Wedding photography has to be one of the most challenging areas of photography that there is. As a wedding photographer the sheer scope of a wedding day shoot is immense – multiple locations, varied lighting, indoors and outdoors,day and night, sometimes hundreds of people to organise, the fact that you only get one chance to get it right… and then there’s the Wellington weather! But I love it, its the ultimate challenge and the feeling when you deliver a body of work to a client knowing that they will treasure the photos forever is fantastic!
If I am shooting commercially there is often the opportunity to schedule a ‘rain’ day and almost always the chance to choose a time of day where the light is at its best to take the photographs. During a wedding you have to work around the schedule of the day, come dazzlingly bright sunshine or dark and stormy clouds and this is why a lighting assistant comes in incredibly handy.
I am sure that all wedding photographers would always love to shoot in perfect available light (I certainly would!), indeed many describe themselves as “available light wedding photographers”, but what happens when the light that’s available is not particularly special? What if the sun is too bright, or its just too dull to take crisp and dynamic images? One option is to wait a few hours for the light to get better with your fingers crossed, but this tends not to be particularly popular on a wedding day! Another option might be to stick a flash gun on top of the camera, but while this may balance the brightness of the subject with the background (ie, you will be able to see both subject and background in the photo without one being too bright or too dark), it is just about as un-flattering as lighting gets. The option that is usually picked is to sacrifice a visually interesting background in favour of nice light for the wedding couple, meaning that they will look great, but the background will be nondescript. The final and best option is to use strobe lighting to create beautiful light wherever you want it, making no sacrifice and getting the shot you want. I don’t use lighting for every shot, like I said available light can be spectacular, but when you need light in a tricky situation its invaluable.
So what does a lighting assistant do? A lighting assistant makes using a large controllable light source (ie. a soft-box or umbrella) off-camera (eg. off to the side of the photographer) possible. The subject will be bathed in soft studio looking light regardless of the time of day or scenario. In other words, wherever you are they can guarantee flattering light and make you look cool whatever the conditions! Colours will be vivid, light will be balanced, eyes will be sparkling and lighting will be awesome! A lighting assistant also enables me to work much faster, meaning that I am able to take a much larger number of images in the same time-frame. It also means that we don’t have to compromise when it comes to location choice – if you want that beautiful bright seascape behind you but don’t want to be silhouetted then that’s now possible. And during group photos and the reception a lighting assistant can also make a huge difference.
Often its hard to see the subtle way that a lighting assistant can make things look better, crisper and more colourful. If I have done everything properly you often shouldn’t be able to tell without seeing a before and after shot that lighting has been used! However, below are a few examples of a lighting assistant being used to make a difference that is much more dramatic.
In the shot above the light has been setup behind the couple to provide a rim light, this helps separate them from the background and adds a bit of punch to the image.
Same wedding, just a few minutes later and a lot of drama! Couple are well exposed with no harsh shadows, as is the background.
Here is a with and without light example. I like both shots, but there would have been no way to get the shot on the right without a lighting assistant.
In this example a lighting assistant has placed the light to achieve flare in camera, add a bit of punch and also nice back-light on the subjects. This would have been a very flat picture without!
And here’s a behind the scenes shot, completely un-retouched. Note the awesome studio-like light on the couple!
When shooting with a lighting assistant I tend to shoot roughly half of the photos with additional lighting and half without, as sometimes a silhouette or shady glade of trees looks brilliant just the way it is. I love natural light when its beautiful! Yet having the option gives a much broader range of work and looks in your wedding folio. You can see more information about adding a lighting assistant on your wedding day here.
NB. Just in case you were wondering, I don’t typically use a lighting assistant during the wedding ceremony as it would be very distracting.