Dave, a local attorney and friend came to me asking about portraits for an update to his website and profile pages. In “keeping it real” we decided to use the Bexar County Courthouse as the backdrop for the photo session. Plus I am thrilled anytime I get to shoot in downtown San Antonio. We went for a number of different looks throughout the shoot and overall we were both really excited with the results.
In typical fashion I used a couple of speedlights to add a little drama and dimension to the scene. Since the speedlights are small, quick, and easy to setup, they are great for location photo sessions. The drawback is they lack the high power light output of larger strobes but since we were not shooting under midday sun I had plenty of power to get the lighting and look we were going for.
Many of you may remember Stephanie’s wedding dress photos from last year. That will be a shoot I will not soon forget. It was one of the lengthiest shoots I have done. At a bit over 5 hours we covered a range of concepts and left the location exhausted. Stephanie had an endless supply of props; still don’t think we shot everything she had ideas for. The sky was absolutely perfect!! I feared for my equipment…electronics and water don’t mix. The fact that there was water in a San Antonio creek during a record drought was amazing.
Narrowing the photos down to the 10 I posted was extremely difficult. We had so many fantastic images, and I knew at some point I would revisit the images. One concept that I withheld from the first post was the snorkel and flipper shots. After browsing through the images again today I decided to post the one below. My tendency is always to shoot into the sunset. Everyone knows you get the most brilliant colors and supplementing that with some dramatic lighting makes for sensational photos. Once we moved into the larger pond area, the backdrop towards the sunset was not very appealing. With multiple obstructions and unclean lines I opted to shoot away from the sunset. Hey what do you know, there is that awesome sky now providing brilliant color in the opposite direction as well. The clouds added just the right mood and effect to make for an amazing background.
I debated putting this post up on my blog for commercial work, but the main blog here won out. This probably falls more in line with commercial photography, but the lighting and set ups are similar to what I might do for bridal portraits or an engagement shoot. The session was built around some concepts and ideas by Gambrell Renard. The purpose was to get together a group of creatives in different areas and produce some stunning images.
Gambrell produces custom home decor that is stylish and beautiful. The group of creatives included custom dress designer Valerie Perez of Verseau, custom jewelry designer and maker Diana Bolch, and custom furniture designer James Breaux of breaux-arts. To add to the all star list was Cassandra Lazenby, producer of Great Day SA to model for us.
Oh yeah, the location? Partially furnished unsold condos near Olmos Park in San Antonio. The goal was to get some great photographs that showcased the products in an artistic and stunning manner. Gambrell brought the concepts and masterminded the set design, which just left some lighting tweaks and composition on my part. Even running a bit late everything came together nicely and we were able to move through the various ideas and get some great images.
See Gambrell’s blog post for additional info on the table.
The basis for my style of photography is light, especially off camera lighting sometimes referred to in photography circles as one-light. I add auxiliary or additional light to 90% of my images. There are the occasional photos that are “natural” or ambient light only, but using additional light allows me to bring a sense of drama and atmosphere to the photos. I came across several photos today that give a good depiction of the lighting scenario that I might encounter in an indoor setting. These photos represent the various approaches that could be taken given the location, lighting, and composition of the scene.
The photos show a composition of an indoor table centerpiece that is heavily backlit by a nearby window. The first image is composed and created using settings that would yield a decent exposure for the centerpiece, but the background is “blown out”. In fact the brightness of the background is so great that it makes capturing the centerpiece somewhat difficult without losing a lot of detail and contrast in the subject.
The second image below is created using settings that capture the background in a more pleasing and interesting manner. The image reveals much better color and detail in the background, but you can see the main subject goes almost completely dark in shadow, with very little detail. This approach can produce an interesting silhouette of the subject, but in this case I would rather see the detail that went into the centerpiece.
The final image below, is created using directional off camera lighting that is balanced with the bright natural window light. Overall the image is better balanced in terms of the exposure, revealing beautiful detail in the background and stunning detail in the subject. The other aspect that brings a pleasing look to the subject is the directional lighting as opposed to “on-camera” flash. With the additional light coming in from the upper left of the subject, we have more dimensional lighting giving the subject a more interesting appearance. On-camera flash would have given the image a very flat and lifeless look. Overall the image has a nice dramatic atmosphere that enhances the beauty and appearance of the centerpiece.
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.
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.
First a bit of clarification on the terminology of onelight as used here. CAUTION - start total technical geek talk> since photography is built around light, the use of light is essential to great photography. In most situations natural ambient light would be present and could play a role in the exposure of the image. Ambient of course can be eliminated by using flash strobes and lighting equipment, and you will see many photographers who shoot this way especially in portrait type situations. My reference to onelight is the use of one artificial light source, or flash strobe. More specifically it is the use of that flash off camera, in other words, not attached to the hot shoe on the camera as you would traditionally see. I am technically not using just one light source since the ambient light typically plays a role in the image, but as an industry, photographers have embraced the “onelight” moniker to identify the style of using one flash off camera. <END total geek talk
So how does this apply to the bride and groom on their wedding day? Onelight has helped shape my wedding photography style. It has added a sense of dimension and drama to the images giving them a dynamic atmosphere. Outdoor settings are where I put this to use most effectively. I oppose flash against sun in an effort to overpower the strongest ambient light available. I am not really trying to overpower the sun completely, only to balance the light within the composition and give dimension to the subject. Sure this could be done with the flash on the camera, but that results in very flat light and no drama. Moving the flash off camera allows me to create shadow and depth; it allows me to bring atmosphere. Refer to one of my recent posts for an example.
The onelight style of photography is prevalent in most of my shooting. In the coming weeks I will touch on the different areas and how I use onelight specific to the situation I am in and the look I am trying to achieve.
For the Nikon shooters out there you may have come across the DtownTV website, but if not I wanted to drop a link here on my blog. Unfortunately they have ceased producing episodes, but on the bright side all the content is still up on the site.
Produced by Scott Kelby, they did a great job of showcasing the Nikon digital equipment line and giving some great tutorials on using the gear and what to look for when purchasing new stuff. Even if you are not a Nikon shooter there is still some good information within the episodes on lighting, composition, and getting the most from your SLR.
Shooting outdoors and mixing artificial with natural light is a challenge, but studio photography offers its own lighting challenges. One of the best additions we have made is to convert our garage into a ballet/studio space. This affords me the opportunity to spend more time with lighting set ups and adds a new option for doing portrait work. I still find outdoor shoots to be the most creative and enjoyable, but I now have a delightful setting for shooting a more formal look.