For Photographers: My Reception Lighting Setup!

Photography, Tips

January 15, 2013

I am probably not the best person to blog about anything flash related…I’m such a beginner with it and there’s SO MUCH that I don’t know about it, but I also feel like, if I can do off camera flash, ANYONE can do it!  Before this past fall, I was so scared to even attempt OCF. Up until September, I just used a 580 ex II on camera and bounced the light off of the ceiling if possible, or sometimes even walls. It was simple, which is just the way I like things to be on a wedding day because let’s be real…you probably don’t have time or energy to be playing with something crazy by the time the reception rolls around. Maybe that’s just me though?

The look of a lot of flash/strobes/lighting/etc is not really my favorite either. Pretty much the only thing I use OCF for is reception lighting. I’m definitely still a natural light photographer, but there are some situations where there’s NO natural light and just one flash on camera won’t do…for example, any type of night outdoor wedding where there’s no tent or anything thing to bounce light off, you will need an off camera flash! Even though I don’t use it for the entire wedding, I still believe OCF is such a valuable tool to learn because you never really know what types of situations are going to come your way…you may need your OCF setup to shoot reception details in a room that has very harsh/tungsten lighting. Or there may be absolutely NO light where the bride gets ready! Having OCF in your back pocket can save you!

Also, I basically can’t write this post without giving a shout out to Stephen Gosling, who gave me a crash course in OCF this past fall and basically saved me from a lot of stress and anxiety! Stephen is so good at OCF…if I can be even a little bit close to as good I would be so happy with myself! ANYWAY…

Here are the basics on OCF. Everything I do is SO FREAKING SIMPLE. Seriously, try these things out one time and you’ll see for yourself I wasn’t kidding!

1. I set everything up with one 600-rt on my camera body and one on a light stand (mine is a 13 ft stand…just a generic brand I ordered from B&H, but it works perfectly!). I usually set both flashes to manual (this is also easier than it sounds) and my settings really depend on what the room looks like/what the lighting situation is, but an average setting might be something like: Camera set to F2.5, shutter speed 100, ISO 1000. Flash set to 1/16th power on camera and 1/64th off camera. The reason I keep my settings like that  are because I want my iso high enough to capture enough ambient light so the backgrounds aren’t super dark! What works for me might not work for you and your style though, so keep that in mind when you’re playing around with settings! I’m also not married to those settings and will change things up depending on what’s going on.

2. To actually set up the flashes to sync, the 600-rts make it SO EASY A CAT COULD DO IT. Here’s what you do: Turn on both flashes, make sure both are set to the same channel and have the same ID number, hit the little sync button on each flash. Set the one on camera to MASTER and the one off camera to SLAVE.  THAT’S IT. Seriously!

3.  I always set up the off camera flash at the corner of the dance floor, preferably by the DJ’s table where there’s already a bunch of stands for his speakers. Usually I raise the flash up to where it’s about 7 feet high…this is usually high enough to light the dance floor without people’s heads blocking it 🙂 Unless your clients and their friends are giants or NBA players, that should probably be enough height.

4. When I’m actually shooting, I make sure I’m either 90 or 180 degrees to the off camera flash at all times. Why?? Because if you’re on the same side as your flash, light is going to be coming from pretty much the same place and instead of pretty, directional light you’ll end up with a super overexposed image. And that’s no good! During the first dance and parent dances I alternate between two sides of the dance floor because I want to capture a few pretty, backlit images AND a few with a nice directional light coming from the side. (The upside to staying away from shooting on the same side as my flash is when the Wobble or the Cupid’s Shuffle face the flash, I join in! Haha.)

5. Okay, this is basically an extension off of number 3, but when I’m shooting 180 degrees from my off camera flash, sometimes (most of the time), I will squat down a little or position myself so that their heads BLOCK the actual flash so that instead of the light overpowering their heads, it gives them a pretty little glow around the edges!

6. For cake cutting, garter toss, bouquet toss, and exits I also use the OCF. I’ll ask the DJ or the coordinator to let me know a few minutes before they plan to announce any of these things and then I’ll move the light stand to wherever I want it to be. Once it’s time, I tell the bride and groom where I’d like them to stand  (sorry if that’s bossy, but I know my clients want their money’s worth!) and then let them go to town. For this I try to position the flash to about 90 degrees of where I want the couple to be. It’s not an exact science because every wedding is so different, but that’s what I try to do! (BONUS TIP: A lot of times for the bouquet/garter tosses I’ll tell the bride/groom “Fake them out!!!” as in, pretend to throw it the first time and don’t! Why? Because it’s funny, AND if for some reason your flash is acting funky you’ll still make out with a good tossing picture!)

7. I change my batteries halfway through the reception! I like to put in fresh batteries around the middle of the reception even if my batteries aren’t showing fatigue yet because I don’t want to be caught in the middle of cake cutting or something and my flash just won’t recycle fast enough to get the shots. Been there, done that! Changing out the batteries only takes me like ten seconds (okay a minute or two) but it saves me stress! And anything that saves stress is worth it, right?

So none of these things I do is really very earth shattering or innovative, BUT I hope it encourages at least one of you guys that  you can do OCF!!! To close things out, here’s a picture of me playing with my flash at the last wedding I shot. My friend Annamarie took this. I ‘m pretty sure she is determined to make sure I have plenty of material for a 2013 bloopers recap 🙂

Leave a Comment

  1. Emilia Jane says:

    I looooooove the 600s!!!

  2. Dani says:

    Great post! And I was the same way with OCF. Until the 600’s came out I was bouncing my 580’s all over the place, the 600’s make it so easy!

  3. Kathy says:

    Great post and tons of good info! 🙂 Haha “SO EASY A CAT COULD DO IT.” Seriously, those 600s are amazing.

  4. Oh this looked like Greek to me! You are obviously very well informed and know your stuff! I loved the look of concentration on your face in the last photo!

  5. Janice says:

    Great post! I feel inspired to play with OCF.

  6. great stuff! we just also branched out and started doing this (see our jeremiah+alexandria wedding). works like a charm!

    but hehe, telling trade secrets on your blog… people go to workshops for stuff like this 😉 but i guess getting the word out also ups the challenge for us pros to do even better 🙂

  7. Brooke says:

    Thank you so much for this blog post! OCF is one of my goals for 2013 & I think this info will help A LOT!! Can’t wait to try it out this year! 🙂

  8. Stephen says:

    Awwww, you’re too kind. Looks like you took everything in and are excelling at it!!!

  9. Great post! I’m slowly going to be incorporating the 600’s into my gear & getting rid of the pocket wizards! But I LOVE OCF!

  10. katie yuen says:

    you’re adorable and I love getting to know how you do things!

  11. Anna K. says:

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much for doing this! I currently have the 580s and I struggle with OCF! It sounds like it is totally worth upgrading after reading this!

  12. Carly Fuller says:

    Love my 600s too!! They are life savers and such a quick setup take down. Nice post Katie!

  13. Amanda Hedgepeth says:

    I LOVE your faces Katie hahahahah! youre so CUTE!

  14. I am SO thankful you posted this. I am so intimidated by my flash! I can’t wait to watch you use this type of lighting in action in May/June 🙂

  15. Anna Shackleford says:

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much for doing this! I currently have the 580s and I struggle with OCF! It sounds like it is totally worth upgrading after reading this!

  16. Natalie says:

    I highly – HIGHLY – recommend getting an battery pack for your flash! It will allow the flashes to recycle so much faster and saves you from worrying about switching out batteries in the middle of the wedding! Excited to finally begin using off camera flash this year at my receptions! Loved this post!

  17. ashley link says:

    you are awesome! thank you for sharing and helping others in this industry! it’s people like you who make this industry not so bad haha. thank you! i learned a lot and OCF doesn’t seem as intimidating anymore. it’s still scary, but not that bad haha.

  18. Alejandra says:


    I loved this! Is it possible for you to post exactly what you used and perhaps links where to purchase?
    I don’t know if to rent or purchase…I have a wedding coming up and this OCF scares the crap out of me! Thank you! Hope to hear from you soon!

  19. Nichole says:

    This is awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  20. Katrina Lee Kuster says:

    question – so for the batteries are they just std AA batteries? how long do they typically last if you are leaving the flashes on the whole time?? also, you don’t need a trigger or anything to make the ocf go off?

  21. Brownie Izaguirre says:

    I LOVE this article! Thank you so much for sharing!

  22. Jimmy Wing says:

    Very helpful tips ,thank you for sharing.

  23. Karrena Amore says:

    So nervous to try a 3 light setup at my upcoming wedding. Thanks for the encouragement.

  24. Such a useful article. I’ve been struggling with my reception shots badly and I’m hoping this will make life easier for me 😉

  25. Annie Casais says:

    Awesome Article =) I really enjoyed reading it!

  26. Georgia says:

    Wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing.

  27. Beth Hegney says:

    How do you typically angle each of the two flashes? I find that when it’s just the couple on the floor I seem to have no issues, but once the floor gets crowded, my flash ends up looking either completely under or over exposed compared. Can’t figure why to save my life!

  28. Eylül Güngör says:

    Great article. Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

  29. Pictureme Studios says:

    Great article!

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