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  1. #1
    Jessica Otto's Avatar
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    Default Want to improve my wedding photography

    So I have done a few weddings and do get compliments on my work, but I just feel that I am not close to where I want to be. So I have looked at my work and the wedding dance is def the first thing I want to improve. My shots are much darker than some other photographers, I guess they use other lighting, where I am just using my Canon 580. Any suggestions how I can light up the dance floor? What is best and most economical? Speedlights? Spotlights? I have just bought 2 x 500 w Studio lights... will this work?

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    Lance001 is offline I'm new here!
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    Best thing I can recommend that you can control most easily is getting an extremely "fast" lens...having a much larger aperture will let in a ton more light, helping out those low-lit areas. =)

    If you've already gone one...bummer. I 'm out of ideas.

  3. #3
    RyanSandsPhotography's Avatar
    RyanSandsPhotography is offline NJ Wedding Photographer
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    This is a common problem that most beginners have when starting to cover weddings.
    To really get a bright and honest photograph of what the room looks like say, during the first dance, your going to need a few things.

    First your going to need a very good camera that can shoot clean high ISO images. This isn't the only way your going to get a venue/room to look like it did the night of the wedding, but it sure is the simplest. Another way is to get a few Canon 580 ex ii flashes or some Alienbee b800 and place them around the room to brighten up your shot. This can cause numerous other situations like blowing out your subjects, changing the complete atmosphere of the room and most importantly having to spend quite a bit of money on equipment you might not use that often if you don't like your results. To me this tactic isn't my favorite. I'm not a fan of changing the mood of the venue/room in any way. The couple remembers the night this way, why should our photographs look any different?

    Let's go back to my original suggestion. A new camera. I'm not sure what body you have now, but I'm assuming it's a Canon since you said you also have a 580. Really what you want to have is a Canon 5d mark ii. This in my humble opinion should be a minimum requirement for anyone thinking about getting into wedding photography. It's a beautiful camera and can be had for close to $2000 now a days. Also, and I'm not sure what kind of lens you have either, but your going to want a few fast ones. The tamron 28-75 f2.8 is a great start for an all purpose lens. Next you should have yourself a telephoto. Try picking up a used copy of a Canon 70-200 f2.8.

    Now for the actual camera settings. Your pretty much going to want to stick to around these settings to get a decent venue shot, let alone the first dance shot.

    Shutter Speed: 1/100th-1/125th (don't go any lower...lens shake will start to give you blurry images and you will wonder why your focus is off)
    f.stop: 4-5.6 (depending upon what your photographing...but this is pretty safe for a venue of people and lets in a decent amount of light with the right camera)
    ISO: 2500-4000 (I've even shot at 6400 and got useable images)
    This last setting is where most amateur photographers fail big time and is what is needed to really bring up all the ambient lighting in your room. Amateurs are extremely afraid of high ISO. Either because their camera is rather old/cheap and high ISO for them really is a nightmare, or they were taught that low ISO equals clean images and for them that's important. Well let me tell you, it's not. A client can't tell the difference between a completely clean image and a "dirty" one. The Canon 5d Mark ii is so good at high ISO that you won't have any problems cleaning up your images with a filter in photoshop. My filter of choice, Topaz DeNoise 4. All the fast lens in the world won't make a bit of difference if you never push your ISO to it's limits. I don't care if you shoot ambient light only and use f1.2 the entire time. Your severely limiting yourself by not learning these kind of techniques.
    Flash Power: 18th-1/32 (MANUAL MODE: Depending upon how big your room is, how tall the ceiling is and what color the ceiling is. Good thing about high ISO is that you don't need too much flash power, meaning faster recycle times and longer battery life in your flash)

    So again to go over all your settings:
    Shutter Speed: 1/100th - 1/125th
    f.stop: 4-5.6
    ISO: 2500-4000
    Flash Power: 1/8th - 1/32 (manual mode)

    You can give these settings a try and practice in your own home at night. Simply turn on all the available lights in your home and shoot your family just hanging around. I bet you will be amazed at how bright your home looks with these settings. You might have to turn your flash power down to around 1/32 depending upon how tall your ceiling is though haha. Hope this helps

  4. #4
    Biomech's Avatar
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    The easy fix....

    Shoot RAW, Shoot dark (preserve the shutter speed), open in Lighroom and slide the "exposure" slider up. Job done

    Not a great photo, but a suitable example:


    Quick Lightroom Test
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  5. #5
    OsmosisStudios's Avatar
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    Agree/disagree with this.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    This is a common problem that most beginners have when starting to cover weddings.
    To really get a bright and honest photograph of what the room looks like say, during the first dance, your going to need a few things.
    This is true; most people dont take a lot into account when they decide they want to shoot weddings. It can get quite difficult very quickly.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    First your going to need a very good camera that can shoot clean high ISO images. This isn't the only way your going to get a venue/room to look like it did the night of the wedding, but it sure is the simplest.
    Good high-iso is a must, that's for sure, but it's not the be-all and end-all. Fast apertures and good shot discipline also go a long way.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Another way is to get a few Canon 580 ex ii flashes or some Alienbee b800 and place them around the room to brighten up your shot. This can cause numerous other situations like blowing out your subjects, changing the complete atmosphere of the room and most importantly having to spend quite a bit of money on equipment you might not use that often if you don't like your results.
    I wouldn't necessarily be using something like an Alienbee for photos during the wedding/reception; I also wouldn't be placing speedlights (SB units or EXII units) around the room - you're better off learning to bounce it from on-camera or on a bracket

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    To me this tactic isn't my favorite. I'm not a fan of changing the mood of the venue/room in any way. The couple remembers the night this way, why should our photographs look any different?
    Judicious use of both high-iso and flash will be key, but it is a matter of style. That said, I've looked at your work and most of your reception shots are lit with flash, so I find this comment rather strange.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Let's go back to my original suggestion. A new camera. I'm not sure what body you have now, but I'm assuming it's a Canon since you said you also have a 580. Really what you want to have is a Canon 5d mark ii. This in my humble opinion should be a minimum requirement for anyone thinking about getting into wedding photography. It's a beautiful camera and can be had for close to $2000 now a days. Also, and I'm not sure what kind of lens you have either, but your going to want a few fast ones. The tamron 28-75 f2.8 is a great start for an all purpose lens. Next you should have yourself a telephoto. Try picking up a used copy of a Canon 70-200 f2.8.
    This is all true, though I'd be tempted to add in some faster primes: f/2.8 is nice, but f/2 is nicer and f/1.4 is even better for low-light. It can be tough to get focus right, but can definitely make or break a shoot. An 85mm f/1.8 lens can often replace a 70-200 f/2.8, for instance.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Now for the actual camera settings. Your pretty much going to want to stick to around these settings to get a decent venue shot, let alone the first dance shot.
    Yes and know; settings will vary based on location and circumstances. For instance:

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Shutter Speed: 1/100th-1/125th (don't go any lower...lens shake will start to give you blurry images and you will wonder why your focus is off)
    Those might be too fast (to help get ambient light into the exposure) for some situations, but might be too slow for others. You don't need 1/125th for speeches, but you'll probably need 1/200 for fast-paced dancing shots. This also varies based on the light in the room (whether you're using flash or not) and on the focal lengths being used: using 1/60th isn't going to be much good if you're at a 320mm equivalent.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    f.stop: 4-5.6 (depending upon what your photographing...but this is pretty safe for a venue of people and lets in a decent amount of light with the right camera)
    If you're going to be using f/4-5.6, why get f/2.8 zooms (at 4-5x the cost!)? Going to f/2.8, which is itself fairly conservative, gives you 1-2 stops to play with, which means faster recycle times on flash and shorter shutter speeds (if needed).

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    ISO: 2500-4000 (I've even shot at 6400 and got useable images)
    This is camera-dependent: Shoot 12800 on a D3s and you'll be rather happy; i'd be okay using 25600 in black-and-white on a D3s, frankly.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    This last setting is where most amateur photographers fail big time and is what is needed to really bring up all the ambient lighting in your room. Amateurs are extremely afraid of high ISO.
    Most amateurs are afraid of high-iso because their camera's dont handle it well because most "amateurs" use crop-sensor cameras, slow-aperture lenses, and poor technique. That said...

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Either because their camera is rather old/cheap and high ISO for them really is a nightmare,
    ... this is not the best way to address it. "Cheap" cameras != poor high-iso performance. There's a lot more to it, which you don't address below (but I will):

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    or they were taught that low ISO equals clean images and for them that's important.
    Proper technique can help change that: yes, higher ISO's do introduce more noise, but by exposing to the right (overexposing a touch) you can often mitigate it easily and effectively.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Well let me tell you, it's not. A client can't tell the difference between a completely clean image and a "dirty" one.
    Yes, they can, and they'll often notice 2-3 weeks after you've delivered the images once they've had the chance to look them over. People see "grainy" and get unhappy.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    The Canon 5d Mark ii is so good at high ISO that you won't have any problems cleaning up your images with a filter in photoshop. My filter of choice, Topaz DeNoise 4. All the fast lens in the world won't make a bit of difference if you never push your ISO to it's limits. I don't care if you shoot ambient light only and use f1.2 the entire time. Your severely limiting yourself by not learning these kind of techniques.
    I find this confusing: you're saying that fast lenses aren't a replacement for noise-removal software? Or, inversely, that noise-removal software makes fast-lenses obsolete? If so, then I'd be inclined to disagree rather vehemently. If you're using a fast-aperture lens, you may not NEED those high-ISO levels, which makes noise-removal software unnecessary. If you have noise, then yes, using it well is a great skill to have.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    Flash Power: 18th-1/32 (MANUAL MODE: Depending upon how big your room is, how tall the ceiling is and what color the ceiling is. Good thing about high ISO is that you don't need too much flash power, meaning faster recycle times and longer battery life in your flash)
    Manual? No thanks. Manual mode is fine when doing post portraits, when you have the time to adjust if necessary. Doing events is definitely not the right time. TTL with exposure compensation is a much better option.

    Quote Originally Posted by RyanSandsPhotography View Post
    You can give these settings a try and practice in your own home at night. Simply turn on all the available lights in your home and shoot your family just hanging around. I bet you will be amazed at how bright your home looks with these settings. You might have to turn your flash power down to around 1/32 depending upon how tall your ceiling is though haha. Hope this helps
    Uhhhhh...

    At home, with the lights on, is no substitute for a dark reception hall, even for practice. Furthermore, most of the time when shooting my family just hanging around, Im at ISO200, 1/60th, f/5.6, flash in TTL+ 1 2/3 - A far cry from your ISO3200, 1/125th, f/4, flash in Manual. It's a helluva lot easier too.

    The only replacement for experience, is experience. Work as a second shooter, learn what you'll need to do, and how to adjust things on the fly as needed.

    That said: To the OP:

    How are you using your flash? Can you provide some sample images with EXIF and technique for us to help with? It may be a simple case of technique, and not necessarily equipment.
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  6. #6
    BigFuzzy's Avatar
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    What I love about Ryan's comments (which I agree with for the most part acknowledging settings can change due to conditions, but they're a good place to start) is you can look and see he's actually done weddings and quite nicely. To me at least, that carries a lot of weight.

    Quote Originally Posted by OsmosisStudios View Post
    Manual? No thanks. Manual mode is fine when doing post portraits, when you have the time to adjust if necessary. Doing events is definitely not the right time. TTL with exposure compensation is a much better option.
    As for manual mode OP, I've shot various weddings, all but one with dancing, in Manual mode. So the above absolutist statement, to me, is way off base. Might it be easier under constantly shifting conditions, yes. But it's also, in my experience, less likely to read a dark indoor with lots of dark/light differences in the way I want it to without it looking too "flashed".
    It probably takes as much time (maybe even more since it's two button clicks instead of just rotating my Aperture wheel seeing as Aperture controls flash) for me to change the exposure compensation as it does to adjust my aperture and get the same effect.. only difference is that in Manual mode I find I have to do that far less frequently.

    The point being, if the lighting conditions remain constant.. and all the ones I've done (minus one which had disco lights!) they remained constant, so I was able to use manual mode to ensure my shots stayed consistent which saved lots of time in PP to even things out.

    Quote Originally Posted by OsmosisStudios View Post
    I wouldn't necessarily be using something like an Alienbee for photos during the wedding/reception; I also wouldn't be placing speedlights (SB units or EXII units) around the room - you're better off learning to bounce it from on-camera or on a bracket
    I agree that at this stage of the OPs development (and yours, and mine). But I've seen examples successful photographers doing this quite often. I've used one that bounced consistently off the ceiling to give the dance floor a bit more light and used my other hot-shoe flash on camera as a filler while maintaining ambient light. Worked quite well actually.

    Quote Originally Posted by OsmosisStudios View Post
    The only replacement for experience, is experience. Work as a second shooter, learn what you'll need to do, and how to adjust things on the fly as needed.
    Couldn't agree more. I hadn't realized Adam, before this post, you'd been shooting weddings. Cool.
    Last edited by BigFuzzy; 02-21-2012 at 03:02 PM.

  7. #7
    RyanSandsPhotography's Avatar
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    ETTL mode for me is nothing but a hassle. In my humble opinion Canon's system is just not reliable enough for me to use during an event let alone a wedding. The camera/flash can meter a scene quite differently then the way you intend it to look. For instance, if the camera sees a dark tux or lots of dark objects in the scene it's going to meter accordingly and throw out a ton of flash power (which you might not need), essentially ruining your image. That is something I just cannot tolerate during a wedding. If I know I'm going to be a consistent distance from my couple and the ceiling is a consistent height I can use manual with absolutely no problem and get consistent results throughout the entire evening. Try doing that on ETTL mode and see how it turns out for you. I'm not saying ETTL mode should never be used, because there are some very, very talented wedding photographers who rock ETTL mode to great effect. They know the ins and outs of it's limitations and how to compensate. But to think that a beginner could master this technique is in my opinion not realistic. They are better off learning how to light manually and going from there.

    Obviously there are a number of ways to light any scene, but to suggest that a beginner use f2, f1.8 or f1.4 to increase the available light while trying to cover say a first dance is not the best way to go about it. Your dealing with some razor thin depth of field here and to think a beginner is going to be able to consistently lock focus on exactly what they want and at the exact moment is again unrealistic. All I want is for any photographer who is unsure about their camera settings to play things safe and secure. Then as they progress in their craft learn how to tailor a scene to get the shot they desire.

    Let's take shutter speed for example. If the OP is using lens without IS or VC then camera shake can be a real issue as well as movement from our subjects. Shooting at 1/100th or 1/125th is a nice safe bet to help counteract both of these issues and with high ISO we are able to shoot at these speeds and still get a very good exposure of the ambient light in the room. It also helps out with flash recycle times as well. High ISO means I can shoot my Canon 580 ex ii on 1/16th or 1/32 and get decent recycle time and save my flash batteries so they last longer. These shutter speeds especially help when your using lens such as the Canon 70-200 and zooming in to get that shot. That bad boy can become quite heavy, especially for women who have to hold it all night.

    Or we can focus on our f.stop. Using say f4 is a nice safe bet. You never know when your going to go from shooting one person to shooting say 3-4 in a group, all at varying depths in your shot. I don't know about anyone else but I don't like a group shot with one head in focus and the rest out of focus because I'm using f2, f1.8 or f1.2. When your walking around covering the dance floor you don't have time to screw around with settings. The bride and groom may grab 6 of their friends for a group shot rather quickly and you need to be able to react and get the shot no matter what. Now obviously you can focus on the first dance, cake cutting, speeches, bouquet toss, garter toss and have vastly different settings for those situations. Here a f2 or f2.8 might be a better setting because your focusing on one subject and you might indeed want to throw the background out of focus as much as possible. Like everyone has said, it all depends on the situation. But for me professional looking consistent results is what I'm after.

    The goal with practicing at home is to have any beginner photographer to understand how changing ISO can effect the ambient light in the room. Now obviously we all know that shutter speed and our f.stop also effect ambient lighting but I think you get my point. Practice makes perfect in this situation and the more a photographer understands how their camera works in relationship to the light they are given the better equipped they will be when they do enter that dark venue and are forced to get the shot with what they have.
    Sometimes ambient just isn't enough and fill flash must be used. This is particularly accurate for working with weddings, where sometimes ambient light just isn't enough.

  8. #8
    autofocus's Avatar
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    Obviously, Ryan's primary focus in his business is wedding photography, and probably safe to say he, and his team, have shot more weddings than many of us. The original OP was asking how to improve her wedding photography, and I think what Ryan suggested certainly has the basis of some sound tenets for her to consider. Would they all be right all of the time..? Probably not, but a good foundation or starting point, none the less. Me personally, I am a major proponent of Neil van Niekerk's methods of use of light, whether bounced on camera flash, or ambient, or a blend of both. But Neil typically is shooting with cameras that offer very high ISO setting options. Sadly, and for the moment, these cameras are currently outside of my budget. My venerable 20D really starts to suck when pushed to, or above 800 ISO. Unfortunately, for most of us, we have to learn to best use the tools we have. This kind of forces us to learn to take best advantage of things like better positioning, where and how to bounce your light, the direction you want your bounced light to be coming from, better use of ambient light, potential use of, and taking advantage of a videographer's light, timing the shots, etc. I think all these things also need to be considered when faced with the lighting conditions you are given when shooting a wedding. (which is rarely ever good)
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  9. #9
    Biomech's Avatar
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    Is it me, or have a load of posts just vanished? :P I actually wanted to correct myself.
    I should have said; with all possibilities exhausted, what is wrong with saving an image in PP?

    My suggestion was offered as a quick easy fix, nothing more and I stand by it when comparing it to solutions such as buying 5,000 worth of new kit.
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    RyanSandsPhotography's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by autofocus View Post
    Obviously, Ryan's primary focus in his business is wedding photography, and probably safe to say he, and his team, have shot more weddings than many of us. The original OP was asking how to improve her wedding photography, and I think what Ryan suggested certainly has the basis of some sound tenets for her to consider. Would they all be right all of the time..? Probably not, but a good foundation or starting point, none the less. Me personally, I am a major proponent of Neil van Niekerk's methods of use of light, whether bounced on camera flash, or ambient, or a blend of both. But Neil typically is shooting with cameras that offer very high ISO setting options. Sadly, and for the moment, these cameras are currently outside of my budget. My venerable 20D really starts to suck when pushed to, or above 800 ISO. Unfortunately, for most of us, we have to learn to best use the tools we have. This kind of forces us to learn to take best advantage of things like better positioning, where and how to bounce your light, the direction you want your bounced light to be coming from, better use of ambient light, potential use of, and taking advantage of a videographer's light, timing the shots, etc. I think all these things also need to be considered when faced with the lighting conditions you are given when shooting a wedding. (which is rarely ever good)
    Great advice Vincent and like you said my settings aren't the end all be all haha but a good starting point I would say. I have quite a bit of experience in shooting weddings so far and I have to admit I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. I wish I had someone to mentor me when I first started out, but I was forced to learn from reading and practicing. But thats what our goal as photographers should be, to help each other out as best we can so that we can all prosper and succeed.

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