During a real wedding, we don’t have the time to photograph our brides the way we can when working on a fashion assignment. We always enjoy shooting the bridal gown spread for Ceremony Magazine. This year we had that opportunity again. We did this shoot last June at one of our favorite venues, The St. Regis Monarch Beach in Laguna Beach, California. We photograph weddings there often, and it’s a real treat to take full advantage of the many beautiful locations this fabulous venue has to offer. We of course, could not blog these images until the magazine hit the news stands. Now that it’s out, we can share some of our favorites and how we photographed them, as well as the behind the scenes video by Alan Larson Films.
This is Mary Layson, one of the two models we were privileged to work with. She did a great job! It was a long day for everyone, and the models had many gown changes, including hair. I’m going to first show the final image, then the one right out of camera, and lastly the set up. We photographed about 10 gowns on this day. I’ll feature some of the others in future posts.
As you can see, this area was nicely back lit, and the white on white shot was no problem. The challenge was to show more drama and detail on the gown so that it would look it’s best and it would stand out, this was done mostly in post. Among other things, we darkened and enhanced the sky, toned the car down a bit, the driveway was enhanced, the expansion joint in the cement was eliminated, the palm tree fronds in the upper left were removed, the rod iron handrails on the left were eliminated by extending the hedge, the area on the right was toned down, including a bit of daylight peaking through the bushes, and the roundness of the columns was accentuated. The thing to keep in mind with this kind of image, is that it should be about the gown. All the other elements, including the models, should complement the gown. In the out-of-camera image the gown and the car are almost equally strong. In the final image, the gown wins!
Behind the scene… We had a great, partially overcast day with nice soft light. But, too much of a good thing is not always good. Even in a totally overcast day, the light is coming from one direction. In this case, because of the back light, we had to “fill” the front. This is our friend Mike Purdy on the right holding an Elinchrom 53″ Octa softbox on a painter’s pole. For this shoot we used an Elinchrom Quadra Ranger. 400 beautiful watts of light. It comes with 2 heads and an extra battery. The actual heads are smaller than a speedlight, very light and compact. The 2nd head is on a light stand on the left. It’s just raw light with only a small reflector. This 2nd light illuminated the back of the car, but not too much, I wanted the light to fade out in the back. The low angle allowed me to make the gown look more dramatic, and the wide angle lens gave me a nice perspective, the back of the car got smaller fast, and did not compete with the model. All these images were photographed with Nikon D3s bodies, and for this one I used a 24 to 70mm zoom close to 24 mm.
This is our other wonderful model Kim Daniels. Kim is also a very good friend, and an outstanding photographer . Mirta chose this location for this particular shot because the columns on the balcony complemented the sleek tall look of this gown. This image was done much earlier than the first one, the sun was nearly overhead and there was much more of it. I like the rich blue sky with puffy clouds. Just enough combination of clouds and blue sky to enhance the image, but not so much drama that would overpower the soft gown.
Here’s the out-of-camera image. Yes, because the sun was almost overhead, we had to use a Photoflex oval translucent panel… See the shadow on the floor? There is a little too much tilt, and there are a few too many flyaway hairs. Kim has great hair! This image was meant to be simple, not like the previous one, so there was not too much done in post other than reducing the shadow from the translucent panel, retouching, enhancing the colors and highlighting the gown.
Behind the scene… Lots going on here! There’s Mike again, this time holding the translucent panel on a monopod with the help of a Westcott reflector arm. On the left is our assistant Autumn holding a round silver reflector (feathered) for fill, and in the foreground is the Elinchrome Ranger with only one head in the Octa softbox at full power (400 w). I’m inside the building, between the columns, shooting with a 70-200. The exposure is 250th of a second, with 200 ISO and the aperture is around f 11 or smaller. Just right to render the blue sky nicely.
Lastly, here is Mary Layson again, this time in the beautiful Rotunda area. Mirta chose this spot because the intricate rod iron work of the staircase complemented the beautiful designs and textures of this gown. Again, we have diffused back light with a natural fill from the floor. Nice and even, but without side light, the texture in the gown wouldn’t show well. In post production we helped the color, enhanced the gown, lightened the face, and overall added contrast and “pop” to the image. We also removed the power outlet on the wall.
This out-of-camera image is pretty good… It’s nice to start out with a good file! Again, a low angle gave the model height. Placement of the head was important, I had to be careful to consider where the many diagonal lines in the background would end up. It’s easy to get carried away with your subject, especially when shooting a wide angle, and not notice distracting items in the background. A longer lens with shallower depth of field is more forgiving in this respect.
Behind the scene… My position for the actual shot was much lower. The lens is the 24-70 2.8, close to 24 mm. Autumn is holding the Elinchrom Quadra with the Octa softbox close to the model. This lighting system comes with a radio trigger that goes on the camera’s hot shoe. It allows me to test-fire from there, and also to change the intensity of the flash in very small increments. Sometimes though, as you’re shooting, you realize that you want the light closer, or moved slightly, that’s why working with an assistants is so much better and faster than having to stop shooting and moving a light stand.
Cross lighting the subject created more texture in the gown. Having the model look towards the light gave us a very nice, near Paramount (butterfly), light quality on her face. All exposures were made in Manual mode, in this kind of shoot, I usually use a light meter to establish a starting point. Using a light meter with digital is not as important as it was with film, because you can see what you’re getting on the back of the camera, but I think the light / flash meter allows you to arrive at the proper exposure faster and with less pops from the flash. When you’re working with a battery opperated flash system it’s a good idea not to drain your battery more than you have to. The new Lithium Ion batteries that now come with this Elenchrom flash are very efficient. We shot the whole day with one battery. I was very impressed by that!
I’ll do another post soon with more beautiful gowns from this shoot. Please feel free to leave comments or questions…