Pretty soon after taking an interest in wedding photography I discovered the Fearless Awards and was quickly blown away. I’d already come across some outstanding photography in places such as wedding blogs but the levels of creativity shown in the Fearless Awards was at another level. I started to look forward to every new collection of winning images and they were a source of so much inspiration. In their own words: “The Fearless Photographers directory is a showcase of the best wedding photographers in the world who are constantly striving to surprise you with wedding photos that will amaze you.” I obviously wanted to win one myself and hoped that maybe one day I would.
Well this week I finally did! I won a bloody Fearless Award! I really am honoured to have my photo from Dani and Oz’s wedding included in Collection 38 of The Fearless Awards. Out of 8,340 entries just 89 photos were deemed good enough to win an award which shows just how tough it is to win one of these things.
So in addition to announcing this news, I thought I’d give an insight into how I captured my Fearless Award Winning Image. From here on it might get a bit geeky, I’m mainly writing for fellow photographers but feel free to read on, I’ll try to explain anything particularly technical.
Shooting and Lighting Set up
I always shoot weddings with 2 cameras on me at all times using a wide angle 28mm lens on one body and either 35mm, 50mm or 85mm on my second body. For the vast majority of the day I don’t use a flash. My cameras are excellent in low light so I rarely find an absolute need to use flash during daylight hours (though will sometimes do so for creative reasons). Plus I find it a little too intrusive when capturing candid documentary moments. But when the sun sets and the dancing starts I need a strategy for being able to document the fun and energy of the dance floor and for me that means including flash.
I usually give myself 3 different options for shooting the dance floor. The first is possibly the most obvious but definitely the most difficult, just use the ambient light (the light available in the room). This is often a combination of flashing coloured DJ lights and dim wall or ceiling lights. Far from ideal for shooting fast moving dancing but very authentic in that it allows you capture scenes as it really looked. I always try and shoot at least some images on the dance floor using only the available ambient light and always find it very rewarding when it comes off.
The second is to mount a flash on my camera and bounce light off the ceiling and/or walls to light my subjects. When I do this I will usually adjust my exposure so as to include a good amount of the ambient light, using the bounced light to illuminate the faces. This gives some of authenticity of the first method, showing the colours that were there and is very flexible as the additional light source is always with me, attached to my camera. In the evening, one of my two cameras will be set up to shoot these first two methods with a 35mm lens.
My third option is off camera flash. For the non-photographers still reading this means setting up one or more flashes off camera and using a camera mounted radio device to trigger the flashes simultaneously when the shutter is pressed. There are all sorts of ways of setting up off camera flash, you can bounce light off walls, use light modifiers to direct or spread the light, the options are endless. My preferred set up is fairly simple, 3 flashes, two on light stands pointing towards the dance floor and one that travels with me in my left hand. Where I put the light stands will vary depending on the space I have to work with I generally like them in adjacent corners of the dance floor pointing towards the middle.
The dance floor at The Reid Rooms where I took this photo fairly square and I could safely get my light stands in adjacent corners which is how I like it. Below is a lighting diagram showing my set up. I use the two flashes on lights stands to provide back light or rim light to subjects. This helps to separate them from the dark background. I then carry a third flash in my left hand which I generally hold above me and as far away as I can, providing fill lighting the faces of my subjects. I carry this third flash rather than having it on a stand so that it travels with me, providing fill light where the action is. On a stand I would be restricted to shooting in a smaller area. If you’re interested, here’s the EXIF data, Nikon D750, 28mm, 1/125th sec, f13, ISO1600.
Thanks for staying with me, I hope this is still interesting! I’m now going to move on to look at how I approached shooting the particular scene that resulted in the final image. Below is a contact sheet of all the images taken of the scene. I wish I could remember what song the DJ was playing but I can’t. These guys obviously loved it and were really going for it, full on dancing like no one was watching, heads banging, hair flailing. Initially I shot them using my second body and bounce flash as they weren’t ideally placed for my off camera flash set up. I got some good frames but the light was too flat and the background too busy so decided to wait and see if they moved to a spot where my off camera lighting set up could come into play. They did and I shot a number of frames before moving on to some other guests as I knew I had managed to get more than one really good frame of the couple.
The photographers amongst you will know that with unposed documentary photography taking a lot of photos of a scene but only delivering a few key images is totally normal. There maybe photographers out there who have the ability to look at a scene, step in at the decisive moment take one frame and walk away knowing they have it but I’m not one of them. Shooting lots is part of my process, it’s how I work a scene, it’s how I work out the best angle and composition, making minor adjustments as I go. Shooting through moments from start to finish is how I ensure I get the best possible image from any particular scene.
Going through the photos afterwards I picked a few possible frames but ended up picking the one I felt had the most impact. The one where this couple look totally in the moment, the one where the hair is the wildest!
For non-photographers, the processing of an image is what we do to enhance the photo, fulfilling it’s potential. A bit like applying so called filters in Instagram and other mobile phone apps. Setting up my lighting in a way to achieve a bold contrasty look gave me a really good starting point for this photo and I really didn’t have to do too much to achieve the final version.Below is the unprocessed raw file as it was shot in camera.
White balance was adjusted to achieve a warmer tone, then sharpening and contrast added to give an even bolder and punchier look. Finally the overall brightness was increased slightly and some areas of the background burned (make darker) to make the subjects pop more. The image wasn’t cropped at all which in truth is rare for dance floor shots as it’s very hard to be precise with framing in camera when everyone is moving so is moving around.
So here it is, the final Award Winning image. A combination being prepared with the right lighting and equipment then being in the right place at the right time to capture great moments when they happen. This frame has the 3 key elements judges are looking for when giving awards, light, moment and composition. It’s these elements that I always have in mind when I’m taking photos
I’d really love to hear what you thought about this post. I’ve never done anything like this before and have tried to be as open as possible. If you think I’ve missed anything or would like to know more please just drop me and email. To see more of my work check out my wedding portfolios and blog.