The Wedding Couple and the Location

Valentina and Rpin were married at the Grand Canyon with just a few very close friends and family members late this spring. I have noticed something about most (if not all) couples who get married at the Grand Canyon, and that is that they are all very fun, casual and full of adventure. I get along with them all very well. But Rpin and Valentina took fun to a new level. I had not met them before the wedding day, but we spoke on the phone and exchanged emails, and I got the sense that they would be enjoyable people to work with. What’s more, they both work in Hollywood, so they understand the value of the photograph.

Early on in our discussions, Rpin explained how important the photos were to he and Valentina.  He basically told me that they wanted a photoshoot with a wedding on the side. That is a loose paraphrase, but close enough to the intent of his statement.  Knowing where he stood on the importance of the photograph, I knew that we had to get the portrait sessions absolutely perfect. For most photographers and couples, that means timing their wedding so that they get done with plenty of time to catch the perfect light at sunset. They push quickly through family photos and scramble to get into position for the sunset and grab a few shots before, during and just after the sun drops on the horizon, until the light is gone.  Then it is on to the dinner and dancing. But we all went above and beyond, and planned both a sunrise and a sunset portrait session.

Valentina would wake up by 3:30 am to be ready for a 5:15 am call time to be in position for a sunrise shot. In the darkness of the morning, with the bride wrapped in a warm coat, we would find our way off the beaten path, to the canyon’s edge, set up our lights and compose the image and be ready to nail the shot at precisely 6:30 am.  If that sounds like a lot of work for a few photographs, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Here are a few tips that will significantly increase the chances of nailing any photo session you may be planning.  These tips were critical to getting the perfect shots on both our sunrise and sunset sessions on Rpin and Valentina’s wedding day.

10 Rules for Photographing on Location

You have to know where you are shooting and what it will be like the date and the hour of the shoot.  One week prior to the wedding, I headed up to the Grand Canyon to do a little location scouting. I hit the canyon exactly one week before the wedding, before sunrise so I could see where the sun would rise and how it would effect the canyon in the early morning hours. Both fortunately and unfortunately, the canyon was covered in fog. Which was great for personal landscape photography, but not great for judging the canyon at sunrise on a typical sunny day. 

The grand canyon under fog.

But with the help of my favorite location scouting tool on my iPhone, Sun Seeker, I was able to see exactly where and when the sun would rise and set.

iPhone Sun Seeker application screen shot

With a good understanding of light, I was able to extrapolate its effect on the canyon, and I even got a few glimmers of sun peaking through the fog on occasion. But I was not just looking for light… finding the right location, on the edge of a mile deep hole is pretty important. I can’t just ask the groom to step over to the side, or move the light or the camera to the other side of the couple if there’s a branch in my way, or if the sun is in their eyes. By scouting the location ahead of time, I can pre-judge the composition, the lighting and the logistics, so my clients aren’t waiting for me to get my act together.  So we will start our list of location photography rules with the following:

  • Rule 1: Always scout your location before you shoot, even if it is a few hours before on the day of the shoot.
  • Rule 2: Always know where your sun will be at the time you will be shooting.
  • Rule 3: Don’t fall off cliffs while you are photographing, it can be very bad for business.

Remember the Timing is Everything

Knowing where and when the sun will rise in the frame was absolutely critical. I didn’t want to compose a shot and find the sun rising behind their backs, nor did I want to have the sun rising off camera left. Location scouting gave us the exact time and location of the sunrise, however, knowing all that does no good without efficient management of the crew and the talent (in this case, myself, my assistant and the couple). Judging hair and makeup time for the subject, travel time, set up time, and leaving a bit of fudge room for delays is critical to being on time. Sunrise lasts for mere minutes. In our case, we planned a 5:15 am departure from the hotel, knowing that we would never get out by 5:15. With an extra 20 minutes built into the schedule, when we got away from the hotel at 5:30, we were 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

  • Rule 4: Always build in extra time to hedge against unforeseen delays.

Reliable equipment and confidence in technique is also key to your success.  There is nothing worse than loosing a time sensitive photo because you ran out of card space, or a battery died.  You can’t simply blame the flash radio trigger for not working “this one time” and expect your client to understand… Fumbling with your equipment at the moment the sun rose was not an option, but by following some basic rules, we avoided the embarrassment and travesty of missing the shot.

  • Rule 5: Exchange all batteries in the cameras, flashes and triggers for brand new, fully charged batteries, no matter how full they already are.
  • Rule 6: Insert and format blank cards into the camera(s) before any critical, time sensitive shoot.
  • Rule 7: Only use reliable gear that is tired and tested and works 100% of the time.  (no hit and miss equipment)
  • Rule 8: Know your equipment inside and out and use a practiced technique on this critical, time sensitive shot (never try a “new” technique when shooting the shot that only happens once, you will fail in a big way).

With a few test exposures out of the way, my watch set, my camera locked down on a tripod and my flashes ready to add the fill light on the couple, we waited and watched for the sun to rise. We began shooting with seconds to spare knowing we would ease the couple into their role as the sun rose above the horizon. As the sun rose, we photographed like our lives depended on it, and kept shooting until the sun had lifted well beyond the horizon.  Not only is timing the right moment critical, but so is continuing to shoot through and beyond the entire extended moment.  Stopping to look at your handiwork is absolutely foolish. In our case, the sunset happened for a few short minutes,  and then the effect was gone. Too many people are not comfortable enough with their equipment and exposures and spend time double checking or sometimes admiring their images or worse, fussing with their equipment, which gets in the way of actually capturing the perfect moment.  So I will add one more rule to the list.

  • Rule 9: Test your exposures and technique before the shot, so you can shoot through the critical moments and never spend your time looking at your camera.

Bride and groom on the edge of the grand canyon at sunrise.

Location scouting is one of the most important things I do in my job as a photographer. I never fumble around with my clients preset. I already know where I will be shooting, where the sun will be and what to expect out of the light before I even get to the job.  Knowing your location, your equipment and your technique all have one net effect, which is to give your clients confidence in you as a photographer.  When they have confidence in you, they will have more fun and get more excited about what you are creating together as a team.  That alone will elevate the images you are making.

  • Rule 10: Following rules 1-9 will free you from the distractions of the photo shoot itself, freeing your attention to lavish it on your clients for an experience they will never forget.  (i.e.. have a lot of fun!)

At the end of the day, luck favors the prepared.  This is my way of being prepared when I go on location for commercial, lifestyle, portrait and wedding photography shoots. You may already have some of these rules in practice, and others may just seem like common sense, and you may have more to add to the list.  Take my list and add it to yours.  Tell us about your favorite tools or methods for location scouting.  You can reach me at jaredplatt.com.

Wedding Photography by Jared Platt

Wedding location: The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Slideshow Music by Hive Riot, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music