Lighting a Classic Wedding Portrait by Matt Foden

We shot this image at a wedding at Wotton House, a classic old country-style house in Dorking in the middle of the Surrey Hills (where the Olympic Road Race took place last year). As a portrait it’s a little different from our usual style (which is quite relaxed) but we wanted a classic, formal portrait of the bride to fit in with the look of this venue.

The image was shot using a mixture of ambient light and off-camera flash. Brenda took the image itself, and I’m holding a flashgun, mounted on the end of a monopod, just outside of the frame to the left. The flash was triggered using the Phottix Strato 2 radio receiver/transmitter set, which is an excellent and reliable system. It does only operate on manual mode, but I actually prefer this, as I find automated systems a little unreliable and inconsistent.

Foden Wedding Photography

First we set the camera to underexpose the ambient light by one stop. This was so that the contrast between the off-camera flash and the background was more pronounced. The settings, on Manual Mode, were 1/160 sec at f5.6 at ISO 800.

I then adjusted the output of the off-camera flash to ensure the bride was lit properly. I seem to remember the flash was set to 1/16 Power in manual mode. Initially the flash output was a little too strong, so I took a step away from the bride to slightly reduce its effect. There are many different ways of ensuring the right mix of flash to ambient light, and I don’t profess to be an expert (I’m still very much learning this skill). I find that a degree of trial and error is involved in this process. You could, for example, change the aperture to f6.3 to reduce the effect of the flash. This would have the effect of darkening the background however.

In terms of the composition, Brenda wanted to feature the strong lines and shapes of the floor ‘tiles’ as they form a strong leading line to the bride. She has also used one of the three archways as a ‘frame’ for the bride as well.

Overall we were both pleased with this image. On balance we may have been able to add slightly more dynamism into it by asking the bride to tilt her head to one side slightly, but I think that it is an effective portrait, and does convey the setting well.

Matt Foden and his wife Brenda run Foden Photography, shooting weddings and portraits across the UK. They are located just outside of London, in Croydon, Surrey.


  1. Lynda Christian says

    What a beautiful and emotive shot, everything has come together to produce a classic! The use of lighting is subtle but effective.

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