My brother Liam and I have been shooting weddings without flash for over eight years. The flash equipment is safely in the car boot just in case of an absolute emergency but for the last four years we haven’t had the need to bring out the flash gun at all! We like to let the day unfold naturally, letting things happen without interference and without directing the action. We find that using flash alerts our wedding couples and guests to our presence and stops us being able to faithfully capture the atmosphere and feel of the day.
To achieve this look we use great quality prime lenses and the most advanced cameras but more importantly we have a great understanding of light and a very steady hand! We find that available light allows us to share the true moments of the day with real, genuine expressions and storytelling scenes.
Sometimes we find that we are working in very dark venues, sometimes just by candle light and if the wedding couple get married at 4pm in December you may hardly see any light at all. The dance floors can be pitch black with cloth ceilings and just some DJ laser lights for company. In this scenario I’m not going to pretend it is easy but it is certainly very possible; slow shutter speeds (you need to be able to hand-hold at 1/30 and below) and wide apertures (f1.8 and below) are necessary along with a lot of patience and experience in manual focusing. You must also not be afraid of grain in your images and use high ISOs (without of course going too far and impacting on the photograph, this is a judgement call). Some photographers favour black and white when working on the dance floor without flash but we actually love using colour as for us it brings more mood and excitement to the image.
From a technical standpoint it’s imperative to shoot fully manually and know your camera inside out. When you are shooting in the dark I’m afraid there is no hiding place and if you get the exposure wrong it will be unusable. If you really want to learn to shoot manually buy yourself a film camera and practice on that – you find you learn pretty quickly when you have to pay for each mistake.
Perhaps more important than any technical pointers though is this: don’t be afraid of the dark. Sure you might find that sometimes the faces are slightly in shadow, but does that really matter if the emotion is shining through? Used correctly a little shadow can be just as powerful as a beam of sunlight, and sometimes it’s the way the body shape is accentuated that makes the shot more than the facial expression. But once you get over the fear factor and turn off the flash you really learn to find the light in every shooting situation, after all if the dance floor was dark the pictures really should be quite dark, otherwise you’re taking a natural moment and, with flash, turning it about as unnatural as lighting gets.
Although shooting in the dark isn’t easy, when you get it right it really is wonderful. The emotional impact, fluidity and creativity you can deliver really makes up for all the out of focus mistakes and wrong exposures along the way. When you finally knock it out of the park with a shot that would have been impossible using flash you will be happy that you kept that flashgun locked up in the boot!
Dominique & Liam Shaw / York Place Studios
Yorkshire Wedding Photographers Dominique and Liam Shaw are the creative award-winning partnership behind York Place Studios who together strive to create emotional, storytelling wedding photography across the UK and abroad.