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What to do when the church lighting is AWFUL?

Jason Hinds - Columbus, OH , Jul 10, 2006; 11:10 p.m.

Hello everyone. I haven't posted in a while, but I've been doing my share of reading. Many of you on here offer great advice, which is really invaluable.

Anyway, on to my question. I recently shot a wedding in a church that had some really nasty light hitting the altar/stage area. Probably the most unflattering light you'll ever encounter when shooting a wedding, in terms of harshness and color. I struggled to get a decent exposure when shooting the formals (luckily we took many outside formals as well), and the color varies immensely from a person's head down to their legs/feet.

I've attached an example image, but here's my question. I've broken it into three parts...

1) What can you do, while shooting, to minimize the impact of the nasty lights? Should you increase your flash output and deal with the "deer-in-the- headlights" effect, which reduces the amount of ambient fill that is killing the image?

2) What, if anything, can be done post-process to deal with different colors of light in the same image?

3) When you encounter this type of lighting in a church, do you say anything during the formals to the B&G about the lighting conditions? For example, would you suggest another location, or possibly going outdoors, even if that was not the original plan?

Any insight would be much appreciated. I don't encounter this situation very often, but I'd like to be prepared for the next time, whenever it may be.

Thanks in advance!

Lovely couple, but the lighting...


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Gary Nakayama , Jul 10, 2006; 11:35 p.m.

That would be part of scouting. Tell the couple in advance of issues you find like that. "I'll be shooting your formals outside because there is really bad lighting at the alter that will make your formal portraits come out looking bad." And if you have examples to show them, it should impress them that you are doing your homework to give them good photos.

If you can't do advanced scouting before the day of the wedding, at least scout the site early and be prepared to do just as you said, move to a location with better lighting and a pleasing background. I might tell them why you are shooting in a location other than the alter where they might be assuming you would shoot.

Of course if they still want it there just make sure they understand that you can't control the sun and their photos will be like your example.


Steve Hovland , Jul 11, 2006; 12:35 a.m.

For this shot, measure the ambient, set your flash to the f-stop, and then set the ambient exposure 1-2 stops less using the shutter. The basic idea is to overpower the ambient without turning the background into a black hole.

Iskandar Azaman - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia , Jul 11, 2006; 04:06 a.m.

Personally i don't find the image that bad. Even the lighting isn't that bad.

I'd use 2 flash units to fill up some of the shadows and use a Whibal to make sure i get the right white balance. Maybe i'd adjust it to be slightly warmer in ACR. But having the right white balance is a good starting point.

Using 2 lights one will be on camera and the other to the side about 45 degrees or maybe slightly less. I use ETTL2 for everything. Don't like wasting time with other stuff. Sometimes i just have the ratio so that the off camera flash is slightly stronger.

It works for me although i do have to watch for background shadows if they are standing too close to a wall.

caleb condit , Jul 11, 2006; 07:13 a.m.

What about using a scrim to soften and whiten the overhead light? You could fly a 6x10' scrim from some sturdy stands and you'd get much better results from a softer whiter light. You could also get a roll of 1000h diffusion paper to control the light as well. Its used all over the place in the movies for situations like this.

Also, you should really consider using lights to light up the stage like you want instead of depending on the church lights like this.

It may sound crazy, but with 3-4 lights you could make a great scene in about 10-20 minutes of setup. But then I don't shoot weddings-more fashion/art/advertising stuff where everything IS controlled.

Paul Sokal - Dallas, TX , Jul 11, 2006; 07:57 a.m.

What lighting setup did you use? And was the church lighting just the overhead tungsten? or was there daylight coming in thru windows, or what?

Steven Thomas , Jul 11, 2006; 08:27 a.m.

As far as fixing those that you have shot already.. you might try coverting to B&W.

It may not fix the lighting direction, but fixes the colour cast problem (providing you have other colour shots to present that you took in better lighting outside..)

Steve George , Jul 11, 2006; 08:34 a.m.


Some people slate the Lightsphere but I've found it removes any risk of heartache in this kind of situation with minimum effort - either straight on or point up and with the lid off works for me in this kind of situation - minimal faffing around and good results.

Someone mentioned white-balance - that's something else to make sure is accurate if using digital (I custom set it for the venue before the ceremony starts).

The only one I've done where it's been similar was nasty yellow lights and yellow walls - so the lighting was horrible and "dirty" - about as far from flattering or nice as you can imagine. As above, the Lightsphere worked wonders, and with the right white balance you can lift a lot of the issues.

I reckon a polite suggestion of a location that allows you to get the venue in the shot as well (ie. outside!) should work, unless of course it's raining. Also, remember they are paying you to capture their day - with that in mind they are likely to be amenable to your suggestions for the best shots unless they have a strong artistic "vision" that contradicts yours...

Black and white can also hide a multitude of light-cast-sins so may be worth considering?

Michael Church - Knoxville TN , Jul 11, 2006; 10:15 a.m.


This is a perfect example as to when to use strobes. Dial down the exposure if you have too and either bounce through umbrellas or, as i do, take one strobe and bounce off the back/ceiling of the church. You need to meter the bright light hitting your subject, adjust and then dominate the exposure with your strobe or strobes.I had too do the same thing here.....nasty light/lights Low hung lights in front of the alter and nasty spot lights mixing right over the alter. The church is about 80-100' long and i bounced off the back wall/ceiling with one 1600 white lightening. The results are much more pleasing than settling with the existing nasty ambient lights here and the color casts that come with it. I'm a ambient guy but sometimes you just have to use dominating light.

Becky Ziemer , Jul 11, 2006; 11:37 a.m.

for post-process: In photoshop, go to image/adjust/color balance and click off the check mark for "preserve luminosity". then slide your yellow-blue toggle towards blue, and your magenta-green toggle (slightly less) toward green. my gut instinct is to say that would work, as it would reintroduce blues into the skintones and get your yellows under control. Keep checking your highlights/shadows and make sure that they aren't oversaturated or desaturated, respectively as you do this. don't be afraid to mess around with the toggles--see what you can come up with. I've solved casts like this in this manner before...let me know if this helps!


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