July 21, 2009

I received a great comment on this image from a recent engagement session I photographed, and I thought I’d expand a little bit on the technique and way of working with a couple.

Jeffrey Steele wrote: 

Heck of a capture!  The bokeh is awesome.  Not sure if it was intended but the brightness of the red and yellow lights behind each couples heads has a dramatic play from left to right forcing the eye to center right in on the couple.

I especially enjoy seeing the engagement stuff as its tough to get creative with that sort of thing. These look great, I am sure they are very excited about their upcoming wedding photos.

Now, the way the lights appeared behind them were intentional, but was also accidental in it wasn’t quite predictable.  When photographing a couple for their portrait session, I try for a natural look.  Even though the particular spot and placement is directed, I still very much aim for a spontaneous and intimate look.  I want to photograph the couple as *they* appear, and therefore the style is less formally posed and more relaxed.  Much of what we do, is to get some of the way the couple interact with each other.  The session after all should be about trying to show some of their relationship.

With this in mind, during the photo session I allow the couple to talk and cuddle and just be with one another, while I stand back with a 70-200mm lens.  The longer focal length helps isolate them; and then I also use an aperture between f4 and f2.8 – for this sequence, my aperture did vary from f2.8 to f3.5 as I felt needed to.  So in the slide-show you will see some slight variation in exposure. 

I chose this spot to photograph the couple when I saw the traffic lights change in the background, knowing that it would appear as large out of focus colored areas in the background. The cars, buses and trucks moving by in the background also meant the background constantly changed.  So I deliberately placed them there on the sidewalk.  And then I would also fluidly change my position by a few inches or a foot or two, just to place the highlights in a specific way in the background.  However, I didn’t try to get a static pose and position, since that would work against the style of photography here. On some level this has to be an instinctive response where part of your brain says, “ooh nice!”. This also makes it a matter of chance as to precisely what you’re going to get in the end.

Here is a slideshow of 19 images from the approximately 40 that I shot here in 2 or 3 sequences.  It will hopefully show some of the technique in how I frame my subjects and move my position to change the background ..

I would go up to the couple every dozen or more frames to show them some images on my camera’s LCD. Allowing the couple to see what we’re getting is an incredible help since the couple is now even more involved in the process.

As mentioned, since the style of photography isn’t formally posed and is more spontaneous, there will be many images where either of them will blink or talk or have an expression caught in a way that isn’t flattering. These images are usually ignored during the post-production of the session. Only the images where everything falls into place, are edited in as part of the final selection of images that are presented to the couple.

 

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 john July 21, 2009 at 5:49 am

Neil
Very nice sequence,and great work.
I assume that is the traffic light to the right of the mans head and the bus or truck to the left of the womens head! As I watch the slide show I can see you moving to the side just a bit.
Of the 19 or so photos in this sequence, how many were presnted to the couple? all are good to me but, didnt know if you just picked a few or showed all the photos in the sequence.
Thanks John

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2 Daniel July 21, 2009 at 8:20 am

I am curious… you are always able to render skin tones that look perfect to me on any monitor.. I know you don’t stress too hard about WB, but sometimes it can be difficult. I am assuming here you were shooting in open shade? What wb do you use for the shoot, knowing that you can tweak it later in raw processing?

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3 Les July 21, 2009 at 8:52 am

Is this all natural light or did you use any fill-flash?

Les

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4 Kathy Marciante July 21, 2009 at 10:23 am

Great photos…great lesson!!

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5 Andrew July 21, 2009 at 11:13 am

Beautiful couple, and wonderful capture of them! How did you light this? Are you using a flash on a bracket or a stand off to the right (I think)? The light looks a bit far to the right (my guess) to be on a camera bracket. Thanks.

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6 Neal Gallagher July 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Looking at this photo, it looks like you may have added a bit of extra blur, perhaps using Photoshop. I am looking at the area in the center between and below the couple’s heads. I say this because I think I see an artifact from using the lasso selection tool. Is this my imagination, or did you add some extra blur here.

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7 David July 21, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Hi Neal (Gallagher)

Is it possible it could be jpg high compression artifacts instead?

The file size is very small 64.8KB and the flyaway hair on the ladies head doesn’t look like it has been blurred and would be very difficult to lasso around.

Just an idea?

Hi Neil (vN)

Really nice photo and great DoF control,
I agree that 70-200mm lens looks to produce some gorgeous yummy bokeh!
How many aperture blades does it have, is it 9 rounded? Ah if only! Don’t suppose you have one spare? :D (Kidding!) Although must admit I’d like to try some fast manual Nikon glass on my camera.

Thanks again for such a great and helpful website.
Kind regards,
David

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8 Jeffrey Steel July 21, 2009 at 8:30 pm

You know, reading this blog article and remembering a recent artilce you wrote about suggestions for future articles. Here you briefly described your thought process on composition. I would venture to say that many here might be very interested in some of your ideas of what your thought process is when composing or maybe showing a series of images and reverberating what you were trying to achieve during that particular session. The other article may be the better place for a suggestion, however this particular article made me think of it. In any case, wheter your material is new to me or old hat, I always enjoy your blog as your writing is always interesting to read as if you were speaking to an old friend.

The one thing I do not understand however is how you find the time to be so in depth with your articles at a regular basis.

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9 Ricardo Carvalho July 23, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Parabéns Neil!!!
seu trabalho é simplesmente fantastico…
um grande fotografo um grande ser humano
meu muito obrigado

Ricardo Carvalho (Brazil)
please
http://ricardocarvalhophoto.com/

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10 Pat Bloomfield July 24, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Nice article Neil, it’s great to hear your thinking behind your images with your pre-visualization. Having the light behind them nicely separates them from the background with the rim lighting.

The traffic lights have worked really well as a backdrop.

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