Originally posted on The Photo Life.
Some photographers have an aversion to using a flash. A photographer who once assisted me on weddings told me that he “never needed to use a flash.” Instead, he preferred to open the aperture as wide as it would go, and crank up the ISO! The problem is that you’ll end up with lots of noise in your photos and your depth of field is so small that if your subject moves slightly, you risk them being out of focus. Your flash is a tool – whether you use it all the time or sparingly, you should know when and how to use it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll shoot with available light as long as it’s ACTUALLY available and produces a great image. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always the case. The simple solution is to bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall to soften and diffuse it. I prefer bouncing the flash off a large surface whenever possible to get a softer, more subtle light as opposed to the harsh look of direct lighting. However, simply bouncing the flash is often not an option. The venue may not have white ceilings or walls. Or the ceilings may be 50 feet high. Or they may be exposed wood. Bummer. Fear not! Wireless flash to the rescue!
When a venue is too dark for available light, I use two to three speedlites. I have a flash on my camera that I point straight up or at a 45 degree angle toward my subject (depending on how dark the room is).
Then, I set up two wirelessly-connected speedlites (at both ends of the dance floor). I keep them on different wireless channels and use them for backlighting, rim lighting, or to boost the overall light level in the room. Some photographers attach small softboxes to their speedlites. Many mount them on light stands. These techniques aren’t always an option. There might not be a convenient place to set up a light stand – especially because you’ve got to stay clear of guests! Your clients might not want a softbox disturbing the ambience they have created. So, carefully consider placement. What do I do in these situations? I use clamps – like these!
Clamps come in many shapes, sizes and prices – ranging from ten dollars to fifty dollars. Make sure you get something that supports the weight of your flash and wireless trigger. You don’t want your flash falling on someone’s head during the event. (Yikes!) Once you have clamps, though, they open up a wide range of possibilities for mounting lights. I’ve mounted my speedlites on shelves, DJ speaker stands, pipes – you name it! Here are some important things to keep in mind: First, ask before mounting your flash to something. The DJ might not want your speedlites attached to his keyboard! Second, make sure whatever you’re mounting your flash to can support the weight. Otherwise, you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.
Now, you can play with the off-camera flash settings to achieve the desired effect you want. I usually set them manually to 1/16 or 1/32 power depending on the size of the room. As you can see, location lighting with speedlites opens up tons of creative potential. Try it on your next shoot and let me know how you liked the results. Comment below!