Lighting Techniques for a Storybook Look

Jim Brandano of JP Brandano Photography, one of our talented members in Florida, shares a fantastic tutorial on the lighting techniques he uses when shooting portraits of the bride and groom:

In one of my posts, I mentioned that we sometimes use a flashlight when lighting a bride and groom for an image. I received emails asking two questions: why and how. I will try and answer those questions today. These are usually taken at the reception after most, if not all the planned shots; the first dance, cutting the cake and tossing the bouquet are over. We try to pull the couple away for ten minutes or so to get a romantic image for the album. Our first step is one of the most important in capturing the image. That step is when we plan ahead of time for the shot. We scout out the venue and find the place that would be ideal. Then we have our lighting ready and my camera readings set to a starting point but not the final settings. You have to remember that this is their wedding. They are having a lot of fun so you do not want to interfere with their night so you really need to plan it out. We also let the couple know about the shot before the wedding day and then again when we reach the reception. We assure them it will take about ten minutes or less.

This particular image is one of our favorites using the flashlight. It was taken at Wendy and Antonio Huertas ‘s wedding reception in New Hampshire. They looked amazing and it was up to us to try and capture just how amazing. This was photographed outside at 11PM. We knew we wanted to try and capture an image under this beautiful trellis. As you can see, there were many little lights lining the structure. Could we have taken it using a flash? Yes, of course but we would have lost the wonderful atmosphere that we saw when we looked at the two of them in this setting. We would have blown out all the shadows and the darkness of the night with a flash. Our set up is actually was quite easy and quick. After we have the couple in a relaxed pose, Phyllis stands with the flashlight off to my right. I am in front of the couple at 6 o’clock and Phyllis stands at 8 o’clock. She points the light at the couple so that we are illuminating just them and I notice how the light falls off gently down the length of their bodies. I quickly refine my settings and shoot till I feel we have the shot. This usually takes about 1 minute, once I actually start photographing them. We then thank them and walk back inside and finish shooting the rest of the reception.

A few tips: the flashlight we use is a Brinkman dual Xenon tungsten spot light. I believe it cost us about 20-30 dollars, a few years ago. Remember, it is tungsten and is a pretty intense light source. With those two facts in your head, first, set your camera to tungsten white balance. Then realize that your camera’s light meter might be fooled as to what your exposure should be. That is why I said I get my setting to a starting point. You need to take a few test shots before you’re ready for the actual photograph. I will usually use the aperture priority mode and an ISO of 800 to 1200.

When you look at this image, I hope you can see why we photograph some shots using this technique.
I think it gave this image a fantasy storybook look. I know this couple loved it and it was chosen for their albums. This technique also works great for portraits and other shots. We would love to hear your comments about the images and the technique. This is my first attempt at a tutorial and we will see by your response if is something I will try again.

A personal note: Wendy and Antonio are expecting their first child in the next few months. We are so happy for them and wish them all the best, they deserve it.

About the Author:
Jim Brandano, JP Brandano Photography – Available to travel the world

Jim and Phyllis’s goal is to document the whole story of your wedding day with images that are candid, beautiful and honest. They strive to capture the natural beauty in the most mundane, everyday moments. No glance is insignificant, no smile too common. These moments are the ones that tell the real story of your special memory.

You can check out more of Jim’s work:

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