Engagement photo sessions: Posing, lighting & context
I love this photo! I also like how it came together. This was within minutes of meeting DaWeon and Toban for their engagement photo session in Philadelphia. We had only chatted on Skype before. Embarrassingly enough, I arrived late to the meeting place for their engagement session through my misunderstanding about the address. No excuses there. But it did mean I had to work fast – the setting sun was lighting up the Philadelphia skyline, and I had to nail a series of photos very quickly.
DaWeon and Toban had said they wanted the city to feature in their engagement photo session. And of course, I am always under a self-imposed instruction that the photos have to look great and have to please and even surprise my clients.
More than pre-visualizing a shot, you have to be able to immediately recognize what needs to be done to get the photograph that you know is possible.
Everyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, would know that my approach is one where I work with a structure – an algorithm that will make sure the shot works technically. But I also want to be open to surprises. Chance.
That idea of allowing serendipity and change to influence a photo session, has been a regular topic lately:
- creative portraits on location – allow opportunities to happen (model: Anelisa)
- using interesting available light & white balance options (model: Olena)
With clients though, I am more inclined to favor my chances of success by working with structure to my photography technique. The images need to work! There needs to be a solid yet fluid baseline from which I can be creative and look for opportunities and play off the couple’s playfulness.
A few things had to come together to make this photo (and the entire series of photos) successful:
And these are things I have to control. No time to wait for luck to favor me with some random goodness.
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used for the main photo
- 1/1000 @ f/3.2 @ 100 ISO … with Profoto B1 off-camera flash
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II … @ 140mm
- Profoto B1 battery powered flash
- Profoto RFi 1’×3’ softbox
- Lastolite LS2453 monopod (91 inches)
Lighting & posing
I want to discuss two of those specific elements – lighting and posing:
The Profoto B1 flash has proven to be a game-changer for me for several reasons. Most obvious, the ease of use and setting up, as well as the sheer power for a portable unit. But the way that the B1 has changed things for me, is that I can now confidently go to high-speed flash sync (HSS) mode.
Previously, with speedlights, I always went to HHS mode conservatively when working in very bright light. I would first make sure I was able to get proper flash exposure at normal flash output (at maximum sync speed). Then I would find the necessary aperture and then add that much flash. If I could get correct exposure in bright light with a speedlight at max sync speed, then I knew I had a chance that HSS might work for that distance and aperture.
If we look at the camera settings I chose – 1/1000 @ f/3.2 @ 100 ISO – will show that the late afternoon sun reflecting off the buildings were quite bright. Not too far Sunny 16 even!
I wanted to create that separation between the couple and the background. The city could just be context. A pretty backdrop.
With the Profoto B1, I can now comfortably deviate from my usual algorithm when shooting in bright sunlight with flash. Instead of first going to max sync speed, I can now immediately go to my chosen aperture – in this case, f/3.2 … a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field. Then I find the appropriate shutter speed. The inverse of how I would approach this with a speedlight! Better yet, I now have much softer light than a speedlight because I can use a softbox – in this case my usual narrow Profoto RFi 1’×3’ softbox (affiliate) – and still have a wide aperture.
I don’t often rigidly pose people – I prefer a more “organic” approach to posing where I adjust and correct someone’s pose very quickly before taking the photo. This way their pose or stance is still natural for them, but has been improved for the camera. It can be subtle – the way they shift their weight or place their hands. Check the various articles on posing for more tips and suggestions.
There’s one thing I’d like to point out about DaWeon’s pose in the image at the top (and here on the right):
Notice the way she has her front knee bent. She naturally fell into this pose, so there wasn’t anything for me to adjust with how she placed her feet and her legs. But notice how her front knee is bent forward. This creates an inverted triangle from her waist and to her knees. This naturally looks more slender. Not that DaWeon needed a pose that looks more slender, and less bulky – but this is how I would pose any woman as a starter pose.
The opposite of this would be with your subject’s rear leg cocked forward, creating a triangle shape like on the right. This immediately looks larger and more bulky. You can try this yourself in a mirror to see the difference in what happens when the other knee is bent forward.
- Making your images pop – through choice of lens
- Top 5 tips on shooting engagement photo sessions
- Using tele-converters: extra lens compression for tighter portraits
- Composition for full-length portraits – step back!
- Engagement photo session, Philadelphia
20 Comments, Add Your Own
Since you’re doing this for a client and you were trying to get the pictures before the sun set completely, were you operating in TTL mode using Profoto’s Air TTL-N unit on your camera? Or were you in manual flash?
You probably didn’t have time for a test shot, but I presume that the reflected light from the skyline was so bright that the couple would have become silhouetted if you didn’t increase the shutter speed to 1/1000 s. Something like the girl on a trampoline shot you took:
These are beautiful. Were these all TTL? If so, great to focus on the shot and not the numbers.
3Neil vN says
1. Meter for the skyline and do one test shot it confirm exposure & camera settings.
2. Then another photo – the first shot of couple against the skyline, with the Profoto B1 set to TTL.
3. Check the exposure of this shot, and adjust the flash up / down accordingly. Then lock it to manual flash for the other images.
All this takes but a few seconds. Then we continue shooting.
After a few shots I would show the couple how awesome the photos look.
All of those steps in a few seconds? You make it look easy. :-)
3.1.1Stan Rogers says
It helps a lot that when you go from TTL to manual with the B1s, it stays at the last TTL setting (power level). With most flashes, you’d be starting all over again; they don’t remember what they “knew” a second ago when you switch modes. ALL flashes that have both pre-flash TTL (as opposed to the old OTF method) and manual settings [i]should[/i] work that way, but as far as I know only the Profoto Air TTL units do it so far. Without that feature, you need to rely on knowing a ballpark guide number for your flash and modifier, rely more heavily on TTL, or do trial and error; none of these will be as quick and easy as TTL, a quick compensation and changing modes to lock it in.
4Keith R. Starkey says
Really gorgeous pictures, Neil. Nice stuff.
As always, great work Neil!
I’m curious about the Profoto B1 system in conjunction with speedlites.
In your following article you explained how easy it was to add rim-lighting to a subject with a speedlite.
With the Profoto B1 system, can you throw a small speedlite behind your subject and somehow trigger it as well?
6Neil vN says
A you’d have to add a different radio trigger, or hook the speedlight up to another Profoto transceiver via a sync cable.
Couldn’t you also use a speedlight with an optical slave? Either Nikon Speedlight’s SU-4 mode or via an external hot shoe slave.
6.1.1Neil vN says
You would most likely run into line-of-sight problems.
Great shots. Love the background context and lighting.
One couple pose I do not understand is the female looking & smiling at the camera while the male is in profile. I have seen this in other photographers work as well, usually the mans eyes are shut, head down. What is the message here? For me it does not look right. I cannot figure out why she looks at the camera? When they both look at or look away from the camera it is more natural.
8Neil vN says
Keep in mind that the main shot is one in a series of 20-30 images as I change the framing, composition and the pose. So there are other images where they just snuggle, or where they are both looking at the camera, or at one another.
I happen to like this photo. For me, that one individual would look at the camera, isn’t distracting. I like that eye-contact with the camera.
But most of all, these images are for my clients – if they like it this way, then great. If they don’t, they’ll pick other images as their favorites. It’s too much to consider and negotiate during the session itself. zits much more fluent if we pick the images in post … and on the day shoot a variety of combinations.
9Valent Lau says
Perfect lighting every time. Thanks for sharing.
10Julian Avram says
Just wondering what lens you used for the full body shots (from the posing section). Are those done with the 70-200 as well?
11Neil vN says
Those were shot with the 24-70mm f/2.8
Hi Neal. First of all nice shots. Do you think a 580EXll could do the same think or close to it? Is 5.6 a good f-stop to go for?
13Neil vN says
You could get similar-ish results with a speedlight, except that with the amount of power the Profoto B1 has, I can use a softbox. This gives me softer, more flattering light than the harder light source – the speedlight.
Also check out this link: Comparing the power of the Profoto B1 vs a speedlight
Very nice Neil. Do you always leave your camera setting in HSS? Just trying to understand if there is any downside to leaving it this way.
15Neil vN says
You lose 1-2 stops of light by being in HSS:
This implies that when you’re really struggling against very bright light, you’re better off at maximum sync speed. That’s where the sweet spot is.
16Fotograf profesionist nunta says
Great pictures. I love the color and contrast, your composition is very nice. You gave me some good ideas. Thank you so much. Keep up the good work!