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Lighting Tips

5 Reception Lighting Setups

By Pye Jirsa on May 7th 2019

One of the most frequently asked questions we get regarding wedding photography is how to light receptions. Most reception ballrooms are dark and dingy with that infamous tungsten light overpowering the room. It can be a daunting scenario to walk into and for that reason, we’ve made it simple and outlined our 5 favorite lighting techniques for wedding receptions:

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Lighting Technique #1: On-Camera Bounce Lighting

Let’s start with the most common technique for wedding reception photography, or any indoor event photography for that matter: bounce flash. This works great for most reception ballrooms because they are painted white or some neutral tone which essentially creates a softbox effect when you bounce a flash against it. The key to this technique is to point your flash backward so that the light coming back is hitting the subject at an angle rather than bouncing your flash directly overhead and creating harsh shadows under the eyes.

Flash Power: 1/8th – 1/4th Power, 1 on-camera flash

Lighting Technique #2: Pin Lighting

Many times in wedding receptions, you’ll find that the DJ/lighting crew sets up spotlights for grand entrances or for toasts. Along the lines of this idea, take your off-camera flashes and use them as pinned spotlights for your subjects. This technique works great for toasts since the speakers are usually close enough to the couple to be able to use one light to hit both of them.

Flash Power: 1/16th – 1/8th Power, 1-2 off-camera flashes

Lighting Technique #3: Rim Light

Let’s add onto technique #2 by quite literally adding in a second, or third, off-camera light. This time, the light is being used to chisel the subject out of the darkness by creating a rim light or hair light. This will yield images with higher production value and a more polished look. This is essentially a 2-light clamshell set up with one key light hitting the subject from the front and one rim light hitting the back of the subject’s head.

Flash Power: 1/16th – 1/8th Power, 2 off-camera flashes

Lighting Technique #4: Direct Flash

Direct flash gets a bad rep for looking too amateur, but there is a way to do it for stylistic purposes. Using your on-camera flash you can freeze subjects while incorporating motion into the shot. creating the effect that you see above.

Flash Power: 1/128th, on-camera flash

Lighting Technique #5: Statue of Liberty

This is just a fancy way of saying “hold your own damn flash”. We coined this term for run and gun scenarios where you want a strong key light and maybe don’t have an assistant handy. It creates that spotlight effect that pushes a strong and clean key light onto your subject. This is a perfect lighting technique for venues with crazy ambient lights.

Flash Power: 1/8th, off-camera flash

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About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Miller

    Just finished. thanks for the video.

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  2. Michael Miller

    You mentioned that you take 4 lights and use 3. But, don’t you have 2 -4 in corners of the reception to provide even lighting, regardless of lighting speaker, cake cutting, etc?

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  3. Michael Miller

    For the couple’s speech, I understand the camera left and the two flashes, but why is there “a camera behind the couple”.?The diagram had one camera and two flashes only.

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  4. Michael Miller

    reception video seems to be pretty low resolution, not sharp. FYI.

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  5. Cristabel SH

    Do you recommend ETTL during receptions? Also, for the statue of liberty technique where is the flash point at? the subjects directly? For softer light when pointing directly at subjects, would a gary fong help??

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Cristabel, 

      We use Manual during receptions because we want greater control of our flash. I think using ETTL during certain portions (grand entrance for example) might work but you have to keep in mind that the flash is determining what power to fire at which means you might risk a slower recycle rate if the subject is further away. 

      For the Statue of Liberty technique we usually have it diffused and pointed directly at the subject. You can totally use a Gary Fong. 

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