Tips for better low-light wedding photos with a Canon DSLR.

I just got this in an email:

A friend has asked me to take some of their wedding photos with their Canon 1000D. Had a play with it yesterday and I’m finding the flash a bit harsh. Is there a top tip to minimise this?

Firstly, if you’re using the camera in the day near natural light, the camera will be fine and it’s all down to your artistic flair.

For evening shots, I’ve written a bunch of tips, but really, there is only one:

  • Borrow a Canon Speedlite that supports ETTL. (eg, the 430EXii or 580EXii).

Seriously. If you know someone into their photography that may have one you can borrow, give them a ring. Slap it on the camera, press “mode” until it says “ETTL” on the screen, aim the flash so the light bounces of a wall/ceiling to your subject (pool skills handy here) and snap away. The rest of the tips may help prevent you taking a load of unusable shots, but if you get a speedlite, you will take the best shots of the whole day (perhaps including the photographer’s).

If you can’t get a speedlite, my next-best advice is to wait for the sun to come up or get your subject under some other light source. On-camera flash is ugly, and unflattering. I have a top-end Canon and I never use the on-camera flash on people because they’ll just look sweaty and wrinkly. If you can get people next to a lamp or something, you’ll have much more luck.

If neither of those tips will help you, here are what I consider to be “last resort” tips:

  • Prop camera against wall or on table for a steadier shot.
  • Try self timer with camera on table.
  • Form triangles with your body (tuck elbows in to sides) to become human tripod. Remember to look like a pro by cupping the lens with left hand palm upwards.

Anti-tips! Don’t do this:

  • Raise the ISO above 800. Ideally, keep the ISO at 400 or lower unless you like grainy photos.
  • Stick a Rizla to the flash. It will not soften the light, it just drinks the battery.

Keeping the camera steady will mean sharper shots, but if your subjects move, you’ll still get blurry shots. But I say go with it. Asking people to stay still means awkward faces. A blurry shot of someone laughing / dancing is a good thing if it’s deliberate.

My favourite wedding photos are always in the evening when people are relaxed (read: drunk). I’m sure you’ll capture some gems.