How night portraits can save your wedding day // Night Wedding Portraits

Have you ever been shooting a wedding where things were running behind or the weather was gross?? If you have been lucky enough to avoid the above scenario, there will come a day where you get next to no quality time for portraits and have to get creative.

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First, let me make it clear that we never rely on ONLY shooting just night portraits as our plan A. Our brand and our brides expect bright and beautiful sunset portraits but sometimes that can just not happen. When that is the case, we don't freak out, because we know we can always do some pictures at night during the reception. Many times, brides even request night portraits or I just want to do some for fun. For a wedding photographer, shooting at night is an important skill to have. Here is how you can get started!

We use these Yongnuo flashes, they are inexpensive and easy to use. They use radio waves to trigger so they don't have to be within line of sight like optical flashes. Also, we always shoot on manual, it is just more consistent and easier to figure out where the light is coming from that way. I am going to tell you my camera and flash settings but every lighting situation is different and I rarely shoot night portraits with the same exact settings.

 I don't like to pull the bride and groom out from their wedding for a long time so I usually go outside and scout my location and get set up before I pull them out. Once I find the spot I want, I set my camera for the ambient light (the light that I do not produce with my flashes) I make sure and keep my shutter speed below 1/200th or else it wont capture your flash (unless you have special flashes) 

Shutter: 1/125          ISO: 400          Aperture: F/2.8

Shutter: 1/125          ISO: 400          Aperture: F/2.8

After I get the ambient light correct, I place camera on a tripod and my two bare flashes on light stands and I go inside to find a cute couple :)

I have the couple stand and I turn on channel A (the rear flash)
I adjust the back light to a level I like (usually around 1/16 power)

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Then I turn on channel B and get my main light looking good (usually less power than the back light like 1/32)
Try to avoid shooting above 1/8 power. The reason for that is because with most flashes, once you're at 1/4 power or above, your flash takes a bit to recharge and you may miss your shot. If you need more light, get your light closer to the subject or turn up your ISO. 

Once I get the main flash where I want it, I take a few seconds to take some good photos of my models and then I head inside to grab the bride and groom.

When they come outside, everything is all set and it literally takes less than 2 minutes to get “the shot” and then they can go back in and party :)

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Once you understand how to use flash, night portraits can be a great tool to add to your wedding day arsenal. If you are not confidant with your flashes, I offer one on one photo lessons and mentoring where I can teach you all about on and off camera flash. Click here for more info on mentor sessions as well as many other FREE photography resources.



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I think it is important to note that most all night portraits with the stars AND flash are photoshopped in some way. In order to capture stars, you have to capture a lot of light. If your camera is set to capture the faint light from the stars, a flash will completely blow out your subject unless you use a whole lot of neutral density filters over your flash to cut down the power (a flash can only be turned down so much) So what I usually do is put my camera on a tripod and take a picture exposing for the stars  (before the couple comes out) then I leave my camera in the same place and turn on my flashes to expose for the bride and groom after they come outside. Then I just stack the photos in photoshop and mask out the sky to reveal the stars of the other image below. 
If you want more information on shooting night portraits, check out my Youtube Video below. 

4 Reasons why you should shoot film

I really love shooting film, you should too. Here are 4 reasons why. 

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First, I am NOT a film expert. I would not even consider myself a film photographer. However, I have shot some sessions entirely on film with good results and I learned film photography in the 90s... So I guess that counts?? Because of my basic understanding of film, it has really helped me grow as a digital photographer. Here are 4 reasons why YOU need to shoot film, even if your client never knows!

1.    It (can be) cheap and fun! I bought my first Nikon film camera online for $15. I bought a roll of film from the local camera store for a few dollars and I started shooting. I sent it off, got scans back, and for less than $30 I shot a roll of film. It was so fun!

2.    It helps you SLOW DOWN. When shooting digital, it is easy to “spray and pray” You just hold down the button, fire off 10 frames and hope you get one keeper. With film, you are forced to slow down and take your time with every shot. When I shoot a session on film, I deliver about 75% of my images, when I shoot digital, it’s less than 25%.
Plus, when I go back to shooting digital, I am more careful and intentional with my shooting, saving me time in post processing and helping me capture really great moments.

3.    Post processing. When I shoot digital, I shoot the session, load all the images on my computer, cull through and store 100% of them but only choose and edit about 25%, save them, upload them, and deliver them. When I shoot film, I shoot the session, mail the film off, receive the scans, MAYBE edit a few of them, then simply send the images to the client. The workflow and post processing is easier and faster... 

4.    Back to the basics. When shooting film, you can not review your shot every frame, so you have to know what you are doing in order to get good results. You have to think about your shutter being fast enough to not cause motion blur, your focus being spot on, the direction / quality of light, and of course, your exposure has to be correct. When shooting on film, you really think about what is going on. When you go back to digital, you will instinctively be thinking of these things. 

5.    BONUS: All the hipsters are doing it. There is something organic and satisfying about seeing your work on a piece of film rather than just on a screen.

Like I said, I am not a film photographer, but I do enjoy shooting the occasional session on film or shooting a roll of medium format during a wedding.
Have you shot film? What has been your experience?

Developing your own film is fun, but the equipment can be costly & there is a learning curve :) 

Developing your own film is fun, but the equipment can be costly & there is a learning curve :) 

P.S. For free online photography education videos as well as in person workshops, click HERE, and be sure to follow along with us via and links below :) 

How to pick a new lens for your camera.

Lens choice is incredibly important, some would argue even more important than a camera body. A lens can enable a photographer to get close images of a faraway subject, or shoot in extremely dark locations. A good lens can be the difference in getting the shot and missing it completely.

There are many factors to consider when looking for a lens, but we will focus on the two main ones. Focal length, and aperture.

Focal length refers to how “zoomed in” a lens is. For example, an 18mm lens is much wider than a 50mm. A 300mm lens is zoomed pretty far in and enables the photographer to photograph subjects that are far away. 

If you are mostly shooting portraits, a 50mm is a great choice. It is inexpensive and offers a natural focal length similar to a human’s field of view. If you can afford it, an 85mm and a 70-200mm are two of the best and most popular focal lengths for portraits. These lenses also do well in low light because of their large aperture.

A kit lens, such as an 18-55mm is NOT a good portrait lens. If you shoot at 18mm, it is usually too wide for flattering portraits. The 18-55 kit lens also does not allow much light to get to the camera because of its small aperture, so you have to have a lot of light to use it.

Here are example images taken at different focal lengths, obviously, I had to back up as my focal length increased. The longer or more zoomed in your lens is, usually the more pleasing the background looks. Also, the wider the lens, the more distorted it is. Wider lenses are often used in architecture and landscape to make places appear larger and capture more of a scene. 

If you want to shoot sports or wildlife, a good lens a 70-300mm. That lens, like the 18-55mm is not great in low light but usually sports and wildlife are outside where there is plenty of light :)

The second thing to consider when looking for a new lens is aperture.
The aperture is how much light the lens lets through. The bigger the aperture, the more the light the lens lets pass through it and hit the image sensor. A smaller number means a BIGGER aperture. So a F/1.8 lens has a bigger aperture than a F/5.6 lens, therefore it lets in more light.

Most portraits lenses have a large aperture, such as F/1.4 or F/2.8. These lenses also perform well in low light. These images show the drastic difference in the amount of light between F/1.8 and F/5.6

So remember, if you are inside, you need a big aperture like F/1.8 or F/2.8. A kit lens that has a variable aperture ranging from F/3.5 to F/5.6 is not a good choice for dimly lit locations. It is also important to remember that the bigger the mm number, the more zoomed in you are. Portraits are usually taken anywhere from 50mm to 200mm. Sports and wildlife can usually manage with smaller apertures because they are shot outside during the day, you want a lens that is at least 200mm in order to photograph far away subjects. 

There are dozens of brands of lenses and each brand makes hundreds of different lenses so it can be a bit overwhelming. Some can autofocus and some are only manual focus. Some have an aperture of F/5.6 and some are as big as F/1.2 or even F/0.95. The bigger the aperture, the more expensive the lens. 

Nikon --> <-- Canon

RAW vs. JPG

JPGs are a smaller file size, meaning they read and write to memory cards faster and take up less space. They are the most common file type for images and every image program can read them. You can adjust your JPG settings (before you take the picture) to make them have higher or lower contrast, saturation, clarity, sharpening, etc…

So why shoot with a file type that takes up more than double the space, slows your camera down, and needs a specialized program to read and edit it??

Think of a RAW file like cake ingredients. You have your sugar, frosting, flour, flavoring, and whatever else you put in cakes. It is just RAW ingredients. You can decide how much sugar you want, what flavor you want, what shape you want it, etc…

A JPG is like a cake already baked, ready to eat. It has the contrast, saturation, and everything else already applied. It is ready to share or upload to social media. You can add more sugar later, but it won’t be quite the same as if it was added from the start. You can edit on top of a JPG but when you edit a JPG, it’s like changing an already made image. The biggest problem when editing a JPG is white balance. If you are way off when you shoot the original JPG, it is incredibly difficult to fix it in post processing. You can try and mask a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, but it will never taste quite like a chocolate cake. If you shoot a JPG too dark, you can bring back the shadows some, but you will have a lot of noise in the shadow areas. So yes, you CAN edit a JPG image, but it is not nearly as versatile as editing a RAW image and here is why.

Just like RAW ingredients before you bake a cake, a RAW image allows you to decide contrast, saturation and many other things AFTER you shoot it without losing image quality. You can then go back, and edit the image in a completely different way without losing any image quality. When you edit a JPG over and over again, you are building on top of the previous edit but when you edit a RAW file, you can ALWAYS go back to the original RAW image :) This is great if you shoot an image, and then a year later your editing style changes, you can always go back to the original without degrading the image. The biggest advantage to a RAW file is the white balance is not baked in, it is added in post processing, therefore your original white balance does not matter at all. RAW files are MUCH more forgiving when it comes to adjusting exposure and they have MUCH less noise when bringing back shadows.

The downside to RAW files is because they are just RAW data, they must be “baked” before you can open them in many programs. You would never send a RAW file to a client because they would most likely not be able to open or view it. You cannot share RAW files on Facebook or Instagram. You have to “bake” them by saving them as JPGS. You do not ever lose the RAW file though, when you save them, the program simply creates a JPG in addition to a RAW file, it does not save over the RAW file.

For us, the advantages to RAW files far outweigh the disadvantages. We buy fast memory cards to avoid our cameras slowing down, and we have large drives to store the bigger file sizes. We tweak all of our images so we might as well tweak a RAW file because the end product will look better than if we edited JPGs. 

If you haven't already, check out the video above to see some examples of editing raw and jpg files and check out our other blogs talking about memory cards, megapixels, and Nikon Vs. Canon. If there is anything you're interested in, comment below and I might cover it in a future blog!