Super Speedlite goes to a wedding

Most of the time I am solo when shooting a wedding. That makes it risky, considering time constraints, to use new equipment without establishing a level of confidence that it will work as expected. Weddings are one kind of shoot where do overs are unlikely.

Some background

I started shooting weddings with a Rollie, a graflex flash on an aluminum bracket and a list of images selected by the bride and her mom weeks before at the studio.

Fast forward a few decades and it was digital cameras, an on-camera TTL speedlite and monolights on stands in the reception and other dark venues. I also used the monolight for large groups in darker churches. Fast forward a couple years and it was Pocket Wizard ControlTL and off camera speedlites rather than monolights. Over the years I’ve invested the effort to learn how to take advantage of TTL off camera lights. The only problem being that, given the low power, they are working hard. That meant having to run around changing batteries and keeping them close to the dance floor since that’s where the action is located at receptions. It also meant having to be able to grab a light and stand to move into position for special shooting situations.

Earlier this spring Godox announced a TTL capable, battery powered monolight at the top of its lineup. The Witstro AD600BTTL along with the X1T trigger/controller. Better still, they announced there would be support for Sony multi-function hotshoe and TTL. The announcement meant there might be a way to get more powerful lights on my light stands along with the TTL capabilities I have come to prefer when shooting weddings. 600Ws is substantially more power than the 50Ws usually attributed to speedlites.

For me, the AD600TTL is preferable to the AD360II, which also incorporates TTL and works with Sony TTL via the X1T. It comes down to not having to have both lights in my kit. The AD600 has a couple of features in manual mode that I find useful that are missing from the AD360. Its ironic that manual features motivated my decision which TTL strobe to purchase.

In the US the AD600TTL version is available from Adorama and via Amazon from multiple Chinese sources. I purchased 4 EXPLOR600TTL lights from Adorama. I’ve become comfortable using the lights on a variety of commercial jobs. One accessory that I consider essential is the H600 remote head. It turns the light into a pack and head kit with a small, light weight head on the stand.

What this test confirmed

  • The lights are powerful enough to place well away from the dance floor to illuminate more of the room while still delivering near instantaneous recycling.
  • The remote head accessory is essential when using tall light stands so that the major weight can be kept low on the stand.
  • TTL simplifies exposure management when moving around the space.
  • FEC is useful for creating a main / fill / kicker lighting scenario that works throughout the space.
  • Four lights are better than three; three lights are better than two; two lights better than one.
  • The three and four light options are preferable to an on-camera speedlite bounced, or as fill, with other speedlites off camera.
  • The Garfield Conservatory reception space with its window walls confirmed the benefit of not having to rely on bounced speedlites.
  • The strong early evening setting sun confirmed the benefit of more powerful lights to complement the ambient interior and sunlight.

I’ve included comments below each image describing what its illustrating.

The lighting setup

I wanted to see how well four lights surrounding the reception space would work. My objective was to create a lighting scheme where two lights would act as main/kicker while two other lights would be fill. The objective was to have the scheme work regardless of camera position inside the lighting scheme. To accomplish the scheme I set light A against the wall near the DJ table behind the guest seating. I positioned it off the paved area behind a planter to protect it from guest traffic. I set light B on the opposite side of the space, again just off the pavement behind the guest seating. These lights were on 13 foot stands. extended as high as possible with the power pack attached above the bottom section thumb screw with a velcro strap. Light A was about 15 feet from the center of the dance floor. Light B was about 30 feet from the center of the dance floor. Light C was at the opposite end of the guest seating area about 100 feet from the  center of the dance floor. It was mounted on a 10 foot stand. Light D was on the other side of the guest seating area from C. It was about 90 feet from the center of the dance floor on a 10 foot stand.

Lights A and C had Cheetah Light Hub Cap reflectors. I had these lights set to -.7FEC to act as fill lights. Lights B and D had Cheetah Light 7″ reflectors. These lights were set to -.3FEC to act as main and kicker.

I used an X1Ts on camera to control the 4 Groups. One light in Group A, B, C, and D. As a comparison I did some shots with a TT685s on the camera with an F Stoppers Flash Disk for fill. The speedlite acted as the master and controlled three groups for main and kicker. Based on the results it will be a fall back but not my preferred approach.

Here are some images from the test shoot;

Based on this test my default lighting scheme for reception venues going forward is going to be four off camera AD600 lights, set back from the dance floor. I may have a second camera available with a speedlite on it, along with a Flash Disk for shots where I need to be outside the lighting scheme. One benefit available with the X system is that the Speedlite can act as a master for the off camera lights. It can have each group set to best support the on-camera flash without compromising the settings used by the camera with the X1T controlling the lights.

After word

I appreciate my colleague Nick arranging with his bride, groom and event planner for me to use this wedding to test the Godox kit without risking event coverage. If I hadn’t been there it would have been solo coverage for Nick. Just as importantly, I appreciate Brigitte and Matt allowing me to invade their celebration — making it a test site.

I got to Garfield Park Conservatory with enough time to get the lights setup the way I wanted them and tested with time to spare. That gave me a chance to walk over and grab a few candids during the cocktail hour.