How to Nail the Shot at Low-Light Receptions (Part 2)

Welcome to the second post where I give you my top five tips on how to nail the shot at low-light receptions or ceremonies! If you didn’t read Part 1 in this series, go read it right now. 🙂 This post will make a lot more sense after you’ve read the first one. Otherwise, read on!


Yesterday, we covered these first two tips:


1. Shoot Wide Open
2. Back-Button Focus

Now, it’s time for #3-5!

3. Crank your ISO, not your shutter speed.

Shutter speed and ISO are both incredible handy tools when shooting in low light. As a memory refresher, your photo will be brighter when you 1) increase ISO, and 2) decrease shutter speed. However, know your gear and use these settings cautiously! If you set your shutter speed too low, you will suffer from camera shake and end up with blurry photos. There are lots of guidelines out there about the relationship between shutter speed and the focal length of your lens, but I’ve created a few rules for myself that I follow and that work fairly well for me…

a. Never shoot below 1/100. Ever. Lots of photographers will say this is overly cautious and shoot consistently in some situations at 1/80 or 1/60. That’s just not me! It makes me nervous and also means that even if I stay perfectly still, if my subject moves too much, there will be motion blur. I’m not willing to take that chance!

b. The bigger the lens / the longer the focal length, the faster my shutter speed. Even though I’m comfortable shooting as low as 1/100 on smaller/wider lenses, I don’t trust myself to be as steady when I’m weighed down by a huge 70-200mm lens! As a general rule, you should use a faster shutter speed with longer focal lengths.

Okay. Let’s talk about ISO. You probably know that the higher your ISO, the sensitive your camera is too light. So in bright sun, your ISO will be set at 100, but in a dark reception hall, you’re going to have to crank that baby up. But if your ISO gets too high, your photos will be grainy. This is where you REALLY notice a different when you compare a full frame DSLR to one with a cropped sensor! Know the point where your camera’s ISO starts to get too grainy and try not to push it too far beyond that point. With my Rebel t3i, I couldn’t push past ISO 1600 or 3200 without getting serious grain. But with my 6D, I can shoot at ISO 6400 with little to no issues. It’s amazing!

Now that we’ve talked about shutter speed and ISO, here’s the golden rule to remember when figuring out what to adjust when you’re still having trouble properly exposing your images…

Crank your ISO, not your shutter speed. The grain that results from an extremely high ISO can be dramatically reduced in the editing process. Have you ever noticed that “Luminance” slider in Lightroom? It’s there for a reason! But the motion blur that happens when your shutter speed is too slow is next to impossible to correct in post production. So if you’re stuck between dropping your shutter speed dangerously low and pushing your ISO to the next notch, always choose ISO.

4. Use a Custom White Balance.


White balance can be tricky when you’re dealing with dimly lit reception halls, or even many dark churches. When I’m shooting outdoors I usually set my white balance manually in Kelvin, just because I find that to be the easiest to do quickly. However, when I’m in a room with a tricky lighting situation, I pull out my handy dandy ExpoDisc. It basically functions like a grey card and I can use it to set a custom white balance. You would not believe how much work this saves me in post production! (If you want to learn more about the ExpoDisc, Zach & Jody Gray a great video series on it!)

5. Off-Camera Flash.


This tip may be obvious, and it’s going to be short, because I am by no means an off camera flash expert! I bought my first OCF setup last year and have only used it at a handful of weddings so far, but I’ve absolutely loved it and it’s worked extremely well. There are some shots that just can’t be achieved without some kind of OCF, and I would definitely recommend investing in even a small setup because you just never know what kind of situation you’re going to run into. The ceremony at my VERY FIRST wedding where I brought OCF actually ended up being dark. Literally, the ceremony was outdoors and due to circumstances beyond our control, by the time the beautiful bride took her first step down the aisle… it was night. I normally don’t use flash during ceremonies but this time was an exception, and I don’t know what I would have done without it!

I hope this post has been helpful to you as we enter another wedding season full of gorgeous receptions that deserve to be remembered just as beautifully as the rest of the day! Happy Fri-YAY!

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