OK, this is going to be a long one, so sit back and get ready to scroll down… A few weeks ago we had our last 3 assignment weekend of the season: A 2 location engagement session on Friday, a beach house wedding on Saturday and a St. Regis wedding on Sunday. Monday we slept in…
The engagement session with Mariam and Afshin was one of 2 we’ll be doing with this great couple. Soon we’ll be going to Las Vegas where the groom lives to do another full day of shooting. From the Neon Sign Bone Yard in the morning to exclusive after hours clubs in the late evening. These two are game for anything and love photography!
To shoot at the San Juan Capistrano Mission you have to have a large liability insurance policy on file, and they do charge per hour to use the location, but it’s worth it! We love it there. On this day, they were getting ready for a big fundraiser dinner all over the property, so we were a little challenged in that we couldn’t use some of our usual locations. This actually worked our great, because it forced us to try new things in an old familiar place. If you have the time, it’s a good idea to try this exercise once in a while. When you arrive at your shooting site imagine that you’re there for the first time and avoid using the spots you’ve used in the past. If you’re brave, also use wide angles where you would have gone long and vice-versa. A little reflector here, a little flash fill there, maybe a little lens flare, you get the idea…
After the Mission we went to the beach in south Laguna. The exact spot is a secret, and if you find it, be aware that I’ve buried 6 land mines in the sand and only I know where they are… No wait, there are only 5… I think… Just kidding. We like to get to the beach about one hour before sunset, that way we get good directional golden hour warm light and, if we’re lucky, a good sunset. Overcast works well too, for that we use a gold reflector to warm up the light a bit.
Here are a few of our favorite images:
We had great “PR” clouds that day! Here we did a little flash fill with the sun at our back. That’s the best way I know to get deep blue skies without large strobes.
The image on the left was shot under perfect conditions. Nice hair light from the back, the subjects are in the shadow of the large column, we filled in their faces with a white round reflector and the background highlights and color look great. Reflectors are much better than flash if you have one and someone or a light stand to hold it. A much larger light source means softer fill. And since it’s a continuos light source you see what you’re gonna get… Good light is always more important than good background. Getting both is even better. For most engagement sessions we bring 2 Nikon D3’s. One with a 24-70 2.8 and the other one with a 70-200 2.8 VR. One SB800 flash, an 85mm 1.4 and a 50mm 1.4; we don’t often use the fast fixed glass, but I bring them in case we go late. We also bring a white / gold-silver round reflector. No tripod. It’s easier to move, shoot in more locations and not get challenged by security people when you keep a low profile. We use different gear at the beach, more on that later…
Mirta crossed the street first and got a couple of shots of me working with our subjects as we headed to Starbucks for a little pick-me-up before going to the beach. For the following 2 shots I used a 24-70 2.8 on a Nikon D3 (full frame). For Mariam alone we got a little cloud that gave us nice soft light and a great background. A little tilt of the camera helped make the shot more interesting. I find working with wide angles more challenging than long lenses. Since you’re “showing” more and the backgrounds are more in focus it’s important to pay attention to leading lines, subject placement, background clutter, etc. For the street crossing I always direct the subjects not to look at me, instead to look at each other or ahead. It helps when you can get them to laugh a little.
The photo above was done before getting to the beach. Mariam faced the low sun and we filled it with on camera flash and a gold reflector. This was the 17-55 2.8 on a Nikon D300. We use the D300’s for beach sessions because the 70-200 gives us more reach on a DX sensor (smaller than full frame). All the other beach images were done with the 70-200 2.8 VR on a D300. I usually choose a high vantage point to avoid white sky when working at the beach with the long lens. Everything except the silhouette was shot on aperture preferred with lots of exposure compensation. I use aperture preferred most of the time, but rarely without exposure compensation. Mirta likes to shoot on manual exposure. The silhouette was shot on manual, that’s the only way you can get what you want, on an autoexposure mode the camera will often try to expose for the subject.
Friday night, the end of a great session! Wonderful couple, they chose the right clothing, we couldn’t have asked for better weather and I can’t think of more beautiful locations. Now to get home and get ready for the wedding on Saturday…
Saturday morning… Not a bad place to work, wouldn’t you say? This home is called Sul Mare. I think it means “Really cool house on the beach with a killer view and a full movie theatre in the basement” in Italian. If it doesn’t, it should… This home has an amazing history; the owners of the original home in this location were very well known TV stars, the current home is nothing short of spectacular! We’re here to photograph Niki and Kellan’s wedding. We started with details, architectural shots, etc. until the bride was ready. When working at a private residence, even one as nice and large as this one, one of the challenges is finding areas that are not being used for the wedding or reception. Indoors we took advantage of the amazing window light, and outside we used reflectors and our own version of the “fly swatter”, an oval translucent panel with a Westcott arm attached to a monopod and held over the subject by our most able assistant Kristin. Another challenge is photographing in the general direction of the setting sun and exposing both, the subject and the ocean and sky background well. You can’t do it with the flash on your camera, so we brought a self contained 600 watt Profoto AcuteB 600R unit with a zoom reflector to help us even out the light. This is a very nice unit, because it’s compact, recycles fast and you don’t need to plug it in so no one is going to trip on your cord. Here are some of the images from this beautiful wedding:
Here’s a little behind the scenes look: Top left below is the set up for the bouquet shots. I wanted nice sky and ocean in the background, so Kristin reflected for me; as you can see, I bounced the flash into the reflector. I’m sure the flash was 1 or 2 thirds overexposed, this was shot on manual with a little chimping. On the right is how we shot the group of the girls and the vertical of the Bride by the bed. Mostly window light with a little fill from the flash bounced off the ceiling. The flash was down about 2 stops. Bottom left is the area in the living room I used for most of the small family groups on the Bride’s side. Scroll up to see the images of Bride and Dad I’m shooting here. You can’t see her well but behind me is Kristin holding a reflector for a little fill, the window light was great, so I didn’t go with flash fill in this case. I love the 70-200, it allows you to isolate an area, you can’t tell it’s a crowded room and I’m shooting over a coffee table. The VR feature is great, I can shoot at relatively slow shutter speeds and still be tack sharp. The new version of that lens will be out soon and the VR is supposed to be even better. Cliff Mautner was raving about it on his blog. Bottom right is how we did some of the Brides portraits. A shady balcony area with bougainvilleas in front. The white reflector came in handy here. When we’re reflecting bright sun we usually don’t use the gold or silver side of reflectors, it’s too harsh and blinds the subject.
The Groom’s family photos were done outside. We used our translucent panel to block the sun and a reflector to throw a little light in for the groom alone above. For the groups we used flash fill.
Above and below are good examples of the light we get from the 600 W Profoto. Manual, low ISO, 250th shutter speed and the aperture changed according to sunlight and cloud changes. We use a Pocket Wizard Plus II Transceiver to trigger the flash. The portrait of the Bride and Groom below was with reflector only. It got a little overcast and I wanted a softer background.
Below left is the Profoto strobe set up on the balcony. I’m below shooting the groups. Having the balcony worked out great! When we don’t have that we extend the light stand and use weights to keep it safe. The photo on the right is of our assistant Kristin on the left and Mirta on the right. Mirta supervises all our post production and designs our albums. Kristin was one of our Brides and later started working with us. She does a great job for us!
The monopod is now used to hold a movie light. I still use flash here, but the light allows me to cut down on the flash and get more depth and modeling. This area was pretty dark, so the light (at about 1/2 power) also helped the camera focus accurately. Mirta took this photo from the balcony above. The close-up images of the cake cutting from the balcony turned out great!
Late Saturday night. The wedding was a success! We’re tired but very exited to have been a part of such a special day. The only thing that went wrong was that while running upstairs during the reception I tripped on the steps and banged up a D3 with a 70-200; fortunately we have backups for both, I’ll be at Nikon in El Segundo on Monday. It never fails, if you’re going to damage gear it will always happen when you have a job the next day. Tomorrow’s wedding is also a one location. Got to love that…
Sunday morning: The St. Regis is one of our favorite venues, we’re proud to be on their preferred vendors list. You never run out of great locations inside or outside, and the staff is always great! This is Margaret and James’ wedding day! We start at the Bridal suite of course. We always want to be there before the bride’s makeup is finished. Here’s Mirta shooting the bride and sporting her GOBEE belt pouch by Lauren Hillary. She loves her GoBee and that’s where she carries all her CF cards and a few other things. She may or may not be using a little flash fill, but at this point we always have the flash on the camera in case we need it. Usually it’s set at 2 or more stops down and bounced, we don’t want to “see the flash”. Using a little flash fill here and there correctly helps the image, the trick is to use as little as possible. Sometimes just enough to help with the color balance, put a catchlight in the subject’s eyes and help the camera focus (with that red light the flash has).
One of the St. Regis’ most recognizable spots is the Rotunda area (I don’t really know what the proper name is). This area can be challenging because of the light from the many windows around. Here I’m using the on-camera flash with 2 TTL extension cords shot through a translucent panel, this gives us a soft-box look and it’s done fast. They now have TTL radio triggers that do the same thing without the cable, but at this point only for Canon… I can’t wait till the Nikon version comes out. During this part of the coverage every minute counts!
This little guy on the left really took his job seriously. Mirta loves photographing kids! Just before the ceremony it got a little overcast. In fact, we had great weather, no wind and incredible skies all weekend!!
For these family groups we had to deal with a little backlight and all the relatives with cameras. We try to minimize the “competition” during the group photos, but you can’t tell aunt Betty she can’t shoot with her little camera. The problem is that often some of the subjects will look at Betty instead of us and we have to swap eyes or heads in post. When we have large groups and no steps I always use chairs if they’re available. Keeps the groups tighter and the faces larger without so much foreground and background…
Mirta went ahead to shoot the reception area decor while Kristin and I finished with the Bride and Groom portraits. Great late afternoon light! With a little help from a silver / gold reflector.
There were 2 videographers at this wedding, and they were using powerful lights. Sometimes that can be a problem, but I usually try to work with it. Here the light from a video camera on my left was the main light, the light from the camera in back gave the image a nice effect and I turned down the flash to work as a fill light. One of the many great things about digital is that you can experiment and have fun with this kind of situation.
That’s the end of our last, 3 event weekend! We had several this season and all 3 couples were very happy with their images. They are now picking their favorites for Mirta to design their albums. Nikon did a great job with the camera and the lens, as it turned out, both got damaged. We got them back in record time!
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The next Behind the Image post will be “Don’t be afraid of the Dark”. Stay tuned!