Small Lights, Big Results: The Eight Speedlite Wedding

June 09, 2017

This article was originally published on December 21, 2015 and has been updated to include current product information.

In earlier times, wedding photographers would have to use large and cumbersome lighting units to get all the photographs they needed from the top-end weddings they were contracted to shoot. For pre-portraits of the bride and pictures during the reception where higher power flash units were required, photographers often used the larger units to get the power they needed. But since the advent of small, AA-powered portable Speedlites, that burden has been reduced considerably.

Since Canon introduced the Speedlite 600EX-RT and now 430EX III-RT jsystem, with its versatile “Radio Transmit” (RT) feature, there is no longer a need to use anything other than these two Speedlites in multiples to take all the photographs needed during an average wedding.

To prove this, I decided to accompany nationally known photographer and Canon Explorer of Light Clay Blackmore on one of his wedding shoots, held at the upscale Fairmont Hotel in Washington, DC. We decided to use eight Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flash units. Why did we use eight? We could have used fewer lights, but Clay felt that the additional lights gave us more options and more freedom to create the depth and shadows that we needed to get the best possible images. With the new “RT” system, we can place the lights almost anywhere because they link up so easily. To increase the power of any Speedlite, just add additional units. It’s that easy.

Clay has been shooting weddings professionally for 35 years. He began as the protégé of wedding photography icon Monte Zucker and always used an assortment of lighting in his weddings. When he started, he used large studio strobes in some situations and almost-as-large non-AC flashes with heavy battery packs for portable use.

“Monte and I did everything at the highest level,” Clay said, “and that meant using the most powerful flashes we could.” Now, with the Speedlite 600EX-RT units, we can use smaller units and use them in multiples into a light modifier to greatly increase their power.

We selected three of the most important examples in a high profile wedding to cover: bridal portraits, family portraits and the reception. Speedlite 600EX-RTs were used in different combinations with selected light stands and modifiers, paired with either a Speedlite 600EX-RT or a Speedlite ST-E3-RT transmitter on the camera. Each example will contain photographs of how the Speedlites were set and the final photographs taken by Clay. His comments are included below each photograph.

Example 1: Pictures of the Bride

“One of the best tips I can give a photographer is to plug into the wedding a few days before the event. Whether it’s for casual pictures or heirloom style formal bridal studies, as shown below, the bride and families really appreciate the attention to detail that these portraits require,” said Clay Blackmore.

Two days before the wedding, Clay and I went to the bride’s house to photograph her in her bridal gown before the anxiety and potential chaos of the wedding day itself. We set up a backdrop on the rear porch of her house.

“Since we were working outdoors, it was just so beautiful and there was little or no wind. I could have used the daylight as the fill and built the lighting on top of that,” Clay said. The essential lighting was the main and the lights that came from behind, with the daylight used as an overhead fill.

“The mark of a true portrait artist,” Clay added, “is to bring light in from behind and with double kicker lights so we achieve the three dimensional quality I am looking for.” The Speedlite 600EX-RTs were great for that and we wound up using all eight for the final portrait, as the photograph of the setup (Photo #2) indicates.



Example 2: Family pictures before the Ceremony

The wedding was held at the Fairmont, an upscale Washington, DC hotel in the heart of Georgetown. We first photographed the bride and groom in the outdoor courtyard using a Speedlite for the main light and ambient daylight for the fill. For the formal bride and groom and family group pictures, we placed the Speedlites in the small ballroom where the ceremony was to take place and did all the groups, as well as the bride and groom, using the same lighting. We also were able to use higher ISOs so the ambient lighting of the room created some nice colorful effects.






Example 3: The Reception

The reception was held in the main ballroom of the hotel, with the pre-reception held outside in the cocktail area. For the cocktail area, we used a bank of three Speedlites hooked together to provide a large, directional light. Clay had a 600EX-RT on the camera so he could use the bank of lights as a main light behind him and use the on-camera unit as a fill for the closer shots. For the ballroom itself, we had six Speedlites placed strategically around the room in various locations in high positions to get the most coverage possible. Clay also used a Speedlite on the camera for better fill light for front illumination.

We have only shown a few carefully selected examples of the many pictures Clay took at this wedding that show the versatility of the Speedlites in various combinations. We used as many as three lights into an umbrella or directly at the cocktail party for maximum power. We have also used up to eight Speedlites in different places to add depth and shadows to the pictures. Because of modern EOS cameras, Clay was able to use higher ISOs to increase his distance and get faster recycling times from the Speedlites. Higher ISOs also made it easier to utilize ambient light in the photographs, which made for greater lighting possibilities. Wherever possible, we also used the Canon CP-E4 auxiliary battery packs with the Speedlite 600EX-RTs, which allowed them to work off 12 AA batteries instead of four: 8 AA in the battery pack, 4 in the Speedlite. This allowed the units to recycle faster and get more flashes per set of batteries throughout the evening.

Because the Speedlites are small and easily combined, the combinations are almost limitless. In the hands of a wedding master, such as Clay Blackmore, the results are beautiful. Clay was very impressed with the performance of the Speedlite 600EX-RT flash units in this wedding and plans to use them almost exclusively in his future weddings.








All the photographs in this article were taken by Clay Blackmore, except for the photographs of the Speedlite setups, which were taken by Michael Sheras.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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