Killer lighting for wedding & portraits

I’ve had a lot of messages following the article published in The Scottish Wedding Directory 7 Top Tips for Gorgeous Wedding Pics from both brides and grooms and also fellow photographers. The most common questions, especially from the photographers, related to my use of off camera lighting. 

If you got chance to read the article you will note that I opt to use this even when outdoors, and this is the key for producing high impact images against run-of-the-mill snaps. In the Scottish Wedding Directory feature all the photos they used were of course ‘killer images’ (their description not mine!) so I thought you may find it interesting here to see some comparisons which I shot recently on an Engagement Shoot. 

 The photo on the left is straight from the camera taken in natural light. It was a beautiful sunny day, so the lighting is quite bright and pleasant and if viewed on its own most would be quite happy with the result. The photo on the right was taken immediately after but this time with supplemental, off camera lighting. Notice how much more striking it is ensuring the couple pop off the page, and even the background retains more colour and intensity.

The photo on the left is straight from the camera taken in natural light. It was a beautiful sunny day, so the lighting is quite bright and pleasant and if viewed on its own most would be quite happy with the result. The photo on the right was taken immediately after but this time with supplemental, off camera lighting. Notice how much more striking it is ensuring the couple pop off the page, and even the background retains more colour and intensity.

Natural light is always beautiful for portrait style photographs especially when you’re in a situation where you can position your subject perfectly. A typical example of this is placing your subject near a window to utilise the window light as it drops into the room. However, living in the UK we have to accept that for the majority of the time our weather creates rather dull, flat light that makes our photos appear rather lacklustre or even drab. The only way to change this is if we are able to manipulate the lighting in some way. There are various means at a photographers disposal for doing this but on a fast paced wedding day, for me, the most practical and effective is to use off camera lighting.

 The top image was taken in natural light whereas the lower image made use of off camera lighting positioned fairly close to the heads at a 45 degree angle which enables me to sculpt the faces with the light, smoothing out the skin tones and making the faces appear a touch slimmer so not only is it a more striking photo but also more flattering! Notice, too, how a nice catch light is created in the eyes (bottom picture) making them stand out which has not been achieved with natural light only.

The top image was taken in natural light whereas the lower image made use of off camera lighting positioned fairly close to the heads at a 45 degree angle which enables me to sculpt the faces with the light, smoothing out the skin tones and making the faces appear a touch slimmer so not only is it a more striking photo but also more flattering! Notice, too, how a nice catch light is created in the eyes (bottom picture) making them stand out which has not been achieved with natural light only.

Camera lighting, especially when using flash guns or speedlites, is very much misunderstood and is one of the most frequently requested subjects I get from advanced and semi-professional photographers who book One-to-one photography training with me. Many photographers find it so hard getting to grips with this they give up and decide to brand themselves as ‘natural light’ only photographers. But with photography lighting is everything! That’s what the word photograph means; photo = light, graph = painting/drawing. So to produce those ‘killer’ images you need to learn to work the light!

 Similar to the previous shot but this time I'm able to pose the couple in a different place and even re-position them for a new background moving my light around to the opposite side so I can still sculpt their faces the way I want despite the fact that I now have the sun on the opposite side (notice how flat the light is on the subjects faces in the top pic because the sun is on the wrong side). I've also dialled the power down to around a quarter so it's not too strong and overbearing but is enough to highlight the faces in a flattering way.

Similar to the previous shot but this time I'm able to pose the couple in a different place and even re-position them for a new background moving my light around to the opposite side so I can still sculpt their faces the way I want despite the fact that I now have the sun on the opposite side (notice how flat the light is on the subjects faces in the top pic because the sun is on the wrong side). I've also dialled the power down to around a quarter so it's not too strong and overbearing but is enough to highlight the faces in a flattering way.

When I photograph weddings I always use supplemental lighting. This gives me total control over virtually every aspect of the photograph. I can manage its power, strength, intensity, direction, angle and pretty much everything! I can over power the natural light if I think it’s too flat or simply balance the two up for the most flattering effect. I use supplemental lighting even when outside and you can see from a couple of the examples here the difference it makes to the photographs turning them from basic snaps into a photograph that really jumps of the page!          

 Here's an example from a recent wedding. The top photo (natural light) is pleasant enough but look how much more impact the lower image has and how much more flattering the bride looks. Because I have total control of my lighting I'm also able to over power the angle of natural light and get rid of that unsightly shadow falling across half of the brides face in the top pic!

Here's an example from a recent wedding. The top photo (natural light) is pleasant enough but look how much more impact the lower image has and how much more flattering the bride looks. Because I have total control of my lighting I'm also able to over power the angle of natural light and get rid of that unsightly shadow falling across half of the brides face in the top pic!

Because the lighting is off camera (usually fixed to a light stand or carried by an assistant) it also ensures you avoid the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look that you get from an on camera flashgun. A flashgun on the camera produces very harsh light and because it is being fired from directly behind the camera lens is extremely unflattering. But angled lighting is just beautiful allowing you to sculpt your subjects faces so you can really bring out their natural beauty and compliment their looks and features to the best advantage.

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If you're a photographer and would like to learn more details of my one-to-one photography training courses can be found here:  PHOTOGRAPHY TRAINING Or if you are currently wedding planning and looking for a wedding photographer you can get more details here: WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY and/or request a WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY INFORMATION PACK