The Photo

wedding-reception-first-dance-650(Click here to view a larger version!)

The Equipment and Settings

  • Nikon D700
  • Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS-G @ 70mm
  • 1/250 sec @ f/2.8 & ISO 3200
  • 2x wireless flashes, Nikon SB80DX
  • Radio triggering and flash power controlled via RadioPopper JRX triggers
  • Manual Exposure, Manual WB, RAW

How We Shot It

Here’s a situation that every wedding photographer will encounter on a regular basis- a couple’s first dance.  There are any number of ways you can photograph a first dance, innumerable angles, lighting techniques, and of course the overall ambient conditions.  In every case, your goal is usually the same: convey the love and romance of the wedding day.

Here’s my favorite recipe for such a situation:

  1. Dark and moody – If your first dance is taking place in a dimly lit reception hall, you’re in luck!  Just don’t blast the entire scene with flash, either on-camera or off-camera.  Deep shadows, both on the couple and especially in the background, are your best friend (in my opinion) when conveying romance in an image.
  2. Warm White Balance – This is why I love Kelvin White Balance more than any other technique, even those high-end Expo Discs etc. that brag about how perfect your colors will be.   If I want my image to be warmer, I simply dial up on the Kelvin WB scale.  This is easier on Nikon cameras since they have direct access (not in a menu) to Kelvin temp, however it’s also still pretty effortless on most Canon DSLRs.
  3. A touch of ambient color – If your client picked pink, purple, or blue as their up-lighting color, don’t be afraid to let it creep into your image just a little bit.
  4. A rim light, or a “kicker – This is one of my favorite things to do, however for example in this image if you prefer not to have a light shining brightly next to your subjects, simply lean over and position the remote flash directly behind them so it becomes a simple rim light.
  5. Passion – This responsibility (of course) falls to the subjects, your couple.  Why do I mention it?  It never hurts to encourage the couple beforehand, and most wedding photographers don’t even think to do this.  As a wedding photographer, I try to be honest with my clients-  If they want beautiful, romantic images, they will always play the most significant role in whether or not the image looks romantic.  All of the dramatic lighting techniques and camera settings are just the tools we photographers use.

Speaking of “the tools we photographers use”, now is a good time for a technical explanation:  This image was created with two bare wireless flashes and zero on-camera flash.    As you can probably guess, one flash is right there in the image behind them, about 20 feet away, and the other flash is behind me on the left, shining on the couple, again 20 feet away or so.

The flashes are controlled manually, no TTL, from my camera using the RadioPopper JRX triggers.  (The remote flashes are set to TTL so that the JRX system can control them manually, for those who are curios how it works.)  However the lighting setup is usually very straightforward and can be achieved with almost any triggering system.  Given the camera settings of ISO 3200 and f/2.8, and a flash distance of ~20 feet, you’ll almost always find yourself around 1/64 power or 1/32 power, depending on how powerful your flashes actually are.

If the ambient light is warm in color, which is usually the case, I’ll put warming gels on my flashes.  This takes the flashes’ color down to about 3,000 Kelvin.  To get the image to look this warm, I simply dialed my white balance up to about 4,000 Kelvin.

What about on-camera flash?
One of the main things I try to avoid in a first-dance situation is “light spill”.  I don’t want my flashes to be filling the entire room with light; they just spotlight the couple.  A regular on-camera flash would give that deer-in-the-headlights look, of course.  On-camera bounced flash would be softer, however it could also illuminate almost the entire room depending now how close things are.  Plus, if the walls and ceilings are a moderate distance away, the bounced flash isn’t going to create the moody shadows that I want to achieve.  Therefore, I usually just use two bare flashes, with the flash head zoomed all the way in, and maybe even a “snoot” put on them to funnel the light very directly onto the subject.  This is an especially good idea in a venue with a low ceiling and/or lots of white floor space.

The Post-Processing

Lightroom 5 was used to take the original image and give it a subtle punch, without over-saturating the skin tones.  No adjustment was made to the original white balance, and a faint amount of burning & dodging was used to increase the overall dramatic look a little further.  We are using the final release version of the SLR Lounge Preset System for Lightroom 5 now!

Take care, and happy clicking,
=Matthew Saville=

The SLR Lounge Preset System

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The SLR Lounge Preset System is designed to enable users to achieve virtually any look and effect within 3-5 simple clicks. From basic color correction, vintage fades, black & white effects, tilt-shift effects, faux HDR, retouching, detail enhancing, and so much more. The sky is the limit with what has been dubbed the most powerful and intuitive preset system available. Click the link above to learn more/purchase!  The SLR Lounge Preset System is now available for both Lightroom 4, 5 and Adobe Camera Raw! (Bridge CS6)

You can also purchase the SLR Lounge Preset System as part of the Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection.