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Wedding photography in low light...help!!!

Naveen N , Dec 11, 2003; 06:45 p.m.

A friend of mine has asked me to photograph his weddings' evening reception.
As far as I know the location is a closed hall with some lighting (I've planned a visit to the location).
I've been a landscape/candid photographer for around 2 years and I was thinking of taking the following equipment:
Camera - Nikon N80, Nikon FE
Lens - (all nikon) 105/2.8, 28-105/3.5-4.5, 18-35
Flash - Nikon SB80DX
Support - Two tripods and lots and lots of batteries
Film - 15 Fuji NPH400 films

This is my first experience, I've made it ample clear my friend - not to hope for the stars...
My questions:
a. Any advice on how to take low light pictures at weddings - I noticed that most of the material at PN refer to church weddings during daylight.
b. Any advice / suggestions on my equipment and lenses
c. Any web-sites, books etc., would be extremely helpful as well.
d. Should I take BW films as well - given that I would have to use flash almost all the time?
e. Would / should I use flash all the time or also rely on natural light and film speed?

Any help / suggestions are welcome...
Thanks a million in advance...
Naveen

Responses

gregg johnson , Dec 11, 2003; 07:58 p.m.

I shoot weddings and my setup is simular to yours. I use an N80 with the SB80DX flash, a 24mm, 50mm, and 85mm Nikon lenses. I think that you will do well to use your 28-105mm zoom lens with the sb80 on at all times. I use my sb80 TTL 0/0 and never worry about the exposure being wrong. I've experimented bouncing the sb80 off the attached card but haven't perfected it yet. My exposures have turned out perfect using the flash straight on and TTL at 0/0 setting, and I've shot many events with large groups of people. 400 speed film should do the trick. I generally use Fuji Superia 400. I would probably use the 18-35mm lens on the second body. That way you've got your range covered, and I find that 35mm works almost perfectly for weddings. I hope this helps. You shouldn't have a problem. Have fun with it.

Gregg

Adrian Tuazon , Dec 11, 2003; 08:08 p.m.

How low is the light? It may help to visit the venue/location at around the same time as the event and take some test shots. I have done a few weddings in low light and it really depends on the situation/location. For an evening reception, I have used NPZ and this works really nicely with mixed lighting. I would shoot with a slow-ish shutter speed, say around 20th or 30th/sec. Otherwise the subject will be lit in a sea of blackness... unless this is the look you are going for. I would also recommend using black and white film, say Fuji Neopan 1600 or Ilford 3200. I usually rate Neopan at 800 and Ilford at 1600. The black and white film and the speed gives you more flexibility. The grain gives the photos a nice look... I think so anyway. As far as your equipment goes, I'm not a Nikon user so I can't comment technically but I'm sure what you have is adequate. Just keep it simple. Try to bounce your flash if the ceiling is low and this will help illuminate more of the space as well as give a more balanced ambient and subject lighting. Given the low light, I would probably use flash the whole time unless you use 3200 speed film and a fast lens... just watch your depth of field as I would still shoot at f8 or f5.6. I know I prefer to shoot in natural light and hate using flash at weddings but you are often forced to and must work with it... it's not all that bad. Just let the couple know that you will be using flash a lot and describe to them how the photos may look compared to using natural light. The other thing to note is focusing, I don't know how your equipment works but be aware that focusing can be very difficult in low light. In my experience I hardly ever use a tripod as I like to move around a lot and work fast. Good luck.

Steve Levine , Dec 11, 2003; 08:33 p.m.

Are you going to be the only photographer?It really doesnt sound like you are up to the task.There is a lot that can go wrong with wedding pictures,and you will have the rest of your life to think about what did go wrong if it does!I would strongly suggest you find another wedding shooter & tag along at a few weddings first.This way you can at least see how the job is done.As for gear it sounds like you have enough.Id settle on a single lens,and get a back up flash.When the bridal party comes down the aisle,and your primary camera & flash dont fire.It is nice to have your 2nd rig all set loaded to go a few pews ahead of the action. NPH is a great film for weddings,just watch the backgrounds.Never shoot directly into any surface with your flash!Always at an angle to walls etc.And always keep people as far away from walls as posible.You should consider using a bracket to get the flash over your lens also.There are many books on the subject,also there are free lessons at ZUGA.NET.Good luck.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Dec 11, 2003; 09:29 p.m.

I assume you are not photographing the ceremony, since you mention the reception only. If so, and the location has fairly standard indoor illumination, you shouldn't worry about natural light (no flash) photography unless you are after the "grainy", artistic look with black and white 3200 speed film (set at 1600 ASA). It is hard to make recommendations because you don't say what kind of coverage your friend/you are expecting to accomplish. There's traditional coverage where you go for the best quality possible under the circumstances and you try to cover what happens and make everyone look good. There's photojournalistic, where your typical posing is not "allowed" and some effects are "allowed" that may be considered "mistakes" in traditional coverage, like motion blur and out of focus effects. There's fashion sytle, where you try to make the photos look like they belong in a fashion magazine. And there's the fine art style where oddball angles and distortions are used to get the unusual. It would probably be one of the first two mentioned and possibly a combination--those are most popular. If so, then you will probably use the flash 100% of the time, and to keep things simple, I would agree with someone above who recommended that you use the N80 and SB with the 28-105mm lens. You have a backup for the body and can get by with your other lenses if the zoom goes down, but do you have a backup flash? It is very important. Rent or borrow one if you need to. In an indoor situation, you would set your camera on manual and use a medium to wide f-stop, such as f8, f5.6 or f4, and 1/30th or whatever shutter speed you feel comfortable hand-holding. Let your flash determine the exposure using TTL (if you're sure it can do so accurately). 400 speed film is good, but if the light level is lower than normal, 800 speed might be better. Use Portra or the Fuji equivalent. In my experience, amatuer film has exaggerated colors and contrast, which doesn't help at a wedding. At times, you can even use 1/15th or slower to get interesting effects, such as motion blur during fast dancing (the hall lights will be squiggly too). The above suggestions are so that you don't end up with black backgrounds, as you would if you used f11 at 1/60th or 1/125th, for instance. Only bounce the flash (or use diffusers like an Omni Bounce) if there is a fairly low white ceiling (8 or 10 fee) and the walls are not dark--like dark panelled wood--otherwise such diffusers eat up too much of your flash power and are pretty useless at diffusing. If the lighting in the hall is really dark, or the lights are turned off during the dancing portion, your camera may have trouble autofocusing. You can either switch to one of your other lenses with a wider maximum f-stop or use zone focus on manual. Or use a small battery-powered video light to help your camera's autofocus, but this is not so good since people don't appreciate having the light in their faces. The tripod is not necessary unless you intend to shoot some slow shutter speed photos to get some background lights in (like B&G in a hotel lobby or outside with city lights in the background). The B&W is up to you. Personally, I'd keep it simple. You can always convert later. My goal would be to get well exposed flash photos of the events and to have all the important events covered. A good book is by Steve Sint--I believe it is called "Wedding Photography--Art, Business and Style", but don't get confused with all the technical talk. Look at wedding photography how-to books with an eye to knowing what to shoot. If the wedding is coming up soon, you don't have the time to learn extra and complex techniques. Also, buy or rent a good flash bracket. This one thing makes a world of difference.

Naveen N , Dec 12, 2003; 10:05 a.m.

Steve,
Yes, I will be the only photographer. This is a reception, the actual wedding took place in the Ukraine. I have 2 weeks to study and prep myself.

Gregg,
Thanks for the input - boosts my confidence...

Nadine,
I am going for the first two styles - traditional and photojournalistic.

Thanks a lot for all the responses, its been very helpful.
Naveen

Francisco Urena , Dec 13, 2003; 05:27 a.m.

I've been in your situation a couple of times (in really dark places). Considering this is a party atmosphere and you're not doing any formal portraits, all you need is a 35mm or 50mm lens and some 400 speed film. I found the 35mm to be more versatile. I like shooting with Ilford Delta 3200 also, and have gotten excellent results both ways. I say keep it simple, use one lens, have a good time, and be a part of the party. You'll get much better pictures that way.

P.S. I suggest you rent or borrow a fast fixed lens like an f/1.4 or f/2. This will aid in your focusing speed.

Russell Carey , Dec 13, 2003; 07:02 p.m.

I shoot stacks of weddings and the receptions - The best idea is find something that works and stick to it - keep it simple!!!!!!! I use F5, 20-35 f2.8,SB28. Hasselblad for formals and set up shots, F5 for candid and natural. 400 Portra 120, 400 35mm colour and B+W. Oh and F4 for B+W 35mm Never swap film speeds as when your working fast YOU WONT MAKE MISTAKES! You only have one chance! There are no redos! Reception - Direct flash, Manual,f2.8, 1/8,15,30 with 20-35. Lens allows you to get into the action which can be very tight. f2.8 will not use so much flash power so recycle times will be fast and play with the shutter 1/8 is pretty daring but can produce some pretty cool shots but dont rely on this as you could just have a shit load of blury pics. 30th is pretty safe but will cut a lot of the ambience. 15 low but cool, 20th is what I use almost all of the time. The flash will freeze the subject. The ambient will give you warm colour from the tungsten lights and some movement will ad dynamics!

f2.8 @1/20 wide angle and get into it - most of all - have fun Cheers

Brandon Hamilton , Dec 16, 2003; 04:05 p.m.

If there is going to be anything like a "bride and groom" dance at the reception? I currently only have one wedding under my belt at the moment so I am limited in my experience, but I tell ya, my 70-200mm f2.8 was invalualbe at both the reception and the ceremoney. It allowed me to get some real nice tight shots of some of the more important dance etc, without having to stand in the middle of the dance floor... (same thing with the ceremoney kiss)

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