April 4, 2012

bridal portrait – working with the available light

This striking portrait is of Rachel, a bride whose wedding I photographed yesterday. Yes, a Tuesday wedding! The prep was at a hotel on the Jersey shore, and when Rachel was ready, I wanted to shoot a few straight-forward portraits there in the hotel. There was a lot of light in the hotel room itself, but the decor was white – which helps for high-key portraits. But I wanted some variety.

So I scouted around, and decided to do some photographs in the passage outside her hotel room. Since it was a wedding on the Jersey shore, and we did other portraits later on, on the beach, I thought this bright wallpaper wouldn’t be too inappropriate as a backdrop. Now it was just a question of light …

This pull-back shot shows the setting. I really prefer to get as simple a background as possible. An f2.8 telephoto zoom lens is essential here in compressing perspective, and eliminating clutter in the background.

It’s a technique that has been discussed several times here:
– making your images pop – through choice of lens
wedding day portraits – simplifying composition for effect
wedding day portraits – bride & bridesmaids


Now, even though the light here was soft, with the large panels of fluorescent light, the light is still top-heavy. So then it became a matter of directing Rachel’s gaze slightly upward so there are no shadows under her eyebrows. Clean open light. Just the way I like it.

It’s a specific approach, that helps in defining a specific style that I have – aiming for both simplicity and elegance.


camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session

  • camera settings for the image at the top: 1/100 @ f2.8 @ 1600 ISO


related articles


recommended 70-200mm lenses


help support this website

{ 20 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Christopher April 4, 2012 at 7:51 pm

You work inspires me so much
Something so simple and elegant


2 Steve Vequist April 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm


Great article as always. If the lighting from the tubes from the ceiling were not bright enough or created too harsh of down lighting for the situation, would you add flash with the “green” gel to match color temperature of fluorscent as you often due with CTS gels with Tungsten lighting.


3 Neil vN April 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Steve .. fluorescent lighting varies so much in color temperature, that I wouldn’t have bothered to gel the flash for it, aside from perhaps trying a 1/2 CTS gel just to see. If I encounter light that it bad for some reason, such as an ugly green color cast from industrial fluorescent lighting, then I will either go somewhere else where there is better light … or I would just under-expose the available light and dominate it with flash.

Neil vN


4 Stephen April 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm

More reinforcement of your philosophy that “available light is not random” (this time, indoors).


5 Jerry April 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I actually really love this background. It’s unexpected. The one question that I’d have for you is this: Why don’t I get hotel hallways with skylights? Great job.


6 Ben April 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Beautiful image, Neil! The while balance and skin tones are bang-on… May I ask how you determined your white balance settings? I always struggle with florescent lighting both in camera and in post.


7 Neil vN April 4, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Ben .. I checked the RAW file here, and it appears I shot this at 3250K … but the image was still too warm. So I adjusted it by eye on a calibrated monitor until I was happy with it. Really simple. However, it is essential to shoot in RAW.

Neil vN


8 Ben April 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Thanks Neil. Did you arrive at 3250k from eyeballing a test shot on the LCD or did you use a grey card or some other tool? I shoot with a D700 and Auto WB would almost never work out for me in this circumstance. P.S. – thanks for all the knowledge you share on this site… I have no idea where I would be today without it… Particularly with respect to bounce flash! Cheers!


9 Neil vN April 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Ben, I don’t even recall how I got to 3250K. It’s really not essential to how I work. No grey card eithr.

Neil vN


10 Trev April 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Stunning shot.

I know it’s an illusion, but where she is leaning against the wall, with the wallpaper pattern it looks like she has indented a soft fabric.

Looks great.



11 Josh Liba April 5, 2012 at 12:39 am

Wow, I thought that was daylight coming through those panels! Almost like a big softbox.

Great tips on not only finding a location, but posing the bride appropriately to open her face to the light. So often we forget that second part.


12 John April 5, 2012 at 3:11 am

The image looks fantastic, Neil. The hotel decor looks really nice too, except for those large white numbers in a jersey font painted on the wooden door!


13 William Ng April 5, 2012 at 3:16 am

Great photo. At first glance, I thought the light was from a big skylight!


14 Mazhar April 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hi Neil,

I heard that flourescent light can cause some random and ugly color casts due to flicker frequency that does not match with the shutter speed. Do you have any suggestions which shutter speed to use to avoid such problem? I heard about the very expensive kino flows for studio lighting that have very high frequency to avoid such problem.


15 naftoli April 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm

mhazer if u shoot at 1/60 of a sec. or slower u should have more consistent color, i would shoot at faster speed though and fix it later, its raw ;)

neil great pose! is the bride resting her front foot on something to get up higher or is she just bending her toes down, or is her foot up against the wall ?


16 sheri j April 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

simply beautiful and I love how you share what it took to get the shot, I look forward to seeing the rest of the images :)


17 Mclain April 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

I have never encountered such a well lit hallway. Nice :-)


18 canonwire April 10, 2012 at 10:50 am

neil, did you shoot this at 200mm? Just curious…


19 Nico van Velden May 1, 2012 at 3:40 am

Hi Neil, I wonder: how do you get those nice and soft colors on the skin of persons you photographed. What kind of post processing do you do ? I hardly can imagine that the softness and colors come out of the camera’s just like that :)


20 Neil vN May 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: