What’s Behind a High-End Wedding Image? A detailed look into the techniques in creating such images
Have you ever wondered what it takes to produce wedding photos that stand out from the rest? With the millions of wedding photos taken every year, some shots just take the shared experience to a new level. You know the type – the ones that make you stop with your jaw dropped when you flip through a wedding album. How do professional wedding photographers create those images?
If those questions have crossed your mind, you’re in luck. I’m about to explore some of the techniques commonly used to create those stunning photos that make a wedding package more than just another set of pictures. I believe you’ll see why these shots are usually included in premium wedding packages as well as the level of commitment they require from both the photographer and the subjects.
Photography is, simply, capturing light. Knowing how light behaves and how to control it is one of the most important aspects of photography. Weddings present many challenging lighting situations and overcoming the challenges is part of what sets the best photographers apart from the rest. What’s more, the top pros know how to utilize lighting tools to create special effects that make for truly outstanding images.
Often, a “specialty” wedding photo will utilize ambient lighting that’s challenging, in order to create a more dynamic image. That often calls for additional lighting, some of which needs to be managed by one or more assistants.
Let’s look at a couple of complex lighting setups for wedding photos.
For the engaging image above, the photographer chose to use bright sunlight as a hair light. This light had to be balanced with a strong fill light, to avoid harsh shadows and silhouetting. Because the camera angle was low and the subjects were posed casually, the correct placement of the fill light at the right moment was crucial.
While there are a few possible fill light sources that might have been effective, it’s apparent that the source was diffused enough to provide soft, flattering light without harsh shadows. Assuming that the source was silver matte reflectors, here’s a typical setup:
As you can see, the reflectors would provide portability and can easily be adjusted, but one assistant is required for each one. Each assistant would be constantly watching for shadows and adjusting the reflector to eliminate them.
Here’s another “specialty” shot that calls for extra lighting:
In this photo, the weak ambient light would have caused the subjects to blend in with the dark background. To create the rim light that outlines the bride and groom, a strobe with a focused beam was concealed behind them. In order to light their faces softly and create subtle modeling shadows, a second, more diffuse strobe was used to the lower right of the camera. This setup might have looked something like this:
The strobes would need to be synced to fire at the same time, which requires a remote trigger attached to the camera. To ensure that everything, including the couple is lined up perfectly, an assistant would be essential.
These setups are only a couple of small examples of the type of lighting that might be required for specialty shots. As you can see, a photographer may need one or two assistants and a wide array of equipment to be prepared for a high-end session.
Camera and Lens Choices
The opinions on what type of camera and lenses are required for a wedding photographer vary greatly. There are a lot of photographers out there shooting with kit cameras and lenses and doing a reasonably good job. When it comes to the kind of shots we’re discussing here, however, there are some minimum recommendations.
Many of those special wedding shots will need to be done in low light or high-contrast situations, both of which can generate considerable noise in a digital sensor. That noise translates to an unpleasant, grainy appearance in the images. Full-frame sensors are much less susceptible to this. In addition, full-frame cameras tend to have quieter shutters, faster continuous shooting rates and much better autofocus systems than crop-sensor models. For these and other reasons, a full-frame camera is a better choice for high-end photography, even though the cost is much higher.
Lens choices are also important. While it’s convenient to shoot with a zoom lens, it’s important that it has a wide enough maximum aperture for those low-light situations. Chromatic aberration, lens flare and distortion also need to be well controlled. That narrows the viable choices down considerably. In short, expensive, pro-quality glass is a must for the best results in these specialty shots.
Special Shooting Techniques
Turning out incredible wedding photos often involves mastering special techniques, too. For instance, high-speed sync flash photography involves setting the camera to work with a flash at higher-than-normal shutter speeds. Enabling this mode extends the duration of the flash, allowing the photographer to use creative techniques that produce unwanted results at normal sync speeds.
For example, when high-speed sync mode allows opening the aperture much wider than normal, to blur out a distracting background and retain sharp focus on the subject, while using the flash to provide the lighting needed and freeze any motion.
Skilled application of techniques like this is important to creating those awesome shots that make a wedding package special.
Many of the shots you’ll see in high-end wedding packages require not only more time to set up, but much more effort in preparing and posing the subjects. That means that getting these photos is more demanding for both the photographer and the subjects.
It’s important for the couple or anyone involved in these shoots to be aware of this and be prepared to be patient and understanding. For the photographer, scheduling these sessions at appropriate times is crucial. People skills are also an absolute necessity, especially when children are involved. It’s important for the subjects to enjoy themselves in order to convey that enjoyment in the photos.
Creating premium-quality wedding photographs is a complex process. The best of these images are the product of the right equipment and the expertise to get the most out of each component. Assistants are also a must in many situations. While the images may appear effortless, they require careful planning and execution, as well as the cooperation of everyone involved.