Turning a castle into a pride flag

When I spoke to Eoin and Alan in the run up to their wedding day, and again on the morning of it, they told me they would be flying the Pride flag from the top of Waterford Castle for their wedding, so I naturally included it in some photos during the wedding day. But the idea of the flag flying over the castle also planted a seed in my head – to see if I could turn the castle itself into a homage to the flag. So while they sat for dinner with their guests, I set out to see if it was possible.

I knew this would need a lot of lights – not a lot of light, in itself, but due to the need to mix six or seven colours (and light the grooms), I would need seven or eight light stands, seven or eight flashes, and six or seven gels. I had all that gear in the car, so that was an important consideration – only starting to construct a shot that I knew I’d have the gear to pull off. And I really wanted this to be a single in-camera exposure rather than taking lots of frames and moving one or two flashes each time.

The big questions were: Could I get an even spread of light across the castle? And would the colours wash together nicely?

The key to the photo

The secret to making this photo work is all about distance. As non-intuitive as it might seem, the further I can get the flashes from the castle, the better. Why? Because the light will fall more evenly on the castle if it’s further away than if it’s closer. The technical aspect that we’re talking about here is called the Inverse Square Law, but I like to think of it as giving light a “depth of field”. The further away the light source, the greater the depth of field of the light.

How I achieve that here is to put the flash that’s lighting the left side of the castle to my right, and the flash that’s lighting the right side of the castle to my left.

A second important aspect of that is to use the zoom function on the flashes to control how much of the castle each is lighting. I don’t want the light from any one flash to spill over more than about 1/6th of the castle, so I zoomed them to 50mm to get the level of control I needed.

The third important thing to do is to rotate the flash heads 90 degrees, so they’re oriented vertically rather than horizontally. This is because the most visual impact (and, to be honest, the easier approach) is to create vertical bands of colour across the front of the castle.

I often end up taking 30 or 40 test shots as I light these scenes or find the right frame, but here, essentially, I only needed three test shots. One to check if I had enough light, one to check the spread of light, and one to check how the colours would mix.

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…

Those are the first three shots you see in this contact sheet. Shot #1 checks that, even at low power, I can get light on the castle from the purple gelled flash, so I’ve plenty of light. Shot #2 checks if it’s possible to get the spread of light, and the shot #3 sees how the red and orange colours wash into each other. Nicely, as it turns out.

All that established, I spent 7 minutes positioning all the light stands, and gelling the remaining flashes yellow, green and blue so when I take my next test shot (#4) I am pretty much home and dry. The second that shot popped up on my camera viewfinder I knew I had cracked it. By the way if you look closely at the left hand side of shot #4, you’ll see a the purple gelled flash lighting the right hand extreme, in line with what I said earlier.

Shot #5 is me refining the composition, but in doing so I noticed that the yellow flash (which I had positioned behind me, to maximise the distance, was going to make lighting the grooms really challenging. So in shot #6 I moved it forward and now there are no lights coming from behind me, and I have a black frame in which to position and separately light the grooms.

Shot #7 brings in a soft box (ungelled) to light that stone bench, and shot #8 is me asking a guest sitting nearby if he’d mind standing in for me to tweak the power on that main light. And with that, I just need to wait for the band to move their cars (as they had promised to do) and go get the grooms.

Less than 30 minutes after I started to setup, I was done. The final shot, with lightstands edited out in post processing, is repeated here:

I took a couple of minutes to work a few different compositions in addition to this shot, always keeping the castle prominent as a central element to the photo.

During that time, for one single exposure none of the flashes on the castle fired while the flash on the two grooms did. And it gave me the ultimate before-and-after shots that led to what I (on Instagram) called Tap to Light and what here I call Slide to Light. And ever since then, if I’m taking A Shot In The Dark like this at a wedding and I remember to do so, I try to get one shot with the trigger turned off specifically to show the before and after in this way.

Eoin & Alan at Waterford Castle

By the way if you like that, do check out lots more of before and after shots in the dedicated section on this site, and enjoy trying to figure out the lighting from them! I’ll be writing up how they were all lit here over the coming weeks.