When I coach other photographers or teach workshops, I hear over and over again how many of them struggle with flash. Long after they've mastered the use of natural light, many are scared and intimidated when low light situations force them to pull the dreaded, mysterious speedlight from their camera bags. Many photographers love shooting weddings but get bored when the reception comes around. They don't like their reception images and they rarely show them off as a result.

Confession: I used to be one of those photographers.

I hated my reception photos and was determined to improve. Today I love the unique challenge of making beautiful images like these with flash. I get jazzed when I'm able to capture the essence of the fun and celebratory nature of a reception and make images that are comparable to those I've shot throughout the day.
I'm a little different than some of the other photographers you will hear speak on this topic. I'm not a gear head. And I'm not techie. I don't live to try out the next best speedlight or flash modifier. I just want to make photos that I am proud of. So I've figured out the formula that works for me and allows me to do so.

Today, I'm going to share the basic foundation -- a starting point, if you will -- for shooting receptions with flash. Before you master off-camera flash, you need to master on-camera flash. The basics are a fundamental foundation that you need to lay firmly before you can feel confident to build on it.

Here's the basic gear you'll need to start with (there are other options, but this is what I use):

Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
MagMod Bounce
Battery Pack

Put your flash on top of your camera. Point it straight up. Add the MagBounce diffuser to the top. Hook the battery pack to your belt and plug it into your flash. Turn everything on and put your flash on ETTL. Take a photo in a low-light situation where your in-camera meter shows that according to your camera settings, you will be under-exposed. Notice that the flash puts out the amount of light it judges you need in order to correctly expose the scene. I know - this is REALLY basic, but hang in there with me.

Now, let's talk about how shutter speed functions a bit differently when you're using flash as your main light. The one statement you need to understand in order to accept what I'm going to share here is this: Shutter speed does NOT affect flash exposure. If you are shooting in a very low-light situation where your flash is going to be your main light -- which is the case at 99% of receptions -- shutter speed does not affect the exposure of whatever your flash hits (the subject). The reason this is true, is that your flash fires at a speed much faster than the length of time that your shutter is open (faster than 1/1000 of a second). So you can leave your shutter open for a minute, and as long as there isn't any other light hitting your subject other than the flash, your exposure of the subject will be the same as it would if your shutter was only open for 1/100 of a second. If that doesn't make sense, it's ok. Just know that all of this translates into the effect that your flash freezes what it hits (*as long as no other light is hitting your subject). You can therefore set your camera on a very low shutter speed when your flash is the main light. Whenever I'm in a reception hall and the lights are turned down, or I'm outdoors after sunset, I automatically set my shutter to 1/15 of a second. This allows so much more depth to the photos because I'm allowing more of the ambient light (like twinkle lights in the background or lights on the walls of the ballroom) in while the shutter is open. This one thing will really help you get rid of that effect where the subject directly in front of you is lit up but everything behind them is black (the black hole effect). So shutter speed does not affect flash exposure but it does affect the exposure of ambient light.

For these next two photos, I had my shutter speed set to 1/30 of a second. You'll notice I was also using off-camera flash, but even if that wasn't there lighting up the background of the photo, there would still be a lot more depth in these images than if I had my shutter set at 1/150 - which is probably what I would have needed to do to freeze this action if I wasn't using flash.
So don't be afraid to experiment with slowing down your shutter speed when using flash. The trick is to remember to speed it up again if the room lights get turned on or a videographer lights up the subject suddenly. If there is another light on your subject and you are still shooting at a low shutter speed, you will get ghosting or blurring.

Those are the basics of shooting with flash!

If you found this post helpful, and are interested in learning more, click here to opt-in for my free video series -- 6 Hacks to Eliminate Boring Low-Light Photos and Get You Creating Reception Images you LOVE! In it I share my best 6 tips for shooting with flash. If you are intimidated by flash and wanting to conquer it once and for all, this is a great place to start!
learn flash for wedding receptions
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