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“Must be familiar with OCF!”

I see this notice added to lots of photography forum posts seeking photographers (either second shooters or associates). Maybe you’re wondering what OCF even is…or you know and you haven’t tried it yet and you’re feeling a little scared.

Or maybe you have tried it and you want to perfect your technique!

Off-Camera Flash

OCF stands for “off camera flash” – it’s the term for using remote monolights or speedlights in conjunction with a radio transceiver (either built into the camera, a flash unit, or a separate device).

Reception lighting at wedding venues is notoriously dark to set the mood or lit by DJs with completely random intensity, location, and white balance that make getting consistent-looking photos next to impossible.

That’s when as a photographer you turn to using off camera flash.

What’s The Perfect Set Up?

There is no one perfect setup that works for every venue, so it is good to have several options available.

I use different OCF methods for lighting wedding receptions and events, depending on the environment I am in. There’s no magic bullet, so it is good to know how to switch things up if you’re in a different type of venue than you’ve worked in before.

With each method, I set the power for my speedlites manually, usually between 1/8th and 1/32nd power, depending on the room and desired effect.

What I want is consistent light and with TTL there are too many variables that can affect flash output. So, by manually setting the power levels, I can adjust The video explains the different set-ups I use, as well as how I mount, diffuse, and gel my speedlites.

I will adjust my aperture, shutter speed, and ISO accordingly with each method to produce the desired outcome. You can also read more about the various set ups below, including diagrams of the various set ups.

Option 1 – Bounce It (One speedlite or more)

Okay, I lied a little. This article isn’t just about OCF. Because, what do you do if you don’t have enough speedlites to shoot with your lights off camera? Or maybe you don’t have wireless flash units. Don’t worry!

Not every photographer has an off camera lighting set up, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. You aren’t going to be forced to point your flash at the guests and blast them with unflattering light.

The simplest way to get more even lighting is to bounce your flash off a wall or ceiling. This creates a large light source which means softer, more flattering light. Many wedding reception venues have white walls or ceilings which makes this an easy option for photographers who only have one speedlite.

Two examples of bounce lighting. The image on the left using an on camera flash to bounce off of metal plating (industrial space venue). The image on the right is on camera flash bounced off a white wall.
Both photos by Casey Fatchett Photography – fatchett.com

Angle the head of your speedlite so that it is not pointed directly overhead (which produces very unflattering shadows), and shoot away.

On camera flash bounced off white ceiling at an angle.
Photo by Casey Fatchett Photography – fatchett.com

If you have two or more off camera flashes, you can set them up to bounce off the walls and ceiling and effectively fill the room with light. The key ingredient to this method is having a white surface from which to bounce your flash. This method will not work if you are in a space that has very high ceilings or colored walls/ceilings (such as a barn).

Option 2 – Off-Camera Back Light! (Two speedlites or more)

First a little terminology:

Key Light: the main source of light in a photograph (usually coming from the front of the subject)

Kicker/Rim Light: A kicker light is an accent light that highlights the edges of a subject. 

To create a more dramatic effect, you can use a separate speedlite as a ‘kicker’ or ‘rim’ light. This will ‘lift’ your subject off the background and produce a more three dimensional photo. This can be used in conjunction with bounce lighting or with a key light either on or off the camera. Below are diagrams of the three setups I use most often.

OCF Set Up #1
ocf lighting diagram
2 Speedlight OCF Set-up On-camera flash used as key light. Back light moved if necessary.
Off camera flash instruction for photographers
One on camera flash unit. One ‘kicker light’ behind the couple (gelled to match ambient light in barn). Photo by Casey Fatchett Photography – fatchett.com

OCF Set Up #2

OCF for wedding photography
3 Camera OCF Set Up On-camera flash used as key light. Back light selected depending on the position of the subject and the camera.

OCF Set Up #3

off camera flash for wedding photographers
4 Speedlight OCF Set-up No on-camera flash. Select the key light which is furthest away from the subject.
Two off camera flash units. One behind subjects, one in front of subjects off camera right.
Photo by Casey Fatchett – fatchett.com

Unless you are bouncing your lights, always point them toward the center of the dance floor/reception area. That way you can use them as rim or key lights.

You can also turn your key light off to create dramatic silhouette shots.

Off camera flash tutorial for photographers
One off camera flash unit behind subjects to create ‘silhouette’ Photo by Casey Fatchett Photography – fatchett.com

Practice! Practice! PRACTICE!

Practice your setup before trying it at a wedding reception. You’ll get more comfortable with the various set ups and you’ll be able to choose which is appropriate and how the different settings work before you’re on a job!

The Gear I Use…

What do I use for my OCF set up? Well, here’s the gear I use (apart from cameras and lenses) when I need to light on location at weddings, events, or portrait sessions:

Figure Out What Works For You

Mix and match. Find the look and feel that works best for you and your artistic point of view. You don’t just have to use one!

Was this article helpful? Are you having issues with OCF? Any other questions? Leave a comment and let me know.

SHARE THE KNOWLEDGE!
COMMENTS

Do you use an external light meter for portraits?

The Nerdy Photographer

Really depends on the situation. I assume you’re talking about outdoor portraits? I usually expose in camera for the background and use my OCF units on TTL (usually High Speed Sync).

Great Explanation.

Thanks Ami!

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