The Whitewater Experience Wedding And Portrait Class For All Seasons
Monte Zucker• Posted Apr 1, 2001
It seemed as if many photographers had been taught to stay out of the sunshine, photographing only in shaded areas. I wondered why. Most of the people with whom I have come in contact with just love the sunshine. They're disappointed when the sun doesn't shine, or when they don't have the opportunity to play in the sun. Why wouldn't they enjoy having their portraits made in a sunny location?
So, of course we began the Whitewater Experience this year by going out into the direct sunshine with this group of five sisters and brothers. Where did we pose them? Of course, right in the middle of Michele Gauger's back yard. Well, "back yard" is putting it mildly. She has her home studio situated on quite a few acres of a peninsula between two parts of Whitewater Lake. Not a bad location for a class, huh?
The selection of the background was one of the main things that I was teaching the class. I looked for a spot that had a lot of depth behind where I would put the subjects. I wanted it to be fairly well lit with sunshine behind them, so that when I added flash to the picture the background area would not go black. My choice also was determined by finding a spot where there would not be a lot of contrasting areas between the green trees and sky. Essentially, what I wanted was a spot where the green foliage came all the way down to the grass with no tree trunks with sky between them.
There it was. Right in front of our eyes.
As usual, I began the posing with a fun grouping: a way to get all the kids to relax and see that this was going to be a casual, enjoyable experience. I began with laying the oldest brother on the ground, resting his head on his left hand and tucking his right hand under him. I positioned him so that the sunshine would come from behind him and slightly to the side. The backlighting would be a great separation of the people from the background, adding to the depth of the picture. The sun was almost straight up, so there was a risk of sunshine dabbling onto their faces, but I wasn't too worried about that. It would look natural (Photo 1).
I exposed to get good color in bright sunshine using Kodak Portra 160 film, 1/125 at f/16. Their faces were in almost total shade. There was really nothing bright around them to reflect the light back into their faces. A reflector would have been too bright and cause them to squint. So, what I did was to use my Quantum Radio Slave unit to fire my Quantum flash at full power. I positioned my light to my right, because all the faces were pointed in that direction. The flash was set at full power and was about 10' from them. The sunshine was so bright, I knew that the flash could in no way overpower the natural sunlight. No measurements. Just point and shoot.
A Polaroid test print not only proved me to be right on the exposure, but it also gave the kids something to enjoy and gain their confidence. Heck, they were having so much fun, at that point they would have done anything I asked.
The next grouping I did with them began with seating the three younger children on the ground and adding the two older ones behind and between them. I wasn't happy with that composition, because I felt that the two larger bodies seemed to dominate the picture too much. Instead of taking the picture and going on, I scrubbed the composition and began with the older sister seated as the anchor in the center of the group.
Then, I added the two younger sisters--one on each side (Photo 2). I had them slip out away from the older girl and lean over to her. That lowered their heads nicely and gave me a way to connect the three of them together, the way I like to do in all of my family groups. I asked the younger of the two brothers to kneel down beside his sister and to rest his chin on her shoulder. That left the opening for the older brother to kneel down on the other side of his sister and complete the grouping. The same strong flash came in from camera-right to open up their faces and subdue the background.
It was a natural (Photo 3). Lots of depth. Sunlight backlighting the various layers of green. A little bit of the back lake showing, and a fairly nice line between the trees and the sky.
Group of five? Three in front, two in the back. As simple as that! Legs apart, straight into the camera. I had done it successfully before. I knew that it would work again. Not a lot of posing. One demonstration of how I wanted them all to stand and it was finished! One flash opening up the deep shadows on their faces and we were done!
And So Began BPPI!
Then, I asked again for everyone to find the next location. I knew that I would absolutely floor everyone when I suggested opening the barn doors. Yep, that's where we went, into the barn with the chickens, hens, geese, horses, cats, and whatever else there might have been scurrying around. You know, I already have members in my organization, GPPI and CPPI (Garage Professional Photographers International and Carport Professional Photographers International, for those who can't afford a garage). Well, that day I instituted the new BPPI (Barn Professional Photographers International). It was a huge success.
Then, I put my Westcott Monte Illuminator/silver reflector camera right to pick up the daylight and to wrap it around onto the shadowed side of their faces (Photo 4).
The reflector had to be turned mostly toward the outside of the barn door opening so that it would pick up the daylight outside. Then, the daylight simply bounced off of the reflector onto the right side of their faces. The photographers in the class couldn't get over it. They had always thought that the reflector went on the shadowed side. I explained to them that in that position it would bring in light from the opposite direction. I wanted the light to appear very natural, all coming in from the same side. They agreed that it looked great.
Then I really floored everyone by bringing the same two kids just outside the barn doors and brought the whole class inside the barn. About 6' from the entrance to the barn I had two people hold up my Westcott translucent 4x6' panel for a background. The group couldn't believe how simple it was to create the high key background in the middle of "nowhere."
I turned their bodies at a 45° angle to the camera to support their profiles. I connected the two together by having the brother put his right arm around his sister, and then brought up his left hand to bring them together still more. The lighting on both of their profiles was coming straight through the translucent background. The hairlight was from the light coming over the top of the Westcott panel. The fill light was partially from the light that was coming around both sides of the panel, but I added my silver reflector inside to help open up the shadowed side of their faces. The reflector was low and pointed up toward the sky so that it would pick up the light from above (Photo 5).
The picture would have been more effective had they been wearing white shirts, but the point was shown that it's easy to create high key pictures with daylight.
Most photographers think early in their career that it's much easier to take pictures outdoors than in a studio. That's because they're not familiar with studio lighting. They think that outdoors you can get by with just about any lighting, but indoors is very complicated. Actually, it's exactly the other way around. Indoors you have complete control of the light. You can count on it being the same every time. Outdoors, however, you can count on the light changing every single moment.
So, I took everyone into Gauger's studio and set up a simple group of the younger three, the younger girl seated lowest, the middle girl seated to one side, and her brother standing to her left to complete the inverted triangle (Photo 6). <
This was my regular portrait lighting that I've been showing for ages. One main light, a hairlight, a background light, and a fill light. Again, how easy can it be?
When Time Is Short
Understandably, we had several bride and groom models for our Whitewater Portrait/Wedding class. With our first model I went through a complete bridal sitting myself, and then let the class experience setting up the same series of pictures themselves. I am still using only two poses--the feminine pose and the basic pose. For slim women the feminine pose is my first choice, of course. I explained to the photographers that if you're only going to have time for a few bridal portraits on the day of the wedding, at least make sure that they are done well. br/>
The bouquet is pulled back and lowered to show her slim waistline. The bottom of her gown and her veil are pulled out to give a nice base to the composition. I told the people holding the veil to hold it only on the edges, allowing the folds to show off the veil better.
Her eyes are centered in her eye sockets, as seen through the lens of the camera--not as seen from standing in front of the bride.
This is a variation of the 3/4 length seated bride.
There are a few things to the posing of this picture that you may not first realize. The bride's body, of course, is at a 45° angle to the camera. Now, you know where the light is, don't you? It is not at a 45° angle to the camera. Nor is it directly in front of her face. If it were there, the face would be flatly lit. It is in the same location that you would place it if you were facing directly into the bride's face and photographing her full face. So, a simple suggestion is that you stand in front of her face and set up as if you were taking a full face picture. Then, when you come back to camera position, you will have perfect profile lighting.
Let's now study in detail the placement of the profile light:
Remember, the light is only 3-4' away from the bride. If I were to position it farther away, I wouldn't be able to achieve the crisp lighting that is typical of my studio portraits.
Angle the main light only slightly toward the near side of her face so that some part of that light will hit the reflector. The reflector must be positioned to block the light from flaring into the lens. Stand at the camera (the camera on a Benbo tripod) and look to see if you can see any of the main light. If you can, the lens will also see it. So, have an assistant move the reflector to completely block the light from your view.
The fill light should be slightly on the same side of the camera from which the main light is coming. That will prevent any shadows that may come from the fill light from going in the opposite direction from the main light's shadows. All the lighting should appear to be coming from one direction--including the light on the background. Thus, you see the background is slightly brighter in the direction she is facing.
Now, take another look again at the pose itself. We're going to maintain everything that we've been studying and practicing up until now. She's looking to her right, so she's leaning to her left. For a feminine pose, you always lean her body in the opposite direction from the way she's facing. The posing table is always under the low shoulder. I've used her train to cover the table, showing off more of the detail than one would expect to see in a seated portrait like this.
In addition, she's leaning over her waistline toward the camera. I have found that the easiest way to set this up is to take her head in both of your hands, lift her to her fullest height, lean her slightly to her left and bring her head a little forward toward the lens. You can accomplish all of this in one simple, firm adjustment.
The Bride And Groom Together
Now, look at this 3/4 length portrait of the bride and groom together. Just imagine if you were looking at the bride from a 90° angle to her left. You would be seeing exactly what we saw in the previous picture of her profile. The lighting and her body are exactly as they were in the previous picture.
That's why I said that if you feel intimidated while setting up a profile, just come around to the front of her and set up a full face portrait. Then, when you step around to the side, the profile is there. When the two of them are facing each other, the posing stools are brought far enough apart to let them both lean forward toward each other. To fill in the space between them, bring her inside hand over to rest on his hand. His left leg is elevated slightly by placing something on the floor in front of him and having him place his foot on it.
She's holding the bouquet down below her waist and slightly to the side, showing off her slim body. If she's heavier, then of course you can bring the bouquet up higher to cover what needs to be hidden.
Use Soft Focus Only With Crisp Lighting
Let's now look at these next two images. The only difference between them is the degree of soft focus.
On the left you see a portrait made with a Tiffen No. 1 SoftFX drop-in filter (Photo 10). The picture on the right (Photo 11) was made using a Tiffen No. 3 SoftFX filter. All of my portraits are created with at least a No. 1 softening filter. The reason that I can get by with a No. 3--all the way up to a No. 5 (made by combining a No. 2 and a No. 3 filter)--is that I work with my main light going directly through the softbox and that I keep my light fairly close to my subjects. If I were to move the light farther away, or if there were more than a single layer of fabric in front of my light, the light would be much softer. By adding soft focus to the picture it would appear to be almost out of focus. Not good! There would be too many complaints.
If she's turning and tipping her head to her left shoulder, I'll bring her hands up to the left side of her face. Study the way her hands are positioned. Her wrists are bent inward. You see the sides of her hands, not the backs. Her right hand is resting on the edge of her left hand. She is not holding her wrist. Some people might pose this way when they are just beginning.
Which do you like better: the sharper image or the softer one? It doesn't really matter. This is usually a choice that I show the bride. She may sometimes think that she doesn't like soft focus, but when she sees the comparison side by side it's possible that she may change her opinion. Neither one is right nor wrong. It's strictly a matter of taste.
Portraits should flow, one after the other. The object is not to take a picture and then change everything for the next shot. Instead, you need to develop a series where one picture flows right into the next one without having to change a lot between each image. When I plan a profile, for instance, I have this little series in mind.
I usually begin with a front profile of the bride (Photo 12).
With her body at a 45° angle to the camera, have her turn her face just enough to lose the "bump" of the second eyebrow. That's a pretty good guideline to follow when setting up a profile. See the second eye first. Then, turn her face until you lose the second eye and eyebrow. That way, you're sure to see the entire profile, rather than viewing more of the back of her head.
I usually lower the camera slightly for that separation between her chin and her shoulder. In this case her gown came up above her shoulder, so it was difficult to show the complete separation. Then, after doing a profile of the bride I turn her around, leave the lighting exactly as it is and add the groom to the picture (Photo 13).
A very important aspect of this portrait is to keep the groom at either full face, or have his face turned slightly toward the light. I try not to have his head turned toward her and away from the light. That would light his ear and the side of his face, rather than what you see here. The light on his face is from the reflector that is off to my left and the fill light. I have removed the hairlight from this portrait because it would create highlights on the shadowed side of the groom's face. It's much simpler to do this with just the one main light, the reflector and the fill light. I usually tip the groom's head out away from the bride's profile. This, by the way, usually results in an inverted triangle and a sort of heart shape between their two faces. Sometimes, when you look at the ground glass of your camera you may see too much of the top of the bride's head, or it may appear as if she's tipping her head too much toward the background. You have to look carefully and tell her to possibly tip her head slightly toward the background or toward the camera. That way, you see the side of her face without any distortion.
What I look for in this portrait is to keep their heads fairly close together and to try to get their noses parallel to one another. For some reason or other this usually results in a very pleasing double profile. What a simple change from the previous picture, but what an interesting picture this can be! If someone is wearing glasses, as the groom is wearing here, I try to raise or lower his chin just enough to see part of the eye behind the stem of the glasses.
Profiles Lit In Opposite Directions<
Once one of my main lights is set for a profile, why not bring the hairlight around and light a second profile from the other side? With people facing each other it's very effective and easy to light each of their profiles. You see this on television and in the movies all the time. Think of some of those classic Hollywood portraits from the 1940s. That's what we're doing here. Each of the lights creates a great hairlight on one person and simultaneously lights the profile of the second person. Make certain that the lens is protected from the flare of both of the lights. I use two Westcott Monte Illuminators, one on each side of the couple to keep the lights from my lens.
Finally, while the couple is still facing each other, it's so simple to turn off all the lights except the background light. Then, I opened the f/stop of my camera 2 or 3 f/stops, overexposing the dark background and turning it almost white. Simple. Easy. Fast. What a picture to end a wedding album! The champagne is nothing more than a glass of water with a drop of coffee, coke, or whatever is available. The light bounces off the background and comes back through the transparent glass. Did you ever think it was so easy? Have you tried it yet? Once you do, you'll do something similar at every wedding (Photo 16).
Working With A Full-Figured Bride
Someone in the class asked me what I'd do with a full-figured bride. Although we didn't have such a model, I was able to demonstrate how easy it is to seat someone in front of a chairback and have the chair cover most of the body, and whatever else you want to hide. In this case I brought her husband's profile directly over the 2/3 view of her face (Photo 17).
Window Light Photography, Updated!
Later in the week I had a woman to photograph who was "approaching middle age." (Wonderful, how time changes our points of view, isn't it?) This portrait of her was created by window light. Pretty remarkable, I thought. But it was very simple to accomplish.
First, let's look at what she's wearing in Photo 18. It was perfect! Green, long sleeved V-neck, close to her neck--everything flattering. Absolutely no distractions. How could you want to distract from that lovely face?
Shortly afterward, we went outside on Gauger's patio for our daily buffet lunch. I noticed the light on our model mom's face. It was perfect profile lighting. Where did it come from out in the middle of nowhere? She was sitting under an umbrella that covered most of the table. Behind her the sun was hitting the side of the house. "It don't get no better than this!" I pointed this out to everyone.
All I had to do was to break out my 350mm lens on my Hasselblad for this picture. The background is the side of the house. When you do a close-up with a telephoto lens the background just about disappears, as you can see in Photo 19.
That was, until she turned her face to look at me. Wow! All natural light! Highlights coming from behind on both sides of her. "Now!" I told everyone. "It really don't get no better than this!" No reflectors. Nothing! Just looking and seeing great light, great expression, and a great lady (Photo 20). After that portrait everyone in the class began looking around and truly discovering great light on faces all over the place. Each time they found great portrait lighting I made them look around to see where it was coming from so that they would be able to look for similar conditions again in the future. <
(A lot of the great directional lighting was coming through open branches of the surrounding trees.) That's how I learned to see light and its sources€virtually controlling light in its raw form. What fun!
I never know what or whom to expect next when I'm getting models coming in from every direction. Gauger is not only a wonderful photographer/teacher/hostess and person, she's also a magician when it comes to finding people for me to photograph.
A mother with her two children were next. I remembered them from last year and what a problem I had with the little girl. This year the kids were all prepped and they were looking forward to the portrait session--more than I was. (Just kidding!) <
I took some pictures of the two of them together and individually. They were cooperative, but quite "squirmy" at the same time. The photographers in class loved seeing me work to contain the children within the frame of my viewfinder. Finally, I gave up and invited the mother to participate. I figured that in this way we could get some interesting pictures that they would treasure for a lifetime. I was right.< br/>
Yes, I was aware of facial angles, even in these circumstances. Simple. Easy (?) and fun, for sure. The picture carries more impact, in my opinion, than just another picture of the little boy looking at the camera and smiling.
Then, of course, Photo 22 was sort of setup. I love to get people playing to each other. Rubbing noses is always a fun thing to go for. I certainly caught a special moment in time here, don't you think?
By bringing the main light close to the axis of the lens I can get two faces going in opposite directions, as I did here. You've got to admit that this image will remain special for the two of them for a long time. Talk about bringing happiness to everyone€this is one of those images that we'll all treasure for a lifetime.
This next couple got married on horseback so I tried several ways to photograph them with a horse. Ever try to get a horse's ears to stand up and forward? Well, I've got to tell you, you can work all day and sometimes get lucky--and sometimes not. We all tried everything that usually works, but of course the horse just wasn't cooperating.
Then I got the idea of just letting the horse remain in the background and photographing the bride and groom in the foreground. Gauger threw some food on the ground. The horse remained anchored there--just where I wanted it. I then posed the couple in the shade a little bit from the horse. I then had two alternatives. I could have exposed for the couple in the shade and let the background go light and overexposed. But the horse was an integral part of the picture.
Since the horse was definitely a second focal point of the portrait I wanted good detail in the sunny background. So I exposed for the sunshine, 1/125 at f/16, and used a single Quantum flash to bring the light on the subjects up to f/16. That brought the foreground and the background together and made the entire scene print perfectly with even exposure throughout.
Notice how she's leaning forward, toward her knees, and compare how good she looks to how it would appear if she were leaning away from her husband. He, of course, is kneeling beside her to keep his head above hers. I never seat two people on the ground for a picture. One of the people is always higher than the other. This may not have come to your attention had I not stressed that fact here. The next time you pose a couple similarly, watch out for this! And try to stay away from horses, too. Just kidding. Actually, I loved the shoot, the challenge and Photo 23.
Immediately after the previous picture I took a look at this location for the next portrait. I have a few places picked at Gauger's "estate" that I know will always net us great pictures. The light wasn't right yet, however. You need to have late afternoon sun to backlight the people here. Either that, or a flash to backlight them. I just opted to come back later in the day. It was worth it.
You can see in Photo 24 why we needed that backlight, can't you? Notice, too, how I've turned her body to a 45° angle to support her profile. It's made with all natural light used to its best advantage. Notice, too, the way I've placed them off-center composition with the backlit trees on the right were all planned. I don't really think about the rules of composition when I'm doing things like this. After all these years, some things come naturally.
After that first exposure Gauger picked a tree branch and held it up in front of my lens for Photo 26.
Do you like it better with or without the extra tree branch? Most of the people who saw both Polaroids were equally divided between the two. Personally, I like it better without the extra tree branch. I think that it detracts from the bride and groom. Chocolate or vanilla? All a matter of taste. Oh, yes, did I forget to tell you? I did use a filter to change the color of the sky. It's a Tiffen light blue filter just held in front of my 40mm lens. Really does the trick, doesn't it? You can actually use just about any colored filter to enhance the color of the sky. I like this one in particular because it looks so natural.
Finally, here's the "crew" in Photo 27. These are the people who participated in the first Whitewater Experience in the new millennium! Will you be with us for the second? Or, maybe, you can't wait? Join me soon in one of my other classes. Or, you can always study lots more in my web site: www.zuga.net.
One of the most difficult things to convince most photographers is that they can't hold a camera in their hands while they're posing someone. It should always be on a tripod. That frees you to rough in the basics of the pose with both of your hands while leaving the camera in position. Then, you can come back to the camera, look through the lens at the ground glass and finalize the positioning of your subject and know exactly what the camera is seeing. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels. What you see and do close-up to the subject in no way resembles what you're going to get in your camera.
A Word About My Equipment
For those who don't know, all my portrait lights are Photogenic. I use four lights out of the PhotoMaster 800w power pack. I don't need a lot of light, but I use the 800w system, because I often use two of the lights to open up the reception hall background. So, my portrait lights actually work for me throughout the wedding day. <
Another reason I like the Photogenic system is that the flash heads are small, practically weightless, and fit easily into the small softboxes that I like to use. I work with my two main lights only 3-4' from my subjects. By mounting the lights on Westcott boom arm stands I can place them anywhere I need them to be without having to worry that the stand will get into the pictures. I don't know how I ever worked without them.
I direct my lights straight through the softbox rather than bouncing them into the softbox. Using a direct light (surrounded by a round silver reflector) through a small softbox, I get a crisp light that falls off gradually toward the bottom of my subjects. As a result I don't need any vignetters to darken the bottom of my portraits. The falloff of light toward the bottom darkens the image gradually. It's a natural "burning-in" of the edges. In addition, I get round catchlights, which I prefer much more than square ones that would ordinarily form from a square softboxes.
I keep duplicate lights on each side of my subjects. Thus, I never have to move the light from one side to the other. No matter in which direction I choose to face my subject, a main light is already in place. After I decide which will be my main light, the other one becomes the hairlight.
The two lights behind my subjects are 1/3 the power of my main lights. They're used to light the background and the bride's veil. Because they're used much closer to the veil and the background than my main lights, they have to be weaker to maintain the same exposure throughout the picture. At the distance that I use my lights from my subjects I get a reading of f/16. That's the aperture I set on my lens. The background light usually reads f/11 on my background, so the background appears slightly darker than it is actually painted.
My newest background is from Denny Mfg. Co. I have named it Zuga Green. I worked with Denny to develop this as a takeoff on what I have been using up until now. It has no hot spot in the center. Because of that I can light the background to be a little bit brighter on whichever side I wish. This eliminates having to move the background one way or another to achieve the lighter area in front of the highlighted side of my subjects.
The reason I use a predominantly green background is because green is the complimentary color to red. Thus, flesh tones are rendered most favorably, regardless of the complexion or skin coloration of my subjects. A warm-toned background, on the other hand, would compete for attention with the face and distract from my main subjects. I much prefer painted backgrounds to muslins, because I feel that most of the muslins I've seen have folds and wrinkles that attract attention to the backgrounds themselves. If the background is noticeable in the portrait it is probably not right for most purposes. The background should be quiet there, doing nothing but creating a feeling of depth to the picture.
Occasionally, I will use a background that is more scenic, but that is in rare and special instances. It can be very nice when used sporadically.