Lighting a mid-sized Hall with Monolights — Wedding and social event photography Forum

Lighting a mid-sized Hall with Monolights

I have done a handful of event photography and have always been unhappy with the darkness in the background. I use a 5D at ISO 500-800 and the 580EX does well for me to fill my scene, however, the background is usually dark. There is a fair amount of dancing so my preference is at least 1/250 and appx 7.1.

I bought two 400W Elinchrom D-lites to light the hall (using Pocketwizards). My question is am I best positioning the monolights at opposite corners and pointing them upwards at the ceiling directing the bounce towards the middle or positioning them high and pointing them downwards toward the center of the hall.


The background is dark because of your shutter speed. Adding more light won’t help — it will increase the illuminated area, but do nothing for light fall off in areas that are out of range. The only way to light a room evenly is with a long exposure.

If you’re using a flash you don’t need to keep the shutter speed high to stop motion. The pulse of light from the strobe will be more than adequate to freeze dancing. Flash is controlled by aperture, not by shutter speed, so shutter speed is always independent of your main exposure. You could shoot with speeds as low as 1/8, as long as the aperture was stopped down a couple of EV’s from ambient, and the power of the strobe was matched to the aperture. If you did this you’d have a well lit background, a well lit subject, and no motion blur.

For instance, you could keep the exact same settings you’ve described above, but change the shutter speed to 1/15. You’d see the difference immediately.

You may want to search for past posts on dragging the shutter.

Incidentally, you won’t need monoblocs either. I normally shoot dancing just with a single speedlight — or sometimes two if I want cross-lighting. There’s absolutely no need to use 1200 watt seconds of light.

Firstly, ISO 500, F7.1 and 1/250th is the main issue you have, IMO

Flash will freeze your subjects, so your SS need only be about a stop and a half faster than your ambient reads. Your iso can be 1000 — 1600iso too. Even in the darkest halls, you will probably have a reading of something like 1/20th — 1/30th at those ISO’s and F5.6 (which is mostly where I shot receptions with my 5d’s) So at 1/60th — 1/80th you can make nicely frozen subjects, while keeping a warm glow to your backgrounds.

Using the Mono’s, I bounce if the ceiling is white-ish, not if its a color. If a color, I set them around 7′ (not super high) or more and point toward each other from corners (preferably). I often shoot at a place here that has logs for the ceiling and they’re red. Ugh. Its a bigger hall and I find the Sb800’s (or in your case 580’s) to be a bit to weak for the job/recycle times needed. The lower head position allows you to use them as backlighting when you simply bend a knee, but still high enough to miss the heads of most of the other dancers. Hope that made sense. One note about using high power heads; Guests sitting near them will hate it if you use them too much. That can make your ongoing business suffer from a recommendation POV. As you approach the lights, you have to close your aperture and open it as you move away from them. Knowing your «zones» before you shoot will assist with that, then not moving too much as you shoot. I can usually make a sort of circle around the dance floor where my F stop stay in the F5.6 region. If you use this method, you have some PP work to raise and lower the exposure by around half a stop. I typically set the output of heads to less than their 1/4 power and prefer to be in the 1/16th or less range to gain fast recycle times. Another odd thing with heads, the color temp can shift a bit during prolonged use. WB will often need some tweaking later too.

As Neil said, dragging your shutter helps, but you must know what you can do with the existing light to avoid getting your SS slow enough to register a close exposure to your flash exposure. That will make for all kinds of ghosts.

I rarely use the monos these days, finding the use of small flash and higher ISO’s is preferred for many reasons.

As above, do your research on dragging the shutter. Go to Neil van Niekerk’s website, Planet Neil, and start reading. Or do searches on these forums.

Also, bouncing, you get a different kind of light quality than using them direct. If I were you, I’d leave the monos at home during the time that you are teaching yourself about dragging the shutter. Then bring one and just do some experimental stuff with it on non-important pictures. Then gradually do more. Then bring both.

While I tend to prefer the «Dragging the Shutter» technique described above. and it does work. I believe the question was how to use strobes.

Strobes definitely deliver a different directional light look when shooting in large areas, not to mention evening out the color temperature in areas lit by mixed lighting sources (ranging from Mercury vapor, Tungsten, Fluorescent to the DJ’s multi-colored displays). There is also another advantage in that wider shots can tax a little on-camera speed-light forcing you to up the ISO and thus creating some additional issues with color temperature as you rely more and more on the ambient light which gets mixed in with the cooler speed-light output in the foreground, (unless you gel your flash as Nadine has suggested in prior threads).

Generally, most of my experience in lighting large areas with strobes has been for commercial shoots (wouldn’t even dream of trying to do that with a speed-light). with an occasional application at weddings. So I can make a few suggestions to look at with your Elinchrom 400s since you DO have them to work with.

Positioning strobes is a matter of taste. Spread apart and aimed at the ceiling will provide a bit more over-all even illumination of backgrounds. where placed up high pointed down will provide a bit more directional light (when I do this I tend to set one strobe at 3/4 power or even 1/2 power to provide true directional feel (sort of like a key light/fill). A shoot through translucent umbrella can help diffuse and spread the light a bit more, but it cuts the output some so you’ll have to slow down the shutter speed a bit more.

To really use your strobes effectively, you should consider use of your speed-light in concert with the strobes. there are solutions that allow you to use a speed-light on camera with a Pocket Wizard.

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