Lighting is the crux and heart of good photography and I don’t need to go on any further how it effects the ambience and the mood of any venue. What makes a venue beautiful or bad is simply the way you light a place and the quality of light. People spend huge amount of money in good locations for their wedding and yet unfortunately end up with badly lit up venues with bad lights (LED lights) which may look pleasing to the eye, but are just plain bad for photography or videography. Just so if you think we professionals should have our own lights to deal with the situation, please pause and understand their are technical difficulties to deal with an existing bad light and it can’t always be dealt with even with additional lights. And just so if you happen to hire photographers who don’t know how to deal with lights – for there is a entire school of photographers who shoot and work only with ambient light and have very less idea about using lights creatively in their work – You must have seen patch of pink, green and yellow lights on people’s faces on different photographers pages, haven’t you? While this is a topic for photographers to work on you can stay safe with following the tips for lighting as I will mention below. But since this post is not just aimed at customers but also fellow photographers and most importantly wedding decorators. Let me get into the technical details. There are few things you need to understand about lighting –
Patches of blue and pink light. This could have been worse!
A very good eg. of bad lightiing of a venue is shown below – this happens to be a posch wedding venue in Delhi. The LED lights are put everywhere as ambient light! Even if you change it to some other color these cheap LED lights are not going to give you any color closer to true white.
Ambient or direct source of light: This is the main source of light which is directly falling on the faces of people. You need to identify this light and there should be a distinction between the background light and direct light. Often when there is no distinct ambient light the background light can bounce off the ceiling and walls and form the ambient light -this is an easy scenario to work for photographers who work with lights and carry their own lighting. The ideal scenario, so that even you can get good images with your mobile cameras ( which your guest so proudly show off and get in our way of making great pictures for you 😛 More on this in a separate post ), is to have a direct source of light. One of the easily available and common lights are the Par Can lights – this is great to use for ambient light and has good amount of white content in it. Tungsten light bulbs ( yes since the time of Edison ) can be used for this purpose.
Background or decorative lights: These are the lights which fall on the art decorations, flower set up and stage and pointed at an angle to them so that they don’t fall of on other places and spill into ambient light directly. Most common light used for this purpose is LED lights. These can be set to change colours and intensity. Par Can’s are also widely used to give a royal warm yellow tone to the wedding setups. Tungsten bulbs can also be used creatively inside decorative elements. Fairy lights are the best decorative and background light and they give amazing backgrounds with beautiful bookeh which we all love so much!
Reflected light or bounce light: Light bounces from different surfaces it falls on all the time and it spreads after reflecting from a surface. Once the light falls on something it becomes the source of the reflected light and characteristics are governed by its shape and size. We wedding photographers use flash bounce light all the times and while shooting videos simultaneously can bounce Halogen lights directed at the ceiling to give a good working light ( word of caution: Halogen light bounced from the ceiling can completely change the ambience and also make it little warmer or hot )
So if your venue has a very high ceiling or even when it is not to high but not white or light colored try to have white, pink, orange cloth tents forming a false ceiling so that photographers can reflect the light from the surface. If you can’t either give your photographers budget to rent some heavy duty strobes 😛
Direction of light:
Top light : This falls directly from the top and causes shadow under the nose and eyes which doesn’t look great.
Light at an angle: An approximate 45 degree works great in all cases from a height.
Par Cans: Also known as parabolic aluminized reflector light these have tungsten light inside them and are frequently used in decoration for background and ambient lighting. It is good to use them being reflected from the wall or a cloth because they are quite hard in nature if projected directly. This often happens on the reception stage lighting, it creates hard shadows on the faces of people when obstructed by someone next to you. If you are using them directly have them evenly distributed in an linear array so that they fall on all human beings. This is what is done in theaters.
You can see this link to know better about Par Cans – Link
One good eg. of Par Cans used for ambient lighting, and then further enhanced with bounce flash.
Bulbs: When Thomas Alva Edison invented them he gave the mankind one of its biggest gift and that still holds true. There are many ways you can use them and they look very beautiful as direct part of decoration.
LEDs: Lot of photographers recently have been voicing their opinions against LEDs for some reasons asking customers to do away with them which I strongly feel is wrong on their part. LEDs while screw up photos when they are the only source of light or ambient light but are great when used in background decorations and during DJ night it gives amazing colored back light which is so much fun to shoot. A small tip – Either place the DJ console inside where there is a wall above so that light can be reflected from a flash or have decent ambient light from Par Cans or Halogen lights from one side atleast or people are going to come colored as hell in photographs and no amount of editing or Photoshop can save that photograph.
LED’s are the lights which are giving the pink and blue hues in the backgrounds while there is main bulb or true LED white bulb lights as the main source of light and a bounce flash.
This photo is saved because there was a bounce flash and the LEDs were in the background. So le the LEDs give you moody colored backgrounds and let them be atleast in one direction don’t have them all over the place! Infact this photo is just the perfect eg how it can spoil a photo too. See the people apart from SRK who are in the fully basked with LED light and realize they don’t look anything short of a ghost 😛
Halogen: Halogens are not bad source of light, only problem with them is they cause heating and your venue may feel hot if a lot of them are used. Works well for cold night weddings 🙂
Sodium lights: Just throw these lights please! Run away from the decorator or venue which use these. They have very less white content and no amount of white balance correction doesn’t work well to save the photo. These are the very same lights which are used in the street lights often. Marine Drive in Mumbai is one good e.g.
Fairy lights : This is one of the greatest gift by the who ever is the inventor to us wedding photographers. So please use them as much in the background as possible. Create alleys decorated with them, have them hanging on the wall, the drapes lining the wall, the trees, the structures, poles, etc just use them!
These give amazing bookeh in the background.
Fairy lights forming a beautiful bokeh
Can you imagine a better background for the photographs. Tiny fairy lights on the trees.
Candle Lights: These are brilliant soft light sources and we all know how beautiful and soft they are.
Hard light: Light which creates hard and dark shadows. This happens when Par Cans and all the light source mentioned above directly fall on faces.
Notice the shadow on the face of the second person from the left. Result of direct Par Can projected from the sides at an angle. The light has been blocked by the person on extreme left.
Soft light: Light which is easy on features and gives soft and faint shadows behind. A simple rule to follow is to use big sources of lights. Array of lights coming through a cloth or plastic. To make any hard light soft just reflect it from a larger surface.
White content in the light: What makes a light good is the white content in it. White light has all the component of different colour light VIBGYOR. These light colours mix together to give different colours. When white light falls on any object it is the color of the reflected light that we see. So if the source of light lacks the basic colours it can’t give true range of colors. That is why morning or day weddings have such beautiful set of varied colors as the light from the sun is the perfect source of white light.
Lighting for venues is not like the lighting for cinema: This was an important point which came up while I was discussing lighting with my friend Aneesh Arora who is a professional cinematographer and works in Bollywood and wedding industry very regularly. Many photographers and cinematographers now try to light subjects with ugly cinema lights which give good results but often spoil the ambience and view for the guests. Imagine big rods blocking your way while you are trying to get a peek at the bride and groom. The lighting should be done the way theatre is lit for live performances and that should be a better inspiration along with fundamentals which people use in cinema.
It has been more than 2 years since I started wedding photography professionally. I had been doing photography for past 8 years before I finally decided to make it as a career. The reason I chose weddings is because I enjoy meeting new people and photograph their peculiarities and nuances, something which I have enjoyed ever since I had got involved in photography. So whether it was clicking rural village folks near the college in the wee hours of the morning or capturing performances on stage to shooting girls in college, who were often more than happy to have a great profile picture for their Facebook. My stint at Better Photography magazine and later working on my own calendar for the college gave me more confidence in my photography.
So, in this span of 2 years I have learned a lot and I wish I would have known a lot of these things before I started. This is going to be a comprehensive post.
1: Never rush to be a professional: Before you get into photography and risk taking photos something as important as people’s wedding. It is a good idea that you practice your skill enough – 2 years is minimum and then also learn under a professional if you get the opportunity. A lot of photographers keep looking for assistants in their shoots to lift their bags, editing and even second or third shooters at times. It is a good idea to get associated to a photographer. You can learn a lot about handling customers, managing expectations and learn a lot by editing a good photographers photographs.
2: Observe a lot of good work: Make a list of best wedding photographers and study their work. Try to imagine how they would have clicked it – lens, focal length, vantage point, angle, composition and lighting. At the same time try recreating them on your own and you would know it is not as easy as it seems 🙂
3: Get the right gear: Wedding photography is the most demanding form of photography if you really want to shine and be among the top photographers in the country. Carefully look up the ratings on DXO mark. Understand terms like Dynamic Range, color depth, ISO performance and Auto-Focus. It is very important that you get a good camera before you start to make money out of shooting people’s wedding. Other approach is try to shoot low budget weddings with crop sensor entry level DSLR where the expectation is minimum and then save for the right gear. You can also rent the equipment and at least charge your client for all your equipment rental, travel, editing efforts and don’t forget profit so that you can keep upgrading your gear.
4: Don’t be the only photographer in a friend’s wedding/ Discuss what you will provide clearly: It is important to discuss what you can deliver. Don’t overstretch yourself with timelines. Clearly communicate that it will take 20 days at least to process the images. You are new to lightroom and trust me you are not a master when it comes to batch editing unless you have edited 5-7 weddings assignments where the number of photographs to be delivered are huge – 1000 to 2000! People don’t understand your work and they are likely to compare with the other studio wallahs who will churn images more quickly than you. The reason I say to avoid friend’s weddings in the beginning is because you don’t know yourself how long you will take to edit so many images because you never have edited 1000 images in one go. Also it can get more tricky if you are only shooting in ‘natural and ambient light’. Friends can be very demanding and you may not be able to satisfy them. This may sour your friendship.
5: Get the contract signed: Always get the contract signed. The contract will be a written document on the deliverables promised and later on the client or you can’t budge from what has been promised. Newly weds can be quite demanding in their demands.
6: Know important people: Be careful to ask who are important people in the wedding. Some people are very reserved and they may not interact much on the wedding scene and while being important may get left out. Whereas a beautiful girl or a boisterous aunty ji may seem to be important but might just turn out to be a neighbour in the building 😛 To be safe just click atleast one photo of most people you come across. Don’t forget to click bride’s and groom parents. My advice click their solos, them together and with bride and groom. It always makes the client happy.
7: Variety : Don’t restrict yourself to just close up shots from a distance. Be bold and take wider shots too which tell stories. Wedding photography is not just about portraits after all. If you fail to capture the essence of the wedding, the bigger picture, the underlying story, the details, the cake, the jewellery, attire etc, then you have failed in your job. Wedding photography is not an easy job and hell not easy to satisfy your demanding clients.
8: Don’t get tired: The weddings are very hectic and intense environment to work. You may end up being on your feet for 15 -16 hours! So it is better you take good care of your health and drink a lot of water!
9: Carry the earplugs: Yes this is very important because during DJ playing or Baraat your eardrums will thank you if you don’t forget the ear plugs.
10: Always carry two cameras at least – While it is good practice to carry two and shoot with two at the same time if you work with prime lenses. There are times when one of your camera can go wrong for any damn reason and it can get quite scary if you came to the wedding scene carrying just one camera!
11: Use Bounce flash: First thing a wedding photographer needs to get is a flash. Lot of you still may not use a flash, but bounce flash saves you from getting noisy and dark images and most photos just need contrast and white balance correction if you have exposed your image properly.
12: Two lenses to rule them all: I will let you a small secret which most photographers may not tell you. If you are beginning your career, then just get 35mm 1.4 and 85 1.8 lens. I shoot 90-95% times with these two lenses despite having 7 lenses in my bag.
13: Don’t get bored: While it is easier said than done, there are some functions which are downright boring. Endless exchange of gifts, Tikas time and again on the forehead may bog you down and tempt you to find a corner with a sofa and doze off. But for a thorough professional this is the time to get a little experimental to find a different angle and if you are still learning experiment with your compositions.
14: Don’t be afraid: There are times when some guest or relative might get rude to you for no apparent real fault of yours for eg. blocking their view from their comfortable seats. Don’t get the scolding stop you from running around and working hard to get the perfect shot just be careful you don’t hurt anyone.
15: Not everything can be Candid: Candid photography doesn’t mean that you have to take natural expressions only. It is alright if you give a call to the bride or groom to look towards you. This is especially helpful when the pandit is chanting mantras to which no one is paying attention and groom and bride might just be sulking and lost in their thoughts of how their life will now change. Mostly they will be happy they their photographer is asking them to strike a smile. Ever seen a celebrity walking the red carpet posing happily for the shutterbugs? Your clients are the celebrity running down the gauntlets of a cherished dream!
16: Dealing with over-enthusiastic brides: These are the brides which will keep you on your toes and test your stamina but they are also the best clients to work with. The key is to be more enthusiastic than them. They are full of ideas, work along with it and also try different things which you may have been planning for your shots but may have not got the opportunity to implement earlier. Make them jump, twirl, sit on bed, lie on sofa, stand by window, run down the alley with their groom close-behind. If you are beginning to get tired, don’t worry…the groom will get tired before you do 😛
17: Communicate well: Good communication is the key to success to any profession and in a people’s profession it is paramount you have good communication skills. In fact if you don’t have that, don’t dream to be a wedding photographer at all. It is like being a soldier who doesn’t have limbs. There is a solution to this problem though. Have enough money to hire a girl to do the talking for you or even better marry a girl who would be ready be a photographer alongside you.