Weddings: Maximum Bang for Minimum Buck! Part 2
Lighting a wedding can be a messy issue. Churches are dark. Receptions are dark. Shooting wide open at a high ISO is fine, but sometimes you need to make your own light. Here is what I bring to weddings, and how I squeeze as much value out of my lights as possible.
I have a truly awesome studio in a tote (I will post about that later in great detail). It’s a big plastic tub and I added casters and a handle. I can wheel it in, break it out, and I’ve got all my lights, stands, brackets, umbrellas, ectetera ad infinitum. I highly suggest you put one together for yourself.
My light kit is pretty simple. I am a big believer in small flashes. I carry 3 Nikon SB-26 flashes and use two of them for most of my work, with one backup. This unit’s built-in optical slave is a big plus in my book because it saves me money on another RF slave device. If I am using more than one light, I keep the slave turned on almost all of the time as a redundant back-up if one of my RF receivers flake out. I also have a JTL Versalight strobe that I use from time to time for when I need more power and/or faster recycle time than my SB-26s can provide. It has an optical slave, a PC jack, and it recycles okay. It’s not the fanciest or most powerful light, but I don’t need much. For example, I will use it to brighten a whole room by sticking my make-shift wide diffuser on (I will post about this later), pointing it upwards and letting it bounce off the ceiling. I can use that effect alone, or I can couple it with an on-camera flash with a Fong for very beautiful, well-lit reception shots. I will also break out my big light for portraits when I am using a large light modifier (larger softboxes and umbrellas suck up more light) like my big soft-lighter or my softbox.
I also have an old Canon flash that I use for all my on-camera work. It swivels, it TTL’s with my camera and I can stick a Fong on it. That’s all I need. I don’t do much on-camera flash work, so I don’t need, nor can I justify the cost of, anything more fancy-schmancy than that.
Shooting a wedding is more like shooting an event as a journalist than it is like shooting a portrait. It’s risky to get too complex with your lighting set up. For that reason, I keep my lighting kit pretty light and simple. For the portrait session, I usually set up one or two white compact umbrellas. I like the white umbrellas because of their versatility. You can shoot into them like a silver umbrella, or flip them around, bring them close to your subject, and recreate the effect of a large soft-box. For larger groups, I add a second umbrella. As I mentioned before, I keep a wide diffuser for my big AC strobe.
I have a medium-sized JTL softbox, but I almost never use it. It’s a pain to put together, and the mounting system sucks. It came with the AC strobe, along with a now-broken light stand (which I have since turned into a new and improved Light stick.) It was a kit that I bought before I was a pro. In retrospect, I should have gotten something else.
I love my 46″ Softlighter. The light it produces feels “sculpted”, dramatic and rich. It’s a bit slow to setup, though, which is a pain. However, it’s got a great Bang for Buck ratio, because it serves triple duty: silver umbrella, white umbrella (courtesy of the removable back), and soft lighter (courtesy of the front diffuser). For this reason, it’s definitely a favorite of mine. It’s not the fastest thing to set up, but I think it’s worth it.
I have a couple snoots that I made from zippered bottle coozies. They only fit over my Nikons, which is fine. I have never needed to snoot my big light, because I only use it when I need more firepower. I avoid using some of my more eccentric homemade equipment at a wedding or reception. Since there are no re-shoots at a wedding, I have to favor reliability far over any other factor. I have to keep my turkey-pan beauty dishes at home.
Stands and supports
I got turned on to Qwik-stands by some dude at a GPPA convention presentation. They are not particularly cheap, but you only really need two for any of your wedding work. Qwik-stands are great because the supports pop out when you place them down, and pop back in when you pick them up. So you can move them around quickly and easily, they fit between church pews, and the legs never bump into anything. The time and effort saved is worth the extra money. They may cost more, but they have more bang for buck.
If I want to get creative and/or fancy-schmancy, I have some home depot clamps with 1/4″x20 bolts attached. I can attach a cold shoe and a strobe anywhere I can stick a clamp. I also have a super clamp, just in case a Home Depot clamp doesn’t cut it.
I’ve sung the praises of monopods before. I love light-sticking at a reception.
Also, these umbrella supports are, without question, a better buy than these. They are smaller and the cold shoe is a nice, secure fit. They also attach more securely to light stands. That said, you should own a couple of the latter type, because these brackets stack together nicely for some interesting flash/modifier arrangements, and the cold shoes that come with are handy. The cold shoes come with a 1/4″x20 hole drilled in them, so you can attach them to anything with a bolt (monopods, home depot clamps, etc.).
I don’t go anywhere without my Cactus triggers. They are cheap, flimsy and not-totally reliable, but they are so damned useful that they are worth it. I look forward to ponying up for Pocket Wizards. I keep enough receivers for all of my lights, plus one extra (just in case). I also keep two transmitters, one for each camera body. Less switching out means hot shoes don’t get worn down. Plus, if one breaks or dies (it’s never happened, but I like to maintain a healthy level of equipment paranoia.), I have a backup.
I keep several short male-to-male pc cords handy. I like the screw-on tips because they are vastly more reliable than the regular kind. They cost more, but they work better. You are only as reliable as your flimsiest piece of equipment, after all.
I use rechargeable batteries as much as I can. Sometimes, I run out and I have to switch to regular alkalines. I get cheap ones in bulk at Big Lots. I got 100 for about $20, so I never run out of batteries. Neither should you, so keep a healthy stock of alkalines handy, just in case. Sorry, environment.
And that’s all I bring for lights and modifiers and accessories. I keep my lighting kit nice and simple, so I don’t have to think too much. Thinking gets in the way of shooting. The more time you spend setting up stands, metering, and assembling lighting equipment is less time you are spending shooting. So, keep it simple, versatile and reliable, so you can put your brain towards getting some home-run images.
Next time, I’ll talk about my emergency kit. It’s chock full of handy tools and such that save weddings. You will definitely want to stay tuned for that one.