Ashley and Jason's First Dance
Flash photography is important. I still hear lots of professional photographers say things and market themselves with phrases like, "I'm a natural light photographer." My advice to anyone looking to hire a photographer for an event or project is to interpret statements like that as caution flag at the very least. While there are lots of "natural light" photographers who create beautiful work, work that actually makes me say "wow", there will be a time and a place where natural light isn't enough. What happens when there is not enough natural light? What is that photographer going to do?
I've worked weddings where I was hired for videography and the photographer they hired switched to another, more light sensitive camera to photograph the reception because they didn't want to deal with flashes. In my opinion based on experience, this is not a stylistic choice -- the choice for them is based on their lack of understanding of flash exposure. In this one particular case the photographer said to me that they "like to capture the natural ambient light of the room" and flashes are too "harsh" in their photos. That again is a clear sign of their lack of understanding and how to expose their cameras for the ambient light while incorporating flash.
The internet is full of a gazillion resources to learn the basics of flash photography so I'm not too keen on adding to the noise with my own tips or strategies. Even more, all camera manuals (that thick book that explains the camera's functions) have a section dedicated to understanding flash photography. Read that people (to my fellow photogs). If you're looking to hire a photographer this might be an important question to ask them: "How do you incorporate flashes in your photography?" It should be fairly easy to gauge their level of understanding of camera exposure and flash exposure based on their readiness to incorporate flashes in their photography. If in their answer they are hesitant to use flashes or they give you one of those "natural light" statements then that could be an indicator that they don't fully understand the basics of exposure.
Kate Showing off her dress.This photo of Kate was taken in the middle of the day at the beach; what is typically a terrible combination for photos turned out pretty great with a little shade and a reflector.
Understanding the basics of exposure is crazy important especially in regards to wedding photography. A wedding day might require photos under a harsh mid day sun, unflattering tungsten lights indoors, scenes with intense highlights and dark shadows, sunset or dusk photos, and then the dark dance floor with various and inconsistent lighting. While flashes aren't necessary in all of those conditions, having the understanding of how to use a flash or manipulate an available light source can assist in the photographers ability to manage the light and turn 'good' photos into great photos.
Here are a few examples from last week's wedding at The Ridge Tahoe...
The above photo is a great first example to show the power of flash. While the bride and father share a special moment, another important part of the story is happening right behind them. The mother of the bride is watching her youngest daughter dance with her dad on her wedding day and tears are bellowing up in her eyes. These emotions in the special moments are what I love to capture and it would be completely impossible without a flash. The use of light that I've created makes her stand out from the background and the focus of the image is unquestionable. Without the flash she would be just as dark as everyone in the background and the image would be a whole lot noisier (as in camera noise, but more so a noisy image with too much going on). The flash enables me to capture more impactful images that tell a story I want to tell.
This image is another one with flash that serves to make the bride and groom stand apart from the background. The ambient light is super orange while the spot light effect I've put on the subjects is more natural (closer to daylight balanced). With a correct flash exposure and camera settings I can mix the two so I retain the natural ambient light while adding a pop to what I want to emphasize.
With the use of flash this image went from mundane to interesting. The weather was terribly cold and windy and the snow banks were so high that it limited where we could take photos. Most couples who get married at The Ridge stay in the Tower building so it made sense to put them in front of it as part of their story. The flash off to the side, camera left, clearly makes them the focus of the image while incorporating a wide shot of their surroundings. And while there is a lot going on in this photo, the focus of light makes the focus of the image unmistakable.
Flash photography is very important to what do and an invaluable tool in my story telling; it's also super fun :). And the reaction from my clients is usually always some form of "wow!" and that's exactly what I strive to achieve no matter what the conditions and variables at play. So to future brides I say this: Choose your wedding photographer carefully and examine their portfolio to see if they can create compelling images in a variety of lighting conditions. If you see it then go ahead and book them with confidence. Happy planning!