Free Webinar with Profoto: One Light Portraits

On May 21, join me at Profoto.com/live on location for a real senior portrait shoot.

Those of you who do not live in the US might wonder what a senior portrait is. It is simply a portrait taken of a student during his or hers senior year of high school.  In this case, I am taking you on a real senior portrait shoot, which we have filmed just for you to see our lighting techniques.

We bring a single flash to the shoot and utilize simple yet effective lighting techniques that make lighting a portrait simple and beautiful.  This webinar is not just for senior portrait photographers.  Any photographer wanting to create beautiful portraits fast on location will have plenty to learn.

The webinar will take place on May 21 at 7PM CET (May 21 at 10AM Los Angeles, 1PM New York, 6PM London, 7PM Paris // May 22 at 1AM Beijing, 2AM Tokyo, 3AM Sydney).

Go to www.profoto.com/live to sign up or watch live.

Tim & Samantha’s Wedding in the Grand Canyon

Samantha and Tim were married on Shoshone Point at the Grand Canyon.  The wedding slideshow features the music of Native American flutist Kelvin Mockingbird (available on iTunes).  These are a few of my favorite images.

Wedding photography at the grand canyon. (1)

You may have seen my engagement portrait session with Samantha and Tim on the Dry Tortugas.  Sam and Tim are an adventerous couple and maybe better said, they love life experiences.  So, when they made plans for their wedding, they went beyond planning a wedding and a honeymoon.  They planned a wedding life experience, starting with a four day hike from the north rim to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and ending with a cliff side wedding on the south rim’s Shoshone Point.

Since I am the wedding photographer, their life experience becomes mine as well.  A few days before the wedding, I hiked down the south rim of the grand canyon for four hours with 55 pounds of camping and photo gear on my back (which is apparently more weight that is advisable), so I arrived quite exhausted, but down was easy, up was much harder.

As you can see, the floor of the Grand Canyon is a desert (which at times this week was hitting 120 degrees plus).  The mountains you see in the background are the cliffs that rise up and make the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  We spent the evening on a short  two mile hike, spent the night in our tents and began the long, challenging hike back up the South rim of the canyon the next morning at 5 am (to beat the heat).

Man, I love my job!

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Following the path you see in the photo above, takes you to another impressive drop in the Grand Canyon to the absolute floor, the Colorado River.  This sheer cliff is mind blowing.  Even standing at a safe distance from the edge will give you the absolute creeps.  But the view just cannot be beat.

When most brides and grooms are planning the final details of their wedding, playing a round of golf, or hitting the spa, Samantha and Tim were hefting their packs for 21 miles over four days in 110-122 degree heat, dropping and climbing roughly 6,000 feet on either side, and seeing some of the most breath taking views on the planet.   I’d say that makes this wedding quite unique.

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It’s a long way down.  Even with a guardrail, you question your safety as you look over the edge.  Tim is not too fond of heights…

At 5am we broke and left camp and headed up the south rim of the canyon.  Each hour, the temperature would rise by ten degrees, so the earlier we started, the better.  Tim gave me a hard time about the weight of my pack, but in the end, it could have been a lot heavier.  I couldn’t risk hiking down into the canyon and have a camera fail, so I needed two cameras.  But instead of taking two DSLRs, I took one paired down Canon Mark III with a 24-70mm lens and a Panasonic GH3 with a 35-100 and a 7-14.  The Panasonic GH3 is a light weight, mirror-less, 4/3 camera and it’s lenses weigh almost nothing, but the quality is very high, so while I still used the Canon for many of my shots, the GH3 was a perfectly usable alternative.

Half way up, I realized I could use the monopod from my small tripod as a walking stick.  That helped.  Tim offered to take the rest of the tripod to lighten the load.  Thanks Tim… my legs still thank you for that.  Suffice it to say, when hiking with photographic gear, you might want to leave the camping gear at home!

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Once you are on the trails for four hours, every switch back looks the same.  I thought for sure the top was around the corner at every corner, and since Sam and Tim had not hiked this trail, and I had just come down the day before, when I told them we were almost there, they believed me…  Until we met a ranger who informed us we still had about an hour to the top.  Oops. Well, I was selling hope!

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No, this isn’t us at the top.  This is us close to the top.  Close is a relative term.

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After making it to the top, we had a day to recuperate from the hike and get ready for the wedding.  I was grateful for the rest.  Then, on the following day, at about noon, the getting ready began.  Samantha was in her room getting ready and Tim was preparing with a trip to Shoshone Point for a little meditation and mental preparation for the wedding.  You see, Tim has a fear of heights.  Why then did he choose to get married on the edge of a cliff?  I will tell you in a minute.  Suffice it to say, he needed to spend some time with the cliff, so a little meditation was in order.

Meanwhile, the bride was putting on the dress and getting her hair done and looking like a million bucks!  I got to help steam/iron the dress that had gotten a little wrinkled somewhere between Florida and Arizona.

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Tim is crazy about Samantha!

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It was a beautiful day and the canyon was singing with shadows and highlights.  A cloudless sky is a double edged sword.  It makes for harsh lighting conditions for portraits, but the lack of cloud cover keeps the canyon alive with contrast.  So, a Grand Canyon wedding comes with it’s own special set of prayers: for scattered  Cumulus clouds with a few strategically placed and well timed Cirrus clouds during the portrait session to soften the sun.

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We didn’t get the Cumulus clouds, but we got a few Cirrus clouds.

This next shot is during the wedding.  You don’t see the guests because they chose to sit much higher on the point, and you don’t see the officiant because she is awesome and always stands to the side so the couple is not crowded and so their photos don’t all have an officiant in every shot.  How novel is that?  Almost every wedding ceremony image is cluttered up by an officiant’s head sitting between the bride and groom and even during the kiss.  “You may kiss the bride,” and I’ll just stand right here and and watch and make it look like I am kissing you both as well…  Why don’t more officiants have this figured out?  Samantha and Tim are actually saying their vows and I was able to get a shot with just them and the grandeur of the canyon.  That should be celebrated.  Don’t you think.  So, I have to give many many thanks and compliments to David & Debra Joaquim because they think about the aesthetics of the ceremony and take themselves out of the way.  I suppose it is a show of humility, that the wedding is not about the officiant, or the photographer, or the coordinator, or the mother of the bride, or the best man… it is about the bride and the groom and their commitment to each other.  And with a little humility, we can all make the day more meaningful to them by stepping out of the spot light and serving the couple and fulfilling their needs rather than our own.

Wedding photography at the grand canyon. (8)

Incidentally, some of those clouds even placed themselves where we needed them.  Photo prayers were answered.  While the lighting was a little challenging on the bride and groom, it was magnificent on the canyon, and in the end, it is easier to light the couple with a soft box than it is to light the entire canyon.

I love this series portraits.  The bride and groom look great and the light is so lovely, thanks to Ryan (my assistant), who was battling the winds with a big soft-box that at one point was trying to push him off the cliff.  Good thing he’s a strong guy!  This shot could not have happened without Ryan and his soft box.  (The light was provided by an Einstein Mono Head, a vagabond power pack, a 30×40 White Lightning soft box and two pocket wizard transceivers.)

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Wedding photography at the grand canyon. (5)

Now to discuss the fear of heights.

When you share major life experiences like these, you tend to develop a deeper relationship with people.  Tim and I have had many deep conversations ranging a myriad of subjects as we have spent a lot of time together.  When you compare  the amount of time we have been photographing to the amount of time we have spent hiking, kayaking, cooking, eating, searching the sunset for the green flash, and discussing life… you might say, we haven’t been shooting photos at all.  As odd as this may sound, coming from Tim and Sam’s wedding photographer, photographing less may be a good thing.  Because portraits are portraits, but understanding is everything.  I am always drawn to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s statement, “Photography is nothing, it’s life that interests me.”  In fact, I have it branded on my studio wall to remind me that regardless of what I know about f-stops and camera gear and lighting techniques, those skills are worthless without a natural curiosity and love of life and for people.  It’s the observation of life that makes great images, because that’s how we see the story that should be told.

In one of our conversations at the Canyon, Tim told me that the reason he wanted to get married in a place that would cause him fear was that he wanted to feel his bride’s calming influence and support as he said his vows.  He wanted to feel her lifting him up against the will of gravity.  Tim is a confident and successful man, so to hear him talk about this choice of location for the wedding helped me to see a lot about his relationship with Samantha.  Ergo, it is not an accident or a whim that led to the photograph below.  I watched Tim stay clear of  cliff edges completely, or white knuckle their secure guardrails, while we were in the canyon, but on the day of the wedding he stood at the edge of the cliffs on Shoshone Point as calm as a summers morning.  So this next image has become to me, the most telling portrait I made of the couple, but it comes from hours of discussion and a better understanding of Tim and Sam.

So, perhaps the most important thing a photographer and his clients can do is spend a little more time talking and a little less time shooting.

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The last moments of light are always the best, and with the help of a small Canon 600 RT flash off to the left, it’s perfect.

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Once the the sun goes down on Shoshone Point, there no more light.  Fortunately we had a mostly full moon, so seeing was possible, but photography was not, without some additional help.  During the signing of the marriage license, we needed some off camera lighting.  Flash could have worked, but we are outside, so there is nothing off which to bounce the flash, and direct flash in that kind of darkness is blinding at any power.  So the wedding party would have been left to sign the document in darkness.  So we pulled out a constant LED light source called an Ice Light and a pocket LED torch.  I was impressed with the final result.

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You can see the light setup here.  Ryan’s arms got very tired.

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The job of photographing a wedding is a difficult one and requires a lot of problem solving, a lot of energy and a lot of love for the people you serve.  But when you have a job that is this much fun, even when it is challenging, it is hard to call it a job.

Thank you Tim and Samantha for trusting us with the photography of this important year in your life.  I will watch your future with interest and wish you all the best.

Wedding Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Wedding Location: The Grand Canyon, Shoshone Point

Wedding Officiant: David & Debra Joaquim

Wedding Slideshow Music by Kelvin Mockingbird, Courtesy of Kelvin Mockingbird, available on iTunes.

Thank you to Panasonic for the use of their lightweight GH3 4/3 Camera.