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It’s no secret that I don’t LOVE flash photography. However, I know that I need to constantly push myself to get better at it. Over the years I have learned so much about how to manage my flash and make it work for me. I have learned how to re-create my own natural light style with flash instead of sunlight. This may not be the “technically correct” way of shooting receptions but to be honest, I have literally heard DOZENS of different approaches to shooting this part of the day. If they are creating gorgeous, high quality images, then how can they be “wrong”?

I used to avoid sharing this stuff because I was so sure that my way of doing things wasn’t right. However, I was creating shots that I was proud of. They were well exposed and bright and crisp. They had dimension and a little bit of glow. They were exactly what I wanted in my flash images. So why not share?! Sure, I’ll have some critics but the bottom line is, this works for me!

One thing that I’ve learned is that there are several situations that are hard to deal with when it comes to shooting with flash. In a perfect world, I wish I could shoot at a 45-90 degree angle from an off camera flash during all dances, cake cutting, toasts and party dancing. This would give my reception images guaranteed depth and pop! However, there are some situations when this isn’t possible. One raised hand can block the light from the off camera flash and ruin a shot of my subject. Sometimes the ceiling is TOO HIGH and TOO DARK to bounce my on-camera flash off of for fill light. This happens all the time in BARN situations!!

So how do we light our subjects when these situations arise and using off-camera flash isn’t ideal? You use a BOUNCE CARD. Do I love it? NO. Can I make it work for me? YES.

When I photograph barn wedding receptions with flash, I want to avoid the following:

  • Orange, overly warm images
  • Flat and DULL images where there is absolutely no dimension in my client’s face
  • Over exposed subjects
  • Backgrounds that look like dark, black holes
  • Zero glow and “POP”
  • Poor coloring

So how do I do this? Well, there is always a chance that some things may not work perfectly every time, but ideally, I want the two following scenarios to take place:

  • I want to shoot with an off-camera flash at a 45-90 degree angle from me and the couple during the DANCES, TOASTS, and CAKE CUTTING. My off camera flash would be my MAIN light source and I’d ideally have a kicker flash in the background on a lowered power (using ratios). I do this because I have CONTROL during these events during the reception and I can set up the shot!
One flash to the left…
One flash to the right…
Interesting thought…. the next two images are in the SAME ROOM…. the only difference is that there is one OCF used in the first shot and two OCF’s used in the second one!
One flash to the right…
Just used a bounce flash and higher ISO here… BUT, there was a big white curtain behind me that I bounced my flash off of! I cheated!
  • During PARTY DANCING  things change. Arms are flying, people are jumping, twirling and flailing…. it’s almost impossible to shoot with an off camera light as a main, direct light source without having a shadow across the face! So I use my on-camera flash at a LOW POWER with a BOUNCE CARD, a kicker flash in the background for glow and dimension and then I shoot around 2.2-2.8 and high ISO (1600-3200) to achieve the GLOW and keep dimension! If you have too much on-camera flash power, your subjects faces will be have zero dimension. They will look flat, dull and washed out! Lower the flash power and use your aperture and ISO do a little more of the work!

Bounce flash, OCF to the back left…

Bounce card, OCF to the back left (avoid the flash being in the frame to avoid too much glare and light bursts!)


So to answer how I fix the issues I wanted to avoid above, I do the following:

  • Orange, overly warm images – Watch your ISO, if it’s too high it will pick up too much ambient “orange” light. Also, shoot Kelvin in orange barn situations if need be!
  • Flat and DULL images where there is absolutely no dimension in my client’s face – Avoid using a bounce card with high flash power! This will wash your client’s faces out.  Instead, shoot more wide open, less flash power and you’ll have more dimension in your images. Much more flattering! 
  • Over exposed subjects  – Just like above, use a wide aperture and higher ISO to lower flash power.
  • Backgrounds that look like dark, black holes – Add a “kicker” light (or a flash in the background. Use the ratio system to adjust the intensity)
  • Zero glow and “POP” – Make sure light is coming from a 45-90 degree angle if at all possible. You don’t want a large amount of light hitting your subject straight from your bounce card. No pop there! 
  • Poor coloring – If your shots are a weird color, make sure your flash isn’t bouncing off of a wall or ceiling that is colored. Also, make sure your flash power isn’t SO low and your ISO isn’t SO high that your shots are orange from the ambient light filtering in! 

To learn more about our SPECIALTY SHOTS below, you can read THIS POST!  (Ps. View my Canon 600 ex-rt review HERE!)  We use 3 Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlite Flashes

Friends! If this was helpful, let me know! If you have questions, leave a comment and I’ll answer them in our OCF Basic Mini- Guide that you guys asked for!!! Excited! No question is silly! PS. For more resources, visit THE COLLECTION!  

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 225. “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
xoxo, Katelyn
34 Comments Ask Anything, Education
  1. Casey Hollins reply

    Katelyn this was so helpful! I am teaching myself OCF and have been pretty anxious about using OCF during receptions and weddings this year. I am going to practice, practice, practice! I do have a couple of questions – during a reception do you choose a spot for the OCF and leave it there or is it something that you or Michael move around with you throughout the reception? Do you both have your own set of OCF equipment that you use during weddings? And what circumstances cause you to use OCF during portraits at any point during the wedding day?

  2. Erika mills reply

    Loved this!!! This would make a great series! Lighting in different reception venues ;)

  3. Julia Seiler reply

    Hi Katelyn!

    I really hate flash, so for every wedding I’ve shot I’ve always just used on-camera bounce flash, but I have a barn wedding this summer and your post is making me think my regular thing won’t work. Is the only way for me to get decent images in the barn using OCF? I’ve never done it and the barn is small and tight, so it makes me nervous! Any advice would be amazing. Thanks!

  4. Candice reply

    Great post! Super informative. Thank you for sharing! In the images above, are you using a flash on camera as well, or just triggering the OCF? Thanks!

  5. Stephanie Michelle reply

    Love this post!! Just in time as I’m getting ready to shoot at a venue with high ceilings!

    I’m curious about your bounce card…do you use the one built in to the 600’s?

  6. TahJah reply

    I LOVE this post. It is so important for us to better learn our craft for all different type of situations.

    I can’t wait to get your mini-OCF guide.

  7. Lisa reply

    Great article! I have a similar question to Casey about where you place you OCF at receptions. I am always worried that they will get bumped or knocked over. Do you usually have 2 off camera and one in the hot shoe?

  8. Barb reply

    So helpful! Thank you! I would love to know more about the ratios you mention. I understand what you mean, but I’m wondering how you determine them. Also, what are you doing with your on-camera flash when your main is the off-camera flash? I think you mentioned in a previous post that your on-camera triggers the off-camera so it must be on, but it’s not acting as fill, is it? Lots of questions! Looking forward to your guide.

  9. Shalese reply

    This is definitely going in my “posts to study” file. I don’t know why I have SUCH a mental block about OCF! I think I make way harder in my head than it needs to be! Thank you for posting this!

  10. Nicole Salter reply

    This is so great. Thanks! I’m still super scared of OCF and need to play with it more this year!!

  11. Megan Renee Didier reply

    Thank you SO much for sharing this! I’m always intimidated by flash at receptions. I just want to carry really light equipment and not 096580698 flashes/ strobes. So this was really helpful.

    I totally have so many things that I do that aren’t ‘technically correct’ but it works well for me and my clients love it! That’s what matters in the long run :) Keep being awesome!

  12. Amy reply

    You’re amazing! Thanks for sharing!!!

  13. Jessica Fike reply

    Thanks so much for this! Very helpful! I’ll have to start using my bounce card. :) Do you use your bounce card every time you’re firing an on-camera flash? And in which scenarios do you like to use two off-camera flashes? I just started adding the second off-camera and am looking for more ways to REALLY use them well…placement, amount of use, etc. Thanks again!

  14. Cora Moyer reply

    This is EVERYTHING I’ve been searching the web for! I’m so glad you touched on where ISO should be. While it’s considered one of the ‘basics’ of manual shooting I still find myself struggling to grasp what to do when. ISO really is the aspect of photography that causes me the most stress. I’m very curious as to how you set up the off camera lighting so that it’s out of the way and you don’t have to worry about accidental damage from a rowdy guest. Love your work Katelyn and so appreciate the time you take to share! You’ve helped me so much already!

  15. Tatyana reply

    Such great tips! Thanks for sharing :)

  16. Abby Grace reply

    Katelyn, this is why I love you. So dang much. I love that you share so openly on your blog! I just started using a third flash this year as my second OCF and it’s seriously changed my life, but I’d never thought to use the on-camera flash as anything more than bounced-to-the-side fill light. So, if it’s ok to ask, do you point on on-camera flash straight up, and use the bound card to bounce it forward? Or do you angle your on-camera light toward the subject at all? I’m so excited to put this into practice this wedding season! I never thought dancing shots were something I’d get excited about, but you’d got me stoked to try this out!

  17. Alicia Wiley reply

    Thank you! I have a barn wedding this year and I was so worried about orange images! I am not a fan of flash either and indoor receptions were always a hit or miss on great crisp shots! Do you have one OCF shooting straight up and one OCF at a 45-90 degree angle? I wasn’t quite clear on that. Thank you so much!

  18. Ali reply

    This is a wonderful post – thank you! When you are using the bounce card, is it the pull-out card that is in the 600’s? Are you using flash exposure compensation at all? Is everything on ETTL? Is the 45 to 90 degree flash in a small softbox, or bare? Thank you, you are awesome :)

  19. Susan Kelly reply

    Thanks for this… it’s so easy to understand! Do you shoot Manual or ETTL flash?

  20. Ruth Yoder reply

    Thank you so much for sharing!! I have had weddings in barns and always struggle with lighting! Is there a way to pin this?

  21. Anne reply

    do you have any tips for this type of situation without an OCF?

  22. Allison reply

    Very helpful! Many thanks Katelyn!! Would love to learn about your off-camera flash setup — do you use a softbox ever? Is your flash on a stand with sandbags or does Michael carry a monopod and move around the room? I always worry about dancing guests accidentally knocking over my light stand (had a close call once!).

  23. Melissa Donaldson reply

    Doing a wedding in a barn tomorrow, this came across my newsfeed. SO HELPFUL! Been practicing in my studio tonight! Great tips and pointers! THANK YOU!

  24. Jason and Amy reply

    Good stuff in this post Katelyn! Do you ever use a cto gel on your flash to match the ambient light? Then just set your kelvin temp to tungsten and no worries with orange backgrounds! This works especially well when there is a lot of tungsten light present and you don’t want to kill it all with shutter speed or low ISO .

  25. Steve Van De Steene reply

    I found this article VERY helpful! It is my goal this year to add ocf into my repurpose. Thank you.

  26. Sydni Jackson reply

    I’ve been loving your blog posts recently – great content! :)

  27. Tara reply

    Great post! Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information. Curious, the on camera flash, is it pointing at the ceiling with the white bounce card and the OCF pointing directly at the subjects? Would also like to know more about the ratios. Looking forward to the mini guide! Thank you!!!

  28. Melanie reply

    Thanks so much! Looking forward to the OFC mini guide. =)

  29. Bruce reply

    Nice images! I am a beginner. Do you use TTL or manual for your off camera flash?

  30. J reply

    hi! im reading your blog on lighting barns but your use of off camera flash and on camera flash are confusing me. Am I correct in reading that youre using two flashes? One flash on a stand to your left or right (your kicker). Another flash attached to your camera, this flash being your OCF and main light?

  31. dawn wittner reply

    Thanks so much for sharing, I have my first barn wedding coming up, but it’s a tiny barn, so I was glad to read about the bounce card, that was what I was thinking and 1 off camera flash.

  32. Peter reply

    hello from SVK :) , thanks for this article..was really helpful and nice to read…btw… nice pictures :)

  33. FLGROE reply

    The pictures turned out amazing!

  34. Latestin India reply

    Your all post is really amazing. Nice Stuff Dear.

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