Friday, December 19, 2008

Gear Bag Friday: The Case For The Room Light; More Copyright Issues; and First I Was Lost and Now I Am Found

Good Morning Everybody,
Ahhh, fresh air, sunshine - yep, LaDawn did drag me away from the computer yesterday. We took the day off and headed to Asheville, NC to visit the Biltmore House, the largest private residence in the world. I was ready with camera in hand, approached the large front entranced, and saw the sign - No Photographs! Seems this place is Copyrighted too according to the picture police - unbelievable!

Anyway, we did have a nice tour and got some great shots around the exterior of the property. And, yes, those are the Blue Ridge mountains I've been looking at. Oops - I've been calling them the Smokies all week. But hey, yesterday was the first day the fog lifted, we actually saw blue skies occasionally and it was my first day out of the cabin. I finally got a chance to see where I am;~) How about another peek inside my never ending gear bag...

The Case For The Room Light
You know, when you look at many wedding photographs, particularly wedding reception candids, the illumination is far too often, flat and two-dimensional. The main reason for this is because so many photographers are just relying on their on-camera flash to supply the illumination on the scene.

Granted, some photographers are using the fill flap on their on-camera flash or, even adding some larger fill flaps and light adapters to their on camera flash. Folks, I'll say it again now as I’ve said a million times, unless you get the light off of the camera -- let me rephrase that, unless you get the photons coming from a direction other than the direction of the camera is pointed -- you will never create detail, depth, and dimension in your lighting.

Last week I discussed how I use my off-camera flash to create that wonderful three-dimensional effect in my lighting. And, that off-camera flash works great in most situations. At a wedding reception though, I want my light to have even greater detail, depth, and dimension to it. And the only way I’ve found to be able to accomplish this in some really large reception venues is to add an additional room light to my lighting setup.

This is easily done and the cost for that room light does not have to break the bank. I prefer to use inexpensive studio lights like Paul Buff’s Alien Bees or White Lightning flashes. As I said, they do not break the bank budget wise and are really effective at the wedding reception.

Regardless of what flash unit you decide on for your room light, I would suggest at least a 400 to 600 watt-second unit. When using a studio light of this power at the reception, you will most often have the power setting turned down to half or maybe even one third power. This gives you very quick recycle times that can keep up with the rapid firing of our DSLR’s as we quickly follow the action at the wedding reception. The above fisheye shot shows the relative locations of my assistant on the right and the room light in the upper left corner.

I can remember another studio light I used years ago as we were transitioning to digital. As I revved up my shooting speed at the wedding reception because of mighty motor driven digital SLR, I found that this particular unit simply could not keep up with the rapid shooting speed of the digital camera and was constantly blowing its fuses.

So, be sure that your unit – which ever one you decide upon - has a fast recycle time and is not blowing fuses as you're covering your wedding reception.

Take a look at the images accompanying this post and you can see how much the room light adds to the overall look and feel of the wedding reception candids. Notice how much more depth there is in the lighting particularly when looking at the larger overall views of the reception. Even in the cake cutting photographs, and you can see that guests are still illuminated in the background because of the room light. The room light basically, helps us avoid what I like to call the "Black Hole of Calcutta" reception lighting. In the "Black Hole of Calcutta lighting," we have the subject in the foreground nicely illuminated but then everything goes very dark in the background. The room light helps us avoid that situation giving a much better look to our images. I even like how the room light adds a bit of accent light to the scene too. Now here's some good room light news. I've always said that the way to create more business for ourselves is to constantly be differentiating ourselves from the competition. As I present the programs to photographers around the country, I always ask how many you are using a room light for their wedding receptions. The answer unfortunately is that most do not.

So for the photographer using the room light, he/she brings a substantially nicer look to his/her wedding photography. This becomes one of the BIG differences that allow his/her images to stand head and shoulders above the regular wedding shooter.

When your clients are selecting you for your “differences” chances are they will pay a little bit more for those “differences” as well.

Just remember you can charge more for Differences in this profession than you can for Samenesses.

Hey gang, that's it for me today. I better get back to working on my book -- deadlines are approaching -- and so are the holidays. Everybody have a great weekend and I'll plan to see everybody next Monday the pixels willing. See you then, -- David


  1. David,

    The photographer at a wedding I recently attended as a guest used a room light, and there were numerous complaints about the constant flashes of light. That experience makes me hesitant to try using one despite the obvious technical benefits. I'm curious how you handle this or if it's been a non-issue in your experience.



  2. Hi Andreas,
    I'm using low power settings because of my high ISO. I also keep the flash near the band pointing at the partiers - they don't care about the flash - they think it's band lights. In 20 years, I've had complaints on 2 jobs. I simply repositioned the strobes to have a reduced effect on the guests. Also pointing them at the ceiling minimizes complaints too.

  3. Hi David,
    I have used White Lightnings as room lights and love them. I love lighting the reception when the ceiling heights are high enough to spread the light. That being said I am also in the VFW halls a lot with relatively low ceilings. Low ceilings really seem to cramp the ability of the light to diffuse through the room. Do you have any suggestions for handling such situations?

  4. No pictures permitted of the Biltmore House either? I'm beginning to suspect the architects of all these historic sites must've not intended to have their structures seen by the masses. Do they also forbid people from retaining any memory of what they saw while visiting? Just wondering how far this may go...

  5. I loved your privious video on this subject. I have been using one room light and an one camera flash but not two room lights. I love your content. I've also been going through you kelbytraining videos, love those too. thanks again.

  6. Hi David,

    Can I assume the stronger Alien Bees B800 or B1600 is the better choices for room lights? In smaller rooms with 6 or fewer people, using my Canon 580 EX II straight into the ceiling has lit the room well. However, in larger rooms that strategy fails and I'm waffling between a stronger light or multiple hot-shoe strobes.

    Also, how do you trigger? Pocket Wizards, or something else?


  7. I am also wanting info on the triggering of these lights. are you are using an on camera flash, with the room lights as well?

  8. I bring two Alien Bees with me to every reception, and position them on both sides of the DJ/band. They are triggered by Pocket Wizards. I wouldn't do a job without `em. They both light the entire room, freeze action and give me a lower F stop.