Tuesday, June 19, 2018


My 40+ years doing fine art photography, with over 25 of those years doing weddings and portraits, I’ve learned that as a professional, drama sells. The best way to create drama (especially of a static subject) is with dramatic lighting—that means Directional Lighting; Light that Does Not come from camera position!

That’s because directional light creates:
  1. Three Dimensionality
  2. Texture and Detail
In Part 1 of this blog series I discussed this topic using “unmixed lighting”—that is single source lighting, which is pretty easy to deal with.  This week’s topic covers “mixed lighting” and outdoor natural lighting, but my rules still apply—I’m always looking for or creating directional light. 

So, What is Mixed Lighting?

In weddings it’s often an interior setting where we have artificial lights (lamps, chandeliers, or overhead fluorescents), natural light from windows, and sunlight that can be seen through those windows. This challenging scenario can happen in churches, homes, hotels and often in reception halls. This is why wedding photography is one of the most technically difficult photographic occupations. In addition we must be able to solve all of these technical problems in minutes (not the hours or days that commercial photographers have with their subjects) while our clients watch and wait within a timeline that we have NO control over!

Here is a mixed lighting example….
f5.6 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 63mm
This reception room has these great floor to ceiling windows that I just had to use; window light is my favorite! The good/bad things were:

  • good:  the sun was setting knocking down the outside light.
  • bad: the windows were tinted and the light on my cake was low.
  • good: I have window light!
  • bad: too many windows creating light on both sides of the cake creating Non-Directional Light.
How I got this image:
  • I moved the cake table towards a wall on camera left until I got a shadow side on the cake; now I have Directional Light. This is called Subtractive Lighting—a technique I use in outdoor Natural Light portraiture.
  • Using my Incident Light Meter I measured the light falling on the Highlight Side of the cake, while I raised the meters ISO to get to an f-stop with good depth-of-field and a shutter speed that I knew would drag-in the light from those candles: ISO 800 got me f5.6 at 1/15 sec.
  • I did my test shots (I LOVE digital cameras!) to check how the outside looked. Great! We got lucky with the time of day.
  • Put my grey card on the highlight side of the cake and did a Custom White Balance.
  • I checked my histogram to make sure I was not Clipping the Highlights.
  • While I was doing these things Kathi was busy decorating the cake table. She gathered the bridal and attendants' bouquets and arranged those various elements to create what you see.
NOTE:  No matter what the reception staff do to decorate the cake table we usually redo it. In some cases they seem to do their best to sabotage our cake photography. One of their favorites is to stack ALL the serving places ON the cake table to make their job easier to serve-up cake slices to the guests. We remove them and then put them back.

An easier mixed-lighting set-up….

f8.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
This was done at the Ritz-Carlton in Half-Moon Bay, California. We were on their preferred vendor list and we never had to redecorate or fix “sabotage” to the cake table. They were always a class act. They put this small cake table between a set of windows, but their decor was so elegant that I used that decor as my background. They had placed flood lights behind and from above left on the cake.

How I got this image:
  • I used my Incident Light Meter to measure the light from the flood light hitting the left side of the cake.
  • I wanted a couple things here; I wanted good depth-of-field to handle both the cake and the background. And I wanted that pink flood light behind the cake to be seen since it matched the colors in the cake.
  • I experimented with shutter speeds form 1/8 sec., 1/15 sec., and 1/30 sec., with their appropriate f-stops at ISO 400, I settled on 1/30 sec., @ f8.0 since that gave me enough color around the cake without polluting its surface and good depth-of-field.
Using Natural Light outdoors….

f3.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 92mm
This was done at Nestledown (Los Gatos, California), one of my favorite wedding venues because the place looks like it was designed for photographers. Everywhere you look there are fabulous backgrounds and settings for photography.

The basic rule for cake placement outdoors is to have the cake placed in the Shade and then I just deal with the ambient lighting.

Planning the Cake Portrait:
  • Before I let Kathi decorate the cake table I rotate my camera position around the table looking at backgrounds. You can see why I picked that multi-colored floral hillside as my background—those colors went perfectly with the floral colors of this wedding.
  • The Lighting is coming from the Left (open sky) with additional top light. There’s a steep tree covered hillside on the right.
Then the light changes….

f2.8 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 200mm
I got the overall cake table portrait and decided to go for a close-up with a Bokeh background. The light level is low so I go to ISO 1600, back-up and zoom to 200mm @ f2.8 and then the sun peaks through the trees lighting up the cake!  Rolling my shutter speed up to 1/500 sec., (spot metering) I get this nice close-up.

In Part 3; “A Piece of the Cake” I’ll cover the close-up, detail, set-ups we do on the cake table…’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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