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The Anatomy of an Image

For most people that look at an image, its rare that they think about what went into creating that shot.  They simply look at it and know if they like it or not.  Chances are they’re probably not analyzing what kind of lighting was used, what lens, and more importantly why they were used.  I was recently asked on how I create images so  I thought I’d take this request to go over my thought process when creating one.  Even if you’re someone who just looks at a picture maybe this inside look will give you a better understanding of how it all comes together.

With the start of wedding season underway I decided to use an image I shot last year, probably one of my favorite images of a bride I’ve taken.  Most of my weddings are extremely fast paced and there is hardly time for elaborate setups.  That’s fine with me as I love the photo journalistic approach and capturing a genuinely touching and real moment trump any posed shot in my book.  But when there is some downtime during a wedding, I like to take that time to setup and create these types of images for my clients.

For this one image, all of the below equipment was used.  A Canon 5D Mark II with an 85mm f/1.2L II lens, three pocket wizards, a Quantum QFlash T5DR with Turbo 2×2, a 580 EX II, tripod, lightstands, a shoot through umbrella, and CTO gels.

First I had to choose the location and when I saw this walkway I knew that the lights leading down would create a fantastic image if I placed the bride in the right area.  Using the rule of thirds I placed the bride in the bottom left of the frame so that within the image the lights from the walkway would lead the viewer’s eye to the bride.  That was the easy part, now the hard part.  It was dark, I would have to use a long exposure if I had any hope of capturing the ambient light.  I also had to light the bride.

I used the 5d Mark II for its full frame capability and a 85 f/1.2L for its light sucking qualities and the amazing bokeh it produces and placed them on a tripod.  Next was the lighting.  Since I was only lighting the bride’s head and shoulders and didn’t need that much power I opted to use the 580 EX II with shoot through umbrella relatively close to bride.  Then I placed the QFlash about 10 to 15 feet behind the bride and shot it directly at her.  So what’s the point of the rear flash?  Simply to separate my subject from the background.  See that rim of light around her?  The QFlash was doing its job, without it the bride’s black hair would simply blend into the background, no separation.  CTO gels were used on both flashes not to add warmth but to white balance with the tungsten environment.  Finally the pocket wizards allowed me to wirelessly trigger both of the flashes.

Everything on manual.  After taking an ambient light reading I adjusted the flash power accordingly.  The final image was taken at 1/2 second at f/2.8 and the image you see is straight out of the camera with only some minor sharpening.  I’ve always had the mind set that the moment is more important than the light, but it’s a great thing when you can create moments and also have the light.