Today's post comes from the book Master's Guide to Off-Camera Flash: Professional Techniques for Digital Photographers by Barry Staver. This book is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers.
Event photographers who regularly shoot with flash use one of two methods to create exciting photographs. Either they override the ballroom lighting (which can be very dark) with a multiple-flash remote setup, or they blend the ambient room light with some flash fill.
As a lifelong photojournalist I’ve always liked the freedom and flexibility to move around in a space, free to photograph anyone anywhere. That makes using a multi-flash system awkward for me when covering events indoors. I’ve tried it and Murphy’s Law intervenes each time because the best angle for a photograph usually has one of my lights on a light stand in the way in the background.
Instead, I like to use one off-camera flash, handheld or temporarily placed on a nearby surface. This lets me successfully blend the ambient and flash light bouncing or “foofing” the flash. It also allows me complete freedom to roam about the venue, capturing candid moments as they unfold. You just have to be sure the room has enough ambient light and light-colored walls. For this approach, setting your camera to the manual or aperture-priority mode will be the best choice. If the room light indicates a shutter speed of 1/30 second or slower and you need to stop action (dancing), then the manual setting will do a better job. You’ll also need more flash in the mix, since a shutter speed of 1/30 second or slower with fill flash will show motion blur from the subjects. Increasing the shutter speed to 1/50 or 1/60 second with the extra flash may still reveal some small amount of blur, but it will not be an unacceptable amount.
Some photographers use off-camera remotes (on light stands or otherwise fixed in place) to light a room from one or two sides and only shoot outward from these sides, avoiding the problem I
encounter. Aside from resorting to straight flash, this may be the only way to light a room that has dark walls and/or ceilings.
Single off-camera flash lighting was used to create these first-dance photographs. In the first two images, a speedlight with the flash head zoomed to 50mm was set on top of one of the speakers used by the orchestra and fired remotely from the on-camera master. Matthew then used both wide-angle and telephoto lenses to capture the couple as they enjoyed their first dance together as husband and wife. it takes patience and a bit of luck for this method to work, because you can only shoot when they dance across the area that will be lit by the flash.
For this image, a remote speedlight was placed on a table in the background for rim lighting on the couple during their first dance.