Photographing the wedding processional with extreme bounce flash
As mentioned in the article on photographing the wedding processional, in my opinion, the wedding processional in the church is likely the most challenging part of the day in terms of our technique. People are moving towards you – admittedly at slow pace, unless the bridesmaids are nervous. Then they can easily just zip right up to the front! The light levels are low, and the light is most likely uneven. Adding flash to this is a reliable way to get clean open light on your subjects, but bounce flash can be a bit of a challenge.
As an example, with this wedding in Temple Israel of Lawrence, in New York, the light was really low. Not just that, the temple itself was cavernously huge. Yet, a few test shots showed that I could get the kind of light that I like, using just on-camera bounce flash.
This photo will show where I stood (the arrow),
and roughly where I bounced my flash (the circle) for the processional.
I found that I got the most consistent results going to manual flash. I also had to go to full power to get enough light since bouncing off those non-white surfaces, killed a further amount of the bounced light.
Camera settings & photo gear used (or equivalents)
- My settings: 1/80 @ f3.2 @ 3200 ISO
- Nikon D3S
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Nikon SB-910 Speedlight / Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
- Nikon SD-9 battery pack / Canon CP-E4 battery pack
It did help that I had the Nikon D3s at the time. A low-light / high-ISO champion.
If I hadn’t been able to rely on the camera giving me excellent results at this high ISO, I would’ve had to change how I use my flash. At a lower ISO, I would’ve had to use a plastic diffuser on the flash to throw some light forward, or just shoot with the flash pointed straight ahead.
My focusing mode: AF-S
In Canon-speak, that would be Single.
I didn’t want to go to a continuous / servo focusing mode, because then the flash doesn’t emit the red autofocus assist beam.
Also, in continuous / servo mode, the camera generally becomes Release Priority. In other words, the shutter can be tripped whether the subject is in focus or not. A valid argument can be made that you’d be better off with a slightly out-of-focus mode than no shot (because the camera refused to focus.) But I do swing the odds heavily in my favor by using a camera of the calibre of the Nikon D3. I now use the Nikon D4.
At some level, you really do need the serious toys to be able to bring back images which look quite natural. High-ISO capable cameras allow you to blend the flash more seamlessly with the available light. And this of course ties in with the idea of a more photojournalistic approach. I don’t have the couples stop and pose a second or two for the shot, as they proceed down the aisle. That would be the traditional way of shooting, and was necessary because of a generation of cameras where the digital sensor, or the film, would not really accommodate high ISO settings. Or, alternately, it could also mean the photographer didn’t quite understand zone focusing. But that’s another topic.
So with the idea of giving a more natural look to the images, the wider apertures and high ISO settings are necessary for situations like this.
If you don’t have a high-ISO capable camera, then I do have good news for you – you’re going shopping!
And you may well still ask,
– What if bounce flash isn’t strong enough? and
– What if there is nothing to bounce your flash off?
More examples from the same wedding, to show the consistency of the light from the flash bounced this way. Even if the couples aren’t in exactly the same position, the light levels look the same, because the inverse square law works in our favor with bounce flash.
And finally, after the ceremony, the second processional. Then I switch the flash on again, with similar results. Again, the flash was bounced in the same way as before, but off the opposite wall where I had now positioned myself.
The final idea with this article, is to show that with a bit of thought – and the right gear – you can get amazing results with the processional, using only one on-camera flash that you bounce.
- Photographing the wedding processional
- Bouncing on-camera flash in manual mode (Julie)
- Bounce flash photography at wedding receptions (Juana)
- Bounce flash examples – wedding receptions
- More articles on wedding photography
- Alli & Scott – their wedding day – Temple Israel of Lawrence, NY
Video tutorials to help you with flash photography
If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.