Leah and Rossi, married earlier that day, standing on the garden steps with the twilight sky behind them, the brides veil catching the breeze – in this shot it all came together.
Like most photographers I love working with the light at the start and end of the day, and when shooting weddings thats still the case. It is difficult to get the same kind of atmosphere when shooting with the harsh midday sun on a couple. Another reason to shoot late is to be able to bring in lighting, in this case a Nikon Speedlight SB910, to be the primary light source in the image. This gives me more control and the ability to make the subject stand out from their surroundings. If I had tried this earlier in the day the flashgun simply wouldn’t have been powerful enough to be anything other than a fill light, I’d have needed something like a Pro Foto kit to even think about overpowering midday sun.
Part one of any shot is the idea, in this case scouting out the perfect spot during my break in the afternoon, thinking about where the sun would set and where the best colours would most likely be. It can sometimes be easy to think when you’re doing something fairly technical like mixing flash and ambient that that in itself will be a great shot, but its not enough, while other photographers might applaud the technique, to the average punter on the street the lighting used doesn’t matter.
Its saturday evening, I’ve got the location and composition in my head, I’ve checked the sunset time so I know when i need to bring the couple over. I’m going to set everything up and do test exposures, and then bring the couple over when the shot is ready to go, there is no point having them stand around while I fiddle around with settings. I’m in manual exposure mode (as i always am with this kind of shot), first decide on appropriate aperture – F/6.3 gives enough depth of field and allows me to keep shutter and ISO at optimum levels (1/125th at ISO100). I need to factor in the rapidly darkening light levels so the exposure will probably have shifted by around one stop by the time I do the main shot. Next I bring in stand in models – some exuberant wedding guests – they’re going to stand in the middle of the steps to check the flash power. My assistant is holding the lighting (Nikon SB910, with 30″ Shoot through Umbrella modifier on a stand) to camera left, about 2 metres from subject. I’ve got a umbrella on the flash to soften the light, the umbrella is a 30 inch version to throw a wide, soft beam on subject. When I’m happy with the test shots its time to bring the couple over, the first exposure looks good but the brides face is in shadow so I bring the light a bit more front on, next shot nails it, a couple more poses and we’ve got enough. On a wedding day most people don’t want to spend hours having their picture taken and we’ve already done a load of shots in the afternoon, so its important to be able to get these shots done quickly without wasting every bodies time. Working with off camera lighting, subjects and a changing ambient light takes some practise – its not something to try for the first time on a paid gig!
You might be wondering how the brides veil happened to catch the breeze at that moment, it didn’t, there is a second assistant (the fiancee of the 1st assistant) who is holding the tip of the veil out, the secret to this shot is that it was a composite of two exposures. Both assistants are standing in the frame just to camera left of the couple, but thats OK because when we’ve done the shot I’ll shoot another frame with nobody and blend the two together, obviously thats only possible if you’re on a tripod and have the camera in exactly the same position as the first shot, so I had to be careful not to change focal length, and to remember to shoot the second ’empty’ frame! I knew from the start that I wanted to shoot quite a wide frame – which meant the lighting would have been too far away, if out of frame, and would have been throwing distracting light all over the steps in front of the couple, by having the light in frame I can get it exactly where I want it – a 45 degree angle left of Leah, and held above them. Also the closer it is, the relatively softer the light is – if the 30″ umbrella is 10 metres away it becomes a smaller light source and thus a harder light. In Photoshop I used the layer masking technique to blend the two images together (from RAW files).
When the main shot is is in the bank I can play around and try this Mary Poppins idea out….