The worst thing that I ever did for my photography development was photograph weddings.
This might seem like very strange statement to make, given that wedding photographers are amongst the most highly skilled in the photography industry. They must be good at fashion, glamour, still life, fine art and landscape photography, often all within a few minutes of each other. And a wedding photographer must deliver in less than perfect lighting conditions.
The key to this article is photographing in poor lighting outdoors. Most wedding couples want images taken in front of nice backgrounds at a time when the sun is high in the sky in summer. If it’s not an overcast day, I would want to avoid that location. To make great images at the couple’s chosen location I’d have to take too much gear with me (scrims and reflectors). I find those methods are too slow on a wedding day and take away from natural, spontaneous moments.
One solution to photographing portraits in harsh lighting is to use flash to fill in the shadows. And the easiest way is to use on-camera flash. It is quite a convenient and acceptable method, but the resulting images have a flat look to them if the flash is not bounced off something.
The trouble is, once you start being able to photograph in harsh lighting with balancing flash with daylight, you start feeling quite a capable photographer. And under exposing the ambient by two stops and using flash to light the subject feels quite high tech and the results do have a dramatic look to them.
At this early time in my career I read an article on using fill-flash to fill in harsh shadows. It said that this produces a more even and pleasing light on people which gives the photo an overall more professional look. This article blinded me somewhat and encouraged me to keep using on-camera fill-flash.
Before long I was using my speedlight much more often that I would like to admit. And once I started doing this I found myself being attracted to pretty backgrounds and just using a bit of flash to make nice images. Today I would likely walk straight past those same locations and photograph somewhere else. At that stage of my development, I tragically stopped looking for and using great natural light. Without realising it, in terms of lighting, I was back at an amateur level.
I did not recognise this as I was able to give my clients, the bride and groom, exactly what they wanted, which was photographs taken around pretty locations. Fill flash felt so empowering!
Nowadays, I hardly ever use my flash at weddings. I will look for and use great natural light and, at times, this involves taking images in locations that other photographers would not consider. Lighting is always my number one consideration. Everything else is secondary.
Challenge yourself to use only available light and your photography will improve tenfold.
Great available light is everywhere. It can be reflected and diffused naturally within your environment. This means you need to have very little gear, allowing you to work much faster. All you need to do is SEE the LIGHT!