For a photographer lighting is what brings his art to life. It is critically important to understand and work with the light within an environment, but it is also important to fashion light to work for you. The onelight, and more generally, the speedlighting movement is about creating and molding light to provide the atmosphere for an image.
I came across this article on the Nikon blog regarding Sam Barker and his photography. The article goes into explanation of how Sam has used his equipment and Nikon speedlights (flashes) to produce some stunning travel images.
The principles discussed in the article are not far removed from wedding photography and can be carried over into the typical wedding event. In wedding photography the lighting is always dictated by the venue and location. Add to this the fact that many weddings will include a variety of lighting scenarios, which may likely change as the day progresses. Wedding photographers have to be versatile and show a good understanding of light and how to maximize what is there along with providing additional atmosphere when needed.
With the newer technology it is much easier today to add additional light to a scene. The equipment is much smaller and lighter, and technology has reduced the amount of equipment needed. If you are interested in knowing more about how onelight is used in my style of shooting for wedding events, click here to see my articles on the subject.
I love playing with light, and every opportunity to photograph is another chance to bend the rules and tweak the image. April and Brent’s wedding was such an occasion and a creative playground. Many may cringe at the fact that I would be experimenting during an event, but in reality there is a combination of routine and “out of the box” photography going on.
My style has been to work for a variety of looks and images. I do not spend a great deal of time shooting one look or one angle for a long period of time. I want variety, and weddings demand quick setup, fast execution, and beautiful results. My initial photography of a set-up is to capture a safe shot, something that is somewhat routine and straight forward. If all looks good the next several shots will be with some tweaking to the light and changing of angles; variety and something a little more edgy in terms of style.
If I can provide something outside the box and unique for a couple then I feel I have performed creatively, and hopefully the couple will love the result. I will leave you with this image of April that I shot before Brent had arrived at the venue. Having captured a good image of her on the landing I continued to shoot with some minor tweaking of the light. The result was this image using only a single light. The light was directed between April and the wall behind her resulting in a highlighted background and some very dramatic short lighting on her. Love it, and April looks absolutely stunning.
I spoke last week about catching a surprise shot during the recessional. Having seen the results and been impressed with the image, it was something I have tried repeating in other weddings. What makes capturing this shot so difficult is that I am dealing with a moving couple along with moving light. In most cases my off camera flash is stationary. To put it in motion adds another dynamic to the situation. Couple that with the fact that I need to shoot from an angle that blocks the flash unit, and my assistant out of the frame, and I have a very hit and miss situation.
In this week’s image I had all the ingredients come together in a photo that was a complete surprise. Not only were April and Brent getting almost too close to compose a clean shot, but the off camera flash was too close as well. Sometimes everything works out to capture that perfect image.
Photographing weddings in a onelight style makes for a very dynamic shooting environment at times. Experience is a good indicator of how the image will turn out, but there are times when the circumstances result in surprises. These surprises are photos that have not gone accord to plan and the results are way off from the intended image. Often these surprises turn out to be fantastic shots.
In Megan and Micah’ s wedding the plan was for my lighting assistant to make the exit from the ceremony just before the recessional. The chapel had no side aisles, and in order for us to have some off camera lighting on the exit from the church I needed him close to me. As the ceremony closed he did not get the signal in time and the bride and groom were off down the center aisle toward the back of the chapel.
A bit on the unconventional side, my assistant dropped in behind Megan and Micah and kept a consistent distance as they moved to the back door. My last photo of the two before they exited the chapel produced a perfectly rim-lit image. A shot that was certainly not planned but came out very nicely.
Nikon has been my camera of choice for many years now, but I don’t equate equipment to photographic ability. Knowing ones equipment thoroughly is most important, but this post isn’t about that. Capturing weddings with One Light atmosphere is paramount to my style, and using Nikon equipment allows me to accomplish this. Canon shooters are not without the ability, and any photographer has many options for accomplishing this look.
Syl Arena is on the forefront of the Canon speedlighting revolution with his Speedliter’s Handbook. Syl also goes into generous detail in using off camera flash in a newly released webcast. Not only does the webcast contain great info on the use of Canon equipment for off camera flash, but he also covers lighting essentials basic to off camera flash situation. Syl does a great job of breaking down the technical details regarding photographic lighting and how to use it to your advantage. This may not be the most interesting material for couples just looking to have beautiful wedding portraits made, but it is great information for those looking for a better understanding of how lighting works.
Capturing shots on the dance floor is one of the most exciting aspects of the reception. Everyone is having a great time, and it is an opportunity to shoot for the dramatic shot, not the safe shot. Mix in the DJ lighting, and as a photographer, I have the opportunity to create some stylish looks.
In most wedding photography situations I have to approach the scene with a cautious optimism, knowing that I need to capture the moment, as fleeting as it might be. This requires a good deal of planning and anticipation. Style certainly plays a big role, but the objective is always to capture the moment as creatively as possible without pushing the limit too far. Try to be overly creative and the moment is missed. With dance floor coverage the approach is completely different.
My objectives for capturing dance floor images is to catch people having fun, and create atmosphere through dramatic lighting. There are so many opportunities to capture “fun” on the dance floor, my focus can be on creative lighting. I touched on some of these topics in my onelight post several weeks back, when I talked about low ambient light shooting. The technique is the same but with all the opportunity for great shots I am free to shoot outside the box. I no longer have to approach the scene with the safety shot in mind.
I can quickly set my lighting, calculate my settings, and start looking for great opportunities. This might be interactions between individuals, a group having a fun time, or a spot with great emotional energy. This is my chance to play with shooting angles, lighting, composition, and interesting techniques. With the flash located in one spot of the dance area, I can move around the floor positioning myself to create different looks and atmosphere with each image. I can go from side-lighting to back-lighting quickly and easily. For additional versatility I put an assistant in charge of the light, which not only helps avoid any mishaps, but it also allows me to direct him to a new location if I see a particular shot that would work better with different lighting.
Wedding detail shots can sometimes be an area where a photographer might struggle to come up with something compelling. These are the shots of the cake, reception tables, flowers, decorations, and other important details of the wedding. Playing with composition and shallow depth of field are important aspects that help create good detail shots, but I often come across situations where I it is difficult to produce something dramatic. Using the onelight style gives me an additional element to work with, and adds the dynamic look I am after in these shots.
Fortunately with detail shots I can be a bit more methodical in my approach to the image. While I don’t have to worry about the subject moving, I am still pressed to get the shots quickly and move on to coverage of other wedding activities. Typically these shots come between the formals and reception, or between the ceremony and reception if the formals were done previous to the ceremony. Getting great shots requires efficient and creative shooting. My typical approach is to work my way from one side of the reception area to the other starting with the wedding cake.
Depending on lighting conditions my initial shot of each element is an ambient light shot with no flash. I then add the off camera flash from various angles to refine the look. Once I have a compelling shot I like I move on within the room. Of course there are times when I may forgo the ambient shots knowing from experience how a certain scene will look using onelight style. In these situations I rely on experience to compose the scene and capture it in a dramatic image.
Onelight style on wedding details
For the wedding detail shots I use the same principles as described in my previous onelight posts. By highlighting the subject I am able to bring focus to the areas of the image that are most important. Not only am I focusing attention, but the directional light has a more appealing look than direct flash.
Up to this point my coverage of onelight photography has focused on indoor wedding shooting. One of the areas that is most exciting and dramatic is using this style outdoors. I have mentioned previously that I like to oppose the sun with my flash resulting in dynamic images. I wanted to delve a bit deeper into this area and explain how I go about composing and developing the shot.
Ask any advanced photographer and they will tell you the quality of light is paramount to creating a beautiful image. Terminology such as the “Golden Hour” will be thrown around as well as shooting at sunrise and sunset. Photographers will almost always shy away from shooting in mid-day sunlight. Mid-day sunlight is considered very harsh light and yields heavy dark shadows on subjects resulting in unappealing images. With the onelight philosophy I turn a major disadvantage into an integral component of the image. The harsh light becomes a major component of the image and helps make the shot work.
When I arrive at the location and step into the shooting environment, I begin to analyze the area with respect to the sunlight. My first step is to determine the direction of light, and then coordinate this with an appealing background. I then start to establish placement of the subject (couple), flash and camera. During this process I am also deciding on lens selection and how that will play into the overall planning of the image. Once everything is in place I determine my camera settings to yield a good exposure for the sky and sun. Next is to set the flash power to balance the exposure of the subject with the surrounding scene. This of course is oversimplified to some degree, as there are other adjustments that can be made to the direction and position of the flash, the cone of light it emits, and any light modifiers that may be incorporated to further enhance the image.
From this point I tweak the look through camera settings, flash power, and light position to get the most dramatic image possible. Along with some directing of the subject I am able to attain an image that would otherwise be impossible in such harsh lighting conditions. Of course these principles apply to shooting during the “Golden Hour” as well. As seen in the image below of Stephanie and Jady, I balanced the light and composition with the sunset to create a lovely portrait.
With a systematic approach to the setup I am then able to focus on creativity and developing a beautiful and emotional image. This also allows me to work effectively in harsh outdoor light that would otherwise result in flat unappealing photos.
Ceremonies are by far the most complex and tricky situations to shoot in. There may not only be restrictions on where the photographer can go or the lighting equipment allowed (no flash), but the photographer must also work in a very discreet and non-intrusive manner. When it comes to onelight photography the ceremony presents a challenge that can be very difficult at times.
My first concern is good coverage of the couple from the start of the ceremony to finish. The biggest factor that plays into that is the amount of natural light and its direction within the venue. I then have to factor in how much space is available, and my ability to move about within the venue. My next consideration is artificial light, or off-camera flash and how I will incorporate that into the service, if allowed. I want to limit the movement of my lighting, but I also need to ensure that I can adequately light the couple for the style of shots I am trying to capture.
Typically flash placement will be up front near the altar, to the side of the couple, and outside the space taken up by seated guests. Once the flash placement is set I try to limit any changes in the position, not only to minimize disrupting the service but also to reduce the changes needed in camera settings. Similar to the reception I will create my compositions such that I take advantage of the flash placement.
The most stressful point to any ceremony is the conclusion and recessional. In a few short moments I have to make the switch from shooting the ceremony to repositioning the light and adjusting camera settings to adequately capture the recessional from the ceremony, a feat that is not possible without an assistant. This requires good communication and quick thinking on both our parts.
One area where I have the most fun with the style of onelight is in low ambient situations. In weddings I mostly encounter low ambient lighting during the reception, which tend to be later in the evening and indoors. Combine the indoor location with low ambient mood lighting or dance lighting, and the room is near darkness.
In low ambient type situations I tend to put the flash in one location and work around it. The placement might be one corner of the dance floor, behind the wedding couple’s table, or tucked off to the side of the room. From there I will work around the flash to produce different lighting angles and appearances to the images as I shoot. A favorite of mine is back-lighting the couple especially when on the dance floor. There are so many touching moments that occur as the couple interacts and those emotions can be enhanced by striking the right balance of detail between the ambient and back-lighting.
This style also makes for dramatic shots of all the action on the dance floor. With large groups it is good to capture more detail and expression so side-lighting is typically more pleasing rather than strong back-lighting. The mood and emotion is captured along with the fun and lively atmosphere making for fantastic reception shots.
On occasion I will drop the shutter speed to allow for more ambient light, also referred to as dragging the shutter. This has the effect of creating movement and action within the image while still maintaining the detail of the subject. While the effect is interesting, an entire set of images shot in this manner could very quickly become obnoxious, so I use this technique sparingly.
I carry over many of these same principles when shooting the ceremony. Next week I will touch on the ceremony aspect of the wedding day, and how I approach using onelight in those situations.