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mcary

White Balance and Flash Work for Indoors

14 posts in this topic

Hello All,

I'm sure I can get plenty of excellent advice from all of the folks here. I have had two issues with indoor venues (churches mostly).

First, properly applying flash. Direct flash seems too harsh (even with a small diffuser) and bouncing the flash tends not to be appropriate when the ceilings and walls are high/far away (and usually awkwardly angled).

Second, white balance seems to constantly change based upon where you shoot in the church/sanctuary. It makes for a lot of color balance work in post-processing.

For you folks with a good deal of indoor experience, what flash set up are you using? How do you typically apply flash indoors in church/cathedral-type settings? How do you get an accurate white balance setting (does this differ based upon use of flash vs. no flash)? Do you find you are changing this setting often throughout a shoot?

I hope this isn't too much to ask for one thread! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Hello All,

I'm sure I can get plenty of excellent advice from all of the folks here. I have had two issues with indoor venues (churches mostly).

First, properly applying flash. Direct flash seems too harsh (even with a small diffuser) and bouncing the flash tends not to be appropriate when the ceilings and walls are high/far away (and usually awkwardly angled).

Second, white balance seems to constantly change based upon where you shoot in the church/sanctuary. It makes for a lot of color balance work in post-processing.

For you folks with a good deal of indoor experience, what flash set up are you using? How do you typically apply flash indoors in church/cathedral-type settings? How do you get an accurate white balance setting (does this differ based upon use of flash vs. no flash)? Do you find you are changing this setting often throughout a shoot?

I hope this isn't too much to ask for one thread! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Mike, I've almost never been allowed to use flash during a ceremony in a church.

Here's the way I now tend to do things, after a lot of experience and experimentation. About half my weddings are church weddings. I'll note that these preferences work very well with the style of wedding photography I've developed in the last several years. Different styles tend to dictate different methods, so what I use may not work for you or for many other photographers. Or it might work well. Hard to say.

Mostly, I'm just using ambient light at high iso during the ceremony, as well as the processional and recessional. While most pastors will allow flash during processional and recessional, if I stick with ambient and the lighting is even half decent, that's what I prefer so the look of the photographs is consistent from the beginning of these in-church candids to the end, although I do use flash as fill sometimes during processional/recessional (more on that later).

I tend to set white balance manually then, or adopt a pre-set WB that comes closest to perfect. Usually I can get it smack on with a little fiddling, and when it's set manually or using one of the WB presets, if it's off just a touch, it's off by the same amount on each image, which makes it a breeze to alter in PP. I find that much more time-efficient than relying on AWB, which as you mentioned can yield consecutive exposures in the same light with mystifying differences in color temperature.

You should spend a couple hours in the church a day or two ahead of the ceremony if possible, and if it's a venue you haven't photographed before. I like to time it so the light is similar to the time of day of the ceremony (I know, that doesn't help if it's cloudy one day and sunny the next, but ya gotta start somewhere). smilesmile

Then I experiment with and without flash, and with a variety of WB settings. Then I take that all home and dump the card and get busy with my software to see which combination of exposure/white balance will work best. If I have to change WB settings at different points during a ceremony so the stream of photographs is as close as possible WB-wise, it helps a LOT to have those changes figured out in advance. The half dozen churches I photograph in most often are now second nature to me. I know exactly what I'll need to do with flash/no flash and WB before even walking in. And when I visit a strange church, I've got enough backlog of different churches/lighting conditions to say: Ah, it's just about like XYX church, so I've got a great starting point. And time spent experimenting on site before the event more than pays for itself when it comes to PP. This is especially true when one is toward the early portion of building experience, but remains true even after three dozen weddings.

I pay most close attention to skin tones. If those are right, usually the rest is right. There are some conditions, however, under which excellent skin tones will still produce a blown-out white dress or (especially in shade) a very blue dress, and in those cases it's a job for the magic wand in PS and selective color management. No matter how good a person gets at capturing it all in-camera, some tasks still boil down to post processing. Truly, in those cases the computer is one of the Lords of Discipline. The longer I do this work, the more I realize that I cleave to the wedding, the people, the love, the photography, the moment. I don't eagerly await staring at 1,500 to 3,000 images on my computer, so I work harder and harder to get it right at capture so I need work less and less on the computer. gringrin

Posed work is different than candids in these situations. When I do the posed work in the church, I've never needed more than my 430EX mounted on camera, often with a diffuser. In those cases, in order to ensure that my flash is not doing too much work, I tend to shoot at slow shutter speeds from a tripod with a remote release. It's not at all uncommon for me to shoot indoor posed work in those settings at 1/30 sec. With a rock solid tripod and remote release it's a snap, because people naturally stand quite still when they are posing and smiling. The less work the flash needs to do, the more it acts just as fill and the more natural the whole setting appears. And aside from the need for a steady camera at those shutter speeds, shooting from a tripod allows you to lock in your angles. If you've ever handheld wide angle for posed work, you've noticed how easy it is to tilt a bit and lose a level horizon. Not a big deal for one or two images, but if you have to level the horizons on a whole series of handheld images, and of course each one is a bit different, you've just introduced a deluge of added mouse clicks. Plus, with the remote release you can eyeball your group and see whose experssions/clothes/etc need tweaking before you trip the shutter. Can't really do that looking through the viewfinder.

I've even gone to iso1600 with the above mentioned philosophy of posed photos, and with only a tiny bit on noise reduction in PP on a properly exposed image, the 16x20 prints are beautiful.

During those times when I do use flash during recessional and processional, I keep my iso up to 1600, set the flash for high-speed-synch and use flash exposure compensation as needed to beef up or tone down the amount of flash depending on circumstances. Just as with avian photography, in the church I want the flash to act as fill, not overpower the ambient light, and high iso, wide open apertures at f2.8, and shutter speeds from 1/125 to 1/340 depending on light, do that just fine.

In the end, a good bit of experimentation doesn't hurt the client a bit. White balance and such things are so easily adjustable in post processing that we can take a blue-cast image and turn it into perfect. As mentioned, the farther away it is from perfect at capture, however, the longer we spend chained to our computers, which is not what most photographers became photographers for. smilesmile

Ken does things very differently with his posed indoor lighting, and I'll leave that for him to describe, if he feels like giving away hard-won experience in a very competitive wedding photography market. I'm not overly excited about delivering the goods myself, as I'm sure folks will understand. Since I photograph weddings in Wisconsin, Minnesota and both Dakotas, pretty much anyone who is interested in and reading this wedding topic is a potential competitor, but sharing info is my job on these forums. smilesmile

Hopefully this will give you some helpful perspectives. Flash indoors in changing light conditions isn't an easy road. I consider my approach a minimalist philosophy.

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Whew! Lots of good info there, Steve! My weddings usually get broken into two parts. I bring my Novatron light set for the formals. They overlight any ambient light and both set WB on camera to flash and use a grey card. Tends to be very consistent. The second part involves the wedding itself, and as Steve mentioned, seldom will flash be allowed during the ceremony. Also, as the big Mr. Foss indicated, most of the churches I shoot in are familiar to me so past experience helps a lot. Still needs some tweaking if I take a shot off in a corner that I don't usually get to. I have both CS4 and Lightroom, and the white balance tool in both of them are pretty good if something unexpected comes up. As long as you can find a medium grey or white to use as a target, it's a nice safety net.

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as the big Mr. Foss indicated

I'm not as big as I used to be. Getting to the point you can't even call me Big Guy anymore. Those 42-inch-waist pants have gone to Goodwill in favor of 36-inchers. gringringrin

One of these days we're going to have to doubleteam a wedding, like we keep threatening to do. With our different emphasis and style, that would be true blanket coverage! smilesmile

Sorry, Mike, don't mean to make it into the Steve and Ken show. I know some others here have experience with indoor lighting and WB and flash, and I look forward to their perspectives. Learning, after all, never ends, and I love to find out new stuff as much as the next person. smilesmile

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I greatly appreciate the time and consideration put into your response Steve (and yours too Ken). Essentially, you've listed a fairly close representation of how I try to approach things myself (minus the pre-wedding shoot...great idea by the way). I was hoping there was a "surefire" way to nail WB. I'm finding my on-camera LCD on my 40D tends to shade things toward the red end of the spectrum. So, when it looks like the WB is leaning a little to the red side, it's actually pretty close to perfect. When it looks perfect on the LCD, it's actually leaning a little to green. Unfortunately, I tend to remember this until after the fact, as I don't do a lot of weddings (which means a lot of PP work). Interestingly, the LCD on my XT runs pretty true in terms of WB.

Again, I appreciate the input. You are both a wealth of information. Considering Ken's professional background and Steve's initial interest in teaching (if I remember correctly from our conversations), you guys should really consider joint photographic education workshops. Mike

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Considering Ken's professional background and Steve's initial interest in teaching (if I remember correctly from our conversations), you guys should really consider joint photographic education workshops. Mike

We have. Ken continues a formal teaching career. While formally trained, I've continued an informal teaching career. In the current economy, fewer things seem possible, be we remain alive to all possibilities and have had a number of planning discussions on the subject. smilesmile

Good luck with your wedding work, Mike. I wish you only the best.

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Considering Ken's professional background and Steve's initial interest in teaching (if I remember correctly from our conversations), you guys should really consider joint photographic education workshops. Mike

I'd sign up - even if I have to drive to Ely grin

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Thanks, Mike. Yep we have talked about it. We actually had a plan in place a summer ago, but we hadn't a venue to get the word out. Steve does a lot of teaching on his photo excursions. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't eventually come up with something. Another year to retirement and I'm sure I'll be up for another challenge.

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A few of the weddings I've done,I've run into some issues with the lights cycling-like in a gym. It can't be helped I guess.

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I shot a wedding in June in a pretty dimly lit church and followed Steve's advice pretty close. It was actually the second time I had shot at this particular church and things had changed quite a bit since the first shoot. First one was several years ago, my very first wedding actually. The first time I shot there, we had 4 different sources of light, a clear picture window alter left with no curtain to diffuse the light, stained glass windows behind the alter, a few halogen down lights above, and some incandescent lights to the sides and back.

This time, the church was in the middle of an expansion. It was as clean as it could have been as the crew did a nice job picking up, but the ceiling about 1/2 way back was unfinished which made shooting very difficult. The couple knew that was an issue and were okay with it so some shots I delivered show the unfinished work of the expansion, there was really no way around it in some shots. The bigger issue than just some harsh backgrounds were all the different lights they were using to light the work area. I don't know exactly why it was done this way, but they had sodium lights, halogen work lights, and fluorescent lights all connected on the same switch to light the back half of the church. The also installed strips of fluorescent lights on the finished area of the ceiling over the front half of the sanctuary. Kind of a nightmare of sorts dealing with all the different and contrasting light sources, but I shot the best I could using manual white balance and prayed it would work. A little post work and I was pretty well set.

During the formal shoots, I worked very similar as to what Steve does except I didn't use a cable release. I have a Canon 550EX and mounted that on the 1DII with a rented 17-35 as working space up front was limited. I diffuse the flash with a Lumiquest Pocket Bounce Pro. I did not put a shield over the opening as I wanted to bounce some fill as well but used the diffuser panel over the front and it forms a small soft box to get soft directional light. It worked out great. It might look a little goofy, but that Lumiquest has saved me so many times, it was worth the money spent. I think one of my favorite features for shooting wedding formals on the 1DII is the FEL button. The XT doesn't have that as far as I have found and it really helps dial it in. I also now have a 430EX to use as a slave flash and I have been practicing some with that so the next wedding can have some more fun flash.

The pastor at the church took as many cards as I could give him and he is recommending me at all of his consultations now. He told me that every other photographer that shoots at his church runs around like crazy and flashes everywhere and causes disturbance during the ceremony. He was quite happy to not see me at all during the ceremony. He told me the reason he didn't see me is because I was inconspicuous and it made it easy for him to concentrate on the ceremony, not the distractions.

Another tip that I don't see mentioned here, if you don't have fast glass and can't afford to buy it, rent it for your weddings. It is a great way to put a lens through its paces and find out if it is really the one you want. For the wedding in June I rented a 17-35 f2.8L and an 85 f1.8 from West and used them a lot. I also had my lenses mounted often but I know which two lenses I need to pick up now to complete my arsenal for weddings.

By the way, Steve and Ken, when I get married you guys are #1 team on the list for shooting. Its looking like October, 2011.

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Quote:
By the way, Steve and Ken, when I get married you guys are #1 team on the list for shooting. Its looking like October, 2011.

Woo-hoo! grin

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Mike, some good advice in this thread. A few thoughts, though I will try and not be long-winded gringringrin

First on the flash itself. If you are not, two things you should be doing. One make sure the flash is on a bracket, the short answer is eliminate any chance of red-eye issues and the second shooting in the horizontal rarely gives issues but when shooting portrait you create harsh side shadows on the face. Your flash on a bracket allows for the the flash to always throw distracting shadows behind and below the head creating a more natural look.

On using diffusion or tupperware style diffusers I am not a fan because they one waste a lot of flash power. They throw light up and bounce back down which creates eye socket shadows, one of the things you are trying to avoid by using flash. If you use a diffuser that has the flash pointed straight up and then bounces the light forward you will end up with a nice soft light that uses less flash power. Bouncing your flash can be effective but you have to remember it will cost you power, your light will take on the color of whatever it is bounced off of, and you need to think about what direction you need the fill to be bounced from to light your subject. It is not enough to just bounce off a wall if the subject is facing away from the wall. You will create shadow on the face in this instance. Now if the subject has their head turned toward the wall you now have an effective source of fill. If you think about what the light is doing you will be able to decide whether bouncing makes sense.

The next consideration is flash mode. I am guessing you are shooting in TTL mode, which really is an advantage when your subjects are moving. But camera meters, which is what your flash is using to set the power output of your flash by a series of pre-flashes is easily fooled when shooting white and black...like in a wedding smile Here is where I use the camera in manual so I can control the ambient light and how much I want to let in. This is when "dragging the shutter" or letting more ambient in than the camera would normally meter for is effective. You will be shooting at slower shutter speeds to allow more background light in but because your flash fires at such a fast speed you effectively freeze any motion in your shot.

By using the camera in manual you can control your depth of field, your consistency of exposure, and how accurate your exposures are. So back to the issue of white dresses and black tuxes. Here is where your understanding of how a camera meter works is important. The camera will try to expose everything as a middle grey. Something dark it will bump up the exposure or overexpose by making the black grey, something light or white it will try and underexpose by making the white grey. So by setting your exposure correctly by using the histogram with manual settings you will keep the whites white and detail in the blacks. By using TTL flash you can ride the FEC - flash exposure compensation on the flash to get the correct amount of light on the subject.

So with white light tones you add flash exposure compensation, with darker tones you use less FEC. That is an oversimplification but it will give you a place to start learning how your flash works. Remember this, if you use flash primarily as fill you can be off in correct flash exposure without actually changing the exposure of the scene much. If you use flash as primary light you will have to be more precise in your exposure.

So here is how it works. Indoors you are shooting high ISO's, flash often as fill and large aperatures and slower shutter speeds. When you move outdoors I switch to low ISO's, flash into high speed mode and camera into Av. In less than 5 seconds I've changed from indoor lighting to outdoor lighting. I won't go into shooting outdoors and using fill because its been talked about often here. But you must make the transition to two different types of shooting.

On to the WB issues. I use a large collapse able grey card from Ed Pierce for all shooting and set custom white balance off of that at all times. This insures proper skin tones in most situations. The problem you have is all the mixed light you can encounter, natural, overhead fluorescent, sodium, vapor, etc. When you add flash to mix you are adding yet another source, so a CWB is the best way to keep your colors accurate. Two ways to handle its use. Go to the spots that you will be shooting ahead of time and use your grey card and take a shot in each area you will be shooting. Make a note of what the image number is for those areas and then when you move to that area to shoot set that file as your CWB. The other is to have a subject hold the card for one quick shot and set that shot as the CWB. This is good for formals, but when you are moving you obviously can't do this. That is when it can be helpful to have pre-set WB shots.

Darn, I did get long-winded, sorry Mike. There really are a number of things to cover but hopefully I touched on a few things not previously mentioned.

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More good advice from Dan - he's helped me tremendously on use of flash at indoor sports venues. Here's an example of how I start most of my shoots:

grey-card.jpg

I can eyeball pretty close, but this really helps me to get skin tones where they need to be.

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Thanks again to all for the additional great advice. I already shot the wedding...was looking for "tips for next time" and obviously received many great ones. I appreciate the time and effort spent in all of your responses and now have an arsenal of things to improve upon for any future events!

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