Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Technique Tues: My Five Favorite Lighting Techniques When Shooting Weddings

 Good Morning Everybody,

I have to tell you, that I am feeling great today. I just wrapped an early morning 8 mile walk in Las Vegas. Walking Las Vegas at 6 o'clock in the morning is quite a unique experience – in fact it's kind of peaceful. It was fun walking through some of the shops on Las Vegas Blvd. without hardly another person to be seen. It's a completely different world at 6:30 in the morning. The city starts coming alive at about 7:30 AM and you can start hearing the sounds of the restaurants and the shops.

Aria Empty

I made it back to Mandalay Bay and caught up with LaDawn for a leisurely breakfast before we really throw things into high gear for the day. My pre-con starts at noon and goes nonstop until we wrap at about 6 o'clock this evening. Then over to the Instructors Dinner where we get a chance to catch up with friends and also get an opportunity to meet the new instructors for this year's Photoshop World. As an instructor, it's always one of the highlights of the trip for me.

It's going to be a busy three days but, as I've said before, it's always great fun, great education, and just one terrific way to recharge your  “creativity” batteries for another six months until the next Photoshop World rolls around in the Spring.

Even though blogging time is at a premium when were at these shows, I'll do my best to keep you up-to-date with what's going on and throw in a few photographs or two along the way. On that note gang, let’s get on with today's post.

My Five Favorite Lighting Techniques When Shooting Weddings

This past weekend I photographed probably the biggest wedding in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. It was one fabulous event. I met with my team at 11 o'clock in the morning at the studio and we didn't reconvene back to the studio until about 1:00 AM. Then it was off to one of the local cafés for a late-night dinner, an adult beverage and a chance to recap the day's events. Michael Holden, who flew all the way in from Toronto, Canada did a great job as my light man this event. Michael, as I mentioned last week attended my Master Class in the Spring and asked if he could tag along for an upcoming wedding. I was happy to oblige and provide an opportunity to be part of this wonderful wedding celebration.

My ace number one assistant, Nicholas Viltrakis, was on hand to photograph all the peripheral happenings of the wedding and also lend his expertise in facilitating the group photographs. Everything went pretty much like clockwork and I know we got a terrific set of images. As a matter of fact, at last count we had about 5500 for the day’s shoot. It's going to take a few days to get through all of them but it'll be fun to relive the event one more time.

While on my walk this morning, I was considering  the topic for today's Technique Tuesday. And, what popped into my mind was all the different lighting techniques we used on Sunday’s big event. I thought for today's post I would share with you my five favorite lighting techniques that I use on just about all of my weddings. I'll take a few minutes to step you through each one separately and include a photograph or two spotlighting a particular technique. Let's get right to it.

Available light:

When we arrived on the scene the girls were in the mist of hair and makeup. This is a great opportunity to capture some great candid images of everybody enjoying each other's company, laughing and joking, and revving up for the big day. Most of the images I take during this time are photographed without any auxiliary light. Because I'm shooting at such high ISOs – 6400 up to 12,800 ISO – I'm easily able to capture the expressions, emotions, and nuances of this part of the day.

The challenge for me is to still make my lighting exciting. I determine where the direction of light is coming from – usually a window or two – and then take up a camera position where the light falling on the subject’s face gives me the dimensional lighting that I love. Take a look at the photograph below. It's a photograph of the bride having her make-up applied. Notice the especially beautiful, dimensional lighting on her face. I love how we have the highlights next to shadows creating a very dimensional look for this image. This is pretty much my modus operandi for most of the shooting during this part of the wedding day.

Wed 1

The Z-Ray:

Wed 2The Z-Ray has really figured predominately in a lot of my wedding photography these last several years. The Z-Ray is nothing more than a Brinkman Dual Xenon flashlight that I picked up a few years ago after hearing another photographer speak about it at one of the national photography conventions. The Z-Ray gives me a very narrow cone of light illuminating just a small section of the scene giving me almost a spotlight and dramatic affect on the photograph.

Check out the photograph to the right. This image was made right before the bride was to see her groom for the first time. We were on the third floor of the hotel and, with my low vanishing point, I was able to use the leading lines of the lights in the ceiling to direct the viewer’s eye right to my bride. The Z-Ray highlighted the bride perfectly and made her face the center of attention for this photograph. The leading lines of the lights in the ceiling and the lighting on her face makes for terrific portrait.

Shooting through my Zumbrella

There is no better way to illuminate your subjects than by taking your strobe and shooting through a translucent umbrella. Anybody following this blog for any length of time knows that this is my absolutely favorite light source for all of my signature images. I use it not only for individual and couples portraits but I also use it for my group photographs as well. Take a look at the photograph below. It's just a fun photograph of all the girls. The illumination was quite simple – my Canon 600 TX – RT strobe shooting through my Zumbrella, coming in from camera right, giving me the soft lighting falling on all the girls faces.


I balanced the ambient light with the strobe exposure to obtain the proper ratio of highlights to shadows. It’s that ratio of highlights to shadows that gives me the beautiful dimensional look.


I've said it 1 million times here DigitalProTalk - backlighting is about the fastest, easiest, most effective way to add a sense of the dramatics to your wedding images. In the image that you see below, I had my assistant position one of my Canon  600 TX – RT strobes under the piano that you see behind the bride and groom. I had the couple look at each other for a couple of photographs and then I asked them to kiss each other for a few more. The backlighting, when coupled with a very dramatic location like we have here at the Netherland Hilton Hotel in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, gives us a very exciting wedding image for my clients.


The videographer had been working with the bride and groom seconds before I made this photograph. He was also working in about the same area of the hotel so, when he finished I asked the bride and groom to stand in the position that you see, positioned the strobe where I wanted it, and shot away.

A wedding photographer has to always be on their toes. They have to take advantage of the circumstances, the locations, and the timing of the day. Since the videographer was already working in that location, I knew that I had to be ready to grab my opportunity to get MY image the second he finished with the bride and groom. Time is moving very quickly on the wedding day and we have to move even more quickly to get photographs that matter for our couple. We were easily able to slide into this short series of photographs because of the heads up attention of my team and my being perceptive to anticipate the the actions of the bride and groom allowed us capture this photograph in a short amount of time.

Three light set up for receptions:

My hands-down favorite lighting for shooting wedding receptions is a simple three light set up. In two recent posts I described my lighting setup and even showed many diagrams of exactly how we set it up. You can find that 1st post right here and the 2nd post right here.

On Sunday’s shoot I was trying a completely different technique. I wanted to see if I could pull off the reception shoot with my brand-new Canon 600 TX – RT radio  enabled strobes. It took us a little while to get the technical aspects of the set up ironed out but, once we had successfully completed the set up we started getting the results that I want.


DAZNOTE: I will admit, that it was a bit frustrating in getting the new Canon strobes set up. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the Canon strobes. It's more of the matter of the fact that there are so many menu choices on these new, much more complicated lighting units, that it takes a little while to figure out just what the settings need to be to get the best result. On Sunday's wedding, it was my first real opportunity to see how much performance I could ring out of these little jewels. Even after 14 hours on the job and the five hour reception to wrap up the wedding, I still feel that I have much more to learn. That said, I'll keep you posted as to what I think the best setting should be when using the new Canon speed lights for such a large event.

I will say, that by shooting at the higher ISOs and even shooting the speed lights and manual mode at 1/8 power, I had plenty of light illuminating the dance floor. The challenge is to get the on camera flash working properly to give me the appropriate amount of fill light on the subject's face as I’m moving quickly throughout the evening to capture the action. I know this may sound a bit vague at this point but bear with me, I'll address some of my frustrations and my many successes with these little strobes in future posts. The bottom line is this; once I've got these three lighting jewels figured out I'll have the smallest, most portable, easiest multi-lighting solution available for all my future events.

Take a look at the photograph above. With the use of my three lighting set up you can see that we get a wonderful dimensional look on the scene. I get so frustrated when I look at wedding images with flat, one dimensional lighting. I for one, find that kind of lighting intolerable in my wedding images. In fact, Nicholas was shooting some of the peripheral photographs with his on camera flash and dragging the shutter to pick up some of the ambient light in the background. Since we had everything, including the kitchen sink, packed in our lighting kit, I suggested he hook up a couple room lights so that he could also have the dimensional look on his photographs too. In the matter of minutes both of us were creating some terrific wedding candids for our clients.

So, there you have a review of my five favorite lighting techniques when shooting weddings. I think it's interesting that so many photographers show up with their camera gear, a few lenses, flash and shoot away. For me, it's always been the challenge of putting the best lighting on just about every photograph I make at a wedding event. Part of the thrill for me is knowing that I am combining technology with artistry and creativity to give my clients images that not only record the day but record the day with elegance, panache, and class. It's not just about running and gunning on the wedding day. It's about putting your best foot forward so that you too can create the absolute best images possible for your clients. There are no shortcuts, no compromises. There is only the total commitment to the highest level photography that we can create for our clients on their wedding day.


Hey gang, that's it for me today. It's getting late and I've got to get ready for my pre-con. I'll try to check in with everybody tomorrow so have a great rest of the day and I hope to see you soon.

Adios, David


  1. A few years ago, my husband and I attended one of your workshops in NYC, and were inspired by your lighting techniques. In particular, backlighting. Friday, as we set up a backlit shot at the church, I kid you not, we called it "the Ziser shot." If you care to see it, I chose it as the wedding teaser image to post on our Facebook page today: http://on.fb.me/QjdEtC

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Love reading these articles David, they have been a great help to my wedding photography here in the UK. Thank you.

  3. Good stuff David!
    Now you've got me hunting around for that reception lighting diagram. Link please :)

  4. If we keep reviewing and using something, we capture it for ever. That is why I read you blog as often as I can and review your video training regularly. We haven't tried the reception lighting yet but have all of the tools to do so. Too bad canon will not let you upgrade your flash for say $50 upgrade fee. (ha)