Styled Shoot: Castlewood Canyon, CO
Sometimes, you get a random invitation from a friend of yours that lives on the other side of the country. It's not often I have friends from my former state visit Denver and ask me to do some photography with them... Sometimes that friend is Palm Beach-based Photographer Chris Ramos, and they're putting together a styled bridal session in a SWEET location. Namely, Castlewood Canyon, just outside Castlerock, Colorado.
I hadn't worked alongside another shooter in some time, so my goal was to shoot some b roll and basically just collaborate with Chris on posing and such. With the Bridal theme, we were trying to get as much variety as we could between our "bride" and "groom". Chris was far more accommodating than I expected and gave me a chance to direct Andrea and Brandon (the lovely couple you see below) on my own a handful of times.
I love these shoots because there's no pressure to get a certain look. You can experiment, try something new and get instant feedback off BOC (back of camera) previews. Andrea, who is an experienced model based in Denver, actually showed me quite a few things that I have definitely incorporated in my posing since then.
Cirrus clouds make for beautiful landscape shots. On any given Saturday, I would wish for sweeping cirrus or rolling cumulus over a plain blue sky. In this case, I just got lucky with the timing since it seems that the clouds radiate out from Angela and Brandon.
One of the challenges of shooting near snow during golden hour (the time leading up to sunset, which casts a pleasing orange and yellow hue) is the fine line between keeping the snow "cool" and the skin tones "warm". In this case, I opted to try to blend the dress with the snow for uniformity. The flesh is closer to the surrounding brush. Just as the snow blankets the earth, the dress blankets her skin. Almost poetic, really.
I particularly like this frame because it breaks a rule or two... mainly the idea that it's unflattering to shoot from below the chin, at an upward angle. Obviously Angela probably looks gorgeous from any angle, but the key is to find the right balance between a turned head and seeing both eyes/cheeks. I wonder sometimes if greek sculptors considered the fact that their monuments would be observed from below, unless at a distance? Perhaps that is why so many statues have turned heads. When shooting a wedding client, it's easy to find a single angle and exploit it over and over, but that's lazy. This kind of experimentation and boundary-busting is what separates the basic from the creative.
Back light, back light, back light. Even on a cloudy day, it's possible if you know how to expose for it. Back in the film days, it would be achieved by pushing and pulling exposures in the darkroom. By overexposing a print under the enlarger, then slightly under-developing the image in the developer bath could sometimes create a print with 'missing tones'-- tones that would otherwise mute those highlights you see in Andrea's hair. The digital process is very similar. Exposing for the highlights prevents those bright spots from blowing out detail, then "pushing" the exposure in Lightroom can bring out the shadows. There's a fine line, though. It takes a LOT of practice to be able to do this on-the-fly.
I'm not a gear snob by any means, but I do shoot fully manual. It seems cumbersome at first, but it's no different than driving a stick shift. It means more control, and after a LOT of practice, you can shoot images based on your intuition. It's about perfecting something over time with so much practice, that your shooting is based on reflexes, not guessing.
The dial next to my shutter button is measured in almost-inaudible "clicks". Four clicks counter-clockwise means I've changed my shutter speed from 1/400th of a second to 1/80th of a second. In the blink of an eye, I've adjusted my exposure to compensate for the clouds moving in front of the sun. It's like reading brail. After so much practice, you no longer count the clicks. Call it muscle memory, but it's important-- and it's MUCH faster than relying on Program mode or Aperture-Priority. Why? Because those modes do guess. And when you check your preview on the back of the camera, see that it's not what you wanted, now you have to reframe and take another photo. By then I've already taken the photo I want and moved on. When you're paying a wedding photographer a lot of money, do you really want them to say "hang on a second" while they figure out their settings?
"What do you mean you're not going to jump?"
One thing I really enjoyed sharing with Chris was my method for using composites. By shooting several frames in a sweeping motion, I can later merge the images in Photoshop or Lightroom for what I call "super photos". At full resolution, these images can be printed up to several feet without any loss in quality, thanks to their extremely high megapixel count. The photo below is something like 70 Megapixels after the merge. That's roughly 6 feet wide when printed at 300 dpi (photo quality), and no upsizing whatsoever. This is something I offer to all wedding clients at some point or another. It's different, creative and can be printed really big.
Yes, I added a little saturation and put a -1 stop mask over the sky. Because those COLORS. Oof. So beautiful. I can't wait to shoot another bridal session at Castlewood.
Last but not least, Here's Mr. Ramos rocking the "camera cringe". I like to think he was saying "Yea, baby!" with an Austin Powers voice. I wonder if we all look like that? Haha.