The thing that most wedding photographers find difficult to deal with when actually photographing weddings is the lighting. No two weddings are the same and no two of them have the same lighting. Their’ always a mix of fluorescent and tungsten and natural light which makes it that much more difficult to balance and use them in order to create beautiful compositions. Below is an overview of the essential types of wedding photography lighting:
The backlit method
You have your main (key) light and you have your backlight. The backlight, as you are aware of, is used primarily for subject separation. In addition to the main light the backlight creates dimension which is what creates a sense of depth in an image. Backlighting is a whole concept in itself and we are not going to delve very deep into it here. Simply put, when you use backlighting you give yourself a creative option to play around and produce magical photos.
The bounce method
The bounce method is one of the easiest to setup and requires very little external lights to accomplish. In fact it encompasses the use of a single light. Even the built-in pop up flash on your camera will do. If there is a white wall or a ceiling in the room this method requires you to simply point the flash towards the wall / ceiling and bounce the light. The result is a flattering, soft and uniform light that is ideal for portraits and getting ready shots.
Using studio strobes
Strobes can be real life savers when it comes to creating beautiful wedding photos, especially when you cannot use smaller speedlights and the ambient light is too difficult to be properly white-balanced. If there is a mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights you will have a hard time white-balancing your images. Additionally, when bouncing the lights is not an option (too high ceilings or no white walls), smaller speedlights or the use of the bounce technique is impractical. You need to find a way to overpower that mixed light. Strobes are ideally suitable because they are more powerful than speedlights, lasts longer and have shorter recycle times.
Mixing ambient lights with artificial lights
Though we just finished highlighting the overpowering features of studio strobes, the fact is that sometimes you need to be able to use both ambient and artificial lights for the right effect. For example when you are shooting the wedding party or the couple outside against a setting sun. Of course a setting sun closer to the horizon will create a metering nightmare, and you should ideally be shooting when the sun has actually gone down and not still at the horizon, the thing is you will have to mix both ambient and artificial lights in such situations for the best results. Both speedlights and strobes are great for that and you could also use continuous lights. In any case the trick is to meter for the background and then adding the artificial lights to light up your couple / wedding party. This ensures that you don’t overpower the ambient light and add just the right amount to properly illuminate the couple.
Another example of the use of artificial lights with ambient light is when you are shooting in a room with large windows on one side. Essentially, the side of the face and body facing the windows will be properly exposed whereas the side facing away will have shadows. It is yet another situation when you will need to use a daylight balanced artificial light source for filling in the shadows and balancing the exposure.
Using colored gels
Using gels may sound a bit weird, after all when every photographer is trying to correct the white balance using colored gels may seem like a drastic step. However, there are some advantages to using colored gels. The thing is colored gels can add some spice to your wedding photos if used properly. Depending on the white balance that you use speedlights or strobes fired through colored gels will produce a light that will appear either warm yellow or cool blue in the final image. This adds to the overall image, especially the photos you take when the wedding party hits the dance floor.