couple kissing in a moodily lit room

Light Your Way

Kate Kirkman

In an age of ultra-fast lenses and cameras like Sony’s Alpha series, whose ISO performance means photographers can pretty much shoot in the dark, are flashes still needed in wedding photography? “I certainly think so,” says Kate Kirkman, a professional wedding photographer based in the UK.

silhouette of a couple kissing with light from behind

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 50mm f/1.2 GM | 1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 320

As great as my Alpha cameras are,” she continues, “no menu setting or exposure mode can substitute the way a flash gives you fill light, or lets you separate a subject from their surroundings in a beautiful way. Flash is about adding light where there is none, but also shaping and motivating the light that’s already in a scene to make it even more compelling.”

So, who better to test out Sony’s new HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM flashguns, filled with features to help working pros and creatives?

To work for professionals and creatives, a flash needs plenty of power, but crucially to offer that output in a way that’s controllable and consistent. “With their respective guide numbers of 60 and 46, both the HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM were great in that regard,” explains Kate, “and as I manually set my white balance on the camera, I was able to see good consistency in the colour of light they gave. That’s not something you can rely on from inferior models. The flash’s zoom range is really helpful too,” she continues, “particularly the HVL-F60RM2’s 20-200mm setting, which pairs very well with the sort of lenses wedding pros are liable to use, like the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. Plus the widest 20mm and 24mm settings really help in filling modifiers like softboxes with light for a softer effect or illuminating a bigger space unmodified.”

groom standing in a doorway looking at the camera

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 50mm f/1.2 GM | 1/200s @ f/2.8, ISO 500

Both the new flashes offer full TTL metering, plus a mode that lets photographers quickly switch those settings into full manual mode and fine tune them from there. “That’s a way of working that fits perfectly with my approach,” says Kate, “and I’m sure will do with many other pros. It means I can start with a good baseline exposure, for the ambient light and the flash power, then change my exposure on the camera, for instance to cut out a bit more ambient light or alter the flash’s power to give it some more kick. I also found the Alpha 1’s ability to help me see the manual exposure really important. I set the AEL button to Shot Result Preview and that shows me what the ambient light settings are giving, while the regular view through the EVF is much brighter to help me focus. At no time did the flashes affect the Alpha 1’s amazing face and eye detection AF either.”

bride and groom kissing at dusk

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 135mm f/1.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/4.0, ISO 160

Using the HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM on and off camera, Kate was able to test out how both handled and communicated in groups when multiple flashes were used. “Both models have a great build,” she says, “and there’s no wobble when they’re mounted to the camera’s hot-shoe, so it all feels very secure.” For Kate, the build was also important when using modifiers. “As good as any flash is, it will almost always need modification to suit what the photographer has in mind. But that also means putting load on the flash head, and some inferior flashes will droop or fold when you do it, so you can’t direct them properly. There was none of that from these new models, and I could angle them just as I wanted, even with my MagMod gear attached.”

couple standing on a staircase

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 50mm f/1.2 GM | 1/200s @ f/2.8, ISO 320

In the multiple flash setups, I used an HVL- F60RM2 as a wireless commander,” she continues, “and it’s such a breeze to change settings that way, dialling up or down power. These flashes use a radio link, which was particularly useful around the architecture of the venue. That kind of control is vital if you’re working without an assistant or have placed the flashes in places where you can’t easily reach them, like high up or a long way behind the subjects which we did on lots of occasions.”

still life of the bride and grooms wedding rings on a table

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/200s @ f/9.0, ISO 125

"Maybe the most impressive thing about the new flashes was how they worked so seamlessly with the Sony Alpha 1’s electronic shutter,” Kate says. “Electronic shutters have been a game changer for wedding photographers, not only because they allow us to work in complete silence and shoot in places where we’d otherwise be a nuisance or spoil the mood, but they also accelerate the camera’s frame rate beyond what the mechanical shutter can allow. That gives me the chance to pick out a perfect moment, and whether that’s a look of love connecting the couple or finding their faces unobscured in a storm of confetti, it’s vital in getting the perfect shot.” Setting up for just one such moment, as confetti enveloped the couple, “I was absolutely blown away by the high-speed flash performance,” she continues. “The HVL-F60RM2 was firing at least 20 flashes per second and didn’t skip a beat. That’s completely unheard of.”

Weddings offer all sorts of photo opportunities, but to take them, a flash must be up to the task, and with the HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM offering impact resistance, dust and moisture proof performance, Kate was able to work without worry. “In one situation,” she explains, “I wanted to light the couple by a bubbling fountain, so I set up the HVL-F46RM on its supplied stand, resting it on the edge, and fired it into the water. Without weather sealing, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that – and particularly not in a real wedding situation where I’d be relying on the light for the rest of the evening.”

silhouette of a couple kissing in a fountain

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 50mm f/1.2 GM | 1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 320

"These new flashes,” Kate concludes, “are definitely going to be a big help for wedding photographers. They work faultlessly with the Sony system and being able to use them with the electronic shutter is going to be so important for me going forward. When you add in the build and handling, they’re an obvious choice for any Sony user looking to get creative with lighting, and I think they’ll open up lots of opportunities for all sorts of photographers.”

couple standing beneath a huge tree

© Kate Kirkman | Sony α1 + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/3.5, ISO 250

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Kate Kirkman

Kate Kirkman | UK

"I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical" - Trent Parke
Brent Kirkman

Brent Kirkman | UK

"I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical" - Trent Parke

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