Mar 14 2014
Many thanks to Shane Young for sharing his experience of a workshop, over to you Shane:
Being a voracious consumer of all sorts of online photographic training material, the more I learn, the more I want to get straight back out there and put it into practice. There is no substitute for hands-on experience and practical training, whatever your skill level.
I should state that I shoot professionally, which obviously means I should have a good idea what I’m doing already or I have no right shooting people’s weddings; but anyone who professes to know everything there is to know about photography is probably dangerously deluded and should not be allowed anywhere near the most important day of someone’s life, however top-of-the-range their kit might be!
Anyway, my aim is never to stand still in my quest to be the best I can be. What better excuse is there to spend a day in the company of some great friends and pro photo colleagues at a new wedding venue in my home town, with two superb models as bride and groom and the excellent and much-lauded Andrew Appleton as workshop host/trainer.
I should thank our good friend Maggie Booth for arranging the day with her usual good grace and deadly efficiency, and Anselm for opening up Elmore Court, his ancestral home, for us to knock about in with our big lenses and general rock n roll shenanigans. The setting is a grand and fine period residence, as the pictures should amply illustrate.
The quality of Andrew’s work is beyond question, with hundreds of past clients lining up to praise his very keen eye and wonderfully accessible training style. He clearly knows his onions technically, but beyond that there is the innate ability to ‘see’ a fantastic shot and know how to maximise its potential to become an image of exceptionally high quality with the minimum of fuss.
We each described what we would most like to develop or refine about our wedding photography, and some common themes sprang up, including placement of the bride and groom into the right background, posing, and of course the ever-crucial subject of lighting, with particular emphasis on off-camera flash. As it turned out, however, none of us needed to remove the flash from the camera at all that day, instead opting to bounce, fill and reflect our way through every shoot scenario we came across. This was particularly useful for us as wedding professionals because quite often there is simply no time to start setting up stands and triggers in the middle of a busy wedding.
One of the key points I took away from the day was not really about cameras at all, but about learning to see. And I mean really see. Not by having a cursory glance at a pleasant setting and thinking ‘this’ll do’, but by nurturing the ability to picture the finished shot in its entirety, as if looking at it on the page of a magazine, and studying it soberly in all its detail, and knowing the why and the where and how of the success (or otherwise) of the image. However good you get at this, there is always room for improvement, and this was a great opportunity to stretch and flex the muscles of that ‘inner eye’.
Andrew’s instincts for a shot gave us a fascinating insight and often a new perspective. Several times I had an idea for a shot at a given location, only to find Andrew had a different take on it, which makes one perform a mental switch away from one’s habitual way of thinking, to consider alternative ‘looks’, treatments, angles and moods. A very healthy expansion of one’s horizons!
We spent a good amount of time at the start of the day just exploring the building and assessing the spaces for quality of light and potential shooting angles. It was good to do this without a camera anywhere to be seen.
Although all of us blessed with sight can see light, seeing and understanding how light really affects and shapes a picture is a skill that takes time to learn. Even when we know the principles, there are many subtleties, and only experience arms the photographer with the knowledge to use light optimally. An ornately carved wooden fireplace surround was a good example. Andrew’s idea to shoot it from the opposite side to the window light threw its intricate detail into sharp relief. The same window light also gave the model a lovely rim light. Andrew then bounced his flash behind his own head off a wall about thirty feet away and managed to get some illumination to the subject’s face. Eventually it was decided that we could bounce the flash into a reflector immediately behind us so that much less power was needed. Important to note that although your flash can work really hard when needed, it will drain the batteries quickly if you use full power when you don’t really need to. This technique also gave us more control of the colour temperature of the bounced flash, whereas the wall colour had added its own cast.
We talked about the inverse square law affecting the amount of contrast on the subject’s face when looking towards window light, and used this principle to place our bride just the right distance away to define her face and get the most pleasing quality in the shadow fall-off.
We worked on balancing ambient light with supplemented flash so that our subjects didn’t look artificially lit. Often Andrew suggested creating a makeshift ‘window light’ by bouncing flash into a reflector. When balancing flash with room light we sometimes used a coloured gel to match the tungsten light sources with an eye to adjusting the overall colour temperature later if needed. Some of us used ETTL flash with compensation and some used manual flash to achieve the right balance of light.
We used floorboards to create lead-in lines, we tried shooting at various heights, distances and with different lenses to eliminate or include elements that adversely or positively affected the composition. We studied the effect that bouncing the same flash off different surfaces had on the skin tones of our subjects, as well as how the angle and quality of light affected the shape of their facial features. We occasionally used an Icelight to subtly separate the groom’s dark suit from a dark background. Appropriately mirroring a real wedding shoot, we had to deal with periods of strong sun interspersed with completely flat light, for instance choosing a spot where there was a pool of shade to stand our bride so that whether or not the sun came back out, we were able to get an effectively lit shot.
It was good to be reminded to explore the effect of shooting from the ‘short’ side of a subject’s face to flatter the features. In other words, not shooting from the side of the face most exposed to the light (which enlarges or fattens features) but to shoot more from the shadow, or ‘short’ side.
All in all we had a really good day. As well as having lots of laughs, I think everyone would agree that every shot helped reinforce good habits and practices and hopefully eliminate subtle negative elements by ‘seeing’ the whole image more thoughtfully, and from fresh perspectives.
I would recommend any photographer of any skill level to attend one of Andrew’s sessions. He is very easy to talk to, free of ego and funny to boot. His rapport with his models was entertaining to say the least, and hopefully you will see that his guidance helped us to produce some beautiful work.