Shooting an engagement portrait at dusk

It may seem odd for a photographer to admit that my favorite time to shoot pictures is after the sun has gone away. I just love dusk, and all the possibilities that come with it. The sky almost never looks as rich and interesting and full of different hues, and if you time it just right you can get a really nice balance between buildings that are lit up and the fading sunset.

So when clients call me and tell me that the best time for them to work with me is around noon, I often respond that that's fine, but I'd much rather be there in the evening. Fortunately, Christina & Chad here were interested in something that made it absolutely necessary to shoot in the evening. They wanted to work in the moon in their engagement photo.

Note how in the photo above the existing daylight brings out a lot of fairly unattractive features surrounding Charm City (that's Baltimore, hon). The highway and stuff in the bottom half of the frame is some clutter I can do without.

Now, I have a long tradition of trying to make shooting as complicated as possible, so I chose to move my two subjects to a spot where I'd not only have to balance the moon with the exposure on them (part flash, part setting sun) but that would also let me deal with a white-hot reflection from a building in the background. One last factor: it was mighty cold. The mercury was only in the high 30's when we set out, which wasn't too difficult, but we also had a brisk wind cutting across our hilltop perch.

Another problem.. after it rises, the moon climbs pretty rapidly off the horizon, so we only had a few minutes where it was even possible to compose the image so that the couple could be in the frame with it. After about five minutes of shooting this scene, I got them to stand up on a park bench while I lay on the ground a few feet away.

The moon — and the sun — being out of the picture made it easier, in some ways. I could now work with buildings and sky whose exposure wouldn't be changing quite so rapidly. Since I had my 70-200 on I was able to back up, shoot long and get an interesting pattern from the jumble of buildings behind them (about 1/2 a mile away). There's just one strobe in this photo, about 30 degrees off to the left and triggered by a pocket wizard. The problem was, with the wind I wasn't able to coach them very much as to what to do, so after just a few frames that didn't quite work out (note to self — reuse this next time, now that I know how cool it can look: but do it in warmer weather) I moved in closer and added another flash off to the right to separate them from the now much-darker background.

There wasn't a great deal of post-processing work that had to be done. I did, for most of the images, increase the saturation overall and also increased the luminosity in the orange range. When Adobe released recent versions of Lightroom and ACR I thought they were crazy to call skin tones orange, but for whatever reason it works very well with many skin hues. So it's a great way to pull up skin tones without lightening other colors of similar luminosity. Generally I do a bit of a contrast bump as well with digital images, as I find they come out of the camera a bit flat for my taste. To some degree your ability to light the subject and take advantage of the ability to manipulate the contrast in the scene itself will help, but the little bit of work done on the computer will almost always give your images that little extra spark.

You can see my final edits from this shoot here


A winter wedding in Maryland

One of the venues I love coming back to is Antrim 1844 Inn in Taneytown, Maryland. This charming facility has everything in one place, creating a mix of intimate environments and wider public spaces for celebrations. The historic main house is usually where couples prepare before the ceremony and then hold cocktail hour afterward, while the receptions I've attended have been in the more modern pavillion.

As a photographer, each area has it's own special challenges.

In the main house, you've got high ceilings, which is fine, but the main rooms have brightly-painted walls of all different colors. Now, I use an assistant when I shoot and here is where having another person holding your main light really pays off. (Actually, that pays off just about all the time, but when conditions aren't ideal an assistant really becomes a necessity.)

Every bride likes to make a grand entrance, and Antrim offers a very nice space for that on the main staircase in the house. But this is not an easy area to light. In this instance I had my assistant holding up one SB-800 on a monopod extended all the way, so that I could position it where it would act, essentially, like a bare bulb.

In this way I'm able to light both the bride and the groom, and not end up having to worry about a hot spot on the blue wall that's going to reflect much light back on the bride. There was a bit more falloff toward the groom than I would have liked here, but that can be fixed pretty easily in Lightroom by a simple curves adjustment.

The main rooms of the first floor also have walls of different colors, and keeping your white balance and skin tones looking right here is a bit tricky. Whatever light source you're using, whether it's sunlight or the tungsten bulbs in the fixtures, or flash, you're going to have a problem of color reflecting back on to your subjects. Again, by using one strobe placed up high like a bare bulb, you can create your own "improved" lighting.

The Pavillion is less of a challenge to light, but on a couple of occasions when I've attended afternoon weddings there, I've run in to the problem of a hot shaft of sunlight illuminating some of the guests, and because of the layout of the main room it seems I often end up having to shoot right in to the sun. I don't like to use flash during ceremonies, because I don't want to be a distraction to any of the guests, so it can be difficult. But at this wedding I was able to take advantage of the sun for an interesting effect. For much of the ceremony I avoided shooting in to the sun, because it was so extreme compared to the lighting values in the rest of the room and I don't like to use flash during a ceremony. So in most frames I was shooting with long lens and simply letting the background blow out, or trying to use the wedding guests to block the sun so I could avoid flare. But for just a few frames I decided to shoot almost straight in to the sun, and it ended up producing a very nice effect that was a bit of a surprise.

You can see all my favorite images from this wedding here.