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Creativity with Speedlights

Creativity with Speedlights

by Michael Sewell

Whilst I have access to a wide range of lights and modifiers, sometimes simplest is best. On this particular occasion, simplest was fastest and that's where my trusty Speedlights came in!

This particular wedding was held at Bredenbury Court Barns wedding venue, which is a lovely venue, tucked out of the way near Shrewsbury. They certainly know how to run a wedding, and run a very tight schedule. I mean tight, as in squeaky tight!

After the wedding breakfast/reception, I do a lit portrait session, which has become my signature imagery over the years. On this particular occasion, as Chelsea and Rhys (the bride and groom) finished their meal, I let them know we were just headed outside to take a look at a couple of areas I had spotted earlier, which looked ideal for the portrait session. The main attraction was the bandstand.

So, Helen (my better half and a fantastic dance photographer) and I take a wander across the ground, on a rather chilly evening. There's not a lot of ambient light to speak of. It's the last week of March, the clocks have gone forward, it's half-past seven and going dark quite quickly. I'm quite happily strutting around as if I know what I'm doing, nodding knowingly at various views of the structure, smiling at Helen as I describe how I could set up a stripbox here, the keylight over there, and just how gorgeous we could make it work.

At this point, my balloon is about to be popped.

The wedding coordinator appears, smiles sweetly, and says the cutting of the cake will be in twenty minutes, so the first dance can start promptly at eight. I smile and thank her, as my mind races, and I try not to scream!

There is no way I can manage to set up two strip softbboxes, a keylight and a camera, and still get a dozen different images in twenty minutes.

Helen and I leg it back to the car, sort the camera and grab four basic speedlights and Elinchrom Skyport Transmitter Plus with Skyport Receivers. We are down to a little more than fifteen minutes as Helen goes to round up the bride and groom. In the meantime, I head over to the bandstand.

The first image is the one above. To the right of the doorway, I gaffer tape one of the speedlights, and aim the head at roughly 45° towards the ceiling. If you look carefully, you can see a slight brightness behind the supporting pillar.

I placed a second speedlight to the left of the doorway. Again gaffer taped to the supporting pillar, with the head at 45°. Both speedlights were set to an output of 1/16th. Bear in mind, there is no form of diffusion, as I was relying on the ceiling bounce to provide a nice spread oflight.

I placed a speedlight on the ground frame right, with the back of it slightly pushed into the soft ground, so it would illuminate the ornate railings and pillars, at least to the roof line. Looking carefully, you can see it does manage to cast a little light on the roof. I placed another on the ground frame left, to balance up the lighting on the structure. Both speedlights were less than 2m from the bandstand and each was set to 1/4th output.

The camera was on a low tripod, literally 30cm off the ground at most. It was set to 1/125th sec, f8 and ISO400

This image uses the same lighting and camera settings, for a very quick bridal portrait. And we are down to nine minutes.

Whilst I was sweating over the first few images in the bandstand, Helen took off to the car, and came back with one of our umbrellas. I picked up one of the speedlights from the ground, and tucked it into the rods of the umbrella. You can see it if you look carefully. The first test shot blew all the detail out of the bride and grooms face, so it was dialled down to 1/32nd output. Helen held the second speedlight at hip height, frame left. That one was still set to a 1/4th output.

The camera settings were still the same as those for the bandstand images, which were 1/125th sec, f8 and ISO400

The groom gave a tug on Chelea's veil and this was the final shot as the DJ could be heard announcing the cutting of the cake. The bride and groom took off for the cake cutting, I ran  to the car and swapped cameras, as Helen scooped up various speedlights and lighting umbrellas. I arrived just in time as Chelsea and Rhys were announced into the room to cut the cake.

Whilst it was one of the nicest weddings I've been fortunate to photograph, I can confidently say, it was also the sweatiest! The important thing is we got the shots the bride and groom were happy with, and all with a simple setup of flashguns.


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