How To Light Up A Room

by As Told to Jacqueline Tobin

Moshe Zusman

January 25, 2013

After more than nine years working as a professional wedding photographer, Moshe Zusman’s mantra is simple: “No two weddings are alike.” As far as he is concerned, a uniquely personal wedding deserves a uniquely personal wedding album, “one filled with images showcasing the little details that make you a one-of-a-kind couple, and make your wedding an event like no other.”

One way Zusman achieves this one-of-a-kind look is through his lighting. In his off-camera lighting workshops, for example, he is quick to share information on how to light any situation to help fellow photographers move beyond natural light and embrace the beauty of combining strobes and ambient to make the perfect engagement or portrait shot. Even the most challenging, darkest locations, he says, can become vibrant backdrops with the help of some key techniques and tricks.

This coming March, Zusman (who teaches workshops around the country) will break down his reception and off-camera lighting in his WPPI class, “Shedding Light on the Wedding Venue” (see for exact time and day). Here, he gives us a sneak peek on how he tackles dark receptions.

First Dance

Typical settings: 

Aperture: f/4

Shutter Speed: 1/80

ISO: 1000

Note: Mother-Son or Father-Daughter dance shots, says Zusman, are a good opportunity to get a more dramatic look and/or a darker exposure. 

Details and Room Shots


Aperture: f/5.6

Shutter Speed: 1/80

ISO: 1250

Party And Reception Venue Shots

TYPICAL settings:

Aperture: f/4

Shutter Speed: 1/80

ISO: 1000

Zusman says that by using consistent settings for different scenarios each time, it allows him to not only get super consistent lighting throughout the event—from details to room shots, to speeches and dancing—but also means he can shoot at very comfortable and “safe” shutter speeds throughout the night. “It allows me to be worry-free about blurry images yet capture all the ambient light in the room,” he explains. “I’m not dependent on the DJ’s lasers, the venue’s dimming requests or weird lighting that pops out of nowhere. I am no longer ‘stuck’ at aperture f/2.8 and dragging the shutter to slow speed in the name of ‘art.’ ”

Zusman continues: “With consistent lighting, post-production is so easy. I just make small tweaks to white balance, contrast and saturation and thus save myself valuable hours of work by batch syncing everything. So, for example, I typically start with aperture f/4, shutter speed 1/60-1/80 and ISO 800, all of which are adjustable based on the environment variables (such as amount of ambient light, color of the walls and ceiling, and more). The most important thing is that I control the light; the light does not control me.

“The second, equally important, element is gelling the lights. Instead of asking the venue to balance all 500 lights in their chandeliers to daylight or my speedlite’s color temperature, I simply balance my light sources to theirs. That gives me a very well-balanced color temperature throughout the room. By doing that, I get skin tones to be real, the dress remains white while the tux is still black, and if my couple decides to decorate the room with pink lights, shouldn’t I provide them with images that represent that choice accurately?”

Moshe's Gear Bag


2 x Canon EOS 5D Mark III

1X Canon EOS 1DX


5 x Canon Speedlite 



10 x Pocketwizard Plus 3

1 x Pocketwizard
Mini TT1

2 x Pocketwizard
Flex5 TT5 


6 x Profoto D1 1000 air


EF 14mm f/2.8L II 

EF 24-70 f/2.8L II

EF 24-105mm f/4L

EF 24mm f/1.4L II

EF 50mm f/1.2L

EF 85mm f/1.2L II

EF 24-70 f/2.8L

EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II

EF 17mm f/4L TS-E

EF  24mm f/3.5L II TS-E

EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

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Tout VTS