Weddings at the Museum of Science

For anyone who knows or has worked with me, it's no secret that I absolutely love photographing wedding at Boston's Museum of Science. Not only is it one of the city's most beautiful venues, it's located in a spot with a view of the Boston skyline you can't otherwise achieve. However, in today's post, I wanted to take a moment to point out how, while incredibly beautiful, the museum is not without its technical challenges.

Looking at this first set of photos below, hopefully your first thought isn't, "Wow, those photos look like he used a flash." Hopefully it's, "These couples were having the time of their lives." If that's what you see, I did my job well. Now I know many will think, "Why would you add light? It's already incredibly bright." Therein lies the problem, it's often too bright. Most ceremonies at the museum take place after 5p.m., when the sun is (or just about to) set, and bouncing off of the Charles River like a mirror. As you can see from these photos, sunset takes place almost directly behind where most couples stands for their ceremony.

That leaves me as a photographer with 3-options. Add light (as I've done below), take a photo in silhouette, or completely overexpose the background so that the couple is "properly" exposed. Now I'm not afraid of a cool silhouette, but let's be honest - nobody wants more than 1-2 of those as part of their collection. With my goal always to have the photos feel like you were there, that leaves me to add flash, as i've done below.

"But Doug, I don't want my ceremony to feel like a dance club with strobes popping constantly." I hear you, and I bet if you asked any of these couples, they had no idea there was a flash going during their ceremony. We set the lights up in a way so that they're out of everyone's sight line, and then I wait for the right moment for the photo, I'm not running around mashing the shutter creating a club vibe.

And even if you're not holding your wedding (or ceremony) at the museum, hopefully this post gives you something to consider when planning your wedding ceremony time and location.

museum of science wedding ceremony museum of science wedding ceremony

The Five Light Toast

After Taran and Robert's wedding last weekend at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, I thought it might be fun to share a little of how I lit the photos for their toasts. The reception room at CMAC is gorgeous, but does provide one challenge, and extremely high ceiling. Unlike say, the downtown Harvard Club though, the walls and ceiling are bright and reflective, so bouncing flash off of them is not a problem. Any of the following images could have been made with three lights, but the bounce from the balcony would have needed to be set to 1/4 power (vs. 1/16) which would have meant a far slower recycle time (and a less even spread of light).

Here's a wide shot of the room.

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding

Initially I'd set up three lights in the balcony for the first dance, set to 1/16 power and bounced upwards, which when combined with my on-camera TTL bounce flash gave me an even light across the dance floor. When Taran and Robert took their seats for the toasts though, I felt like using the four bounce flashes alone just didn't give me enough pop.

Here's a straight bounce flash photo. The exposure was 1600 ISO 1/200 at F/2.8 with my 70-200 on the Nikon D3s.

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding

Nice, but I felt like it was missing something. At this point I was out of light stands as it's rare that we need more than 3 on a wedding day, so I set a fifth flash to 1/64 power and had Jess hold it and aim it at the back of Taran & Robert while they watched the toasts.

The exposure for these next two was D3s with 70-200 ISO 1250 1/250 at F/2.8.

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding

Here's a diagram of the setup to get a better idea of where the lights were. The balcony bounce flashes were at 1/16 for the entire reception, and my on-camera TTL flash ranged from zero exposure compensation to -2/3.

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding reception

The added benefit of not placing the final light on a stand was that when I turned to photograph the toaster, Jess was able to turn with me and direct the light at the best man and maid of honor.

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding reception

Cambridge Multicultural Center Wedding reception

The Triple Bounce Toast Shot

If you've worked with me, seen my photos, or taken one of my workshops, it's no secret that I love to geek about all things flash and lighting. It's been a long time since I wrote a post about lighting technique (especially in the middle of wedding season), but Friday night's wedding offered a unique lighting problem and I thought it might be cool to share the solution we came up with here.

Last Friday's wedding was at The Commons in Topsfield, and I was second shooting for my good friend Ali Rosa. We'd scouted the room before the reception and noticed that the couple would be seated under the balcony, under a much lower ceiling than the rest of the room. The toasts are one of my favorite parts of the wedding day to photograph - they're never short on great laughs and expressions, and typically  I like to shoot and light them the same way - with my flash bounced off the ceiling, sometimes adding a second light off camera as an accent/hair light.

Here are a couple of examples lit that way:

New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography


The Commons however, presented a bit of a unique problem. The ceiling above the couple was so low, we weren't able to put our lights in a position where they'd provide an accent light without casting a funky shadow. And we wouldn't be able to position ourselves close enough (and under that low ceiling) to use on-camera bounce effectively. Here is a shot of the room so you can get a better idea. The couple would be sitting in the center of this next photo, in the back of the room under the balcony.


New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography


How to solve this problem? Well, we noticed the floor was glossy (good), the ceiling and walls were near-white (also good), and that the couple would be sitting near the opening of the balcony (as opposed to deeper against the wall). Typically, I'll work with my off-camera lights at super low power - in the 1/128 to 1/64 range. Here that wouldn't be nearly enough light, especially as I was going to need them to help amp the key light in the image, not to serve as an accent.

What we did, was set our stands as high as they would go, bounced into the higher ceiling of the room, set to 1/4 power. Here's a shot of the room with the stands, and a diagram of their placement, complete with the exposure settings and gear used.


New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography




Here's a side view, including my position where I shot from.


New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography


We needed to up the flash power to account for the increased distance we'd need the light to travel, another reason why we placed the stands as high as they'd go. Here are the resulting images.

Topsfield Commons Wedding New England Wedding Photographer l douglaslevy photography The Commons Topsfield wedding


Are they perfect? No, the shadow from the light bouncing through the staircase rails bugs me - but we did accomplish the goal - cleanly lit photos of the couple - something that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. One more thing worth mentioning - if you don't have 3 small flashes you could have done this with one, albeit with slower recycle time. One small flash places off-camera in the center of the room, around full power, would have given similar results.

Post your questions in the comments, and if you'd like to learn more about wedding reception lighting, there's always my workshops.