Classic Indoor Bridal Portraits

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Wedding photographers often face lighting and weather challenges when photographing bridal events on location. This lesson demonstrates how to use Photoflex® StarFlash® strobes with silver umbrellas to produce beautiful indoor bridal portraits on-location. The following techniques are very useful when shooting outdoors is not an option due to weather, lack of areas to shoot, or problematic lighting conditions.

This lesson gives you a peek at a fast approach to creating beautiful bridal portraits using two StarFlash 300 watt strobes with umbrellas. The beautiful light produced by these lights and umbrellas cannot be duplicated with on-camera flash units. This lesson shows how the pros do it.

Topics Covered:

  • Framing Up the Shot
  • Positioning the Main Light
  • Balancing with the Fill Light
  • Setting the Lighting Ratio of the Two Lights
  • Using Shutter Speed to Change the Natural Light Background

Before Beginning

To make your setup more convenient and versatile, we have now included the Photoflex® FlashFire™ Wireless Trigger & Receiver. Using this equipment allows you to move more freely with your camera instead of limiting yourself to within a few feet of your lights.

Even adding just one trigger and one receiver you can set your secondary lights to slave so that they fire through the infrared sensor. Either way you choose to use the FlashFire, you cannot ignore its ability to provide your “tool bag” with a great amount flexibility.

We first mounted a StarFlash 300 watt strobe to a LiteStand and inserted the shaft of a silver umbrella shaft into the bottom of the unit.

Since we planned on using two StarFlash 300 watt units, we decided to activate the built-in infrared sensor on one of the strobes. To activate this “slave” function, simply press the SENSOR switch into the ON position.

Here, we decided to have our fill light be slaved to the main light. We triggered the main light by means of a radio transmitter and receiver. You can also trigger the main light using the sync cord that comes with the unit.

Note: Be sure to check your camera user manual to make sure you can plug the sync cord directly into your camera. Most “pro-sumer” and professional cameras also have a PC adapter that can be used in the camera’s hot shoe.

The placement of the umbrella relative to the StarFlash strobe is important in creating maximum light output. Notice here how the StarFlash is close enough to the umbrella so that there is no light spilling beyond the edge of the umbrella. Spillover light not only minimizes the light output, it can also negatively affect the amount of fill light bouncing around the room.

Here, we see our basic lighting set-up from the point of view of the camera.

Framing Up The Shot

Choosing the right background in front of which the bride will stand is one of the most important parts of setting up a bridal portrait. In this case, we chose a location at the wedding reception where we could open the doors to get an outdoor background behind the bride.

Since we had a fairly large room to work with, we positioned the strobes to light the bride full-length. The idea is to light a large enough area so that the same set-up can be used for other portrait combinations, such as the bride and groom, the bride with her bridesmaids, the bride with parents, siblings, etc.

Positioning the Main Light

Also note the height of the lights and the angle at which the umbrellas are tilted. The height of the main light provides natural, top-lit lighting on the bride’s face and creates a drop shadow under her chin. It is off to one side at about a 45 degree angle to the camera position. This adds modeling to the face and body and helps to prevent distracting shadows from falling behind the subject.

The tilt of the umbrella also adds light to the bottom of the dress, and to the floor to a certain degree. It is important that the main light illuminates the bride from head to toe without major light fall-off.

Balancing With The Fill Light

Here, we positioned the lights so that the distance between the fill light and the main light was the same as the distance between the main light and the subject. The placement of the fill light allows the camera position to be moved during the second or third posing options, without having to move any of the lights.

Here, you can see the lighting set-up from different angles. Note that there is quite a distance from the main light to the subject, which allows you to move the main light if necessary without entering the view of the camera. This margin of space is also beneficial if you add other members of the wedding party to the scene.

Setting the Lighting Ratio of the Two Lights

The next step is to set the lighting ratio of the two lights. A flattering lighting ratio for this type of portrait is about one f-stop difference between the main light and the fill light (1 stop less). This allows the main light to create modeling on the subject’s face, while the fill light adds enough light to show detail in the shadow areas.

Below, we see a composite of three exposures: main light only, fill light only, and main and fill combined.

Remember that with respect to the exposure of the bride, the amount of light transmitted from the strobes can only be modified within the camera by the aperture, or f-stop reading. The shutter speed will not affect the exposure of the bride in these indoor conditions, although it does affect the exposure levels of the outdoor background.

When combining a StarFlash with daylight, the goal is to balance the two so that they blend together naturally in the final shot. This is a useful technique when the weather is less than ideal and you still want to have the feeling of the bride being captured in an outdoor setting.

The exposure reading with the two lights going off at partial power was f/5.6.3. And with respect to the background exposure, we started with a shutter speed to 1/60th of a second.

Using Shutter Speed to Change the Natural Light Background

After some experimentation with shutter speed, we decided that 1/30th of a second was ideal for this shot. The background at this speed was neither too light nor too dark.

Note: At slow shutter speeds like this, it’s important to use a sturdy tripod to prevent camera movement, particularly with longer lenses.

Here are some of the outtakes from this portrait session.

To learn more about the camera settings, posing techniques, and alternate compositions of this photo-shoot below, be sure to check out the extended version of this lesson on WebPhotoSchool®.


Basic Lighting,

Indoor Portraits,


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