Wedding Photography: To Flash or not to Flash

To Flash or not to Flash

Have you ever shot an entire wedding with just one lens and no flash? If you had to which one would you choose? This past Sunday, I threw on plastic fantastic, 50mm f1.8 and proceeded to capture the details of a wedding at the Zeris Inn in Mountain Lakes NJ. I was operating as the second shooter so I had some time to try this affordable but powerful lens on sparkly pearl earrings, flowery twigs and really cute kids.

Dawn Joseph Photography

Here’s a little back story. I purchased Canons 50mm 1.8mm aka Plastic Fantastic (PF) to see if I really had a need for the L series version. I wanted a really fast lens to try out in low light situations which weddings often are. I shoot with a 5D ii so I can push for high ISO’s as well so I figured the combination is worth a try.

So I ended up unexpectedly shooting the wedding with just one lens. My favorite lens is the 24 – 105mm L series and usually what I shoot with but I have to say, PF did a very nice job of capturing some great details. It is obviously softest at 1.8 and gets progressively sharper the lower the stop. It is pretty noisy and slow to focus, cheaply made but what great images! What great flexibility.

If I could shoot a wedding without a flash I would, and I did this past Saturday. Flash photography is great if you can completely control each and every element of light in any given environment. Unfortunately weddings happen way too fast so we are often trying to find ways to diffuse and manipulate poorly created and positioned light (external flashes, hot lights…). We are then left with ugly shadows, unnaturally exposed subjects, reshot after reshot and a slew of disappointments that run the entire gamut of lighting sadness.

I am going to challenge myself this year to use the tools I know exists to limit (NOT ELIMINATE) the amount of flash needed at such blessed events. Here’s my arsenal.

fast lens: Canons 50 or 85mm prime lens or any f2.0 or higher lens

Large reflector (for outdoors if it’s sunny)

Highest ISO (decide for yourself which range works for your camera)

Well placed hotlight: these were a mixed bag at the wedding I shot. Subject standing several feet from the hotlights had some flaring in the background I didn’t care too much for.

I now believe that it’s doable and will write another article in a few months to update how this works out for me. If you can’t shoot images without a flash, they should at least not look like there was one to begin with…

Dawn Joseph: NJ Wedding Photographer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 10
By Oz_XIII (11 months ago)

Hello Dawn,

I'd be interested in reading that follow up article of how less flash has been working for you.


By stella9 (11 months ago)

hey Jesika.. i know this company this company in India called KeyIndia Graphics who can do your friends wedding photos.. They are inexpensive and also do a great job.. my friend recently got some of her photos retouched from that company. try them out if they ca help you.

Jesika Mathew
By Jesika Mathew (11 months ago)

hey... i have my best friends wedding up... and she wants that her big day photos are retouched and edited so that they look extremely good. Can you please suggest some company who can retouch her wedding photos?

By atlien991 (Apr 24, 2013)

As someone who used to shoot without flash exclusively, I would venture to say that many admirers of this and similar articles are togs who don't know how to properly use flash meaning they don't understand light. And are looking for any reason to justify not learning. I know that you, the author, are not advocating not learning light and exposure but many will take your words for that.

All that said, I agree with much of what you've written about the flexibility in wedding situations when not using flash. You might mention the downsides as well. Some clients simply don't want moody, shadowy photos (despite artistic flair). I, and perhaps others, have to keep that in mind as well. Nice write up.

And you have an attractive website. Thanks again.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
By leonasunflower (Mar 2, 2013)

Hi, lovely pics! I think any skilled photographer should be able to get good results without a flash. I always prefer to use natural light as not a fan of flash at all. Can you tell me whether you shot in AV, TV, P or M or a combination?

By arie (Dec 27, 2012)

When I created a post about hating flash photography, most people told me that I could never expect a good result with the on-camera flash. I still tried using a diffuser, and that worked moderately well, but still looked unnatural. I think good natural light and a good prime will generally always look better, but I guess one could make the argument that "fill" flash will give you a more even exposure, especially outdoors. Without a flash, it's a balance between ISO (noise) and steadiness (blur), but I like the outcome much more.

By bofo777 (Dec 2, 2012)

Dawn-- Very Nice Pics----I have done baptisms and many weddings with no flash. I use the spot meter on my sekonic light meter to give me a boost on occasion but try to shoot w/o flash for if you hit it right the pics are much more appealing. I use an Olympus E5 and their wonderful 2.0 lenses and my results are very much cherished. As you indicated it is more difficult to use flash if you want the effect to be correct. If I have a stationary subject off camera flash is also be very dramatic. Cheers John

By SankarNarayanan (Sep 6, 2012)

Hi Dawn, I am a beginner in this field and would like your advice and guidance on this. I have a Canon EOS 550D camera with kit 18-55lens and have also purchased 55-250mm IS lens for landscape photography. But while attending wedding i couldn't use both these lens as 18-55mm is not sharp with its click and 55-250mm is not suited for portrait photography. Could you advice me a lens apt suited for this purpose.


Lou Cohen
By Lou Cohen (Jul 10, 2012)

The fourth paragraph is absolute hogwash, and shows your ignorance of proper flash use.

Dawn Joe Photo
By Dawn Joe Photo (Jul 12, 2012)

Your mean spirited comment would have more weight if you backed it up with a counter method. I won't hold my breath for it...
I offered my experience, posted some images to prove it and detailed my preference.

You are simply a troll.

Total comments: 10