Using Flash in Wedding Photography: What You Need to Know

Let’s discuss wedding flash and the things you should know. If you are just beginning, shooting with flash may seem daunting. However, it is possible to make your life easier by learning how it works. There might be times when you need to use flash and there might be times when you choose to use flash.

Therefore, you might as well understand it!

Before you can understand flash, you need to understand the basics of how light and shadows impact photography. Then, you can use flash to help control the light in situations where you need to or want to.

When to Use Flash

Let’s discuss a few situations when flash might be necessary or desired in wedding photography.

The darkest time of the day is when your camera can’t see much. Additional lighting is often required for indoor and evening wedding receptions.

Another time you might need to use flash is to combat bad light such as overhead lighting that’s creating a ton of shadows on the faces of your subjects. If you are taking group photos and can’t find shade, or if there is poor indoor lighting, you may need to use flash to illuminate your subject.

Sometimes you may need to flash to focus on your subject and reduce distracting factors. Your flash can be used to highlight your subject if the scene is well lit. Or if a scene is super cluttered you can use flash to darken the distractions.

Flash is needed when you have too much darkness. Fill light with light to decrease shadows and distract from the subject. It isolates the subject, reduces distractions.

Types of Flash Wedding Photographers Must Know

There are many types of flash wedding photographers must know. They work well for different situations.

On-Camera Flash (aka Bounce Flash)

The first technique is on-camera flash. Just like the name suggests, it’s on-camera flash. However, unlike the crude harsh flash on your iPhone, we give direction and softness to the light by bouncing it.

We refer to this as “bounce flash”, because instead of aiming our flash at the subject to produce harsh lighting, we bounce it off walls or ceilings or bounce cards to make it look a bit more attractive and soften it.

A photo illuminated by bouncing an on-camera flash.

An alternative to bouncing is to use some sort of modifier such as a diffuser to make your light less harsh.

An example of when you might use bounce flash is when you’re moving around a dark room with low ceilings trying to capture well-lit pictures. Many photographers have a preference for off-camera flash which we’ll talk about next. Sometimes, however, you may not be able to use an off-camera flash if you are moving too fast or your ceiling is too low. In these cases, it’s important to know how to use your bounce flash.

Off camera Flash

Off-camera flashes are a fantastic choice for wedding photography. They create a brighter light, and can be controlled more easily. It’s just like it sounds, the flashes are off camera and typically mounted on something like a light stand and then placed at a flattering angle to your subject such as 45 degrees. The flashes are controlled by a trigger that is attached to the camera.

There are many strategies to use off-camera. This is my favorite because it works with my style of shooting. Stick lighting is basically placing the flash onto a lightweight stand (or stick) and then pointing it in the desired direction. This may require someone holding the stick.

A wedding photo captured with a stick light.

Since I work with my husband we can often quickly hold a stick light for each other if there’s a dramatic shot we want to create where we are spotlighting the subject. We use the light for transitions between speeches and cake cuttings, or dances. For example, if we have four lights for the dance floor and the cake is in the corner, then it’s time to turn them on quickly.

I also use an off-camera flash set-up for getting ready shots when I want to isolate my subject — it’s the same idea as stick lighting except I have to mount the flash somewhere because I don’t have someone to hold it or space for someone to hold it.

Another common off-camera flash technique is using a 2, 3, or 4 flash set-up on a dance floor. You can move about the floor while having your subject lit.

Other Fun Flash Techniques

There are a few other fun flash techniques I’ll mention because they’re fun to play with when creating beautiful images.

The first is backlighting your subject, sometimes you want to add some rim light to separate your subject from the background so you’ll place a flash behind them.

Backlighting a couple with a flash placed behind them.

Another technique for separating the subject from the background, or lack thereof, is lighting the background such as a cool wall. You might allow the subject to be a silhouette in that case.

Dragging the shutter in order to get some ambient light or for creating playful dance party effects can be really fun too. It works best if there is a constant light source such as twinkle lights that you’re going to expose for while lighting your subject.

Dragging the shutter during dancing at a wedding.

Wedding Photography Flash Gear

The main upside of using flash in your wedding photography is that you can create more dynamic, interesting, and professional images. None of the guests or uncles with their iPhones are creating the quality of work you are. You can also shoot under ideal lighting conditions, and still produce great work.

It’s also important to know when not to use your flash, don’t let it get in the way of getting the best shot which is sometimes the simple shot.

The worst part of using flash in your wedding photography is that it significantly expands your gear list. The backpack I use to carry my camera, batteries, and lenses can hold all of it. But you add all the lighting gear and suddenly I’m not as mobile.

Therefore it’s good to keep your gear list for the majority of the day simple and then have a reception bag for those hard-to-light evening receptions. Below is a sample flash gear list to give you an idea of what we use. It’s quite minimalistic, but it is quite long.

Wedding Photography Flash Sample Gear List

  • Godox AD200 x4. Used to light receptions and portraits
  • Godox V860II. Used for bounce flash and to light night portraits
  • Godox X-Pro-S trigger. Can fire the AD200s or the V860s
  • All flashes have MagMods with grids, can also easily add a gel ( 1/2 CTO gel)
  • Lume Cube. Good for night shots where constant light is easier for hard-to-focus environments such as a sparkler exit – built-in gels and grid are nice
  • Godox AD-B2 dual flash holder. For when you need the power of 2 AD200 such as lighting something in the middle of the day when you have to overpower the sun
  • Light stands. 2 shorty 8-foot Travel stands and 4 12-foot stands with sandbags for traditional dance floors as well as some clamps and suction cups for getting ready rooms
  • Have a reflector but rarely use it

Wedding Photography Flash Summary

In summary, it’s important to know not only when to use flash in your wedding photography but also what techniques to utilize. Flash can enhance your photographs and allow you to capture in low-light conditions. Flash can also slow down your workflow and make it difficult to capture the right shot.

My suggestion would be to begin simple and learn one technique each time. Then, you can experiment and play with the techniques. Hint: it’s probably not the ceremony.

As part of a husband-and-wife team, I work with my partner to identify times that each of us gets to play and experiment as one of the benefits of working with your spouse in photography. You can also practice at home if that is not possible. We once had to set up reception lighting for our dogs and take dance photos of them when trying out new systems.

About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. Their mission is love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.