Photo Recipes: Mixed Lighting Bridal Shoot
Mixed Lighting Bridal Shoot
Today I am giving you a behind-the-scenes look at a bridal shoot taken on location in a church. This time, our goal is still to mix the existing light with the light from our flash so the image doesn’t look like it’s lit with a flash (even though we know it is), but we’re going to focus on controlling the room light behind our bride, rather than using window light as an edge light, as we did last issue.
We’re not breaking any new ground here regarding positioning—it’s a classic bride-standing-in-the-aisle shot, but the area behind her is dimly lit and we want to see that in our image (seeing the church she was married in is very important to the bride). We’re going to work to control the lighting in the background so we get a nice blend.
This behind-the-scenes shot shows the simple, one-light setup I’m using for this shoot. I’m using an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with one flash head running off a small portable battery pack, and a small square 27″ softbox. (You can do this exact same thing with a hot-shoe flash and a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox Softbox, like the Joe McNally Signature series.) It’s mounted on a regular old lightweight light stand. So, why not use a monopod mount like we did with the groom at the other shoot? Because when you want to break between shoots, you don’t have to look for a place to lean it against or a table to sit it on—you just put it down on the floor, so it’s totally a convenience thing.
When I’m shooting on-location flash, I have a formula for getting the look I’m after. First, turn off the flash, switch to Manual mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/125. (This is my standard shutter speed starting point when I’m shooting location flash. It’s kind of a nice, safe starting point that works.) Now move the f-stop until the meter inside your viewfinder shows your exposure is correct (it’s not under- or overexposed; it’s the proper exposure). If you can’t get to an f-stop that makes a proper exposure (it can get pretty dark in a church), you may have to raise your ISO a bit, say from 100 to 200 or 200 to 400.
Now, I darken the exposure by at least one stop so I’m intentionally underexposing. If my camera said that at f/2.8 my exposure was correct, I raise it to f/4 to darken it by a full stop, and take another test shot. I’m trying to make the bride so dark that she’s a silhouette, and by darkening the scene a bit more, she is. I’m doing this because I want the bride lit with only the light from my flash, not the ambient light. I want the ambient light to only light the room behind her.
There’s one problem with this shot, and it’s that the background (the church) is a little too dark. This is where the shutter speed control comes in because it controls the room lights. Think of it as a dimmer switch for the church lights. If you need to turn up the lights a bit, all you have to do is lower the shutter speed a little. Let’s go from my regular starting place of 1/125 down to 1/60 and see how that looks.
Once your subject looks like a silhouette (with only the light from behind lighting the room and not your subject), turn on the flash with a very low power setting and take a test shot (shown here). The light itself looks okay, but the whole scene just looks a bit too bright and that keeps the light from mixing well, so it doesn’t look really beautiful quite yet. However, you can really see the difference lowering the shutter speed from 1/125 down to 1/60 did—the church behind her is much brighter. In fact, I think it’s now too bright, so that was too big a drop in shutter speed. I’m going to have to split the difference. Move the shutter speed up a bit to dim the background lights from where they are now. It doesn’t change the power or brightness of the flash—this just affects the background lighting (remember the dimmer analogy).
In this behind-the-scenes shot, I rotated the camera to get a vertical shot, raised the shutter speed to 1/80, and took another test shot. I haven’t changed the power of the light yet at all—it’s around 1/4 power.
Now you can see we’re starting to get there. The 1/80 shutter speed seems like the sweet spot, so now if
I make any changes, I’ll probably slightly raise or lower the power of the strobe itself to make sure the light isn’t too bright (a common mistake). If we want it to blend and look natural, it can’t look flashy. It has to make you wonder, “Is that lit with a flash?”
I use this technique shown here to make the lighting look even better and more dramatic. Once I have a shot where the balance looks pretty good, I take it into Adobe Camera Raw or the Develop module in Lightroom (they’re the exact same thing). I go to the Effects panel, under Post-Crop Vignetting, and drag the Amount slider to the left a little bit to darken the edges around the image, which helps to create a more directional look to the lighting. It looks like the light is centered on the subject and it falls off to dark around her. It’s a simple thing, but it has big impact. Just remember to make this a subtle amount. Now compare this with the image in Figure Six to see how darkening the edges enhances the light.
After looking at the previous image up close, I felt that the area around her eyes looked a little dark, so I had my first assistant, Brad Moore, bring in a reflector to bounce some of the light from the flash back into her eyes. We took a test shot using the silver side of the reflector and it was too bright and too harsh, so we flipped over the reflector to the white side and that did the trick.
Someone pointed out a problem when I posted my final image on Twitter. This person noted the bright area of light in the stained glass window to the left of the bride and pointed out that if this was someone else’s image and I were critiquing it on our weekly show The Grid (where once a month, we do blind critiques of submitted images), that I would say it’s distracting. He was right; that’s exactly what I would have said.
I used the Patch tool (nested under the Spot Healing Brush tool [J]) in Photoshop to remove it. Draw a loose selection around what you want to remove (as shown here), then click the tool inside that selected area and drag to an area with similar tones somewhere else in the image. It snaps back into place and the problem is gone! It works amazingly well in most cases. In this particular case, I dragged straight downward to another area of stained glass and it worked perfectly the first time.
Here’s the final image again, with my “finishing moves” of darkening the edges with a vignette (just like before) and the standard portrait retouching stuff (removing blemishes, smoothing skin, etc.).
I hope this article helped you see the light (totally intended pun) on two things: First, the shutter speed controls the amount of light in the room. (If you wanted it completely black behind her, raise the shutter speed to 1/200 with strobes, and 1/250 with hot-shoe flash.) Second, your job is to keep the lighting looking soft and subtle by doing test shots and then looking at the shot and seeing if it’s too flashy. Less is more in situations like that, so if you were going to underlight or overlight, it will look more natural underlit.