It’s the middle of the summer, you get your questionnaire back from your couple and it reads, “Ceremony 11:30-12, cocktail hour and group photos of our 16-person bridal party from 12-1.” Panic. Or at least that’s how I felt when I first saw this message a few years ago. Then, I started praying for clouds and shade.
Obviously, clouds and shade would make this an easier task, opening up infinite possibilities. Obviously the weather gods don’t always cooperate though, and as professionals we must be prepared to deal with the light we’re given. The excuse, “It was too sunny, that’s why your photos are ugly,” doesn’t make sense to non-photographer clients. And it’s just unacceptable.
This summer, though, when confronted with this exact situation, I had a solution. Big lights. Lots of power.
Let me preface this next paragraph with the following – this is what works for me, and it’s a look my clients expect from my work. The gear (and it’s expense) won’t work for everyone, but there are lower-cost alternatives available as well.
My solution is to turn to my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS Speed Pack and a 60” umbrella from Westcott. At full power, the 1100 watt Second Ranger Pack puts out approximately the power of eleven full-power speedlights. When you consider that eleven top-of-the-line small strobes from Canon or Nikon will run you around $5,500, the $2,400 price of the Ranger seems more palatable. There’s also the Paul C Buff option, the 640 watt second Einstein ($500) coupled with their Vagabond Mini Lithium battery ($240). When I first started shooting, I owned a set of Alien Bees and while inexpensive, I got tired of the color shifts that occur as you change the flash power – a problem they’ve solved in the Einstein’s.
Okay, enough on the technical, now onto the photos!
The beauty of working with a high-powered flash is that I can choose whatever background I want for my images. I’m not limited by sun or shade, because I know I’m going to be overpowering the ambient light with my flash. As a result, I strictly look for the best background I can find in a spot where my subjects won’t be facing the sun.
Because I’m looking to minimize the ambient light, I’ll typically start at my camera’s lowest ISO when setting my exposure, even dipping into the camera’s “Lo” mode. For this wedding, that meant “Lo-1” on my D4, with a shutter speed of 1/160.
Once I’ve established the ambient contribution to my exposure (remember, flash cares about aperture, ambient light cares about shutter speed, ISO cares about both), I’ll start setting my flash power.
This first photo (left) is ambient light only, without flash.
In the other two images, you can see that any remnant of splotchy daylight disappears as the gorgeous soft light from the 60” umbrella takes over and lights the frame.
While I bring the Ranger to every wedding, this technique is one that I only use a few times a year, as lugging around the large Elinchrom setup does slow me down a bit. In fact, for most weddings it never leaves the car, but with it I have peace of mind knowing that if this type of situation presents itself, I’ll be prepared.
About the Author
A wedding and portrait photographer living outside of Boston, Doug Levy spent six years pursuing a career as a professional baseball umpire before deciding a lifetime of road trips and 7:05 starts wasn’t for him. A professional photographer since 2007, Doug’s clients have included Harper Collins Publishers, Starwood Hotels and the Golf Course Superintendents of America. He’ll be teaching “Killer Reception Light” at the upcoming Inspire Photo Seminar in Boston, and offers customized lighting workshops for professional photographers as well. For more on Doug, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. For more from Doug check out his workshops.