Behind the Image

Welcome to this Tuesday’s Photography Tips and Tricks! Your place to get the inside scoop on running your photog biz, shooting stellar in-camera images and more!

Today, we are breaking down an image from our January wedding we shot of the amazing Taylor and Matthew. These two were a JOY to work with and we got to shoot so many awesome portraits of the two of them! We are going to break down one of the more difficult scenarios that we had to deal with, and show you exactly what we did to make sure the final result was something our couple would want to hang on their wall.

After we had shot their portraits and after the wedding ceremony was over, Matthew and Taylor wanted a few shots in one of their favorite spots in town, the Nashville walking bridge. This location was tough to shoot at because it was freezing cold (24 degrees out!), has cool light on the bridge, but no lights on our couple, AND had the potential to look less than dramatic if not shot right. So we made sure to bring our Elinchrom Quadra lighting rig (our gear list can be downloaded HERE) with our new Elinchrom Deep Octa 39 to rock this out!

This is the before..

Here, in this natural lit photo above, you can see just how awful the existing light was. The lighting is flat, has no (good) contrast on it, and their eyes are dark from the direction of the light. This image was also shot at ISO 6400 at 1/60th of second, and the noise is getting pretty bad. The color tone of these lights cast a purple hue, and the light on their faces is not super flattering or awesome looking! But, the great thing about bringing your own light, is you can add it anywhere that you want to make it look awesome!

The other problem that we ran into, was as we rushed out to get set-up so the bride would not freeze, we forgot our light meter! Without the light meter, we have no way to tell how bright our strobe is, so we had to improvise and make it happen on the spot!

Here is how we did it.

We positioned our light to camera right about 30 degrees which gave us a really nice highlight and shadow on each side of our clients faces. Any further than 30 degrees or so, and we would run the risk of having a shadow cast from the bride’s face onto the groom’s face, which is not pleasant. So when doing your own shoots, watch when you have the light off to one side with two people so that the light does not cast a nasty shadow on the person further away from the light.

Since I did not have a light meter, what I did was use the in-camera meter as a starting point and set my ISO, F-Stop and shutter speed so that if I took an image, everything in the background of my subject would be exactly one stop under-exposed (or a little bit too dark) by having my in-camera meter read minus 1. We set our camera like this because ultimately we want the background a bit darker than our subject once we have the strobe on. In this particular case, with this very low light situation, that reading (the background being one stop under-exposed) came out to be:

ISO 400


1/100th of a second

When I took an image at these settings, the background lights were all visible, but not overly bright. Perfect! I also checked my histogram after determining my under-exposure of the background lights, and the histogram confirmed that everything was a little too dark. It looked like this (the dark side of the histogram on Canon is to the left).

So you can see that by using the in-camera meter to start, then checking it on the histogram, we get the result we want which is simply a background that is slightly too dark.

Now, all we have to do is fill in the gap with the strobe! We need the strobe to fire at the same brightness as our under-exposed background which would give a perfect exposure on our subjects. If we had the light meter, all we would need to do is power the light up or down until the meter read what our camera reads (ISO 400, f/1.8 at 1/100th of a second). But since we did not have the light meter, and the in-camera meter can’t read manual flash, the only thing left to do was use the histogram as our guide.

So, we powered the strobe down very low (to about 15 watt seconds) since the ambient light was very low, and simply took a shot, then checked to see if the histogram went up or stayed the same. If it had stayed the same, we would know that the flash is not bright enough to make the correct exposure, then we would simply power the strobe up. If we took the shot, checked the histogram and the histogram looked like this:

We would immediately know that the flash was too bright. As long as the ambient light has not changed and the only thing we are adding is the flash, we know that the flash (and what it is hitting) is what is changing the histogram and in this case, there is too much flash and the subject will be over-exposed. So we can then power the strobe down until the histogram just barely hits the side wall of over-exposure (on Canon, this is the right wall) and then we have a perfectly exposed shot.

So we then powered the strobe down slightly until the histogram looked like the one above. This histogram is just to the edge of the right side (on Canon, that is the bright side) which means our flash is lighting up our subject and they are just to the edge of being over-exposed, but are perfectly lit the way we want. Bam! We are ready to shoot away!!

Final image shot at ISO 400, f/1.8, 1/100th of a second. Minor editing of the RAW image in Lightroom 3 (turned back into a JPG).

That is how we did this shot with no light meter on the fly! Set up time was maybe 30 seconds! :)

Ready to come out with us and do this on-location with real models and learn how to master this system yourself?? Click HERE to sign up for our IN-CAMERA workshops spring tour!

Happy shooting!