Friday, October 30, 2020

Engagement portraits: Chasing the light in Lake Tahoe

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join my brother and his family in Lake Tahoe, CA for a couple days of relaxation. Since I am not very good at the whole relaxation thing, and since my nephew and his finance were due for some engagement photos, we decided to make use of the beautiful location to capture their photos. 

Capturing portraits in a new environment is always a challenge, even in a pretty place like this. I had to figure out where we would take the photos and determine the best times for optimum lighting. As always I try to keep my setup very simple with a Canon R6, two lenses (Canon 70-200mm and Canon 24-105mm), and a couple of Canon 600EX-RT flashes. I thought that this would make an interesting blog post for all of you, with me explaining how I determined the shooting locations, compositions, posing and lighting.  

Let's start with the scouting on the day before we took the portraits...

I arrived at the cabin around 3pm, just in time for Stephanie (the bride to be) and I to drive out to a location that she and my nephew (Dean) really liked. I brought my camera with me to do some test shots. Since these were just test shots for composition, I did not bring any flashes and only shot using available light. But I knew that we could do more with the right lighting equipment during the real shoot.

We walked around this rocky area and I looked for good foreground and backgrounds. 

I looked for interesting patterns and leading lines. Looking at the location of the setting sun, I determined that this would be a good spot for late day portraits.

The next morning we decided to drive into Tahoe City to see if there were any good locations there. I didn't see anything special, but decided that we might find some nice spots along the Truckee River. After driving for no more than 10 minutes, I saw this location from the road and pulled over to test it out.

(Canon R6, Canon 70-200mm lens, ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/160 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

The morning sun was facing towards me, so I had Stephanie and Dean turn their backs to the sun. This kept the sunlight off of their faces, but still backlit their hair. I liked what I was seeing in the Canon R6 viewfinder, and so they changed into their nicer clothes for our first real portraits of the day.

(Canon R6Canon 70-200mm lens, ISO 160, f/7.1, 1/200 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

For these photos, I decided to keep it very simple, with an on-camera Canon 600EX-RT flash which was powered down to -1. This added just the right amount of fill flash to light the couple and keep them from being silhouetted. 

(Canon R6Canon 70-200mm lens, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

We moved to a couple of different spots and I shot both tight and wide. In this photo, I chose to shoot using the rule of thirds, keeping them off center. Once again, I made sure that they had their backs to the sun and added light from the on-camera flash.

(Canon R6Canon 70-200mm lens, ISO 320, f/3.2, 1/160 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

We drove around looking for other locations, but since the sun was getting high in the sky, the choices were limited. I did find this one tree by the edge of the lake and had some fun photographing them in between the branches.

(Canon R6Canon 70-200mm lens, ISO 320, f/3.2, 1/160 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

Whenever I take portraits, I try come up with a lot of different "looks" for my clients (or in this case, my relatives). 

Since the mid-day light was not optimum for portraits, we took a long lunch break before heading back to the Sand Harbor Beach (the rocky area we visited the day before) around 5pm.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 200, f/9, 1/200 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

On this visit, I came with my sister-in-law (Kath) who was nice enough to hold a couple of Canon 600EX-RT off-camera flashes and be my voice activated light stand. 

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/800 sec)

I told Dean and Stephanie that we would be chasing the light for the next 90 minutes.  We were walking all over the place and climbed some of the rocks. I saw them at the top of a rock and saw the golden sunlight on their faces. I knew that I could not get a nice shot of them looking at me, since they would be squinting, looking directly into the sun. To solve this,  I had them look out to the side. 

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 640, f/14, 1/200 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

We were walking down this pathway when I saw the sun setting behind the trees. I knew that this would be a great time to change my camera to a narrow aperture (f/14) and create the starburst effect for the sun in the background. 

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 640, f/11, 1/160 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

Once we got around the bend, I used the golden sunlight to backlight my subjects. Kath was standing behind me with one of the flashes to light them.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 640, f/16, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

Once again I changed the camera settings to a narrow aperture (this time f/16) for the starburst effect for the setting sun.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 640, f/16, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

I moved behind Dean and Stephanie to position the sun to either side of them and in between them. And then...seconds later the sun was gone.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 1000, f/9, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

The lack of direct sunlight gave us a chance to shoot portraits in flat light. We went to a nearby rock formation and took some photos there.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 1000, f/7.1, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1)

I photographed them in many different poses, with the wedding save-the-date sign and without. 

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 1000, f/11, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

We were just about to leave the rocks when I looked up them and saw these clouds in the sky. The clouds were being lit in this pink color by the sun below the horizon. I got down low to the ground (so that the clouds would be directly behind them), put the camera in manual mode, and changed the settings to under expose the background. I had Kath point both of the Canon 600EX-RT flashes at them, to light them and keep them from being silhouetted.

At that point, I thought we were done. I packed up my gear and we headed back towards the parking lot. 

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 1000, f/9, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

The pathway to the parking lot went parallel to the beach, and seeing the sunset, they asked if I could take a couple more photos of them there. It was getting really dark, but I knew that this could yield some nice shots as long as I could achieve focus on them. I asked Kath to get close to them and light them with her cell phone light, so that I could lock focus on their faces. Then I had her stand behind me and slightly to my right to light them with the Canon flashes.

(Canon R6Canon RF24-105mm lens, ISO 1000, f/9, 1/125 sec, Canon 600EX-RT flash)

A couple more poses and we were done! 

It was a long day of smiling for Dean and Stephanie, a fun and challenging day for me, and educational for my sister-in-law (who got a quick education on lighting). The end result were a bunch of nice photos for them to have for their save-the-date card and so much more. And now they are prepared for the photography marathon that will happen on their wedding day!

I hope that this gives you an idea of how I took the portraits and inspires you to do the same (or better). 

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JP said...

Quick question on the last few photos you took. Being that you had to use a cell phone light to auto focus, how to you find the low light focusing on the R5 and R6? Would you have been able to use the focus assist beam from the 600 flash?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

JP - I would probably been fine with the focus assist, but wanted to make sure it was right. I will be doing a lot of low light shooting in Costa Rica (with the R5 and R6) next week and will let you know how that goes.