Flash technique for sunny days

Last week I shot an engagement session that started earlier in the day than I prefer. Most photographers will try to shoot during the “golden hour” just before sunset because you generally get the best light then and maybe a great sunset to work with. For this session, we started about three hours before sunset with no clouds in sight. Fighting the sun can be a challenge sometimes but it also offers some great opportunities for unique shots.

I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa Bay, FL and these pictures were taken in Sawgrass Lake Park.

For this shot I used a 70-200mm zoom  and a Canon 580EX on  a tripod with a shoot-thru umbrella. The first thing I did was set up the camera for the husband in the back. Right away you have to figure that you’ll be shooting at the highest flash sync-speed possible all day, which for the Canon is 250/th of a sec. So, that’s my starting point. Then I bring the exposure up until I am getting a decent exposure of the husband (in this case, f4).

Now, he’s a little blown out, I know, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted the wife to be perfect and him to be a little sun-blasted. Once I had the exposure dialed in for the husband I set my flash power to match. On a bright day, the flash will be at full power most of the time. I fine tune the settings by moving the light closer or farther from the subject. Notice that both husband and bride are being lit from the same side? That’s the benefit of off-camera flash. It looks like they are both standing in the sun when in fact she is in shade and the flash is filling in for sunlight.

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What metering mode to use when photographing a wedding

Trying to decide which metering mode to use when photographing a wedding is a bit of a pain. It doesn’t help that there are four different modes to choose from, each with an icon that you need a Rosetta Stone to decipher. Last night I took some photographs that will hopefully shed a little light on the modes I use most: Evaluative (Matrix) and Center Weighted Average.

Evaluative meter mode is the most sophisticated meter mode in the camera. The meter reads the entire scene and then, get this, tries to figure out what you’re taking a picture of. The software has thousands of sample readings from different scenarios in its memory. It compares the readings from your image against the database. So, if the software “sees” all dark on the bottom and all light on the top it thinks, “Must be a landscape!” and alters the exposure a little. Dark in the middle and light all around the outside “Portrait!” Adjust, adjust, adjust …

Here’s another cool thing about Evaluative metering: It’s the only mode that takes into account what the camera is actually focusing on. The meter reads the entire scene but pays special attention to the focus points when determining exposure. This is way cool. If you are taking a portrait and you put the focusing point on the subjects face, the camera will give added consideration to the face when determining exposure. Perfect!

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How to take great family pictures

I think that most people believe that the key to taking good pictures is mostly technical. First you need a good camera and then you need to learn all the advanced trigonometry and physics necessary to use said camera. (“So, a higher ISO means more light but a higher shutter speed means less light?   What?)   All that stuff is necessary, sure, but let’s not overlook the thing that’s really important:   Memories.

Always ask “Why?”
Every time you reach for your camera, ask yourself, “Why am I taking a picture? Why did I reach for my camera?” Most of the time it’s one of two things: Either you want to preserve a memory, or you saw something that sparked a memory in you and you want to record it. If you approach the picture with that in mind, you will take better, more meaningful pictures of your family.

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My kids were putting out Halloween decorations last year and I grabbed my camera to record the memory. Don’t stand your kids up and take a snapshot. You have thousands of snapshots of your kids and they all look the same. Instead, ask “Why?” In this case, the reason I was taking pictures was because my children were putting out decorations. The decorations were the memory… the process. So, I focused on the decorations, not the children. My technical knowledge allows me to take the picture from the proper angle with the proper light, etc, but it’s my desire to preserve the memory of my children decorating the house that leads me to create an image that is unique and so much better than a snapshot.

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Wedding album design

This may sound strange, but designing a wedding album can be more stressful than actually taking the pictures. When you’re  shooting a wedding,  you try all sorts of different techniques to get the shot.   That way  you have a lot of options available to  you later when designing the album. However, when designing the album, you don’t have the luxury of “covering  your bases,” so to speak. You have to take 700 images and eliminate down to 60-100. There are a lot of criteria to meet:

  • Do these images tell the story of the day?
  • Do you have all the formal and family shots that the client wants?
  • Does this client like big pictures or lots of small ones?
  • What’s more important to the client: beautiful formal pictures or candid fun ones?

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Depth of field and light at a Wedding or Bar Mitzvah

Many wedding and Bar Mitzvah photographers find themselves in a bit of a pickle when they are first starting out.  You’ve looked at hundreds of websites and seen all these incredible, artistic wedding pictures and decided “I want to do that.”   So, you buy all the equipment, flashes and fast lenses that you can afford and set out to create beautiful, moving images.   You spend all this time and energy in pursuit of the artistic and then suddenly discover that you can’t shoot the mundane … and let me tell you, there is a lot of mundane to shoot at a 7-hour wedding.  

It’s not our fault that we don’t always learn how to take these shots.   They aren’t the sort of shots that get featured on the web or in the pages of a magazine.  It’s great to see those beautiful shots of an outdoor wedding and the incredible formals but  what about  the other 500 pictures  the photographer  took? You know, the ones in the dark hall with the dancing people? You don’t see many of those on the ol’ website because they aren’t quite as dynamic.  Still, being able to take a good table shot or dancing shot is every bit as important as the perfectly lit formal.  For some clients it may be more important, depending on who is sitting at the table or dancing on the floor.  

My first rule of photography is this: Get the shot. First, learn how to get the shot, any shot, in any situation.  Then, learn how to get it in an artistic and creative way (if needed). Don’t spend so much time learning the “hard” shots that you neglect to learn the “easy” ones.  You may find that the “easy” ones aren’t so easy after all.

Let’s take a look at  some pictures from a recent Bat Mitzvah that I photographed in Tampa.  I’ll start with a “hard” one:

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Taking pictures of the cake, the dress and the rings at a wedding

One of the things that makes Wedding Photography such a challenge is that you have to be able to wear so many hats.   When I shoot a portrait session I have to be able to light and shoot a portrait session with a model (following directions) and retouch the images.

When I shoot a wedding, I have to be able to do the same thing as a portrait shoot …  as well as shoot in low-light in the church and at the reception, shoot action in low-light, shoot as a photojournalist and capture events that tell a story, shoot products, retouch everything and design an album that showcases the day. It’s a lot of hats.

What’s funny to me is how much of a kick I get out of “product” shots at a wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I love every element and get giddy as a schoolgirl when  I pull off an amazing shot, but I never thought I would enjoy the “product” shots as much as I do. “Product” shots are what I call the static shots of rings, flowers, tables, rooms, cakes, etc. that you have to take in order to capture everything about the day … the little details that people will be glad they have a picture of in years to come.

I can say with all sincerity that I would never want to be a catalog photographer. It would bore me to tears, I think. But I also think that I might understand the fellow photogs who do that work after seeing how excited I can get over a picture of a cake.

The trick is to approach the shot like it’s the most important one of the day. That way you really get a kick out of nailing it.

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This particular cake was in a hall that was completely white. White ceiling, white walls, white, white, white. However, there was one spot in the whole place with color and it happened to be right behind the cake. There were also some fake trees back there.

I shot this handheld with on-camera flash pointed off to my left. It really didn’t take much work at all but I just love it. I moved the trees a few times to see how I liked it but eventually ended up using the very first shot. Cake shots are probably the easiest of the “product” shots at a wedding.

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Balancing flash with ambient light outdoors

Trying to balance your flash with bright sunlight for an outdoor portrait scares the pants off people. It’s one of those things that seems so hard to do, especially if you are using off-camera flash without TTL. In that case, it’s all math and numbers and my head starts to hurt just thinking about it. Fortunately, it’s not really that difficult to do once you learn a few tricks.

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Wedding Photography and Bounce Flash

I’ve been trying to write about bounce flash at weddings for about an hour now. The problem with explaining bounce flash is that it seems simple at first (just point the flash over your shoulder!) but then there’s a snag … a situation where that doesn’t quite work. So, you talk about the snag, which leads you down another path (diffusers and bounce cards!) … which veers off into some other tangent (shadows and background!) and the next thing you know you’re typing the words “raccoon” and “inverse square law” in the same sentence and you just have to stop.

So, here’s what I’m going to do:   I’m going to post some pictures from a recent wedding and talk about the lighting in each one. Hopefully I will be able to stay on topic. (By the way, I am a wedding photographer in Tampa, FL and no raccoons were harmed in the writing of this article.)

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This particular wedding reception was in a small room with low ceilings that were white (mana from heaven for a bounce flash photographer). I was able to shoot with my flash pointed back over my left shoulder most of the night. I think a lot of people tend to believe that you either bounce off a wall or you bounce off the ceiling in front of you. It’s important to realize that you can bounce off the ceiling behind you as well (especially if it’s low). You will typically lose some light, since most of it will bounce to the back of the room but you’ll still get some back from the ceiling, tablecloths, walls, etc.   I had my flash dialed up to +1 most of the night. Could I have taken this shot with a diffuser or direct flash? Sure, but I would have lost contrast in the subject. The reason the dancing man stands out is because the light falls off across his body (notice the shadow on his face).

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What equipment do I need to be a wedding photographer?

 

I was thinking today about what I would have liked to known when I was first starting out as a wedding photographer in Tampa and realized that, despite the wealth of information available to the newby, I don’t recall ever seeing a detailed breakdown of the equipment a typical wedding photographer carries to a shoot. So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the equipment in my bag with comments about how I use it. This is, by no means, a definitive list. It’s just what I am carrying right now and could change at any time.

(2) Canon 40D – The Canon 40D may not be the best that Canon has to offer but it will certainly get the job done. Don’t get too caught up in the rush to buy the newest and most advanced camera available. The cheapest DSLR on the market is still light-years more advanced than every camera that came before it. Personally, I prefer two identical camera bodies. It’s a comfort to me that I can grab either camera and get the same results.

(4) Camera Batteries – One battery in each camera body and two backups. I don’t use a battery grip with my camera. I’ll admit I envy the convenience of the added controls so that you can hold the camera in portrait mode the same way you do in landscape but I’m put off by the extra bulk and weight. If I found myself frequently changing batteries during a shoot I would probably get a grip, but I rarely have to use my backup batteries.

(1) Black Rapid Strap (1) standard strapI’ve written about this before. When I feel it necessary to carry both cameras, I have a second strap around my neck. Both my camera’s have Manfrotto tripod mounts on the bottom and I attach the straps there with speed clips. Typically, I will wear both straps during the ceremony and sometimes during the reception. I just attach the camera’s as needed.

Lenses:

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Sigma 18-50, f2.8 – This is my main lens and is on my camera 90% 0f the time.

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Wedding Photography and Using Your Surroundings

One of the things that quickly distinguishes a professional photographer from an amateur is the ability to select a good location for a portrait (also, professional photographers have an air of mystery and suave intrigue about them, like James Bond).   I see this every weekend when I’m shooting weddings (I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa, FL). People have a  preconceived idea about how a photograph should look. They’ve seen wedding photographs before and they’ve seen tons of pictures taken at the portrait studio in the mall (or at school) and so, subconsciously,   they believe that’s what a good picture looks like. (Not that they aren’t good. Don’t write me a nasty email, Mr. School Photographer. I shoot them too…) A good example of this at a wedding is that most people expect me to take a group  and family portraits on the altar–and many times I don’t.

If you look at any good portrait photographer who works primarily on location you’ll see a common thread. They have a knack for looking at the surroundings and figuring out the best way to place their subjects. Being able to manipulate your surroundings  to your advantage  will help you in every type of photography that you do. In wedding photography,  it can be the difference between a good picture and a great one.

With that in mind, I thought I might post some pictures from a recent wedding and talk about how I manipulated  my surroundings to create, what I think, are better pictures. I’m just going to concentrate on posed shots this time around and maybe later I’ll do a post on candids.

This first picture was taken just before the bride  left the dressing room to go and start the ceremony. We were already running 10 minutes late  and the wedding planner was dragging her out the door when I stopped her.

“Can I just have 30 seconds?” I quickly closed the door and opened the blinds.   Then I said, “somebody turn out the lights.”   This shot is nothing but window light and a gray wall.

Window light and a gray wall
Window light and a gray wall

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