Stay away from the light!


In my last post I talked about David Zizer’s new seminar. This time around I’d like to talk a little bit about what I took away from the experience and how I plan to use it to make myself a better photographer.

Photojournalistic photography is all the rage now when it comes to weddings. If you get a group of wedding photographers together you’ll hear a lot of complaining about taking the formal shots. Most wedding photographers just hate them. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan either and I think it’s because I don’t feel that I can control the lighting in them to the same degree that I can control the lighting in my studio. Maybe I feel like no matter how hard I try I won’t be able to produce a truly great “classic” portrait because I just don’t have the tools on location that I do at home.

Then I see the work of someone like David Zizer.

What makes David’s work all the more incredible is that most of the time he’s only shooting with one off-camera strobe, and yet he manages to get formal portraits that are just magnificent. It doesn’t hurt that as the premiere wedding photographer in Ohio he gets to shoot in all of the most beautiful cathedrals in the state … but that would mean nothing if he wasn’t a superb photographer.

We all know that you’ve got to drag the shutter if you want to bring up the exposure in the background. What surprised me about David’s work was finding out that it’s not uncommon for him to shoot at 1/10 and 1/15th of a second. Without a tripod. He uses image stabilized lenses and shoot handheld only. I think that most wedding photographers don’t really think of image stabilization when it comes to wide angle lenses for formal shots. But David does. As a result he is able to bring up the background for incredible results.

So, last night after the wife and kids were in bed I pulled out my tripod mount camera flash and my shoot through umbrella and proceeded to take pictures of myself in the living room. I have more pictures of myself in my own living room thea you would ever think possible and I don’t think I’m alone in this situation. I imagine that a great many of the people who are reading this right now are laughing at themselves because they too have spent many a late night taking pictures of themselves while they try to work out some new lighting technique. 🙂

I set up my off-camera flash at about a 45 ° angle from my camera which was on a tripod. Then I sat down in the chair to compose the shot. What I did was, close my right eye and in turn my head so that I could just see the center of the umbrella with my left eye. This guaranteed that the umbrella would light up my eye on the shadow side of my face. I dropped the flash of power by about one third, set my fstop to 5.6 and my shutter speed at 1/15th of a second. Then, I put a gel on my flash head to better match my flash light to the ambient. The picture at the top of this post is the result.

Although I was capable of taking a picture like this before I took David’s workshop, I don’t know that I would have set it up in the same way. First of all, I have an intense fear of any shutter speed below a 60th of a second. But, as you can see in the shot I didn’t have any problems with blur. If you can get your bride to stand still you can really lower the shutter speed down and bring out the ambient light. Now, I’m quite aware that my dining room table covered with my wife’s scrap booking material is no substitute for a cathedral but I think it still served the purpose I needed it to serve. 🙂

I think that attending David’s seminar will definitely affect my photography for the better. I already feel that I am beginning to shift away from the idea that I need more light for my formal portraits. Less light, more controlled light, and slower shutter speeds (because I don’t have image stabilized wide angle lens… yet) are going to be much more widely used in the future.

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