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Creative lighting


Perhaps you would be interested in a refreshing point of view on life’s smaller subjects, such as Gems and Champagne. I wanted to share this ring shot from a wedding I shot last night. I know the majority of this blog is just my personal images of my family- most shots are random, haphazard and unplanned. That is actually nearly the opposite of how I was trained as a photographer. In a studio it’s all about planning, control and predictability. One of the best things I have learned through photography is experimentation and pushing myself to risk trying something new. There’s a big however in here though. HOWEVER, I nearly don’t ever risk trying new experimental things on my clients. That is where the kids get to play my test subjects and that is what you sometimes see on here. But kids move. Toddlers don’t take direction very well. My kids get sick of me trying to get them to ‘help mommy out.’ For the most part, what ends up on Flickr is me just playing around. It is the place I don’t have to worry about only showing the perfect shots, the album-worthy finished images and I can’t just toss the experiments up there. Rarely, rarely do I get to use even a fraction of what I learned in a studio environment. Good light is ESSENTIAL to a great photograph. The best and nearly always easiest light to work with is natural light- it’s the most powerful and consistent. When working with clients, 95% of what I shoot is natural light and it’s great, so long as you understand the when, where and how to use the light to craft the kinds of shots you want. Then there is about 4.5% where I use a flash to simulate natural light (like lighting a dance floor). So all in all, I am left with half a percent where I really get to play with lighting based on what I have learned in a studio in a way that is creative and experimental and planned and edgy and pushes the envelope.

I have spent a lot of time studying other photographers images, figuring out the how and why they did what they did. A lot of the time I see a lot of the same thing over and over. Copying or influence, whichever it is, there are some obvious trends out there. There is also a basic expected standard of what a couple looks to get, a baseline standard so to speak. The best part of working as a photographer is taking that standard and blowing it away by exceeding expectations. I love the Weddings where the couple really infuses their true personalities into the day. Not just the personality that they think they should have or that they saw in a magazine. I really try to reflect in my imagery their real, honest style that defines who they are as people and as a couple. But I still almost always get the list of requested shots- B&G with parents, B&G kissing, G looking at B coming down the isle. This wedding I got a very specific one: Rings in a glass of bubbly. I though about this shot for over a week. It’s pretty generic, I’ve seen it before, over and over. So how do I make it different? How do I make this image that I am going to take, be amazing enough to blow their expectations and really pop? In this case, and so many others like it, the answer is lighting. The pose can be the same, the people can be the same, the place can be the same, but creative lighting can make the most dramatic difference. The following is the recipe for how and why I set up this photo to get what you see here.

So for this shot I could have brought the glass outside, evenly illuminating the rings so the shot is clear and in focus. That’s the easy answer. But here’s what I would have expected to happen: The reception started at Sunset, so the light is low, it’s not as bright outside as I’d like. To get rid of distractions in the background, I would have had to shoot against something plain and shoot with a really open f-stop (in this case, f/2.8 on my Macro lens) which only allows a small sliver of the rings to be in focus, so I would have lost focus on some of the stones and for sure the champagne glass. If I wanted more depth of field, I would have to slow down the shutter speed, and then the bubbles, which were quickly rising in the glass, would have been blurry. I would have taken about 10 of the same shot to ensure I got the focus right with no blur.

By using a flash, I can take the picture at a faster speed and a greater depth of field, getting more in focus. By using TWO flashes, I can create texture, depth and drama. I can also shoot nearly anywhere, as anything surrounding me that is darker than or out of the field of the light of my flashes will be black. Behind the glass was a couch filled with a handful of kids watching what I was doing and behind them windows looking out at boats, but you can’t even see them. The Macro lens was about 3 inches away from the glass. My camera was on Manual, set at ISO 200, my shutter speed was 1/200th of a second and my aperture was set to f/9.5. The first speedlight flash was attached to the hot shoe of my camera, powered down a bit and pointed at the ceiling. That way I am getting reflected light that fills in the backside of the rings. The second flash was sitting on the table about 12″ away from the glass to my left. It was fired with a remote sync system that fires both flashes at the same time. The second flash was pointed directly at the glass, also powered down a bit. That flash is what causes all the drama on the rings and refracted white light in the glass. The flash is also so fast it helps to freeze the bubbles rising up and so bright I can close down my aperture to get a greater amount of the rings in focus. Another secret is to tap the glass on the table right before shooting to dislodge a lot of the bubbles off the rings, otherwise they were getting too covered and you can’t see all the details of the stones. I learned that one with my first shot, and the one you see above is my second. That’s all I took before being forced to drink the Champagne in order to retrieve the rings. Just don’t tell anyone I was drinking on the job.

A little bit of understanding about lighting goes a long way, no?

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