Wedding photography – Big bounce flash
In photographing groups with weddings, I have a preference to keep the light soft and even. This makes posing a large group easier, since you don’t have to worry about odd shadows. A big light source, just off to my side, is the simplest way of lighting this. Previous articles described how to do this with speedlights and an umbrella. (Check links at the bottom of the article.) Often enough though, you’ll find yourself in a scenario where one or two speedlights just don’t have enough juice, and then you need to bring out something bigger and more powerful – portable studio lighting.
There are numerous options out there for portable studio lighting – Elinchrom, AlienBees and others. I use Profoto. I always bring my Profoto 600R in the trunk of my car, just in case it is necessary. And frequently enough it is necessary, for example:
– shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
– lighting large groups with a large light
With Grace and Joseph’s wedding, I had to pull out the Profoto Acute B2 600 Ws powerpack (affiliate). (More recently, it would’ve been the Profoto B1 flash.) Lack of time due to the snowstorm delays had me simply use it as a big bounce flash. But it took a few steps getting to that point …
Photographing inside this huge mansion on a university campus, I was a bit too optimistic about what a single speedlight in a 24×24 softbox could do. The first photo here of the entire bridal party is the SOOC photo with the speedlight and softbox. It is under-exposed – not too much, but it’s not ideal. You can also see the edges of the shadows are quite pronounced. Not nearly as bad as direct flash, but not entirely flattering. I needed more light.
I sprinted back to the car to grab the Profoto kit. Since we were already running late due to the massive snowstorm rolling through the area, and I had just wasted time setting up the speedlight, I was frantic that we start shooting immediately. So instead of setting up the 3’x2′ softbox, I turned the Profoto flash-head around, and added a reflector to it … and bounced the light into the area up and behind me. Shooting at full power, this flooded the place with big beautiful soft light – exactly what I wanted.
I had to forego letting more of the ambient light in because the light levels inside was very low, and it would’ve meant a very slow shutter speed.
first group shot – speedlight with 24×24 softbox: 1/125 @ f/5.6 @ 800 ISO
second group shot – Profoto 600R, bounced: 1/60 @ f/6.3 @ 800 ISO
The image right at the top there, was also shot with the big bounce flash.
Then to break the groups up a bit and get a more spontaneous look to it – or as much as a fixed light would allow, I moved around the group as they interacted with each other. I had set the power lower by a stop so I could shoot faster, i.e., not at full flash output.
Camera settings for next series of images: 1/40 @ f/4.5 @ 800 ISO
In the end, I used the most simple lighting set up – bounce flash. But it need that big flash to give me enough light in this situation.
Photo gear (or equivalents) used
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Profoto Acute B2 600 Ws power pack
or alternately now, the Profoto B1 500 Ws battery powered flash
- Profoto wide zoom reflector
- Wedding photography – adapting the use of light & flash photography
- Wedding photography – lighting large groups with a large light
- Wedding photography: positioning your flash for the formals
- A simple lighting setup for photographing the wedding formals
- Shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
- review: Profoto B1 flash
- Grace & Joseph – wedding photography at The Gramercy, NJ
- NJ / NYC wedding photographer
34 Comments, Add Your Own
I think that your second group photo is still underexposed. Or, maybe it’s just to my test.
For instance, your first photo after the big group shot is how I like it to be exposed.
1.1Neil vN says
The 2nd photo of the big bridal party on the steps is under-exposed?
Yes, but that’s to my taste.
1.1.2Jon Lloyd says
I think Karlen might be referring to the background. To me the subject(s) are exposed correctly but the ambient falls off rapidly in the stairway behind.
At first I agreed with Karlen, but after looking further I am not sure. The wedding dress in the third photo is white. The same dress in the second photos tends towards gray. Also, the men’s jackets lack detail in the second photo that is apparent in the third. That indicates to me that the second shot is a bit under-exposed. But, the faces in the third photo seem to show more hot spots that are not nearly as apparent (to me) in the second photo. So, is the third photo over-exposed or is the second under-exposed? Was the second under-exposed slightly to improve the skin tones? In any event comparing the second and the third, obviously shot in close time proximity, they do not appear to have been exposed the same. Of course I work landscapes and still life photos and am just learning to shoot people. All the other photos appear spot on.
18.104.22.168Neil vN says
No, the second shot in this article (first of the comparative shots), was not “under-exposed slightly to improve the skin tones”. It was under-exposed because that was all the juice I got out of that speedlight in that softbox, at that distance, for that aperture. It is explained as such in the article.
The two images of the bridal party on the steps were shot with entirely different lighting setups. Again, it is explained as such in the article. Don’t skim it. Read it.
Then, I have no idea how you are seeing “hot spots” in faces on a web-size image where the people are relatively small in the overall frame.
This is nit-picking to a degree that isn’t useful to anyone.
22.214.171.124.1Bob Masterson says
People who nit-pic like that have obviously never been under the pressure of shooting a wedding.
Best to just ignore them.
I confused by the ‘reflector’ in this sentence:
“So instead of setting up the 3’x2′ softbox, I turned the Profoto flash-head around, and added a reflector to it … and bounced the light into the area up and behind me.”
Wouldn’t a reflector bounce light back to the group? Thus, you had 2 bounce surfaces:
1) Profoto light hitting the reflector and sending it back to the group
2) Profoto light that wrapped around the reflector and continued toward the area up and behind you and then that light reflecting back.
3Neil vN says
Click on the link and have a look at what this reflector actually does. I used it to stop light from spilling all around, and focus the beam more. And keep in mind the flash head was turned away from the group.
Thanks for pointing out the link. I was thinking of the flat surface reflector that people use to reflect sunlight, etc. This is a different kind of object that is also called a ‘reflector.’ Now, your sentence makes perfect sense.
With the high iso performance of the D4, couldn’t you have increased the iso and still used the speedlight with 24×24 softbox? Do formal group shots influence your iso settings more than during the wedding or at the reception?
5Neil vN says
Have a look at the shadows in the first group shot – they are quite distinct because the light source is relatively small, being that far away from them.
With the bounced studio light, there are no shadows as such.
And you’re correct – for group photos where I need to retain the detail, I don’t want to push the ISO up too high.
Follow the product link for the reflector and you’ll see that it helps narrow the light beam, to keep it from spilling out to the group.
While he could have increased the ISO to compensate for the exposure, the *quality* of light would have been the same using the 24″ softbox: “You can also see the edges of the shadows are quite pronounced. Not nearly as bad as direct flash, but not entirely flattering.”
Bouncing the more powerful lighting unit behind him increased the size of the light source, thereby softening the quality of the light.
6.1Neil vN says
What was the area like you were bouncing into?
Was it a white ceiling and walls?
8Neil vN says
The area behind me was similar to the areas you see at the edges of the frame here.
9Ruben Garza says
Neil, do you use a guideline in determining what aperture to use in group shots? As in, you go with a particular aperture if the party is in a straight line, but a different one if they are in a “v” formation. Also, in shot like this, where do you put your focus point? I usually put mine on someone who is about a third of the way in from the front, like that tall man on the first step. I’m wondering if I should just focus on the bride and groom even if that means leaving the people in the very front somewhat blurry.
10Jason Rodgers says
Ruben surely if you had an aperture of say f8 then they would all be in focus if you chose to focus on the bride of anybody in the group?
10.1Ruben Garza says
Jason, I agree. I asked the question because Neil showed his aperture setting as 5.6 for the first shot and 6.3 for the second, and I was wondering why. I’m guessing it had nothing to do with depth of field and was just a matter of controlling the effect of the studio light. I try to use f8 for group shots, but that usually requires a couple of umbrellas on my sides with speedlights at full power.
Love the images. That is exactly what I do on formal posed pictures at weddings in a church with high ceilings, bounce up into where the ceiling and wall meet if at all possible off to the left some and it lights up the entire front of the church and gives some depth to the faces. Love that kind of lighting for posed shots. You did good Neil.
I understand getting the bride sharp is of most importance but if focus is 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the focus point why would you foucs on the person furthest away???
13Neil vN says
about the Depth of Field
This was shot at f/5.6 and they are standing in line.
The focal length was 30mm, so there is plenty DoF.
So we’re good there.
This was shot at f/6.3 with the lens zoomed to 24mm.
The apparent problem with DoF here would be that they are staggered and not in a line.
Pulling out the DoF calculator on my iPhone, and recalling an approximate shooting distance of more than 20 feet … but let’s say very conservatively that it was 20 feet:
Then my DoF is 9 feet to infinity.
So whether I focused on the bride (which I did), or the people in the middle, this is covered.
Everyone happy now? :)
Time to do some homework …
14Neil vN says
If you’re struggling with the concept of Depth of Field, here’s some suggested light reading:
That is why I liked the Canon FD manual focus lenses so much. They had the f stops and distance scale on the lens, so easy to find out the correct aperture for the DOF you want.
Can I ask a question regarding the ambient light? With the D4 why not bump the ISO to 1000/1250/1600 to bring the ambient up that little bit? You can then drop the Profoto head down from full as well. Would the added light not be enough to justify the increase in noise?
17Neil vN says
A test shot without flash at those settings. Bumping my ISO up from 800 to 1000 would’ve had very little effect. Going to 1250 ISO not that much more. By 1600 ISO … perhaps, perhaps. But not enough of a difference that I want to lose image quality on a group photo.
I’m amused that some people will wonder why I shoot at such a high ISO – 800 ISO – and others wonder why I didn’t bump it up.
For wedding reception photos, whether people or details, I will happily go to 1600 ISO and higher. But for group photos where the detail becomes important, 800 ISO is about as high as I want to take it on the D4. For some, that’s conservative. For others, way too much. For me … just about right.
In hindsight Neil, would you have still chosen the bounce flash used in the group shots over the softbox, even if the weather delay wasn’t a factor?
19Neil vN says
Oh yes, especially when I look at the way the light behaved when I had the group move around, and I took photos from different angles. Even with a large softbox, the light would’ve become too contrasty with me shooting more from the side. But bouncing my light like this, created very soft even light all around.
The background looks a bit dark. I would have setup a few remote flashes in that background area to lighten it up. I know you were pressed for time though.
21Neil vN says
Yup, there is what’s ideal, and then there is what’s practical.
Would the rogue flash benders help in this case?
You can bounce flash but if its a large group i understand that brellas might be a better choice.
23Michael G. Murphy says
Thanks so much for taking the time to send out the newsletter and for actually responding to people’s questions. It is much appreciated.
24Michael G. Murphy says
And Neil please don’t let people’s nit picking make you feel like you don’t want to run the newsletter or give feed back anymore. It would be missed by tons of people.
25Arif Kaser says
abit under ? abit over ? Guys we like in a digital age, its no problem in photoshop. Wedding Photography is already a stressful job. As always the best equipment is what you have at the moment at that situation. No use spending 1 hour to light everything studio perfect.