Last night we were driving to a late night photographer get-together, and as I sat in the passenger seat I started thinking out loud about this little blog of ours and the direction that we want to take it this year…and we laughed together as we discussed the blog, because I could literally read photography or business blogs allllll day and night, and I love writing – but Rick is different. Rather than the “fluff,” as he calls it, he prefer blogs or articles that focus more on the technical aspects of photography, such as lighting and gear (I think it’s kind of a guy thing?!)…and I’m so thankful that he continues to grow and push us towards continuing to always learn more about lighting and the technical aspects of our craft – because on a wedding day, unlike most of our portrait sessions, you literally have almost no control over the natural light that you’ll have available, and it’s obviously incredibly important that a wedding photographer can deliver beautifully lit photos regardless of the situation, light, time of day, or the location. And the other challenge that plays into shooting weddings is that we often only have a few precious minutes to capture some great portraits! Last night we were out practicing studio lighting with some other awesome photographers in Atlanta, and as we took the time to set up backdrops and multiple lights, and to change settings and adjust the placement, we couldn’t help but think about how the opportunity to set up elaborate lighting scenarios just isn’t normally feasible on a wedding day – because you simply don’t have the time! And honestly, that’s what we love about shooting weddings – because every wedding is different, every lighting scenario is different, and we love the challenge of working to make photos that are creative and interesting and organic to the day in so many different situations, and staying on timeline as we do it!
Sometimes when I look at amazing photos that other people have taken at venues we’ve shot at, I’ll find myself wondering, “how did they SEE that?” That spot, that light, that background, that pose? What went through their mind as they chose their settings and created that photo? It’s just fascinating to me to try to think through someone’s thought process and to understand how they set up and took a shot, and to try to understand how and why they captured an image the way they did. And last night, when I asked Rick what he would like to read on a photography blog, that’s exactly what he said! He said he would love to read about the stories behind certain photos, to learn about the lighting, the lens selection, the settings, and most of all just the overall thought process behind cool images….and I couldn’t agree more. So today we want to kick off a new series here on the blog that I think you guys are really going to enjoy! Introducing “R+A Photo Stories,” where we dive into not only the technical aspects of an image and show our settings and an unedited version, but also our thought process as we set up and posed the shot, and (most importantly!) why we took a photo the way we did – because for us it always comes down to do creating natural photos that truly tell the story of the day and are going to mean something to our clients.
So, to kick this off, today we want to share one of our favorite groom portraits of all time, taken by Rick! This is David, our groom from our last wedding of 2014, and he’s awesome. Here’s the final edited shot:
We love this photo for so many reasons, but the main reason is that this photo really feels authentic to Dave+Nicole’s wedding day. When we look at this image, we can feel the mood and romance of their amazing Seattle venue (Sodo Park), we can feel his anticipation as he waited to see his bride for the first time and nervously played with his guitar pick.
So, let’s dive in and break down Rick’s thought process as his created this image. At the time this was taken, I was upstairs with the girls as Nicole prepared to get into her dress, and Rick was hanging out with Dave, who simply couldn’t wait to see her as his nervousness started to set in. One of the reasons that we love Sodo Park is because it has absolutely gorgeous light along its many banks of windows – and there are a ton of hallways and twists and turns and unexpected little gems within the building to take advantage of that light, so when Rick walked through this dark portion of the building near the bar area with only a few lamps and a bit of window light he immediately knew he wanted to take a portrait of Dave in that light. A few years ago, to be honest, we would have been terrified of such a dark room and would have escaped to the nice even overcast natural light outside, but these days when we see a darker room with a bit of window light we get super excited because we simply love this look and love playing with light and shadows! So, Rick asked him to take a seat in one of the chairs and to think about seeing Nicole for the first time in just a few minutes, and Dave sat down, took out his guitar pick to play with and give his fidgeting hands something to do, and looked out the window as he thought about his wife-to-be. For his first test shot of this scene, Rick actually took the photo in a different direction, as you can see in this SOOC (straight out of the camera, unedited) test shot:
Let’s start by talking a little bit about lens selection and settings: We love love love taking portraits with our 70-200. It’s one of our favorite lenses because it’s so versatile on a wedding day, and we absolutely love the compression that it gives at 200mm. Rick shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II, and he prefers zoom lenses, so on a typical wedding day he switches back and forth between the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8 depending on the situation, and takes almost all of his portraits with the 70-200 simply because we like the look, so that’s why he chose that lens for this shot. This was literally Rick’s first test shot of the scene, and you might be wondering why he had his ISO set so high when his shutter speed was all the way up at 1/200! As a general rule (mainly through the bad experience of getting motion blur when he shoots with the 70-200) he simply sets his shutter speed at 1/200 most of the time when he’s shooting with that lens. Right or wrong, on a wedding day it’s easy for things to start happening quickly, so staying at 1/200 or above allows him to zoom in to 200mm and (as long as his subject is not moving quickly) to get consistently tack sharp photos. Even though the L series lens has image stabilization, when his shutter speed dips down below 1/200 we often find that it results in blurry images, so we would rather bump up our ISO and embrace a little bit of grain rather than have our subject out of focus. So his ISO was quite high, because even at 2.8, he had to set his ISO up at 2500 in order to expose for David’s face at a shutter speed of 1/200.
Now, let’s talk about the lighting in this first shot. While Rick generally liked the way the light was falling on Dave’s face, he didn’t like the bright areas in the background because when you look at this image your eye goes to the brightest area first, which is the window area in the background – rather than the subject…so as soon as he had taken a few photos and checked out the back of his camera he knew he was going to make a change. In the direction that this first test photo was taken, you can see that the windows extend all the way to that back wall and light it up – but Rick saw that 180 degrees behind him the window bank actually ended and the room fell into darkness. So, in order to ensure that there were no super bright areas in the background so that Dave would better would stand out as the subject, Rick had him swing around 180 degrees to take advantage of the darker background on the other side of the room. And the second shot that Rick took was actually our favorite image of the entire series, here’s the SOOC unedited version:
For this shot Rick actually bumped his ISO up all the way to 3200, and the reason he did that was because he moved Dave down all the way past the last window, so that he had just a small kiss of light on him for a more dramatic look – and this creates a bit of grain in the image, but we absolutely LOVE how it looks! We love how he’s playing with his guitar pick, we love how his tie isn’t perfect, we love his expression as he thought about Nicole, we love how the light falls across his vest and creates that pattern of shadows, and we love how the lamp in the background adds a bit of ambiance and context. We love all of the little imperfections that make this image authentic and true to the day, and we love the way that using just a touch of window light can give such a beautiful and unique look. One of the things that we always strive to do is to take the best photos “in camera” that we can, and you can see if you compare this unedited version to the final edited version at the top of this post that all we did to this image was make a slight white balance correction to remove some of the redness – otherwise the final shot essentially needed no retouching. So that’s it! A little insight into our thought process on a wedding day, and a look into exactly how Rick created this awesome portrait of an awesome guy…hope you enjoyed it and we look forward to sharing about one of these a week going forward!
Do you have questions about this shot? Comment below or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!