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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unique and Enduring Bridal Portraits, Part 1

Lighting Equipment

Petaluma, California-based wedding and portrait photographer Michael Corsentino debuts for Photoflex and PhotoflexLightingSchool with an in-depth lesson that explains how to make the most out of a wedding portrait session. Focusing on versatile equipment, pre-visualization of concept, and location scouting, Michael covers how to create dimension with light and how to shoot multiple looks with the same lighting setup.

Because of his emphasis on planning and pre-visualization, in a matter of three hours of rigorous shooting, Michael was able to capture a staggering amount of final images of a model who wore three different dresses in four different locations.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Pre-designing your Portrait
  •     Finding the Light
  •     The ABC’s of Flash
  •     Positioning is Everything
  •     The Tree Tunnel
  •     Camera Settings


  •     Canon 5D
  •     Canon L-Series 70-200mm f2.8 Lens
  •     Canon L-Series 85mm f1.2 Lens
  •     Canon L-Series 17-40mm f4 Lens
  •     Adobe Lightroom 3
  •     Adobe Photoshop CS5
  •     Kubota Image Tools
  •     Imagenomic Portraiture

Pre-designing your Portrait

Concept is king! Pre-visualization plays an important role in my creative process when designing portraits. I find pre-visualizing or "pre-designing" what the final portrait image will look like very helpful. As with a film director, I try to create a mood, tell a story, and reveal something intimate about my subjects in the final image. Pre-visualization choices include the type of the location chosen and the feeling it conveys, the style of the wardrobe, the mood created by the lighting pattern chosen, the body language of the pose used, and finally the choices made during post processing.

Having a concept, either loose or tight, helps provide a road map for me that I can either stay on or use as a launching pad for other ideas. Having an initial concept also helps guide me as I make important decisions about which equipment to bring with me on location.

When Photoflex asked me to come up with a concept and lesson to demonstrate their new TritonFlash lithium ion strobes on location, we came up with the idea to do a moody fairytale bridal shoot.

The location for our unique and enduring bridal shoot was St. Vincent’s School for Boys in San Rafael, CA. [figure 1]

Figure 1

With its classic mission style architecture, towering trees and beautiful grounds, it was the perfect setting. After spending about 45 minutes walking the grounds with Dennis (my friend and assistant), David (Photoflex's in-house photographer), and Jaron (Photoflex's videographer and photographer's assistant), we decided on four locations we wanted to make sure we used.

Figure 2

Figure 3

For this shoot, I wanted to showcase the power of the TritonFlash™. We decided to go with the biggest OctoDome® that Photoflex® produces, the large 7-foot OctoDome®, and use that as our key light (main light) for every shot.

We unpacked and assembled the OctoDome in the parking lot while deciding where we wanted to shoot first. A major player in this decision was where the sun was going to be in relation to our model. [figures 2 & 3]

Finding the Light

Whether you’re working with strobes or ambient light alone, finding the right light for the situation is crucial. When you plan a shoot, think about where the sun will be at the time you’ve scheduled your shoot. If it’s midday, there’s a good chance you’ll need to either find open shade or bring a large diffusion panel to create some diffusion. Otherwise, the light can be overly harsh and high in contrast.

When I arrive at a location, I like to remember two "A's": assess and address. Assess your situation and the lighting look you want to create. Look around and try to imagine all the lighting possibilities for that location. Address the situation with your creativity, the tools you have, and a helping hand from Mother Nature. The sun is the best huge, free light source available! However, you have have to work quickly because it’s always on the move. The sun can be used in conjunction with strobes as a kicker light (which we chose to do in the first location of our shoot), as a backlight, or as a main light. The sky is the limit! (Yeah, I know. Couldn’t resist the sun pun.)

Figure 4

After assembling the OctoDome® and attaching it to a TritonFlash, we made our way to the first location. [figures 4 & 5]

Figure 5

The ABC’s of Flash

There are two quick flash fundamentals to keep in mind when you work on your own projects.

1. Your aperture setting, in addition to controlling your depth of field, also controls (in part*) the exposure of your flash lighting, whereas your shutter speed controls the exposure of the ambient light. This means that if you’re looking for more ambient light in your exposure, you’ll want to slow down, or lengthen, your shutter speed. If you're looking for less light from your flash, select a smaller f/stop, or aperture setting.

* The power setting on your flash is the other exposure adjusting factor.

2. The larger your light source is, and the closer your light source is to your subject, the softer the quality of the light will be. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it holds true.

Once our model Amy arrived, we had her change into one of the wedding dresses we had for her. Afterward, Dennis worked on helping the Amy pose [figure 6], while David and I worked on the lighting.

Figure 6

Starting simply and building as I go is the way I prefer to work. For the first setup, I started with just one light, the TritonFlash attached to a 7 foot OctoDome, and placed it close to Amy at about a 30-degree angle. As you'll see, you can accomplish a lot with one light and a great modifier.

The sun served as a secondary edge light on the opposite side. This is sometimes referred to as a "kicker" and creates more dimensionality in the lighting pattern. [figure 7]

Figure 7

With just one light and the sun as a kicker, we were able to achieve a really beautiful result. [figure 8]

Here are my settings for this shot:

  •     Exposure Mode: Manual
  •     Aperture: f/8
  •     Shutter Speed: 1/125th of a second
  •     ISO: 100
  •     Format: RAW
  •     Focal Length: 70mm
  •     Lens: Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS USM

Figure 8

Positioning is Everything

In this lesson and the next, you'll see examples of how different effects can be achieved with the same lighting setup simply by changing the position of your model.

Next, we had Amy turn away from the OctoDome® and added a Photoflex® LitePanel with white reflecting fabric to fill in the shadow areas of her face and to reduce contrast. [figure 9]

Figure 9

Here are a couple of outtakes from this setup. [figures 10 & 11]

Figure 10

Figure 11

As you can see, the lighting here was soft and controlled and OctoDome® created some nice large catch-lights in the eyes. The only things that changed with the camera for these two shots were the focal lengths. In figure 10, the focal length was 115mm, and in figure 11 it was 70mm.

The Tree Tunnel

We wanted to move on to our next location before the sun got too low in the sky, so we grabbed all the equipment and hoofed it to the next area. [figures 12 & 13]

Our second shooting location was a tree tunnel to the right of the school. The eucalyptus trees that lined the walkway looked dreamy and surreal and I wanted to make sure to get some final shots here. While we arranged the lights, Amy changed into a different wedding gown for a different look.

Figure 12

Figure 13

In this second setup, the sun was now in a different position in sky (low and back behind the trees), so we added a second light to take its place: a second TritionFlash™ with a Medium HalfDome® attached to serve as our edge light. I had Amy face the HalfDome® and placed the 7 foot OctoDome® behind her to create a balanced, yet dramatic, portrait with plenty of edge detail on her face and veil.

Figure 14

Below are photos of this setup setup, one without Amy in the frame and the other with Amy in between the softboxes. [figures 15 & 16]

Figure 15

Figure 16

From this setup, I decided to come in tight and go for just a head and shoulders shot. Here are my settings for this image [figure 17]:

  •     Exposure Mode: Manual
  •     Aperture: f/5.0
  •     Shutter Speed: 1/80th of a second
  •     ISO: 200
  •     Format: RAW
  •     Focal Length: 73mm
  •     Lens: Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS USM

Figure 17

At this point, I was happy with the effect I was getting and decided to experiment with how that lighting pattern would affect our model at different angles within that light. I decided to go progressively wider to capture some three quarter length and full body poses with small angle variations. [figures 18 & 19]

Figure 18

Figure 19

Notice the dimensional quality of light created on Amy's body by this front-to-back angled lighting pattern. By adding lights to your portraiture like this, you can create dynamic, yet natural-looking results. [figure 20]

Figure 20

By having Amy turn the other way and face the Photoflex 7’ OctoDome®, I was able to create an entirely different effect without ever having to reposition the lights. [figure 21]

Figure 21

Getting your model as close to your light source as possible is the key to achieving soft, wrap-around lighting like we have here. [figure 22]

Figure 22

This concludes the first part of this lesson. In the second part, we will venture into some night photography and go on to two more beautiful locations at St. Vincents. Stay tuned!


Images and text by Michael Corsentino, award winning contemporary wedding and portrait photographer and contributing lesson writer for PhotoflexLightingSchool.com®. Location: St. Vincent’s School for Boys

Modeled by Amy Tonge

Dresses courtesy of Nan Winter’s Bridal Collection (http://www.nanwinters.com/)

Bouquet courtesy of Sonoma Mountain Flowers (debbiegoan@sbcglobal.net)

Assisted by Jaron Schneider, David Cross and Dennis Urbiztondo

Post Production by Michael Corsentino (michaelcorsentino.com)

Edited by Ben Clay


Lighting Equipment

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