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

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