Tech Tips : Wedding Reception Lighting

few months ago, I started an installment of Tech Tips, an opportunity for me to answer questions directly related to technical aspects of my photos. One of the questions I received the most after last week's wedding was dealing with the reception lighting, specifically what I use and how I do it. I've blogged about the photography gear I use as well as my off-camera lighting set up, so you can read about that more in detail if you'd like.

Last week Lyndal asked for lighting/flash tips during receptions and Inca followed with this question: did you use flash in the indoors section at all? Or is it all with the ambient light? I could not find sharp shadows, but the depth of field is wide enough to suggest you are not shooting with 2.8. Maybe then, high ISO with the new Mark III?

The first thing I do when I walk into a reception is find a location I can place my off-camera light, as to not be noticed. Most of the time it's by the DJ's speakers, but the layout at my last wedding would've drawn too much attention to it, so I hid it in a corner of the ballroom (this ballroom had small niches/alcoves that served as multiple corners in the room as seen in the right photo below).

Left photo: 50mm f/2.0 1/60 640ISO (only off-camera flash used)
Right photo: 50mm f/2.5 1/100 640ISO (only off-camera flash used)

I always place the light toward the dancefloor since that's where most of the evening's events take place and I don't move it for the rest of the evening.

50mm f/2.5 1/60 640ISO (on-camera flash and off-camera flash)

In the photo below, the off-camera light is directly right of the bride and groom (you can see highlights on the bridesmaids' hair on the right side of the photo). I felt comfortable shooting with wide apertures during the First Dance because the couple is what I call hug-dancing. Part hug, part dance, all love. Because their faces are pressed next to each other, only one person will need to be in focus (because the back of the head of the opposing person needn't be tact sharp).

I always ask in advance if there'll be a choreographed First Dance because that'll change how I approach the first dance (I usually stay away from shooting wide open and I ask where the couple will end the dance and facing which direction...this is so I'm ready to capture the inevitable Dip that comes at the end).

24mm f/2.0 1/60 640ISO (on-camera and off camera flash)

Sidenote: I shoot almost exclusively with the white bounce card that comes in my Canon 550EX really helps provide softer illumination.

24mm f/2.8 1/60 640ISO (on-camera and off camera flash)

In the photo below, you'll see the niche I placed the off-camera flash. I love the light because it adds dimension to the room and provides the type of depth I prefer in my photos...

24mm f/2.5 1/50 800ISO (on-camera and off camera flash)

So here's a moment when JD anticipated a moment and was ready...I seriously love that guy. The cake was rolled out, but was positioned in such a way I'd lose the off-camera light (due to distance and angle of the room). JD brought out a video light and illuminated what was a very dark portion of the room...

35mm f/2.5 1/80 1000ISO (ambient light, no flash, just a video light JD held while simultaneously shooting...he's like a Hispanic Chuck Norris.)

I was given the option to shoot with a wide aperture because the bride was consistently looking at the groom, so my focal point was primarily on him. I've learned to anticipate the ebb and flow of a groom's speech, so when I thought he'd toast his bride, I rotated my focal point to her (to capture her reaction), while JD kept his focus on the groom.

Whew, that was a doozey. I hope it made sense and if you have questions, leave them in the comment box and I'll try to respond tomorrow or if others care to join and help the conversation, that'd be awesome!

Stay Fabulous,

Edited to Add: Here are the answers to your questions!!
@Dawn &Michael Mitchell: The light is roughly six feet tall on the tripod and the power setting for the off-camera flash is set at 1/16th power so it recycles quickly and proffers just an easy pop of light.
@Orsi: The off-camera light is sitting in a soft box to diffuse the light.
@Brenda Landrum: Yes, I'm pointing my flash straight toward the ceiling, but use the bounce card with the flash to reflect the light onto my subjects' faces.
@JC: When working with Pocket Wizards to fire my flash, I've never had a problem being too far away. Considering a reception is usually in a ballroom, the trigger distance hasn't been an issue.
@Sarah D: Yes, my flash is always pointed at the ceiling (with the bounce card) or I'm bouncing it from a nearby wall...I can't remember the last time I pointed my flash directly at someone.
@Adam: My flash is set to ETTL.
@Tony: I clean my camera every other month or so.
@Debbie: This is the video light I use.
@Tony Whitmore: I use my off-camera flash at every fact, I love it so much that if I couldn't use it, I might cry! ;)
@Prema Buck: I change my lenses quite a bit and each swap takes me less than three or four seconds, so I'm not worried about missing a moment during the First Dance, especially since my second shooter is also shooting at the same time.
@Evie Perez: Once I set up my off-camera light, I don't move the detail images I posted were tables close enough to the light to pick up its effects.
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Melissa Soto - Wowza! Jasmine - you really amaze me every time I read one of your blog posts. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge. This post about OCF made it so simple to understand. You are a fabulous (super fabulous) photographer with a heart for teaching. Thank you!  09.23.15 - 7:21pm
Kelli Dodd - This has been very enjoyable to read :)! This has been one of the best off camera blogs I've read. Thank you! Quick question... are you shooting in manual mode the whole time? I was trying to find the pocket wizard and speedlite set up on here too...   07.28.15 - 5:34pm
Bre Zinter - Hi Jasmine - Awesome post.... Do you always only use the one OCF & the flash on your camera? Do you ever find you need another on the other side of the dance floor? & Is there a specific spot say in reference to the DJ's location that you like to put your light? And one more.... what size softbox do you use? :) Thanks so much!  07.17.15 - 10:12am
Katrina - Hi Jasmine! Is is best to set my camera to "Auto ISO" when in manual mode shooting E-TTL with my flash during a reception or should I manually change my ISO accordingly? Thanks in advance for any tips you can give!  02.13.14 - 12:43pm
Matthew - Keep the tips coming! I've been able to add another dimension to my photography with off camera strobes/vagabond. The brides love the quality and extra effort.  02.13.14 - 8:47am
Chris - It's amazing that you're able to get such clean imagery in low light. A true professional with great results! We appreciate you sharing your knowledge and giving us these insights into your style of photography.   02.07.14 - 1:57pm
Jon Perdido - "He's a like a Hispanic Chuck Norris." - Awesome. On serious note, this post was uber helpful. Thanks!  10.25.13 - 3:01pm
Sally Manlove - All of your flash photography tips have been SO helpful. Thank you!  10.25.13 - 11:36am
Donna - Does JD also have a 2nd ocf?  10.23.13 - 9:11pm
Christopher Soulé - Jasmine, sister, this technical mumbo jumbo, well... it´s just what the doctor ordered! Keep it up! I feel like I am seriously studying photography for the first time in 10 years of shooting! God bless you and the Latin Bruce Lee!  10.23.13 - 6:51pm
Linda - Thanks for the tips for OCF. I found that my flash usually looks too strong and I was only using 2/3 of the power. But now I will try your method of only using 1/16. Thanks again.  10.23.13 - 9:06am
Julie Raquel - Thank you so much!  10.23.13 - 8:37am
Josh Pabst - Great post! I am amazed that you never move your flash. Bravo-beautiful shots. Did you use a warming filter on your flash? You didnt mention..  04.11.13 - 7:04am
Christopher E - I read in an answer that you set your speedlight ti ettl. You never have to sdjust the level of power that way, right? I don't trust it enough yet i think. :) Just have to shoot more with it maby. When do you choose to not enable ettl?  03.20.13 - 3:52pm
Andrea - Jasmine, do you ever use a Speedlite mounted to your camera? If so, how & when? If not, why?  10.25.12 - 8:04pm
Tiana - I really enjoyed this Tech Tip. I already use off camera flash, but mainly just for the first dance. This gives me a fresh view on how I can also use it to illuminate the tables, which can be difficult to capture sometimes. Also, I had a "DUH!" moment when you said in your notes that you set the power to 1/16th so it recycles quicker. I have this problem sometimes of the recycle rate being long (even after I change to fresh batteries) and this totally makes sense! I've been using it at too high of a power! Thanks for pointing out the obvious to me :)   07.17.12 - 4:47pm
Kasey - Hi Jasmine. I would like to thank you for your Tech Tips section (and everything else you do!) as it has really helped me figure some things out and feel more confident in my own choices. Looking forward to more, as always!! Thank you!  07.02.12 - 1:26pm
Lori Gary - Thanks for this tech post Jasmine! As usual - you are awesome!  06.29.12 - 9:23am
Cormac O'Kelly - Hi J*, Would it be possible to let us know how you combine the on camera flash and the pocket wizard on your camera? How do you fire the on camera flash and 'background' light simultaneously. Love to know and love your work. Thanks C  06.29.12 - 4:04am
Margo - I'd love to know the video light you use. I have a teeny tiny one for close up stuff but am looking for something more for what you're using yours for. Call me crazy but I don't see a link in your edited post with answers to all the questions. Thanks for being super fabulous!  06.28.12 - 4:36pm
Cormac O'Kelly - Hi J from Ireland. Just wonðering how you rig the PWizard and the on-camera flash? If the on camera flash is in the hotshoe, where is the Pocket Wizard rigged? Any chance of a picture of the camera with on camera flash and the pocket wizard attached so we can see the set up. Love your work by the way.   06.28.12 - 2:41pm
Lyndal - hey thats me! thanks so much jasmine x   06.28.12 - 3:08am
Monika Greenaway - Very good information. This has been at the forefront of my mind lately. THANK YOU! The photos are so so beautiful.  06.27.12 - 4:10pm
Jessica Vidmar Photography - ur def a pro j* and make me wanna excel in this industry- nice work and thanks for the motivation to succeed!  06.27.12 - 1:42pm
Bobbie Brown - Thank you SO much for taking the time and effort to share this with us!   06.27.12 - 6:55am
amit - Really liked this website Amit Sharma Photographer at Indian Institute of Photography  06.27.12 - 5:19am
Dawn & Michael Mitchell - Thank you for the information it all helps me and my husband. Two questions: 1. How tall is the off camera light off the ground? In the picture it looks as to be only just under the heads of the guests. 2. what power setting do you normally have it set to? i.e. 1/2, 1/4 or full? Thanks, and please keep on inspiring/educating us!  06.26.12 - 8:56pm
Jodi - Thanks for sharing! It was very helpful. Love this wedding and FUN to see people I know in your pictures!!  06.26.12 - 7:22pm
Laura Cee - It sounds like you n JD dance a well choreographed ballet of photography. Thanks for the info.  06.26.12 - 7:10pm
Orsi - Hi Jasmine, Thanks very much for this post, it's really helpful especially that I'm getting closer to my first ever wedding shoot in August (OMG it's almost here) Just a quick question regarding your off-camera light: do you put it into an umbrella or just leave it as it is pointing up to ceiling/wall to bounce light towards the dance floor? Thanks ever so much, Orsi :)   06.26.12 - 5:07pm
Rebekah - "Hispanic Chuck Norris"... totally hilarious! LOVE it!   06.26.12 - 4:04pm
Priti - I shot my first reception this past weekend - this is super helpful :) thank you  06.26.12 - 4:02pm
Brandy - I love reading your posts! Thank you!  06.26.12 - 3:43pm
Mayra Fiori - Very helpful indeed! Thank You! oxox  06.26.12 - 3:35pm
Brenda Landrum - Question! You say you only use the bounce card provided on your flash so are you pointing your flash straight up toward the ceiling? I point mine straight up but do not use a bounce card. Can you explain more? Please?!  06.26.12 - 3:26pm
Virginia Conde - Sos genial! No tienes idea cuán importante y valiosa es la información que brindas!!! GRacias GRacias GRacias. Tu generosidad no tiene límite. Como en la vida, todo vuelve, vas a ser muy afortunada por siempre...  06.26.12 - 2:59pm
JC - Have you ever had a problem of your off camera flashes being placed too far from you and not setting off? Due to the range? Can you up the range on the speedlites?  06.26.12 - 2:52pm
Ashley Christine - Very helpful! Thanks Jasmine!   06.26.12 - 1:10pm
Ann from Belgium - Thank you so much Jasmine. I am just discovering lighting since I usually shoot natural light and I am so overwhelmed with it all. Thank you for your FAQ-posts. Really! I feel so hopeless when it comes to lighting. Once I have read, you are not using your flash in TTL-mode...always manual. I gave it a try, but I failed! I bought this weekend a 5DMII (yes finally my dream came true!) and I also have a speedlite 580 EXII. What are your settings for your camera and your flash while shooting a reception or wedding? Which setting(s) do you use often? Kindest, Ann.  06.26.12 - 12:45pm
Sarah D - Firstly Jasmine, thanks so much for sharing. You are a good source of info and humor. I just needed some clarification from your post. If you shoot exclusively with the white bounce card out, are you then always just bouncing your lights off the ceiling and walls and not straight at your subjects? I thought the purpose of the bounce card is to create catch lights. Thanks in advance.  06.26.12 - 12:26pm
Adam - What do you have your flashes set to? The off camera are in manuel? and at what power if so? Also what about your on camera light, is it set to ETTL? Thanks for your help & input as always!  06.26.12 - 12:18pm
Tony - how do you clean your camera how often do you clean it and what items do you recommend as a photgrapher.   06.26.12 - 12:17pm
Debbie - What video light do you use? Beautiful work by the way.  06.26.12 - 11:59am
Jessi - Thank you for the post! I have a wedding coming up that I am photographing this weekend that I am so nervous and anxious about when it comes to the reception because I know the venue has brick walls, dark wood floors and ceilings, so there isn't going to be much luck with bouncing the on camera flash for fill during the dances. I was wondering if you have your on camera flash in manual mode or ETTL/TTL? Also, you mentioned that JD brought out the video light for that last image you that the same video light you showed in your gear bag back on your first CreativeLive course or have you since replaced it with a new one?   06.26.12 - 11:33am
Jamie - Jasmine, thank you! This is so helpful. Where do you position the light on the stand? Do you put it up high and angle it down, or vice versa? Or is it about eye level? And do you face it towards the alcove/wall or away from it?   06.26.12 - 11:24am
Tony Whitmore - Hi Jasmine! How often do you use off camera flash at receptions? I got the impression previously that you didn't use it very often, only as a last resort. But this post seems to imply you use it quite a lot!  06.26.12 - 11:18am
David - Hey Jasmine, awesome post! I tried this technique out recently, and had the big starburst of the flash in more photos than I would have liked. In the pic of the groom holding the surfboard, it looks like you avoided that issue buy hiding the light behind the people? In my head it seems like doing that would block all light entirely though from reaching the dance floor, but it's working beautifully for you. Could you tell us how high the flash is positioned behind the people, and if you have any other tips on placement to avoid lens flare explosion when shooting into it. Thank you!!  06.26.12 - 11:07am
Amber - Oh I can see JD in the reflection of the door! ( I think)! This was very helpful Jasmine!   06.26.12 - 10:59am
Rebekah Hoyt - Thanks for this post, Jasmine! I have two questions - do you set your flash power manually or use TTL for either/both flashes? And also, what type of handheld video light do you recommend (like the one JD used)?  06.26.12 - 10:42am
Amy - What brand of video light do you use?  06.26.12 - 10:38am
Greer - What were your settings on the flashes? are you shooting them in manual?  06.26.12 - 10:27am
Mac - First off. You're so great for offering up such valuable info. JD is a lucky guy. Did you use switch prime lenses for these shots or switch cameras or use a zoom lens? Thanks in advance.....a FAN!  06.26.12 - 10:27am
Joy - Hi Jasmine! Thanks for this. I was wondering how many off-camera flashes you usually use for receptions? Thanks again :)  06.26.12 - 10:26am
Marla Austin - Thank you Jasmine for this information :) I do have one question...when you say that you use the white card on your Canon Flash do you position the flash head for the shot with the white card?  06.26.12 - 10:20am
Kimberly - Great post, J*. Do you always have a softbox on your off camera flash or do you sometimes shoot bare? Your flash, that is...LOL! Also, how high do you have your light stand and is it angled down at the dancefloor or just pointing in that general direction? Thanks!  06.26.12 - 10:17am
carla - Thanks for this! QUESTION: do you have your flashes both set on ttl at full power or do you set them manually?   06.26.12 - 10:16am
Mafuchaco - Oh my God! Thank you so much for this little light class!!! A hug from Colombia!  06.26.12 - 10:10am
Tara Brown - HA! You read my mind! I just asked someone this same question because I'm shooting a wedding next weekend and the reception area will be quite dark. This is helpful. :D  06.26.12 - 10:09am
Cory Henry - Well, it looks like I'm the first, or one of the first to comment. Not really any questions, this was super helpful. I just felt the need to leave you a little love in the comments. :) Much love! -Cory  06.26.12 - 10:08am
Prema Buck - Jasmine! You are so sweet to take the time to always help others out! What a Blessing!! Thank you very much and as always your images are stunning. I can always see the story so clearly...the way you write with words you do the same with imagery! :-) One question and I am sure that you have probably answered this before and I am just late ha! I notice that you change your Prime lens often...from a 50mm to 24mm and a 35mm. Also I noticed a change of a Prime lens during the first dance from a 50 to a 35mm. How do you do that so fast?! Another camera on you or are you just confidant changing knowing that your hubby is not going to miss a beat therefore you don't have to worry about missing anything during the changeout ? :-) Thank you for offering to answer questions :-)  06.26.12 - 10:08am
Deirdre - This was very helpful. Thank you. I do have a question though -- I wouldn't think that the flash, off in a corner of the a big open space would do much. Are you trying to stay near it while you shoot? Are you keeping your proximity to it in mind?  06.26.12 - 10:05am
Karen Wood - Thank you so much for "illuminating" us. ;-) Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.  06.26.12 - 10:04am
Dave - Oh, and your off camera flash, is that Canon also?  06.26.12 - 10:03am
Dave - I'm not sure I entirely get what you are doing with the off camera flash... Are you firing directly at the dancefloor area or bouncing it? TTL or manual flash? It all looks very nicely balanced!  06.26.12 - 10:02am
Deney - not a doozey at all! Thanks J!  06.26.12 - 9:57am
Sunday - So my main question would be what setting are your flashes on? ETTL or Manuel? Your on camera flash triggers the off camera? I use my cyber syncs to trigger the off camera flashes but would love to have an on camera option then as well.  06.26.12 - 9:56am
Rebecca - Hey Jasmine - I'm with you in where you positioned the flash and the bounce card but just to you have the flash just on it's mini stand, or on a light stand? Thanks!  06.26.12 - 9:50am
Andy - What video light are you using?  06.26.12 - 9:47am
Evie Perez - When you take detail shots of the reception decor, do you have your off camera lighting beside you or is it off to the corner? I love how the picture of the table setting and menu card looks. The lighting looks very neutral. What kind of video light do you use?  06.26.12 - 9:27am
Evie Perez - I am glad you did a blog post about this!! I was thinking the same things about the lighting you did for this wedding. Thanks for sharing.  06.26.12 - 9:10am
errol e - Such a great and informative post! Thank you Jasmine. P.S. I got the magazine EXPOSED and I love it!!!!   06.26.12 - 8:42am
Jennifer Medeiros - Thank you thank you thank you! This post was MUCH needed!!! :) God Bless You for all your sharing and helping of other photographers... I am so grateful!  06.26.12 - 7:48am
Samantha June - This is exactly what I needed right now! Thanks for sharing, I just shot my first wedding and the reception was the most difficult part, I plan on going through all your previous "lighting" posts!  06.26.12 - 7:48am
Russ - Thank you for the helpful info. This is info that I have been looking for. Your work is fantastic!   06.26.12 - 7:39am
Len Currie - Great post Jasmine! Looking at the dance photo where they're are cheek to cheek (Awwwww..).... I'm just curious how you had your flash pointed and how you determined the power as to not create a bunch of shadows.. One of the toughest things to master (in the seconds you have to do it of course at a wedding), is to get your flash setup and mixed in with the ambient.. Was it bare bulb as well with gel? BTW.. unreal shot.. but that goes without saying ;-)  06.26.12 - 7:10am
Jarka H. - Link on your off-camera lighting set up doesn´t work. But otherwise it´s really useful article. thank you very much for sharing!  06.26.12 - 6:30am
Paige Overturf - Awesome and very helpful! Thanks!!  06.26.12 - 5:45am
Bart - Hi Jasmine, how do you set power of your off-camera flash? And how do you adjust it if necessary? BTW, you've got some great pictures! :)  06.26.12 - 5:45am
Al - What type of light is your off camera flash...i.e. Alien Bees, Quantum. Is it set on a light stand and/or is there an umbrella or softbox setup? Thank you!  06.26.12 - 5:42am