher ISO settings – or alternately, you can use additional off-camera lighting.
I have posted an example before where I used a few additional lights in manual, with on-camera flash in TTL. The question invariably comes up about how you control the manual flash. The answer is that with manual flash, you usually don’t. You set it up before the time to give just a touch of light to the background, and then use the on-camera flash to do the rest of the work. The additional lights here were triggered by PocketWizard Plus II units. With wireless TTL setups, you obviously control the off-camera flashes from the camera itself.
Here is how I had set up the additional light in this case:
As you can see, without the on-camera flash firing, the image is about 2 or 3 stops under-exposed. This then is how you decide on the exposure for the additional lights. You add juuust enough that it makes a difference to the overall light as it appears … in comparison to the settings YOU decide on. The settings YOU decide on, are guided by how bright it is, and by how hard you can, and would want to, work your on-camera speedlight.
Traditionally, you would meter around the room to figure out the exposure of the additional lights, and then add your on-camera flash’s exposure to that. With digital, the simplest really is to take a few test shots and see if the additional lights make a difference. The beauty of digital photography’s immediate feedback.
The additional light helps bring up detail in the background, without the background fading into black. I prefer these to be diffused with a white shoot-through umbrella. There are other ways of doing it. Some photographers prefer barebulb flash or flashes used directly pointed at the dance floor, to give dimensional light.
With this venue, I prefer putting up two lights, symmetrically on either side of the stage. The lights go as high as I can. (About 11′ with these stands.) Then I add a white-shoot-through umbrella to each. I point the umbrella slightly inwards, but there is no real precision needed here.
This evening however, I couldn’t safely place the second additional light. So I worked with just one T2 Q-flash set to 1/4 of full power, and pointed to the middle of the dance floor.
Here you can see where I placed the off-camera additional light – off to one side of the stage. It really does make that much difference to the overall light, as seen in the photo at the top. The trick here obviously is not to include the additional light in the photo, or the hot-spot. I’ve found that shooting at approximately a 90 degree angle to the light helps give me dimension to the light.
My camera settings for the photo at the top: 1/125 @ f4 @ 1600 ISO
Why such a high shutter speed indoors? This is because of the videographer who lit up the entire place with a powerful video light. This forced me in turn to use a higher shutter speed so I don’t get subject smear while people dance. The light levels from the video light is so high, that the flash wouldn’t effectively freeze the action, and I would get a double image – partly the flash exposure, and partly the video ambient light.
The criticism might be that the image at the top doesn’t show the event as it actually did at the time, with so much light added .. and this is partially true. But only partially. With so much video light added, the ambiance of the room was fairly bright, and evenly lit. I just took it a step further to ensure that my images worked.
Mostly these days I prefer the results from using wider apertures and a high ISO, and just bounce flash. But I will mix up the technique to get the best results.