In each installment of our educational blog series, Anatomy of a Photograph, we’ll break down one of our trickiest wedding photos. From conception to composition, equipment to settings, subject to lighting, you’ll find out exactly what went into creating the image.
For this week’s installment, I’d like to change up the formula a bit and take a look at a wedding photo without a person as the primary focal point.
Exposure Program: Manual
Shutter Speed: 0.6 sec
White Balance: 2,940 K
Focal Length: 35mm
Here’s the story
This is the Dunafon Castle in Idledale, Colorado. It’s one of my favorite wedding venues for many reasons, not the least of which being that it’s super photogenic. And it has a (usually) perfectly still reflecting pond on the grounds that is a photographer’s dream.
Nailing this shot was simpler than many of the other photos I’ve discussed in this blog series, mainly due to the fact that it didn’t require any off-camera lighting. But there were still a few technical wrinkles that needed to be ironed out in order create the image that I saw in my mind’s eye and to do the scene some justice.
Now for the technical stuff
First and foremost, it was nighttime, which meant I needed a relatively wide aperture and/or long shutter speed. As such, I opened my 24-70mm as far as it would go to f/2.8 and dialed in my shutter to 3/5 of a second to get a decent exposure. The trick here was to drag the shutter just long enough to capture the scant ambient light, but not long enough to allow the wedding guests in the background to blur in the frame. This required a bit of creative anticipation (i.e. waiting for the song to end). Alternatively, I could have bumped up my ISO to allow for a faster shutter, but for nighttime photography, my personal preference is to keep my ISO around 200-320 whenever possible. If you get too much higher than that, you’ll start to see some noise in the shadow areas, which, to me, detracts from the quality of the image.
Next, I had to figure out the best white balance for this particular scene. None of my camera’s presets would have sufficed because of the range of different color temperatures affecting the scene. I could have run over to the tent and taken a manual reading, but in this case it was easier to dial in my kelvins until I reached a suitable white balance. By trial and error, I quickly landed on 2,940 K, which is just a bit cooler than incandescent lighting.
Finally, and this probably goes without saying, I used a sturdy tripod and a shutter release cable for this shot to reduce camera shake. This is absolutely crucial for long exposure photography.
This photo was taken in June of 2014, but it was actually a reprise of a shot that I took in the same location almost three years earlier.
To be honest, I think I like the older version a bit better, mainly because they added a handful of flood lights to the grounds, which brightens up the frame significantly. The older shot seems a bit more moody and dramatic, which I like in this case.
So there you have it: a nighttime wedding photo that doesn’t involve people as the primary subject. I like to do at least a handful of these scene-setting shots at every wedding, just to make the shoot feel a bit more well-rounded. This type of photo also pairs nicely with detail shots, which, together, showcase the venue from both ends of the micro/macro spectrum.
Thanks for reading. Until next time…
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