Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A little rain never hurt anyone - An amazing destination wedding in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina

Some of you may have noticed that I was conspicuously offline for most of the last 5 days. I was busy traveling to the lovely Smoky Mountains of NC to shoot a wedding. And this was not your normal one day event. This was a long and amazing 4 days of photography, starting with portraits of the couple, then capturing photos at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, family photos, and then capping it all off with the wedding and reception. Here is a recap of our fun filled week and weekend, with some photography tips sprinkled in along the way.

On Wednesday, my wife and I took off from San Francisco airport. I was a little concerned about the amount of batteries and equipment in my bag. But the TSA just pushed it straight through and we were on our way. Well...kinda. We flew into Charlotte, NC and found out that our flight to Ashville was cancelled. The good news? It turns out that it is only a couple of hours to drive to where we needed to go. So...we grabbed all our camera gear and luggage, headed over to Hertz, rented a car and off we went. This also saved me gate checking my camera gear (mostly packed in my LowePro Pro Roller x200). I really hate having my camera gear out of my sight when traveling.

Even though it was fairly late in the evening, we made a pitstop in downtown Ashville to meet with Melanie Cantrell, who was helping me second shoot this wedding. It was great to meet her before the big day, do some strategizing, and have some good chocolate at a local desert place.

We started shooting portraits of the couple on Thursday afternoon. This was one of the first photos taken during the week, and it was obvious that we were in for a heck of a week. Lauren just lit up in front of the camera.

Lauren and Trey were good sports, letting me try different locations, and trusting my decisions. In this case, we could not shoot by an old barn that we had scouted earlier (failing to notice the surrounding fence). But, on the drive to the barn, I spotted this nice wall next to the road, so we pulled over and I shot from the middle of the road.

This was also taken on the side of the road. I really liked the nice even light and the solid green background. I shot this with the Canon 1DX and the Canon 70-200 2.8 lens (my go-to lens for most portraits!) And for those of you wondering if I added light, I did have a Canon 600 EX-RT flash set to -1 stop to add some fill light. There was a small portion of the road which showed on the bottom right of the image, so I cloned the grass in Adobe Photoshop, as it was very distracting.

We drove around and came across this small pond. Since the water was still, I knew that this would make for a good reflection photo. I shot this with them off center to include the surroundings and draw your eye through the image to them and their reflection.

After shooting portraits for an hour or so, we went back to the house where Lauren's family was staying, and her father showed us these great wood carvings which he had created. This called for another photo. I did shoot full length photos of Trey and Lauren with the wood, but liked this tight composition better. It tells a completely different story and makes the carvings the subject instead of the couple.

The groom's family, who we have known for years, was nice enough invite us to dinner with everyone that night. But before we sat down to eat, we headed over to these two adirondack chairs which were at the end of a peninsula and took this shot just before sunset.

Friday afternoon, we headed off to the Sawyer Family Farmstead, for the wedding rehearsal. This place is like a photographer's dream location. Lots of character and great locations for shooting.

You can see the love they have for each other (and it is our job to capture that emotion).

The rehearsal dinner was at the Castle Ladyhawke. Yes, there is a castle in North Carolina. It is not an old structure, but is really picturesque. We scouted this venue before the event and as soon as I saw this staircase, I knew that I had to get a photo with me up high and the couple looking up at me from the ground floor.

Everyone had a great time on the outside deck of the castle. The wedding couple sat in the middle as friends and relatives gave their speeches.

Later that evening, Lauren's father asked if we could do some family portraits on the following morning. And since the wedding was not until Sunday, I was up for anything.

I had seen a really cool bridge, the other day, on the way to Sawyer Family Farmstead. I figured that we could get some nice photos of them there. Unfortunately, the sun came through the clouds and it was not ideal lighting. So, we moved down to the river to get some shots in an area with even light.

We had heard about a nice waterfall that was 20 miles away from where we were all staying, and I figured that it might be worth a trip there for the family portrait, and it was! (Photographer's note: I really wanted to shoot this portrait with a slow shutter speed, in order to show the motion of the water. The only way to achieve this (without any ND filters) was to lower the camera's ISO to 50 and set the aperture as low as it would go. The problem is...when you do this, everything but the waterfall goes dark. The only way to fix this was for me to add light to my subjects. My wife was nice enough to go back to the car to grab 2 more Canon 600 EX-RT flash units, and we used all 3 together, firing wirelessly, to light the family.)

This was my "behind the scenes" shot (taken with my iPhone). You can see Annette and another young man holding the Canon flash units, while I triggered them from the flash on my camera. You can also see how the water frozen in place is not nearly as pleasing as the "real" photos at a slower shutter speed.

The family having some fun (and trust me, they were not short on personality).

And then, on Sunday, it was the big day. You can't shoot a wedding without taking detail shots. My wife is really the talented one in the family and helped to set up all of the detail shots.

We tried hanging the wedding dress in numerous places around the farmstead, but I liked this location the best.

And then it was "go time" and we headed up get some shots of the bride getting ready. For most of these photos, I chose to use the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens which lets me isolate my focus exactly on my subject and have amazing options with my depth of field.

We were having some fun with the wedding party and asked the flower girl to help the bride get her boots on. At one point, the little girl thought it would be fun to try her boots on Lauren. I think they were the wrong size, and put on the wrong direction. :)

Could this ring bearer be any cuter?

I turned around and saw the kids looking out the window. I asked Lauren to go over to them and see what they were looking at, and I quickly grabbed this shot. I love the light on the their faces and the reflections in the glass.

We took many traditional photos of the wedding attendees, but I had some fun doing something different with the girls. All of these photos were taken with the new Canon 24-70 lens.

Another precious moment with the bride and kids.

This photo just cracks me up! The flower girl walked down the aisle and then just pulled up her little dress and put it in her mouth. I don't think that was the plan. But I just kept shooting and laughing at the same time. You can see the other people laughing in the background.

The bride and her father were brought up to the wedding area in a horse and carriage. As I was shooting this at 1/1000 sec, I realized that this would be a perfect motion blur shot. So I quickly changed the camera settings from f4 to f22 (I was already at ISO 100) which gave me a shutter speed of 1/10 sec. I took numerous shots as I moved the camera at the exact same speed as the carriage  This was the best of those shots, showing motion in the wheels, motion in the horse's legs, blur in the background, but maintained a sharp image of the people in and on the carriage.

I loved this sign, and framed a shot to highlight the text while giving a hint of the ceremony happening in the background.

And then it was the big moment...time for the wedding vows. But just as that time came, it started to rain! Instead of panicking, Lauren just burst into laughter and lived the moment. I love that! (Photographer's note: Thankfully I was using the Canon 1DX, 70-200 2.8 IS lens, and 600 EX-RT flash which are all water resistant. This would have been a bit riskier with the lesser camera bodies or non "L Series" lenses.)

This is a close-up crop from the prior image. I love that you can clearly see the raindrops, and also see the bride and groom having fun with it. quickly as the rain came, it stopped, in perfect time for Trey to kiss the bride.

As the bluegrass band started playing, Lauren and Trey danced their way down the aisle.

We managed to get some nice group photos before the weather started turning bad again.

At which point we moved into the barn area for the rest of the photos.

Did I mention that my wife is really clever? Well...the days before the wedding, she went shopping and found these cool little flags and twine. She made this sign, and I made the photo. Not a bad team! (Photographer's note: I took this photograph two different ways, one focusing on their faces and having the sign slightly out of focus and one just the opposite. This photo is clearly stronger than the other, but since we are shooting digital, give yourself some options, as you never know what you and your client will like better.)

Some nice shots taken just prior to the couple's introduction.

This is the couple's first dance as man and wife. I set up a remote flash high above the dance floor to get this lighting on them. It really paid off for this special moment.

Prior to the wedding, the bride's parents asked me if we could do a group shot of all the guests. I saw that there was a loft above the venue floor and used that to my advantage. The funny thing is, I yelled down "Hands up everyone" and someone yelled back "Are you robbing us?"

Then the band cranked up and the party really began.

This is one of my favorite shots from the party. After shooting hundreds of photos of people dancing, I was looking for something a little more creative. Here is what I did to get this shot. I grabbed my Sigma 15mm fish eye lens and put it on my Canon 5D Mark III. I then locked that onto the top of my tripod and extended the legs all the way. I pre-focused the camera to approximately 8 feet from me, and set the camera to the 2 second timer mode. I would hit the shutter release button, quickly raise the tripod up over everyone on the dance floor, and let it fire. You can also see the remote flash firing in the background giving me the extra light on the bride's hair.

Lauren getting ready to toss the bouquet.

At 10:30pm, it was time for the new couple's grand exit. All the guests grabbed sparklers, lit them, and created a tunnel of light for Trey and Lauren. I knew about this in advance and was a little worried about capturing this shot with the correct exposure. I had just enough time to test this prior to the couple entering, and noticed that the camera wanted to add too much light. I quickly dialed the camera down a full 3 stops and prayed that I got this shot. For this final image, I did use Adobe Photoshop to further darken the people closer to me, and to brighten Trey and Lauren for their farewell kiss.

Overall, it was an amazing long weekend for everyone involved! Congratulations to Lauren and Trey (and their families). I feel so honored to have been there to capture this important moment in their lives.


Fabiana said...

Nice! Thanks for sharing the photos and your experience with us. I appreciate your explanations of how you took some of the "trickier" shots. It's so helpful to those of us that are just starting out. Your creativity and experience sure paid off. The photos turned out beautifully!

Subhendu said...

Thanks and it is indeed a nice read ..
Can you please elaborate the the spiral stairway lighting set up ( if any )..


Subhendu said...

Thanks and another nice read indeed..
Req. to elaborate the lighting set up for the spiral stairway shot (if any ?)
Best wishes Subhendu

Anonymous said...

Well done Jeff, you inspired me with your amazing photography!I`m already your fan!Thank you for all the advice and dreamy moments you shared!

Wei Chong said...

Great blog. I enjoyed reading, seeing and learning about how you went about making their day so special.

Yuval said...

Thanks Jeff,
Really inspiring post, if I may ask you please to add some more explanation and setup of lighting in your future posts, it will be very helpful.
The photos are just wonderful for those lucky couple but it must be easy for you with such great raw material of people...

Anonymous said...

and after reading and seeing this, i finally came to the conclusion that my life is way too uneventful for me to actually own the type of camera i have at the present :/