Light is the single most important factor in all of photography. After all, by definition, photography means painting (or drawing) with light. The secret to photography is also the light. There is a language to it and as a photographer it helps to start learning it right away.
I do not often shoot weddings and on the rare occasions when I do, they are limited to just close friends. The friendship I have with the couple helps me to photograph the event and its moments in a painterly and poetic manner. This enables the couple and their families to become engaged in my interpretation of the event. The direction of a light source has a profound effect on this interpretation. Natural ambient light means you do not need thousands of dollars in photographic lighting equipment to create an intimate portrait. In fact, all you need is a window as the primary light source and a Photoflex 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector as a secondary.
First, in order to create intimate portraits, it’s important to understand the light. Early in my career, when images were captured on film, I was asked about what I wanted my image to say to the viewer. The ensuing conversation was about the subtleties of shape, contour, color and direction. What did each element mean standing on their own and combined as a group? This conversation resulted in a single conclusion: Light is, in most every sense of the word, a language. A language of visual expression.
Now, think about a typical wedding. What comes to mind? Your first thoughts will be images, most likely traditional ones. But go deeper and try thinking only in adjectives. Let’s go yet another step further. What are the intangible adjectives of mood and emotion? How do they blend with the quality of the light coming through a window, for example? Is the light hard or soft? How does that help the mood? In the image below the light was diffused first by cypress trees before it got to the window. A portrait looks fantastic when the light is soft and diffused. Blemishes are reduced, skin tone evens out, and there are no harsh shadows under noses or eyes. It’s really an ideal kind of light for flattering portraits.
A few weeks prior to the wedding I conducted a scouting trip with the bride and her fiancé to check out the location. The Cypress Grove Estate House in Orlando, FL is 1925 colonial style estate nestled in a city park on 80 lakeside acres. This visit is when I first I saw the window and measured the light with a handheld light meter. Wow, I said, what a light source!! The window framed and directed the light to give it shape and an edge. Color as well.
For this image, I wanted to convey a private reflective moment in a busy day for the bride. The most personal aspects of her day are the first moments when she is completely dressed and alone with her thoughts. This is how her parents will see her begin the next phase of her life and how her fiancé will see her starting their life together. This transition was marked by the bride putting on her shoes; ready to take her first steps down the aisle.
The estate house is furnished with antique furniture and the soft curves of the chair worked well here. The light coming in through the window wrapped softly around the bride in a gentle way, lighting her and creating a soft look and feel. This is the effect of both light and shadow that provides images with realism and expression to stimulate feelings and emotions. As a photographer, I photograph the moment, the light and its effect on the subject matter. This combination, done correctly, generates a reaction in the viewer.
I metered the light falling into the scene on the window side of the bride for a split lighting effect. My handheld analog meter read ISO 100 with an aperture of f1.8 at 1/160. This was the primary light source reading, but the light was split between the window light and ambient room light. By measuring the light falling on her, rather than reflecting from her, I was able to get a more accurate idea of what the proper exposure should be.
At this point my 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector now went to work. I chose the gold reflective side to bounce a bit of warm light back into the frame. This reflector is ideal to work with as I can see exactly the effect and color I am getting. The warm light enhances the quiet sense and feel of the image. Subconsciously, we associate warm lighting with first rays of light we see at dawn and the last rays of a sunset. In this image, the bride Hanny, is transitioning in the warm rays at the sunset of her single life to the dawn of a new beginning with her husband.
George Wilson has more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer, and his work has appeared in many national and international publications. Now focusing on nature and wildlife photography, George exhibits his infrared black and white landscape work and teaches photography at numerous art centers, botanical gardens and at the Walt Disney World Resort in his home state of Florida. A key element to George’s work is his dedication to traditional photography as his post processing is strictly limited to tools aligning with the traditional darkroom. To see more of George’s work, visit wilsonphotographyfl.com