Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wrestling With Light

I just finished reviewing the photos from my Niece's wedding. As wonderful as photography can be, the click of the shutter is only the start of a long, detailed process that includes file uploads, backups, selecting and editing the best images, and trying to weave them into a story that summarizes the main events of the day. If an album is the final product, there are covers to select, pages to format, and photos to crop and adjust.

Small weddings are the most fun, in my opinion. Sometimes big weddings can take on a personality all their own, not at all true to the personalities of the Bride and Groom. But here we're all one, new family, just getting know one another, learning to laugh together, and growing closer one conversation at a time. But aside from that, photographing the small wedding is less about documenting a choreographed spectacle, and more about capturing sincere, candid moments.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, working with a strong ambient light source can have a disastrous effect on the finished photo. The sunlight coming through the window would overpower all but the most powerful flashes, but it can be managed to a point where a very acceptable photo can be made. This shot was made by using two Nikon SB-800 speed lights mounted in tandem behind a Zumbrella shoot-through umbrella. By doubling the number of speed lights, I could bring the output a little closer to that of the incoming sunlight. And if I can get the speed lights close to the subject, an increase in intensity will automatically follow.

The last thing I learned was to not photograph the scene head on. See the shadows on the table? The direction tells you that the light is glancing off on a diagonal. This will cut down on the the brightness of the white table cloth considerably, and allow you to retain some small hint of detail. Now the "brights" and not quite as hot, and much more manageable. Remember the term "specular highlight", which is a fancy term for glare, and exactly what you're trying to control.

Now check the image as it came from the camera.

You can see the reflection of the Zumbrella in the window panes at camera left. I held the unit high and to the left, hoping to get the reflection away from the glass. Unfortunately, this was the best I could do, but luckily for me, I was able to clone some foliage into the affected pane and hide the reflection very nicely. With some perspective corrections and some slight Levels adjustments, the shot was done. 

I'd love to say that I had all of this planned well before I made the photo, but that would certainly be a "pants on fire" admission. Truth be known, you can't always predict with 100% certainty that a candid shot will properly come together. But if you shoot enough, and study your mistakes long enough, you'll compile your own list of do's and don'ts that will serve you well the next time you encounter a situation that on first glace, appears impossible to beat.