How To Shoot With Flash In A Barn

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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!)

pippin-hill-charlottesville-wedding-venue-pictures_62161rustic-farm-wedding-venue-destination-wedding-photographer_4936rustic-glam-vow-renewal_2893pippin-hill-charlottesville-wedding-venue-pictures_62111 big-spring-farm-lexington-Virginia-wedding_2385


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

riverside-on-the-potomac_8800veralum-farm-charlottesville-wedding_9684charlottesville-farm-wedding-venue_9228Friends! 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!  How To Shoot With Flash In A Barn by Katelyn James Photography

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.”

Thanks for reading!

— Katelyn

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