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Making Something out of Nothing! - part 1 of 1 2

by Juli Ann Cialone Published 01/01/2009

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Making Something out of Nothing!

When you don't have fairytale backgrounds, hours to shoot, gorgeous bride and groom or even good weather!

Let's be honest. Our average wedding is not glamorous. It is not perfectly coordinated nor set in the ideal location at the ideal time of day. It rarely has the most dramatic décor or even an interesting style or theme. Our average bride is usually far from being a model. She is not perfectly proportioned nor does she choose either the best hair, the best make-up and not even the most flattering gown! Even our average groom is far from perfection. Hopefully he hasn't had too much to drink beforehand. And razor burn seems to be more than likely, as is the nervous acne skin we dread retouching. He usually has no sense of fashion and an attitude that photographs should be done rapidly and with him in them as little as possible. Any of this sound familiar? Or is our studio the only one that seems to specialize in the imperfect?!

Whilst all the above is true about 90% of the time, 100% of our clients expect our imagery not only to be beautiful, but also to be impressive and creative enough to still have that fairytale impact when you view them. Sure, the bride, groom and settings might look more like Walmart than like Cinderella's castle, but that is not THEIR problem. It is ours. They are counting on us to make their wedding images, and most importantly the images of them and the storytelling detail images of the day, look more like their dream than like the reality of the situation. They are depending on us to capture all the classic moments and all the emotion of the day despite giving us very little to work with. They are hiring us, in all our professional glory, to be the story teller as well as the magic maker!

So where do we begin when the odds are so against us?!! (A plane trip to a deserted island sounds a good option…) But, chin up! Don't despair! Although we can never reveal all that we do (especially without giving an on-the-spot demonstration), we are here to give just some advice on how to manage such difficult situations. In fact, we hope that our advice actually shows that these hard times are not as hard as they seem. Basic, good photography can often solve the biggest crises. Tweak it a little, and you can go from good to brilliant


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Let's begin with bad weather which often equates with bad lighting. Although full sun is not always our friend, it is often better than a torrential, horizontal rain or sleet downpour. In these instances even porches become useless and our natural light is somewhat muted. For group photos, bringing in studio lights is the obvious solution. But for the bride and groom this is not my first choice. As a primarily natural light shooter and minimalist (when it comes to equipment), studio lights can be bulky and difficult to manoeuvre in small areas. Instead, we would rather use a small video light. Sometimes this is simply to add to existing window light, but often it is a dramatic spotlight on a bare wall. You will be amazed at the stunning images you can achieve in a dark pub, in a tiny windowless room, or even in a stairwell with just one simple light source. (See Image [1]). Don't have a video light? A flashlight or even a tungsten lamp with the shade pointed at an angle can work. It is slightly less 'professional looking' but hey, in a pinch, no one will remember once they see the images!

So what if we have simply, a hideous location? Imagine your nightmare location and we guarantee in the US (… be gentle on our relatively young country!) that we have some locations that are beyond awful. Lodges, for instance, are often just glorified cafeterias. So how do we make a cafeteria look romantic? First, we begin by walking around our site. We go into every nook and cranny, including basements, back dump areas, etc…looking firstly for good lighting and then for neutral backdrops. Simplicity rules these portrait sessions when dramatic beauty is absent. Every site within walking distance is a potential target. For instance, if the inside looks awful, take your wedding group a little distance from the parking lot. Shoot the image with a wide aperture to let the background blur out and it's amazing how the colours of the cars make a nice background. Plain walls of buildings can look like studio backgrounds and if they are sufficiently beaten up (paint peeling and all) they are even cooler. For the bride and groom, small areas are key. Look again for those neutral backdrops where you can add a light from a lamp or flashlight for drama. We even try to find interesting shadow patterns in areas hit by patchy sunlight to position them for dramatic effect (see Image [2]).

Don't be afraid to scout the surrounding towns to where the ceremony and reception are going to be held. We generally do this if we are unfamiliar with a locale ('no surprises' is a good policy). If we see that the locations are not satisfactory, we often can suggest some easy solutions. A neighbour's porch, the park down the street, even a patch of trees en route from the church to the reception could work better than a dull, ugly building. City streets (right in the centre), sidewalks and alleyways are great places to create interesting romantic images (see Image [3]). You'd be surprised at what we can achieve with these often mundane backdrops that many take for granted!


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