Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Paying It Forward...

So I just responded to a email I received from another photographer that was shooting a wedding I was attending -- one in which I was there just shooting as a friend for the couple that was getting married. My response to this email was pretty comprehensive by the time I was done with it - but I think I covered her questions pretty well. I am sure to have somebody ask similar questions in the future -- as I have in the past -- so I decided to just go ahead and post her email and my response to her so others might be able to get something out of it. Plus in the future I can just direct people that ask the same question to this blog post...

"Okay, I need help. I'm admitting it. That's that first step, right? Once again I have found myself doing a wedding that will be taking place this weekend in St. Pete. But remember... "I don't do weddings!" Or so I keep telling myself. I'm actually looking forward to this - if there was ever a wedding I would want to do, this would be it. However, I'm concerned about the results being similar to what I did for Jack and Jill. You expressed concern over my metering and I know EXACTLY what your talking about, however, I don't know how to alter it. I haven't used an external meter in 6 years but I know that you weren't using one either, so how do you trick you camera into metering correctly? I'm sure that the meter was picking up on her white dress or whatever and was being thrown off. I like to shoot with my straight 50mm lens (which is what we folks that don't have $1700 to spend on a lens use) and I like to shoot on aperture priority at 2.2 or 2.5 to blur the background as much as possible. How do I fix my metering problem? Any suggestions? I'd appreciate your feedback.
Jane Doe"

Shamefully I was not able to respond to this email when I first read it -- and then forgot about it. So Jane Doe emailed again last night with the following:

"Okay, obviously the wedding has come and gone and went well but if you have a sec to respond I would love to get your feedback since I know this is an area that you are passionate about. (see below) Thanks so much!

BTW, are you familiar with Zack Arias' lighting and do you like/use it?

Jane Doe"

I appreciated her caring enough to take the time to write again and ask for my input after I had forgot so here is what I sent her earlier:

"Jane Doe,

So sorry I forgot to respond to your previous email. I got it and read it but couldn't respond right then. It then got buried in my inbox and I forgot.

Your metering problem. No I was not using a external meter at the wedding -- but I was shooting on straight manual. A lot of the time I know when the meter might get fooled so I will check the histogram and image on the back of the camera and add or subtract more light as needed. Also -- another way around your metering problem -- you probably have been shooting with your camera set to average or 'evaluative' metering which takes a reading of various parts of the scene in the view finder and averages it out. This is where the meter can get fooled by say a bright window right behind a bride. It is reading that light source (the window) and may think that the brides face would be properly exposed at say f4 @ 1/125 of a second. But in actuality you might would need to be at f4@ 1/60th of a second or even slower in order to properly expose for her face. This is going to give a really blown out look to the window and might even create some lens flare -- which can be cool sometimes. Anyway - your camera's 'guess' would have had you a full stop off in this case.

Your options here are pretty simple. One -- as mentioned before since you have a digital camera you can check the display and histogram to see what kind of exposure you are getting (which is a luxury we didn't have in the film days) and adjust your exposure based on what you see. Two -- set your camera on spot metering or center weighted metering if you have it and set your camera where when you push the shutter button half-way to set your metering on the faces of your subjects and then recompose to your image to your liking while still holding down the shutter button half-way then push it all the way to take the shot. On a Canon you can set other buttons to do this same function too (see your owners manual -- I asume you can do the same with Nikon). And three -- you can set your exposure for the light coming from the window so you have a correct exposure on it and then use strobe/or flash to bring up the exposure on the bride so it matches what the light is outside -- giving you a correct exposure for both (or anything in between). The key is to get comfortable with how light works and effects exposure and then learn to control the camera and not let it control you. It just takes practice and learning to shoot in a deliberate fashion to get the result you want and not just what the camera thinks you want. Also -- if you shoot JPEG's and not RAW files -- big mistake. RAW files are the way to go. I will not get into that (in detail) -- but they give you a lot more options and control in post production. They are just better. A lot of people want to shoot JPEG's because they take up less room on their hard drives and you can set your camera where they might look better straight out of camera -- but that is the extent of the plus side of JPEG's vs. RAW files. Shoot RAW.

Shooting weddings with nice and fast glass can be a big plus -- but there is no reason why you should not be able to do brilliant work with a single 50mm lens. It is about the vision you have and how you make what you have work for you. I actually have very little gear myself in comparison to most commercial photographers -- but I (have to) make it work for me because I can't afford to go out and buy every single toy my heart may desire photography wise -- and my clients may not have the budget for me to rent all that I might 'want'. Don't get hung up on what you don't have -- make the most out of what you do have. You want some inspiration -- this photographer has created his whole 'look' through shooting with nothing other than a 'normal' lens -- which would be a 50mm in 35mm film format. His work is brilliant: Rodney Smith

Your question about being familiar with Zack Aria's lighting is a little confusing -- not sure what you mean because you talk about it as if it is a product or he has his own lighting style named after him? I personally know Zack -- he is a very talented shooter and a really nice down to earth guy. He is always sharing his knowledge and I think he teaches a great workshop which is based on using just one light and very little gear to get good results. I have never taken it myself - but know people that have and I know that what he teaches is valuable. But it is in no way his own 'style' of lighting. He lights the way other photographers have been lighting for years. He has a great vision and knows how to get dramatic and great results from minimal gear. He understands light and how it works, and on top of it all knows how to use locations to his advantage in a creative way. Add good people skills and you have a great (portrait) photographer.

I think my work is very similar to his in production value and lighting style. As I usually only shoot with one or two lights. And sometimes none at all if the available light is right. There is only a handful of times that I have shot using five or more lights though. Also -- speaking of workshops and all -- here are some great blogs you can learn a lot from:

Don Giannati: http://www.lighting-essentials.com/
(this guy is a friend and really nice guy -- he teaches a great workshop too.)

David Hobby: http://www.strobist.com/
(Also a good guy -- he teaches the occasional workshop as well)

Zack Arias: http://www.zarias.com/
(I already have given my thoughts on him.)

And of course you might get something out of reading mine. I always try and put something informative in when I make a blog post. Sometimes it might be something about lighting and sometimes I might just give insight into the struggles of the business. I do need to start making post more often -- as in at least once a week and not just once every month or so. You can check it out here:


Hope all this helps.



And here is an additional short note I sent her right after that:

"Also -- something I forgot to mention on all that. I pretty much leave my camera on manual all the time. This might sound daunting to somebody that is use to 'Av mode' / 'Tv mode' or straight 'Program'. But you do get use to it and shooting on manual will give you far more predictable and consistent results.


So all of this does not just apply to wedding photography -- but photography in general. I wish I had the time to go out and shoot shots as described to better illustrate what I am trying to explain -- but I hope anybody who reads this gets the picture. No pun intended.

I will also add that I think if you wanna shoot weddings -- you should always find another established wedding shooter and work as a second shooter/assistant with them for a while to get a feel for the flow of things before trying to shoot one on your own. A wedding is not something you wanna mess up for your client's sake and your own. There are no reshoots. Over time you will find a balance of what works best for you -- whether it be your camera on full auto, on manual or anything in between. What is important is the moments and emotions you actually capture effectively -- not how you capture them.

Side Note: I took the photo at the top while working as a second shooter for Karen Ann at Mac N' Cheese Photography this past December. It was lit with a Vivitar 283 off-camera bounced off the white ceiling at camera left. I figured it fit this post -- hope you like.


1 comment:

Stephanie Henningsen said...

Very helpful information as always - thanks for sharing.