Photo insight with Thomas Stewart: Jess and Nick

April 10, 2016

This photograph of Jess and Nick on their wedding day was taken at around 10pm at Bendooley Estate in Berrima, NSW, Australia. It only started raining late in the evening at around 9pm. It was cloudy for most of the afternoon (which I love for photos), so during the reception I was checking every 15 minutes to see if it was raining. I don’t mind it raining at this point in the day, as it’s a good opportunity to get creative. If there is a high chance of rain during the wedding ceremony, or during my normal portrait session after the ceremony, I get a little anxious. It is pretty much up to me to find good locations to take the bridal party for photos, and rain means that my location choices are quite limited.

However, some of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced at weddings have been during really bad weather – rain, high winds and so on. Once I get over the initial ‘Uh-oh…’ moment, and if I have a couple who are outgoing and don’t mind getting a little wet, then bad weather is great for creativity. Luckily for me on this occasion, Jess and Nick were a super-relaxed couple who just wanted great images. By this time of the night the bride didn’t care if her dress got a little wet, and I think she might have seen a few night shots on my Facebook page, so I really didn’t have to convince them to stand in the pouring rain.

I’ve shot scenes like this a few times before but never to this effect, so when I saw that it was raining I did have a shot of this type in mind before I took the couple outside. I didn’t actually know it would turn out this well. There are so many variables with night shots in the rain, and they all have to come together for the shot to work. The amount of ambient light, flash power, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, flash distance from the couple, lens and, of course, how comfortable the couple feel standing in the rain for a few minutes, all play a part in determining the outcome of the shot. These variables mean it is hard to visualise the exact shot: by default, this one was something of a stab in the dark.

For this set-up, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a 135mm f/2 L-series lens and two 600EX flashes. The shutter speed was set to 1/20sec, with the aperture at f/2.8 and ISO 1600. The flash on my camera was facing backwards and was used just to trigger the one behind the couple, which was on a light stand around 5m (16ft) behind them, on full power, at waist height and pointed directly towards them (and therefore towards me).

Because it’s dark, focusing can be tricky. In the past when I tried this kind of shot, I used to ask the groom to hold my phone lit up in front of him and focus on it. At the last moment, I’d tell him to put it away. Then I realised you can use the modelling-light button on the camera. It triggers both flashes (the on-camera one and the one behind the couple) for one second and in that time you can lock focus. So for this shot I used the latter method.

I shot 19 frames that night in the rain, over a period of five minutes. This shot was the 15th in the series. In fact, I didn’t know I had ‘the one’ until we came back into the reception, I dried the camera off and was able to look through each frame. It is impossible to properly gauge a good versus a bad shot when outside in the pouring rain with a wet couple! When I showed Jess and Nick my favourite frame, they were pretty gobsmacked. They couldn’t believe it was them in the image, and they were calling all their friends and family over to have a look. No one believed we had just taken that image two minutes before. Their reaction was great.

After the wedding, I made a few minor edits to the photo. I applied a VSCO preset, tweaked the white balance and slightly adjusted the shadows and highlights. I also cropped the image slightly to remove the edge of a tree on the left-hand side of the frame, then edited out a small patch of grass in the bottom left. I then took the image into Alien Skin Software’s Exposure to add grain, then back into Lightroom for sharpening.

As I do with all my strong images, I posted this one on my Facebook page and it received a lot of comments, likes and shares. It was also picked up by The Huffington Post, which has featured my work before and so follows my page, and it quickly went viral, which was a great thing to happen.

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