The Issues around Lighting a Wedding

The Issues around Lighting a Wedding" Ben Bruton Cox

The ‘No Lighting’ Side
It’s all about not being intrusive. Put simply, lighting at a wedding can be very obtrusive to the couple and guests if you set up the lighting badly. It can also look terrible as it can lead to very flat shots with no dynamic feel or look. Also, wedding videographers often don’t use lights as they want to be as mobile as they can. As such, bringing a bulky set of lights with them is not an appealing prospect – something I completely understand and agree with. The thought of bringing my mobile studio lights with batteries, diffusers, cases, tripods, sandbags (to hold down the rather top heavy setup) really is not what I want to be doing in a wedding setup.

The Case for Lighting a Wedding
Some cameras are incredible at low light video and photography, namely the Sony A7s series of cameras. What they can capture is remarkable. A relatively clean image at say 10,000ISO is not out of the realms of possibility with these cameras. But on the other side of the coin, there are cameras that do not fair as well. At the time of writing, the Panasonic GH4 and Canon C100mkii and Canon 5Dmkiii/iv are the industry leaders for wedding videographers. However, none of these are as good in low light as the Sony A7s cameras. In my experience, the Canon C100mkii is the closest to the A7s as it produces a lovely clean image but, nonetheless, it still does not have the range of ISO that the Sony cameras do. The other Canon cameras are half decent, but the GH4 really cant be used over 800-1600 ISO as it’s simply too noisy. Yes, I use a GH4 as my B camera and I love it, and I hope to use it for many years to come. So, if you can couple the GH4 with a light source to keep the ISO down, it makes for a very consistent camera that produces a fantastic image in almost all conditions.

So I don't need lighting if I own a Canon or Sony camera?
I’m not saying that, in fact I think done correctly, any camera will benefit from lighting, including the remarkable A7s series. It’s about how you use your lighting which is key. It’s about how you place the light…more on this below.

As I am based in the Cotswolds I tend to get a lot of enquiries from barn weddings. And, being in the UK, we get a fair bit of rain and long nights, especially in the winter.

As a rule I don't tend to take lighting out with me for summer weddings, as most of the time it is not needed and I certainly do not bring my portable lighting kit. But for weddings from October through to February, I always take a single source light with me. I find that bringing the Yongnuo YN216 light with me serves almost every purpose. It’s very powerful and yet dimmable to a very subtle level; also, you can change the colour temperature of the light from 3200k (orange/warmer) to 5500k (blue/daylight) and it has a fabulous CRI rating of 94% (the closer to 100% the better the light as a basic rule), so 5500k daylight colour looks very accurate to outside natural lighting.

As you can see they also have ‘barn doors’ so you can direct the light (admittedly, these are not the best ‘barn doors’ I have ever experienced, but they can help a little to direct the light). I have been through a lot of lights over the years and firmly believe this is the best one I have owned (in terms of weddings) as its lightweight, has cold shoes for easy mounting to most things I own, comes with its own range of diffusers, takes three types of power source (Sony batteries, AA batteries and mains) and they all lasts for ages. Above all, it has the most amount of flexibility in a single light source for under £100 I have known. But again it’s about where you place it that really matters.

So where do you place the light then?
Like everything, the answer is “it depends”. I have never used the lighting source in the bridal/groom preparations, nor in a ceremony. I haven’t even used them for candle-lit ceremonies, as putting a light on my couple would be completely obtrusive and ruin the experience for them and their guests.

I only ever use lighting on the speeches and the first dance. In addition, my main rule is: never place the light on top of a camera. Why? As I mentioned earlier, these shots will look flat and dull and, although they might be functional, they will offer little in the way of a dynamic viewing experience.

A recent example is the following. At the end of this year I was using the light a lot more, as it’s a lot darker here in the UK as the winter takes hold. So the first wedding I used my lighting at it was a place called (very fittingly) ‘Dark Barn’ in Gloucestershire. I placed the light source behind the top table at an angle so it looked more pleasing to the camera. And although I was worried about it being on the top table (which had five speakers) they actually thanked me after they had finished, as the barn was so dark they were unable to view their speeches without it.

Lighting the First Dance
This is the most common place I use my light. Again, the key to this lighting working is to be off camera (as always), especially if you can position it really close to the band or DJ. Why? Well if you want to be unobtrusive and still get a well lit shot, where better to put it than a place where artificial lighting already exists? Just mention to the band/DJ you want to out a tripod and light in a certain place “is that okay” and almost always, it will be. Hoist the light up to 6-7 ft and point the light toward the dance floor. Not only will you be happy with it, but I can guarantee the photographer will be happy too. Win, win!

So, I firmly fall on the side of lighting weddings as a videographer. However, the two main rules I follow are: always be unobtrusive (which is why I only light speeches and the first dance); and, I always, always place my light off camera.