Until recently, I always believed there are 2 types of lighting school – natural light and flash photography. Being a natural light photographer, I had in my mind that natural light was the best quality one and that a photographer using it well was someone able to adapt himself to any kind of situations (and I still think this is true 😉 ). Also in my mind, the role of flash was more to light a dark scenery or fill-in the shadows – this is obviously the main basic role of a strobe (flash). Finally, using flash had some major drawbacks for me: first strobes flatten perspective hone on-camera; second, when off-camera, it requires to move a lot of equipment (a tripod stand, an umbrella or a soft-box …) and this is really not convenient during a wedding and without assistant.

So, with those negatives mindsets against flash, I have launched my studio activities in Mauritius last year … and from then, I have rediscovered the power of flash, the one I learned some years ago during my photography degree in Paris and the one I used on assignments with professional photographers in Europe and in Asia. However, this really was about using big huge studio flashes, either in a studio or outside, and this required a lot of equipment and assistants (I have very recently assisted a Belgian photographer for a Paris Match reportage in Mauritius, using those big huge studio flashes outdoor – you can have a look here). Here comes a technique that is now, I guess, quite well known by professional photographers – it is called “strobist“. This term of strobist was named by David Hobby (and it’s copyrighted), who is one of the 3 masters of flash photography with Joe McNally and Zack Arias. Just have a look at their work and you’ll understand the power of small flash (strobe) photography ! Very briefly, the technique consists of having your flash off-camera i.e. from a different angle than the one of your lens. You can use 1, 2, 3, 10 different flashes to compose the light of your image – this gives you incredible creative possibilities and precise master of your light. Also, used with effective light modifiers (umbrella, soft-box, grid, diffuser, beauty-dish, snoot …), small strobes can achieve great results !

Knowing that you can get amazing results with just a few pieces of equipment, made me rethink the way I was shooting my outdoor wedding portraits. I used to use natural light and reflectors, which is still the way I operate 80% of the time, because it’s very practical in the fast-paced environment of a wedding. But now I also use my mobile lighting equipment to get images I was previously not able to shoot AND to precisely craft and master light to get stunning images with a lot of character (light creating soft or contrasted shadows). My equipment is pretty basic – 3 Nikon sb800 (I might buy a couple of sb910 soon), some stands, umbrellas, soft-box, color gels, reflectors, diffusion panels and radio triggers. I had this equipment for quite a long time, and I used it indoor (for corporate portraits for instance) – but I was reluctant to use it outdoor, because of the wind. So here comes the small detail that makes the whole difference: some weighting bags, given by my friend Michel Gronemberger, professional photographer in Belgium. With them filled with sand or rocks, my stands with umbrellas won’t fall down, even with some wind.

OK, enough said about my ways to flash photography ! Let’s have now some examples of a wedding I shot last week, without assistant – the wedding of Tara and Stephan in Tamarin. What I did was really simple, and the results were great. I simply thought of 2 lighting set-ups, one on the beach, on in the gardens – except those 2 settings, the whole wedding reportage was shot as usual, with natural light.

The first lighting set-up on the beach could not have been simpler than that – a one light set-up, with 1 Nikon sb800 triggered in a shoot-through umbrella, camera left, iTTL mode, +1EV compensation. The idea was to shoot the couple with the sea and the nice sunset behind them. At that time, the sun was hidden by some beautiful clouds and a few rays of sun light was coming out of them. The ambient light was very soft, but the background was pretty clear (explaining the +1EV compensation to the iTTL mode) – this bright background was also used as rim light i.e. the back light that defines your subject outlines. When you are taking pictures with flash, it’s better to go on your camera manual mode – first, you need to take an ambient light image to check which amount of ambient light you need in your final image; then you check the amount of flash light you need to light your subject; finally, you check the balance between ambient and flash light, in terms of amount of light, quality of light (the position of your flash towards your subject) and colors of light. Here’s the result:

Without any strobe, reflector … and measuring light for the whole frame, you get this type of result (which I love as much as the previous one 🙂 ):

 

The second lighting set-up I used for this wedding was later in the dark. I heard from the owner of the bungalow where the couple was staying that April is the only month in the year when you can have the full moon rising right over Black River, a beautiful river running just down the bungalow’s garden. On that specific day, it was full moon, the sky was cloudless and the moon’s reflection on the river was sensational. Very close to the river was a small pirogue, under a nice tree, both lit by a warm yellow directional spot. The whole difficulty here was to get enough ambient light while it was very dark. After my first test shot for ambient light, I was at ISO 3,200, f/2.8 and 1/20th. If those set-ups are tough for move blur of the background, there’s no risk of getting a blurry couple in my image as the flash will fix them in this very dark environment. Anyway, I had to hold my breath to get some sharpness in my background … The lighting set-up was composed of 2 Nikon sb800, the spot on the boat and tree, and the full moon. 1 sb800 was on-camera and was used as fill-in and commander for the second flash – it was in Manual mode at 1/32 power. The second sb800 was camera left, with shoot-through umbrella, iTTL mode and -1EV compensation (to compensate from the very dark environment). Here’s the result in those 2 different images (both with similar lighting set-up):

And seated on the boat:

Thanks for reading, guys 🙂 Have a good week !