A Visual Case for Professionally Lit Photography. Or … How Will Your “Available Light” Photographer Shoot This?
How do “available light” photographers shoot dark receptions and family portraits after the sun has gone down? I honestly don’t know.
Have you ever wondered why so many “available light” photographers have so few photos from the reception, or portraits after dark on their websites? It’s because they don’t know how to use off-camera lighting, and they probably don’t own any.
If you’re considering hiring an “available light” photographer for your wedding or engagement, you should know what this means for the quality and flexibility of your wedding & photography.
When photographers are starting out, we’re all “available light”, because we don’t own nor do we understand how to use off-camera lights. It takes years of effort, and a big investment, to get the gear and the knowledge to use off-camera lights.
Even though we bring 10 Speedlites & backup lighting systems (just in case), we typically shoot about half your wedding au naturel available light (don’t worry, I keep my clothes on LOL).
We at STEVEN JOSEPH PHOTOGRAPHY love available light photography, when the available light is great. But what about when it’s not great? Or when there is no light at all? Like when the sun goes down? Or when the party moves into a nearly dark hotel ballroom?
If you’re considering hiring an “available light” photographer, we humbly suggest that you ask them, what do they do when the sun goes down? How do they handle low-light / no-light situations that inevitably come up during your wedding? How would they shoot photos like the following, taken at night, or in very dark locations?
This shot is so fun and so beautifully lit – I love the dramatic sky and the couples’ long shadows.
Had this shot been made in “available light” style, it would have looked pretty much like the behind-the-scenes photo below: blown out white sky; nearly white grass; no depth or shape on bride and groom; and definitely no cool spikey backlight. Black Mountain Gold & Country Club.
This is what “available light” photographers see. Blown out sky. Dull flat light on bride & groom. Flat bland grass. The photo above this one is what I see.
Beautiful portraits are no problem when the sun is long gone, if your photographer brings his own light. This photo is hanging up in the offices of Springs Preserve, because they’ve had so many brides balk at the thought of weddings that go into the night. They wanted to demonstrate that twilight portraits are no problem – with the right photographer. If your “available light” photographer is trying to talk you into a daylight-only wedding – you should walk away.
This scene was so dark that I had to use a flashlight just to get my camera to focus. If shot in “available light” style, depth of field (DOF) would have been so shallow that front & back rows would have been out of focus, and we would have lost the beautiful orange sky and the focus on the bride & groom. Private Residence.
This bride wisely chose to get married one hour before sunset, which is a perfect time for a ceremony – the light is soft and magical and you look great while you’re committing to the love of your life. But it means that your family formals (very important to mom and grandma and many other people!) take place after the sun has set. With skilled lighting, not only can your formal portraits after dark work, they can look fantastic. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV
Sun’s gone down? No problem. Notice the nice kicker light behind them, defining a nice separation line between bride & background. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV
The Sun has just set and I’m using a key, a fill, and a kicker light during this trash the dress session.
Careful lighting puts our attention right on the faces of our couple. And it allows us to dial down the available light which turns up the awesome on those back-lit cactus. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka, “Nelson”.
I love the *pop* and texture and color and sharpness of this image – not to mention the wonderful moment between these guys.
I just saw an “available light” photographer’s version of this very same scene at the very same place at a very similar time of day. While it’s just one man’s opinion, her’s had tons of flare and was so washed out that you can barely see the amazing cactus, let alone any details of the couple she was photographing. That available light photographer’s work looked more like this one below. I don’t know about you, but I prefer the professionally lit example above. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.
Do you see all the detail and depth you’re missing with “Available Light” photography? Flat. Flarey. Washed out. Yech.Here we use off-camera lights in order to blow out the background on purpose. I love this look! Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.This is 100% Available Light, and it’s gorgeous. We love available light when it’s good. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.
We shoot most ceremonies at 100% Available Light. Wisely these two beautiful brides above and below decided to get married just before sunset when the light was great. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVWisely selecting the Magic Hour for their ceremonies, the two brides above pushed their formal family portraits into darkness. No problem if your photographer is skilled with lighting. A big problem if your photographer is “available light”. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV
Just how dark are windowless hotel ballrooms? This dark.Lighting up this very large hotel ballroom took a lot of lights. But the results were beautiful. The Wynn, Las Vegas.You wouldn’t believe how dark this windowless hotel ballroom was. That’s why we bring 4 or 5 small discreet speedlites just to light up the reception. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVFor some guests and family, your wedding reception might be a rare opportunity to get a nice semi-formal portrait. Best to be sure that your photographer has the skills and equipment necessary to work in near darkness and to get this once-in-a-lifetime shot. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV
Mom wanted an impromptu family reunion portrait, squeezed in between toasts and dancing. No problem. When’s the next time all these folks are gonna be in one place? Four speedlites around the room made this very special portrait possible. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV
Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVLooks like available light, but I’m popping a fill light on them to counteract the glare. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.Same as above. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka, “Nelson”.The Lake Club, Lake Las Vegas.
We brought many small speedlites to this outdoor reception. No white ceiling or white tent to bounce flash off of. A one-flash “available light” photographer could not have gotten this photo. Does your “available light” photographer show lots of reception and after-dark photos on their website? If not, you should probably walk away.This family portrait – one of my favorites – would look completely different in “available light” style. The gorgeous gray sky would be blown out pure white. The sheep meadow and creek in back would be nearly invisible hi-key. And the dramatic 3-dimensional play of light & shadow on the family’s faces would be flat.A great moment captured in an essentially pitch black room. The Lake Club, Lake Las Vegas.Notice the nice rim light on her arm, in addition to the light on her face. The Lake Club, Lake Las Vegas.
Subtle light pointed exactly where I want you to look – at the happy man and his bride-to-be. Professionally lit photography tells a better story. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka, “Nelson”.Looks like available light but in fact a subtle fill light perfectly exposes this bride-to-be. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka, “Nelson”.The photos I took at this reception where my speedlites did not pop are virtually pitch black. I’ve got speedlites all over this very large hotel ballroom.
TPC Las Vegas Golf Club and Country Club TPC Las Vegas Golf Club and Country ClubMy speedlites (set up throughout the tent earlier in the day) are popping in this shot upper left, upper right and behind me. TPC Las Vegas Golf Club and Country Club TPC Las Vegas Golf Club and Country Club TPC Las Vegas Golf Club and Country ClubThis outdoor patio restaurant at Caesars was very dark and required multiple speedlites set up at crosspoints, to catch magical bride / father moments like this one. Caesars Palace.Available light photography doesn’t look like this. My lights are on this gorgeous bride and up the staircase on her handsome husband.This photo would be pretty boring in “available light” style, don’t you think? The sky would be blown out white, missing those wonderful clouds. The cactus would be flat and uninteresting. And the beautiful bride (they’re already married) would blend in to the blown out sky with no defining light and shadow. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.This barn is nearly pitch black. A backlit video light and front speedlite bring the moment alive. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.Careful skilled lighting brings our attention exactly where it should be – on this beautiful couple. How average would this photo be in “available light” mode? Very. The dramatic blue sky would be blown out white. The couple would blend in with the surrounding ground and sky and plane. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.Madarin Oriental, Las Vegas.Fremont Street, Old Las Vegas.Old Vegas, Fremont Street, Las Vegas. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.This shot was made well before the sun set. The sky is much more interesting, and I put clear focus on the couple, by careful use of off-camera lights. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.
These guys chose to get married near sundown & the Magic Hour, so the light during their outdoor ceremony was gorgeous. But it pushed their formal portraits into the darkness. No problem. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVThese guys chose to get married near sundown & the Magic Hour, so the light during their outdoor ceremony was gorgeous. But it pushed their formal portraits into the darkness. Bring it. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVHow tragic if I had missed this incredible moment between daugher and dad. This windowless hotel ballroom is nearly pitch dark without this illumination of my discreet and small strobes, which I put up all around the room before the reception began. Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NV. Does your “available light” photographer show very few reception shots on their website and blog? Hmmmmm.The Westin, Lake Las Vegas.The Westin, Lake Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.
See my light way up high on the window? I stuck it up there with a suction cup right before the reception started. Notice the beautiful kicker light defining the outlines of groom and mom? Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.The bride wanted a wide cityscape of the Las Vegas skyline. Good thing I brought my lights! Platinum Hotel.“Available light” photographers just can’t do this kind of shot with. Something’s always got to give. Either the people are properly exposed and the cityscape is blown out, or the cityscape is right and the people go dark – unless you skillfully use off-camera lighting. Platinum Hotel. Platinum Hotel. Platinum Hotel.Historic Fifth Street School.Without off-camera lights, this family portrait would look very different. Either the people would be properly exposed (if flat) and the background would be blown out and totally white. Or the background would be properly exposed and the people would be as dark as the shadows in front of them. “Available light” photographers can’t show the landscape and the people at the same time (unless everyone is facing the sun in which case everybody is squinting and miserable.) Rhodes Ranch Golf Club. Rhodes Ranch Golf Club. Rhodes Ranch Golf Club.What a shame if we had had to let this background go blown-out white in order to properly expose this gorgeous couple. Fortunately, everything’s perfectly exposed through the skillful use of professional lighting. Rhodes Ranch Golf Club. Rhodes Ranch Golf Club.Cili Restaurant, Las Vegas.One big softbox camera right perfectly balances the sunlight coming in from camera left. Sunlight is my b*tch. Bears Best Las Vegas.Bears Best Las Vegas.Bears Best Las Vegas.Springs Preserve, Las Vegas.The sun was rapidly setting as we created these gorgeous, timeless family & wedding portraits. No sun? No problem. Springs Preserve, Las Vegas. Another very dark reception hall. Springs Preserve, Las Vegas..JJ Abrams-style. Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.
Green Valley Ranch, Henderson, NVAnother open-air outdoor reception space at night. No ceiling to bounce lights off. I’ve got 3 or 4 speedlites all over the place, on suction cups, and dangling from the string lighting. The Las Vegas Country Club.More open-air night time reception. Private Residence.Open-air night time reception. Private Residence.
More open-air night time reception. Private Residence.
Open-air night time reception. Private Residence.
The Wynn, Las Vegas.The Wynn, Las Vegas.The Wynn, Las Vegas.With off-camera lights, we turned down the available light and put the focus on what’s most important – my clients! 🙂 Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours, aka Nelson Ghost Town.Red Rock Casino and Hotel, Las Vegas.Red Rock Casino and Hotel, Las VegasCarefully lighted family portrait – at the Vdara Las Vegas resort hotel.
See my speedlites attached to the inside of this Lamborghini’s windshield with a suction cup? I love doing drive around photos at night.
Notice how dark it is inside the Taxi to the left. I’ve placed two speedlites on suction cups inside the Mustang for some epic driving-around-Vegas-at-night shots. Fremont Street, Old Las Vegas.This is careful blending of available light and my big kicker light coming from camera right. Valley of Fire.Very late in the day wedding – family portraits began after the sun had already set. Mandalay Bay.Subtle fill light coming from camera right. Nice little kicker light behind them. St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Las Vegas. Battistas Hole in the Wall RestaurantYou wouldn’t believe how incredibly dark it is inside Battistas Hole in the Wall Restaurant. Don’t worry about it – I bring my own light!