Wedding Lighting 101

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Let there be light....

This has got to be one of the most controversial topics when it comes to wedding videography and wedding filmmaking. Should you use lights or not? Should you just get a super high iso camera? Should use an on camera light or should you use off camera lights? Are your lights going to bother the photographer?! Are your lights going to bother the guests.......?! Whoa! Slow down. 

At one point or the other I think all wedding filmmakers go through this thought process. I know I use to fear lighting because I didn't want to annoy the photographer or the DJ. But, you know what. That fear all came from a place of not knowing how to use lighting in a way that it enhanced the scene rather then created something that bothered people. 

Listen, lighting is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to take your image quality to the next level. Of course you can buy a low light monster camera and probably get away without lighting. However, once you understand lighting and how it shapes your image into a beautiful scene I think you're going to love it! 

We pretty much only use Sony mirrorless cameras so we use lighting for aesthetic reasons. We use it to shape our scene. To add dimension and to make everything pop! But, how do we do it? And, what do we use to light our weddings?

Let's jump into it!

The Gear

We've tried a ton of different lights from $20 budget lights to $1,000+ premium lights. I personally believe lights are like lenses. Their is a huge difference in quality from budget gear to high end gear. However, you don't need to grab a set of Dedo's right now! If you're just starting out I have the perfect blend of quality and budget. 

The Comer 1800 spot light has been one of our workhorses for years. Ive dropped these lights off of roofs, Ive taken them from state to state, and they just won't quit. I love these lights for a few reasons:

They are light and small
They are powerful
They are durable
They are BATTERY powered

Can you find better lights than the Comer 1800? For sure! But, remember this gear recommendation is for someone just starting out with off camera video lighting. 

So should you put these lights on your camera? You can... but I don't recommend it. When you put a light on your camera you draw attention to yourself. Especially when filming people dancing. I personally like to catch people candidly. I feel like when you hit them with an on camera light they instantly clam up. This is why I love throwing my lights on 10ft+ light stands and moving around the dance floor like a ninja!

Here is the gear. I recomend getting two Comer 1800 lights and 2 Savage light stands. 

Light Placement

Next time you're at a wedding I recommend checking out how photographers light the dance floor. Notice the patterns they use with their off camera flashes. Chances are, if you mimic these patterns you're image is going to look amazing. 

Besides light placement there are a couple tricks that will help you out. One, always have your lights on before the guests come in. Why? When guests come in and the lights are on already... they psychologically think the lights are part of the decor. If they are sitting down and all of a sudden you blast them with lights, well, they're not going to like that. So, chances are you'll get complaints. Another tip, get the lights as high as possible. A couple things happen when you throw your lights up high. First, the shadows people cast will be on the ground instead of in your shot. Secondly, placing your lights up high will reduce the risk of someone complaining about your lights.

Here is how I love to place my lights on for the reception.

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This is known as split lighting. The basic idea here is to light the subject equally from the front and back. With this type of lighting you can walk anywhere on the dance floor and your shot will look amazing. You can shoot into the lights to get your JJ Abrams on. 

But, I think the absolute best spot to film when using this lighting set up is with the couple split lighted on an angle. Like this:

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Filming from this view point will create some awesome shadows on the couple along with a beautiful rim light. This is my absolute favorite way to film dancing. Once you master this lighting style you'll be able to adapt it to toasts, cake shots, detail shots, table shots, and everything that goes on at the reception. 

Check out this Flagship Studios film where we use this lighting style.

If you have any questions about lighting a reception or need recommendations reach out! Fill out the form on the Flagship U page or shoot me an email at Michael@FlagshipStudios.co I'm always around to talk about weddings or filmmaking. 

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Michael Hook