Wedding & Portraiture
Seeing Is Believing...Or Is It?

Photo 1.
Photos © 1999, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

Some weddings take place in obviously gorgeous surroundings. But it's not always obvious how to take advantage of the settings. Also, it's not easy to get to those backgrounds at the time of day when the light is just right. You simply have to make do...or do you?

At a recent wedding I found myself in a magnificent setting. The only problem was that I was losing the light so fast, I couldn't take advantage of where we were. Did I let that dampen my spirits? Not on your life. The timing and the circumstances forced me to use my own ingenuity.

My first problem was that although the wedding was going to take place at an incredibly beautiful museum, we were not allowed inside until after the building was closed to the public. By that time it would be too late.

As a result, all the portrait and group photos had to be made outdoors. I began by working under the cover of a tent where the floral arrangements were being assembled. Among all that commotion, I posed the bride just outside the tented area (Photo 1). I was under cover with my camera. From her viewpoint she was looking into a shaded area, so there were no squinting eyes.

Photo 3.

She was being backlit and sidelit by natural light. I exposed for the ambient light on her face and used two Quantum flashes to create her portrait. The first was used bare bulb (without the reflector on the flash) to slightly open up her eyes and lay on some soft, direct light. That flash was two f/stops less than natural light. The second bare-bulb flash was placed behind the subject, backlighting the bride's veil and creating additional separation from the background.

I found a great background for the full-length bridal portraits in a small enclosed garden setting adjacent to the main house (Photo 2, not available). I exposed for the ambient light and added two flashes. I used a bare-bulb Quantum flash as a main light, two f/stops weaker than the ambient light. There was another direct flash behind the bride lighting her veil. That one was the same as my f/stop. I kept the bride and groom as far away from the background as possible, making them stand out from their surroundings in the photograph.

Photo 4.

Earlier that day, I saw a beautiful small island next to where we were setting up for photographs (Photo 3). The lighting perfect, I wished that the bride and groom had been there at the time, so that I could photograph them in the foreground. I took a picture of it anyway, and later cut out the bride and groom from Photo 2 and placed them in front of the (reversed) island. As you can see, Photoshop has become an integral part of my life. The resulting photograph (Photo 4) was exactly what I wanted in the first place.

Photographing the bride and her attendants in the courtyard was a problem, because the open areas were so confined. A 60mm wide angle lens on my Hasselblad did the trick (Photo 5, below). But when I wanted to photograph the entire bridal party I had to put them on the steps behind the bride and groom (Photo 6). The wide angle lens kept everything nice and sharp. The depth of field worked beautifully for me, even though I was just stopped down to f/8.

Photo 5.

My final photo of the pre-ceremony portrait session was a profile of the bride, photographed through the courtyard entrance. The bridesmaids told the bride that the entire session was worthwhile, just for this single portrait (Photo 7). They could see it as I was creating the photograph. I found this location while scouting the area during the time I was waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. Notice how I was careful to position the camera, so that her profile would be against a clean, unobtrusive background.

The outdoor ceremony was magnificent. I found that by positioning myself under cover of the bridal canopy, I could photograph with my 40mm lens out toward the light (as I regularly do for portraiture) and capture Photo 8 at a moment that was just too good to pass up. The background of the flowers and trees was the perfect setting for this tender moment.

Photo 6.

After the ceremony, I caught the bride and groom in several pictures as they triumphantly walked back up the aisle. Photo 9 was one that I particularly liked. Doug, my assistant, kept up the pace with me and sidelighting them with a second flash.

I loved the resulting image, but was not thrilled with the background when I saw the photo. Yes, it was the natural background, but I remembered that I had photographed the wall outside of the courtyard just before the ceremony had begun. The lighting on the wall was so beautiful, I just had to take the picture even though there was no one around to pose in front of it (Photo 10). The center arch, by the way, was the area where I had just posed the bride for her full-length profile.

Photo 7.

So, you know what I had to do later on and Photo 11 was the resulting image. There's a lot of fun in Photoshop, and what a great way to go. You can photograph any background you like and then bring in the people. Doesn't this suggest fantastic possibilities? Wow.

Photos 12 and 13 were actually shot just as they happened. I saw the background when everyone was going back to the main building for the reception. It was just too good to pass up. I stopped the people momentarily and had them wave at me. Truly, a great setting for these people, wouldn't you say?

Photo 8.

Inside the building I stopped the bride and groom just for a moment, before they began their receiving line. My 40mm lens caught them in the grandeur of the setting (Photo 14). Exposure was for the ambient light in the room.

During the reception, the groom asked me if I could make a picture of them with the island, lit up so beautifully, for the background. The final picture in this article (Photo 15) was not a "paste-up." I sat the bride and groom at a table which Doug and I had positioned, so that the island would be behind them. Doug held a single flash behind the couple as a backlight. The exposure was for about 2 sec, allowing me to pick up the night scene behind them. We used this image to finish their bridal albums.

Photo 9.

So, as you can see, we really took advantage of the beautiful settings in which the wedding took place. The bride and groom just happened to be at the perfect place at the perfect time. Seeing is believing, isn't it?

You can find more of this couple's wedding pictures on my web site at:

You can also find this entire wedding series at:

Photo 10.

Photo 11.

Photo 12.

Photo 13.

Photo 14.

Photo 15.