Yikes- Help me take pictures inside without making people look like stark white zombies!
June 2, 2007 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I am an amateur photographer who has just been asked to do a wedding. I need advice on what sort of flash device/ flash techniques to use to help make the indoor shots look good!

I have a Nikon D40. Usually I just don't use the flash when I am inside because I hate the way it makes my pictures look. For the wedding though, I am going to be taking mainly candid shots, so I am going to need a flash so that I can take pictures fast that don't come out blurry. I know you can get external flashes, or buy bounce cards, ect. but I don't know anything about them.

Does anyone have a good reccomendation for something I could buy that is cheapish, compatible with my camera and will make my pictures come out without that typical stark flash look? Also- could you explain to me how exactly to bounce the flash off things, or other teqniques that you can use? ( In a way even an idiot could understand, I am really, really a beginner in this department.)

Thank you so much! I really want this wedding to look fantastic.
posted by thebrokenmuse to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a tutorial to make your own flash-mounted softbox.
posted by the jam at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2007

Step back a few feet. If the flash whitens skin, you're too close to your subjects.
posted by almostmanda at 5:05 PM on June 2, 2007

You should absolutely get an external flash. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to bounce it. Pointing your flash directly at the subject results in harsh lighting and shadows. Bouncing the light off something else makes it appear softer and much more natural.

If the ceiling is not too high, you should point the flash at the ceiling so as to bounce the light off it. Point it not quite straight up, but angled slightly, depending on how close your subject is. If you subject is far away, the angle needs to be greater.

Find out if the ceiling is too high for this. If it is, you can buy or construct a white bounce card to attach to your flash to perform the same function.
posted by mikeand1 at 5:06 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Are there flashes I can buy that attatch to the camera, but that I can angle to hit the ceiling, the walls, ect? Does anyone know a good one? The white bounce card sounds good, any recomendations?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 5:12 PM on June 2, 2007

You can get a flash extension cord to get your flash off of your camera and into your hand, where you can then point it any direction you like.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:34 PM on June 2, 2007

You need to read this tutorial on flash photography. Then, go out and rent a good flash. I'm a Canon guy so I can't recommend a Nikon speed light but if you got to your local camera store, you should get a good recommendation. Then, PRACTICE. Grab a friend and have them pose for you as you practice bouncing with the flash. The more you practice, the more confident you'll be on that day.
posted by inviolable at 5:35 PM on June 2, 2007

Best answer: The standard answer on Nikon these days is the SB800. It's a great flash and very flexible and expandable. It's part of this huge flash system that Nikon is pimping. It really can do some impressive stuff but it might be outside your price range. It runs somewhere around $300 according to B&H. It's really cool, though. You, for instance, don't have to have a wire to use it off camera. It uses flashes from the built in flash to signal to slave units when to fire. It's really very effective, from what I've heard but YMMV.
posted by MasterShake at 6:11 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

As important as this is to the people who invited you, if you don't actually know how to do this well then perhaps you should decline. Would you really feel good if you photographed their wedding and the pictures all turned out crummy?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:41 PM on June 2, 2007

At this point you probably don't need the SB-800 just yet—the SB-600 will do. You can find one for ~$200. You should get a diffuser to put over it as well (white, semi-translucent plastic cap that goes over the flash head) to soften the flash when it fires.

Once you have the flash installed, take lots of test pictures with the flash pointed upwards at various angles. Before pushing the shutter release, you can visualize where the light will bounce and how that will affect the lighting on the subject—take the shot and see if the results reflect what you had in mind.

If you don't already have fast/long/stabilized lenses, you might want to look into renting a few. Search on flickr and see examples of the kinds of shots you want to be able to get. Practice, practice, practice!

You can also try scouring The Google for tips on wedding photography.

Consider shooting in RAW so white balance doesn't become an issue.

Don't forget to get extra memory cards and batteries (for both the camera and the flash!).
posted by roomwithaview at 7:07 PM on June 2, 2007

jesus christ on a fucking bike, what is it makes people think they can do weddings when they'd stay away from all other sorts of pro photography?

Read this askme thread then talk them out of using you.
posted by bonaldi at 7:29 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Bonaldi-
I do engagement photo's. In fact, I did this couples. They asked me because they like my style and don't have very much money. I usually don't shoot inside, which is why I am asking this question. The rehearsal dinner/reception are both outside, so I know that I will get lots of great shots there.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:41 PM on June 2, 2007

Our real photographer could not make our wedding. She sent a photgrapher who hadn't done a wedding before alone. NOTHING came out. All the photos were too dark and there was disappointment all around. This guy was a 'professional'

I'd say, if you haven't done this before with this equipment you should pass.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:40 PM on June 2, 2007


Don't be a tool. Your "jesus christ on a fucking bike" response isn't just unnecessary, it's rude.

The OP didn't say they thought they could shoot the wedding: they were ASKED to shoot the wedding and now they're trying to understand what they would need to do. They're trying to Do the Right Thing; you're not helping.
posted by mjbraun at 11:32 PM on June 2, 2007

The critically important thing is bounce flash. Light from a point source (the flash) directly in front of subject looks awful, as you note. Light from vaguely above and (importantly) a large area, looks good. Like this (self-link).

The problem with bounce flash is that ceilings aren't very reflective, the flash-ceiling-subject distance can be large so you need a POWERFUL flash (at least 50m GN). All the recommendations above for the SB-800 are right-on, it is an excellent flash and does exactly what you want. Also make sure you have a fastish lens, one that is sharp at apertures no smaller than f/4 - bigger apertures will allow you to operate with higher and/or darker ceilings. The SB-600 won't do here as it has only 1/3 of the power of the SB-800.

If you want to cheap out, you should be able to use the Sigma EF-500 DG Super (make sure it's the Super as the plain one lacks the fancy metering modes, ratio and wireless. It's as powerful as the SB-800 at the price of the SB-600.

Rent lenses if you need to; they're quite available for Nikon. You'll need something wide (no more than 17mm at the wide end) and something for most portraits (eg 28-75 and make sure it's f/2.8 or larger). It's also very useful to have something like a 70-200/2.8 for getting candids from a couple of tables away when people don't notice you.

Once you have the flash, what matters is practising with it. Lots of practice. You'll figure it out - just don't do your figuring out on wedding day when they're depending on you.

Please listen to bonaldi too - weddings are very stressful. Your engagement photos likely mean you have a good eye, but doing a whole wedding is another ballgame. I've done it for friends but only on the condition that they have someone else there that they're depending on. In one case, this saved my bacon (my photos sucked), and in another the friends were glad of my presence because the professional photos they paid $2k for sucked. Don't allow yourself to become a single point of failure - a guest spilling champagne on your camera doesn't mean the bride won't be pissed when there's no photos.
posted by polyglot at 11:44 PM on June 2, 2007

Best answer: As others have said, you need to learn to bounce flash indoors and properly use fill flash outdoors. You need an SB-600 or SB-800. If you do get the SB-600, you will need to buy a pack of color correcting gels. The Nikon flash filters are around $20. You want to make your flash the same color temperature as the lighting.

With the D40/D40X, you'll have to either manually focus, which will almost certainly require a focusing screen to do rapidly although the focus light should operate for at least some of the lenses that that camera can't autofocus, or rent/buy AF-S lenses (Tamron calls it 'HSM'). They'll be more expensive, but thems the breaks, I suppose.

Get an extra battery and extra memory card. Buy a couple of sets of NiMH batteries for the flashes. Have them charged and ready to go.

Keep in mind that you can't do wireless flash with the SB-600/800 and the D40/X without either an on-camera SB-800 or an SU-800.

Oh, and be sure that your camera's flash setting is set to TTL. And make A Better Bounce Card. In can work wonders when you can't get as much wall, person, or ceiling bounce as you'd like or would like to project some light directly to the subject.

Strobist is a good resource for flash-related issues. Nikonians has a forum specifically regarding the Speedlights. Nikon's CLS really will do a lot of the work for you if you tell it to do so, but you will certainly have to help it along sometimes. Be sure and take some test shots if at all possible, so you can get a feel for what sort of camera and adjustments you have to make to shoot different things with widely varying reflectivities.
posted by wierdo at 2:55 AM on June 3, 2007

Strobist recommends a Vivitar 285HV at the low end of the off-camera flash pricerange ($90-ish on B&H). It doesn't have all the spiffy features of a SB600/SB800, but it also won't break the bank. Just be aware that you'll need to spend some time learning how to judge which settings to use, since it's a mostly-manual flash.
posted by Alterscape at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2007

A message to all the off-topic people saying "don't risk this!" -- You are out of place. The bride and groom asked the poster to photograph the wedding. They have already made their choice, and it would be a big problem to them if the poster cuts out now. Not all brides and grooms have the same taste when it comes to photos, and some (like me) may actively prefer amateur photographs to professional. If the couple asked the poster to do the photos, then they will be happy with what they do, because they already made the decision when they asked him or her (and if they aren't happy, then it's their problem, not the poster's).

An amateur photographer did our wedding - and we're not even talking about a hobbyist or student photographer, but someone who normally only does snapshots of his own vacations, who happened to have a good eye - and the photos were TERRIFIC. I actively dislike the work of most professional wedding photographers - and I think we have just about the best photos of any wedding I've seen, precisely because they were non-professional (and looked much more fresh and original).


Back to the post --

I'm a hobbyist photographer, and I'm like you in that I usually don't use flash inside or out. You probably know more about this than I do, but (since I refuse to use flash) I have had some good success with indoor photography by using various bracing techniques - tables, chairs, glasses, ledges, whatever is at hand - along with the more traditional light portable tripod.

Our own wedding photographer did a mixture of flash and non-flash. I preferred the non-flash photos (my own bias), but it helps if your camera has stabilization or you have very steady hands. Ceremonies tend to be very slow, so you don't have to worry about blurring there except from your own hands. Candid shots will be harder, but if the wedding is like most, then most of the time people will be just standing around talking, and sometimes dancing - and, of course, with dancing, sometimes you want some blur to express the action.

I'm sorry that I have no flash suggestions - but I just wanted to say it might be nice to mix up your photos between flash and no flash, and to risk a few low-light long exposure photos (which can be amazing).
posted by jb at 6:26 AM on June 3, 2007

The folks who are giving you friendly warnings are only trying to be helpful. The job of wedding photographer is fraught with potential pitfalls that have nothing to do with photography and everything to do with once-in-a-lifetime moments combined with often unreasonable expectations from members of the wedding party.

The consequences can range from unspoken disappointment to outright rage and destroyed relationships. Seriously.

Search Metafilter for "wedding photography" and read some of the other threads for more info.
posted by Aquaman at 9:43 AM on June 3, 2007

The OP didn't say they thought they could shoot the wedding: they were ASKED to shoot the wedding and now they're trying to understand what they would need to do. They're trying to Do the Right Thing; you're not helping.

I'm trying to suggest that the Right Thing to do is to say "no".

A message to all the off-topic people saying "don't risk this!" -- You are out of place.
This is not off-topic: the OP wants to make the wedding look fantastic, and of all the wedding photographers I know, not a single one had a good first wedding, except the ones who shadowed pros beforehand.

They have already made their choice, and it would be a big problem to them if the poster cuts out now.
How do you know this? How do you know how long it is until the wedding?

If the couple asked the poster to do the photos, then they will be happy with what they do, because they already made the decision when they asked him or her (and if they aren't happy, then it's their problem, not the poster's).
Again, you don't know this, either! If the OP hasn't shot inside with flash, then he doesn't have a portfolio of this stuff to show the couple, so they're judging him on his other shots, which are not of a wedding. They are not making a fully informed decision. What's more, they may not have made the judgement because they like an "amateur" look, but potentially because they don't know any other photographers, or because they like OP's earlier shots -- which will bear no relation to his wedding shots.

Seriously, as is said on almost every thread, on every board, when a photog says "so, I have to do this wedding, how do I use a light meter/flash/tripod/camera?" the answer is "don't". Weddings are high-pressure events, irrepeatable, with no do-over, very little room for error and high consequences for fucking up. They are not a learning situation, nor an environment for experimentation. They are somewhere you go when you know what you're doing, and how you're going to do it.
posted by bonaldi at 10:41 AM on June 3, 2007

Again, you don't know this, either! If the OP hasn't shot inside with flash, then he doesn't have a portfolio of this stuff to show the couple, so they're judging him on his other shots, which are not of a wedding.

And neither do you know what the couple wish.

Not all people have the same values, not every wedding party has the same "unreasonable expectations" (as a bride my "unreasonable expectations" were that I could have a pot-luck dinner and no gifts), and people in this thread are making huge assumptions that they do. If this couple asked this photographer to do the wedding, they have made their choice. They have thought about their own expectations and what they want. There are six million people online to tell them what you have - and they still have made their choice.

The bride and groom clearly do not feel the way that you do, bonaldi or others, or they would not have made the choice that they did.

It is very nice that the poster wishes to do as good a job as they can. If I were asked to shoot someone's wedding, I would spend some extra time working on new techniques as well. And I would tell them, listen, I'm not a professional, you will not have professional work. But if they still wanted me to do it, I would. Because it is a wonderful gift for someone. And also because it does relieve a huge financial burden - many people getting married just don't have the money to be perfectionists. And because if they feel the way I do about photography, they would prefer my photos to those of a professional.

I did have blurry photos from my wedding. I did have some suposedly magical moments which couldn't be done over. But I DID NOT CARE. Because our friend did us a wonderful favour by taking our wedding photos, and if either of us were going to be a bitch/asshole about "oh my god you didn't get a perfect photo of Aunt Matilda", we would have hired a professional.

Instead, what we had was a album of unique, sometimes technically imperfect but still wonderful photos, no annoying poses, no cheesy shots, and we have full copyright and reproduction control (which was a BIG deal to us). Also, they were better than some professional photos I have seen from weddings. Maybe wedding photographers get tired, maybe many just aren't very good to start with, but we certainly didn't have some of the awful shots like other weddings I have been to/been in (like group photos taken in direct sunlight - everyone had their eyes all screwed up and their faces were red).

All of this was more important to me than capturing a "moment" -- every minute of several hours of a wedding is another "moment", and yes, there are do-overs. That's why you bracket all of your important shots, and take like 5 or 10 each of each group posing. Ceremonies are slow - you know what is coming (do attend the rehursal). Also, the kiss should be long enough to get at least 6 photos out of it - make the bride and groom practice long-kissing ahead of time.

Photos are THINGS. They are not magical spells that keep marriages together. They are just a thing, like a bouquet or dress. No one says, "don't let your mom sew your wedding dress, the hem won't be perfect!". No, because a dress sewn by your mother has specialness that goes beyond her sewing technique. No one says, don't let your aunt make your cake, or the marzipan might drip. In the end, you will only actually want about 20 photos from your wedding, or anyone you try to show them to will kill you.

Of course, my grandparents have one photo from their wedding in 1941, badly exposed, not at all well composed. And their marriage is the longest lasting in the whole family.


One more bit of advice I did think of for the original poster, based on my experience:

Do be firm when taking the group photos. Some professionals don't allow other family members to take photos when they are doing the groups. It's true that when you have multiple cameras around, the people in the groups don't know where to look. We wanted family members to be able to take shots, but it was a little more chaotic than we expected.

If you do allow other people to shoot groups when you are, it's a good idea to make sure that you arrange something before hand with the bridal party and the various family and friends - maybe that they will only look at your camera, maybe that when you are taking a photo, you will stick your hand in the air.
posted by jb at 7:37 AM on June 4, 2007

I'm a photographer wanna-be who was pretty much forced into the role of wedding photographer at our daughter's wedding. She and her fiance decided to get married in the Bahamas, without giving much thought to anything other than arranging for the church and priest. It was a fairly low key event, with less than two dozen guests, and not much formality.

At the time I had a Nikon point and shoot, about 3 megapixels. It rained like mad the day of the ceremony. The indoor shots were pretty ordinary, wedding-expected type shots. Afterward we went to the ruins, in the rain, and the results were unexpected and outstanding.

Back at the hotel, the happy couple, at the urging of the mother of the bride (me!) agreed to go out on the beach for more photos. Again, glorious results. It had nothing to do with my ability to take great pictures, but more my creative vision, the 500+ photos taken...and the fact that they wanted to "get it over so she'll leave us alone." They couldn't have been happier with the results had we spent thousands on a professional.

Four years later, one of my daughter's bridesmaids asked me to shoot her very ritzy, country club type wedding, as a backup to the professional. She and her parents were thrilled with the final prints, which were so much more personal than the professional ones.

What I'm saying is that if you were asked to do the wedding, the couple must like your creative vision. They'll be more at ease around you, so the shots will be less strained. My advice is to encourage guests to take lots of photos as well (even shadow you) and the happy couple will have an amazing array from which to choose. After all, so much of what we perceive as good photography these days comes from the Photoshop lab.

By the by, I now have a Nikon D50 with SB600 flash...but it's still the vision that gets the accolades.
posted by 2lostsoles at 5:01 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tell them you're a fine art photographer and you just want to take sad, gloomy pictures of half eaten wedding cakes and whatnot - they'll soon leave you alone.

otherwise follow a pro about for a wee bit.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:03 PM on July 3, 2007

oh aye, and use the word 'real' a lot - " i like to take REAL pictures" - that should scare them off sufficiently.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2007

Response by poster: The weding went incredibly well, thank you everyone for your suggestions! The bride and groom were pleased with the results!
posted by thebrokenmuse at 11:33 PM on December 25, 2007

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