Off Camera Flash (Outside at Night) | Technical Tuesdays

The use of off camera flash (OCF) can open many new avenues for your wedding (and other genres of) photography. Let’s take a look at what it took to make this shot come to reality. Like all things related to off camera flash, it takes technical knowledge, some good dependable equipment, and lots of practice. In the example below, it also required working quickly (it was COLD[!], and it was a real wedding with little time to spare) and my second shooter and wife Liz was a key part of making this happen.Off Camera Flash outside at night

Technical details:

  • To start, don’t consider the couple for now. We’ll work on them in a moment. So, the basic starting point is to expose for the city and ambient light background.
  • Technically speaking, a tripod should be used for this type of work, but I can hand hold at slower speeds really well. Practically speaking, as a wedding photographer, photographing a real wedding in real time in the very cold night air with people not dressed to be able to be outside for more than a moment at a time, a tripod isn’t and wasn’t an option. So, this shot was hand-held.
  • Because flash was going to be needed for the couple, my shutter speed had to be below the camera’s sync speed, so I dragged it down as far as I felt comfortable hand holding which also helped me use a reasonably low, for night, ISO. Camera/lens/settings: Canon 5D MkIII, 24-70 f/2.8 Mk II at 24mm, ISO2500, 1/20 sec. Flash setup described further below.
  • Next, creatively light the couple. Without this step, the couple would have been underexposed and nearly silhouetted.
  • I use the Canon 600EX-RT flash system, which precludes the need for third-party separate radio triggers. Read more here about this system in an article I wrote last year for SHUTTERBUG magazine. Extracting the benefits of the 600EX-RT system naturally requires more than one unit.
  • Flash setup: Liz ran behind the couple and crouched close to the ground so as to not be seen. She knew if she could not see me and the camera that most likely she was fully hidden. She had with her a Canon 600 EX-RT flash mounted atop a monopod that we can hand-hold or use as a temporary stand with the built in legs our model features. From a second 600EX-RT mounted on my camera hot shoe I remotely set the exposure on Liz’ flash at MANUAL at 1/8th power. She aimed the flash directly toward me but of course the couple was between us. My camera-mounted 600 was set on MANUAL as well. In cases like this I make a few test shots, briefly explaining what I am doing to the couple. The test shots verify that I have a just-right amount of backlight (which generally provides nice rim light, reflective fill, and life in a bridal veil). Equally important, I used the test shots to adjust the power level and direction of the camera-mounted flash. There are times when using the on-camera flash in ETTL mode, perhaps with some negative exposure adjustment, works well, but I didn’t want an overall illuminated foreground in the case above, so setting manual flash power is the way to go in these cases.
  • Perspective was corrected, stray distracting elements were removed, and other basic tweaks using Lightroom and PhotoShop were accomplished as well.

The very best part of this particular shoot?  As we briskly walked back to the limo, the bride told Liz and I, with eyes welling a bit, how special this moment was to her. It seems that she had dreamt of this very moment since she was about 10 years old, when she visited this park in Boston and envisioned that she would some day return here on her wedding day and have photographs taken. I am not sure that I have ever been more gratified of the special job I have as a wedding photographer, to turn dreams into reality.

Let us know in the comments if you found this article on off camera flash helpful. What other technical tips would you like to see us feature in this series?

Authored by Russ 3/17/15

Russell Caron Wedding Photography is beginning a Technical Tuesday blog post series. The first in this series, off camera flash (outside at night), shows how using off camera flash can fulfill dreams. Russell Caron is available for workshops, group mentoring, or one-on-one sessions. Call Russ at (207)233-4050, or email him at