Years ago when I first started in wedding photography I quickly realized that nobody was looking out for my best interest during wedding receptions. The lighting was always dimly lit, most likely to set the mood, though I’m sure the mood would be the same with a bit more light. I got tired of chasing down coordinators, if there was even one to ask, to have the lights turned up just a pinch. I have always tried to be prepared for situations so I can react accordingly rather than be stressed when a situation does not work out my way. Though I have been using the technique I explain below for years now, only recently has it became much easier for me to manage. I will start the setup I have been using for the last 4 years.
This setup, from a recent wedding, is fired by Pocketwizards. On my camera, I have a Pocketwizard MiniTT1. This trigger allows me to still mount a flash on top of my camera so I can have direct light from any angle. In the photo above you can see that I mounted my flash using a Manfrotto 175F-1 Spring Clamp. A Pocketwizard PlusII is mounted to the clamp as well which fires the Canon 580EXII Speedlight. The Speedlight Flash is pointing up into the white tent. The light will hit the tent and reflect back down toward the ground. Because the tent is shaped as it is, the light is spread out making a nice fill light. If I need extra light, I still have the flash mounted to the top of my camera. In this situation, I rarely needed to use the Speedlight Flash on top of my camera unless somebody was close to the edge of the tent and facing outward from the light. Every photo during the reception looked great and was pretty well lit compared to what I would have gotten if I had just used an on camera flash only.
Later in that same wedding, the Bride approached me and wanted to take a photo in the gazebo which was out in the dark. It was about 9:30pm at this point and there was no light at all inside of the gazebo. I simply unclamped the wireless Speedlight setup I was using inside of the tent and clamped it up in the white gazebo. When I took the photo, the light bounced off of the white gazebo and down onto their faces. It was like having a giant softbox just above their heads. Much better light than an on-camera flash.
Now that Canon has released their own radio system that is built into their new 600EX-RT Speedlight series, I decided to upgrade my Speedlights to the new version. This means that I no longer need the Pocketwizards to fire my Speedlights. Another up side to Canon’s new system is that you can make changes to each Speedlight individually from your camera. Here is a photo I took of 3 Canon 600EX-RT Speedlights firing into the reception of this beautiful but dimly lit reception hall at Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades. In this photo, the room looks well lit, however, it was not a well-lit room for taking pictures until I set up my Speedlights.
The reception hall at Bel-Air Bay Club was pretty full so there was not room for me to put my Speedlights on light stands. I oped to use the clamps and clamp them onto light fixtures that were on the wall. There really was nothing else I could clamp to so this was my only option. All three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlights were fired by the Canon ST-E3-RT which is a intelligent trigger that mounts to the hot shoe on my Canon 5D Mark III. The Canon ST-E3-RT allows me to manually adjust the power of each flash individually, which is great. I have never been a fan of shooting in ETTL mode which usually causes my Speedlights to use a lot of battery power. I find that I only need my flash to fire at 1/32 power to provide more than enough light. At 1/32 power, I have been able to get my Speedlights to fire as many as 2200 times before needing new batteries. Here is a photo of the Canon 600EX-RT mounted to the clamp.
This setup was mounted in three different locations around the reception hall providing excellent light throughout the entire wedding reception at Bel-Air Bay Club. I could fire these Speedlights all at the same power, set up a ratio where one Speedlight produced more power than the others, or fire only one Speedlight by itself. The only downside to the Canon ST-E3-RT is that you can not mount a flash to the top of it. Once I become faster using this new Canon system I will most likely use a Canon 600EX-RT on top of my camera as the master which can control the other externally mounted Speedlight flashes. I have a pretty good understanding of it now but need to play with it a bit more to be able to make adjustments on the fly quickly. Over this wedding offseason, I plan to produce a video on how I do my lighting setup.
I own two Canon 600EX-RT Speedlights and the Canon ST-E3-RT. I rented the third Speedlight from Borrowlenses.com which has decent rates for renting gear. I will probably buy another Speedlight before wedding season kicks off next year but there is no need for me to own a third right now.