Photography Lighting For Wedding Night Portraits

One of my favorite parts of a wedding is the very end of the evening. For me it’s always a fun time to let the bride and groom take a 5 minute break and try to capture something that is really unique and different than what they are used to for wedding photos. It gives me a chance to get creative and also is a great way to make me stand out with my couple, their family and friends and also the venue. It’s not something that all photographers do and one of the main reasons why I like to, I think we always have to continue to strive to be unique and create images that are a little different every wedding.

What I like to do during the dancing is just take a few minute break and walk around the venue to see what is available that I can shoot around for a cool nighttime shot. Sometimes I will completely light up the scene with 2-5 lights or sometimes I look for some really great ambient light and just supplement that with 1 simple light.

My wedding last weekend had a really cool olive grove that was lit up with little twinkle lights. The setup for this shot was pretty simple, here is what gear I used for the shot a some of the technical info.

First gear used was pretty simple:

  • Pocketwizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio slaves
  • Canon 580 EXII Flash
  • Vivitar 285 Flash
  • A solid tripod and lightstand
  • The setup is pretty quick and easy. I really want to capture the ambient glow of the lights so you have to really slow down your shutter to capture the natural light of the lights in the trees. In this shot I used an ISO of 1000 and shot in manual mode at 1/5 second at f/3.5. You have to get the bride and groom to stay pretty still so there is no movement on them. To light them I mainly used 1 light, the Canon 580 that was held up high about 30 degree to the left of the camera pointing down at them. For this I used ETTL but did have to slightly power the flash up a bit to get the correct exposure. In these cases when working fast i’ll take a test shot with the flash exposure set to 0 and then adjust up or down depending on how much more light I need.

    I also wanted something in the background just to add a little more visual interest to the image and added the Vivitar flash to the background pointing at the bride and groom. A few shots I moved the camera to the left which hid the light but still gave a nice backlight on them. A backlight is always nice since it helps to separate the subjects from the background. Look at the sliver of a highlight on the grooms back here, it gives a nice separation and helps the image to have more dimension. I also many times like to include the light in the shot like I did here to just give some extra pop to the shot.

    That’s it, 2 quick lights and about a 3 minute setup to get a fun shot of the bride and groom at night. This was shot with a 24-70 L lens but you can switch to something like a 200 and move in tight for a great shot of the bride and groom set against a wall of those lights! As always our only limit is our creativity so explore new ideas as much as you can!


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    Author: Mark

    Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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    1. I have a FinePix s5500 Dgital Camera. How best can i use it for the wedding night photos? Which Iso settings should i use? And how do i use my shutter button?

    2. Before getting into shooting a wedding and trying to figure out a night shot first learn about ISO and then know your camera inside and out. Sounds like you are still learning the basics of exposure and photography, keep learning as much as you can I have lots of tutorials on the site that can help you but also some beginner classes would be the best starting point for you. Keep on learning and come on back with more questions

    3. Thanks for this article Mark – very cool shot. I am starting to experiment with OCF a bit and feel I am ready to give it a shot now!

    4. Awesome, glad to hear it. Let me know how your shots turn out!


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