Ohhh, film. You know how much I love it. It has the potential to be so soft and airy and if shot in natural light super bright and crisp. But as we all know not all weddings are outside during the coveted golden hour and as photographers we don’t always have the pleasure of photographing in perfect lighting conditions. I used to consider film restrictive, only able to be used in the best of the prettiest light but with some testing, trial and error have found that with a touch of extra planning film can still be beautiful in even the seemingly darkest of scenarios. If in low light some may instinctively think “increase your ISO and shoot Portra 800 instead of 400!”. Unlike this digital way of thinking, that can be useful but quite frankly isn’t always the best solution as different film ISOs have colors that don’t react the same in different light and, in my opinion, Portra 800 isn’t the best for low light….at all. The colors get kind of wonky. So unless you are going black and white picking up a faster ISO won’t always do the trick. This is where you can either decide to 1: shoot the film you have a faster ISO and have it “pushed” later in developing (which gives a totally different look) 2. Go digital or 3: light the joint up. I do whatever I can to continue to shoot film well into the evening, so here’s How I Use Artificial Light to Shoot Film: (best part is, you need very little gear to get great results!)
**Note: ALL examples below are unedited film scans and Fuhi400h
SCENARIO 1: The room without windows
Recipe: 1 Lowel light on a stand + natural reflectors + 1 video light (when needed)
Shilhi of Passion Roots asked me to photograph her beautiful Christmas inspired tablescape in her home. I brought along both digital and film, hoping to shoot all film and just before I left grabbed my giant Lowel pro light and stand just in case. When I arrived I immediately knew I would be needing it, as there wasn’t a window in sight in her dining room. I opened the front door in hopes of brightening the place up but knew we’d need a lot more than that. So I got to work putting up my one light and praying for the best. Thankfully the walls surrounding the table were bright white and the mirror that lined the opposing wall from my light held a very large mirror. These natural reflectors mixed with ambient light from the chandelier and tree added all the brightness and pretty that I needed. I made sure to keep the very bright (but somewhat “spotlight”) light on a stand off to my side, as a “key light” of sorts, keeping it pointed toward the white walls and mirror so it could reflect and bounce around the room.
When I changed positions and photographed the florals in the opposite direction (photo below) you can see my light source (the light stand set up to be about 6 feet high) behind the arrangement. I then used it to back-light the tablescape, again with the white walls and mirror now behind me as a natural reflector. During this shoot I rarely moved the one light on the stand and, if needed, used an assistant holding a video light for filler light on darker corners of the table.
Scenario 2: Mixed Lighting (+ no reflectors)
Recipe: 1 Lowel pro light + 1 window
To highlight the sparkle and shimmer of the Christmas gifts in our own living room (that has windows but not a lot of natural reflectors close by) an additional light source was needed to fill in the darkness between the falling window light and the space in front of the Christmas tree. I set my one, again bright and hot as hell Lowel pro light up about 12 feet away from the scene, shining directly onto the tree and the packages, with the window light coming in from behind the presents. This time, instead of keeping my main light source (the lowel light) to the side of me reflecting off white walls (like I did in scenario 1) I kept the lowel light behind me (over my shoulder). In doing this I had to be careful not to cast shadows with my big head, and being limited on my light sources I could not shoot from all directions unless I incorporated an extra video light into the mix to fill in shadows. In the photo below of the box with the pink bow I shot with the window to my right side and the light stand to my left. Shooting the light directly falling onto the subject with no other reflectors to soften it up as I did can be tricky, you don’t want it to look TOO artificially lit, so where you stand in relation to your subject matters. Also, you can see that the light I have doesn’t have barn doors on it, so it acts like a spot light. This is helpful if I am showcasing cropped scenes but when shooting the entire scene from a distance this type of light can create fall-off, like in the photo below of all the packages under the stocking. See where the blue chair and teepee aren’t as well lit? Barn doors on a bright light could help that.
In the photo below I cropped in tighter to eliminate parts of the scene that weren’t well lit and create some great bokeh with the ambient christmas tree lights.
Scenario 3: Ballroom Reception Details
Recipe: 2 video lights
Truth be told, large, dark ballrooms are typically where I bust out my digital camera and continue to document the day. However, there are some things I just can’t NOT shoot in film, so when I have a way to effectively light it, I will. It’s hard to photograph very large, dark scenes in color so instead I focus on capturing the details in my favorite medium by using an assistant holding two video lights. I love love LOVE food photographed in film, so whenever dinner is served I walk around and take shots of the plates and desserts, shooting onto a bright tablecloth (at a wide aperture) and getting my assistant to hold the two small but powerful lights on either side of the subject. Usually they are standing slighly to the left of me, getting an arm workout as they hold each video light above their heads in a “v” shape, kind of like a cheerleader with pom poms (omg don’t tell them I said that), with one arm slightly lower than the other, at an angle directly light onto the subject. I always look for shadows and ask them to adjust accordingly. Lots of light holding around here, they probably hate me for this. Sometimes I also directly mount the device onto the hot shoe of my camera and ask them to hold the other slightly off to one side.
Scenario 4: Sunset
Recipe: 2 video lights + a natural reflector
I find myself super excited during a shoot and as the sun is dipping below the horizon and dusk is quickly approaching I yell “just one more shot!” at least 12 times. You can’t just increase your ISO to accommodate low light when shooting film, and the look of sunset with a flash just ain’t my thang so when I am capitalizing on a couple having a great time well into the evening I’ve gotta find ways to make it work. This is when I bust out my cheap-o video lights again. Using any natural reflectors around me (usually sand) mixed with the last bits of sun I ask my clients to turn where the lighting is best and I use video lights to fill in the rest. The results can be beautiful, natural looking and super easy! Plus, it allows me to keep shooting justttttt a little bit longer. In the photo the awesome photographer helping me for the day on Maui stood off to my left, holding the video lights above her head, again, in a slight V with one arm somewhat lower than the other directly shining onto the couple. I love the shimmer and warmth it added with the last few drops of peachy sunset reflecting behind.
-Lowel Pro Light + Stand (these babies get HOT + are BRIGHT! Best for small, controlled shoots)
-Two Video lights (I use cheapos from NEWEER but Ikan makes awesome super bright, clean ones. Great for mounting on top of your camera in the hotshoe or having assistants hold them, or even on a stand if you don’t have extra help)
-Reflector: Whether it be natural (sand on the beach, a white wall), one you brought with you or a DIY one using a hotel bed sheet, these tend to come in handle to bounce artificial light and make it appear more natural.
Either beach engagement shoot or a ballroom wedding I always keep these lights on hand and have more often than not pulled out my inexpensive video lights for added oomph.
Some people opt for flash but when it comes to shooting both film and digital I prefer a constant light source that I can move and adjust as I see fit.
If you couldn’t tell by the looks of my instagram, bright and lively details are my jam. The love for styling up small vignettes has always been in my blood ever since days as an interior designer/freelance photographer taking shots of beautifully styled food. So when it comes to pretty wedding details the girlie girl in me loves to let her imagination run wild. I adore them so much so that photographing them has become a trademark of mine and has remained one of my favorite parts of a wedding day. I truly enjoy piecing together the baubles and bits that curate a wedding and take great pride in producing bright, eclectic images of celebratory trinkets for couples to treasure. Typically tucked away into a small, well-lit corner of a hotel room, Brides often peek over to take a look at the behind-the-scenes, declaring they had to see the set-up in action. Below are my Five Tips for Styling Detail Photos:
Educate Your Client
Setting up fabulously coiffed images takes time, and for a detail oriented perfectionist such as myself, lots of it. Getting a ring to balance inside a flower petal is no easy feat, and the smallest breeze of wind can send your entire invitation set-up scattering across the room. Well before the timeline planning stages of their wedding day inform your Bride or their coordinator exactly how much time you need for detail shots. When I arrive on a wedding day I immediately get to work photographing these meaningful elements: rings, shoes, jewelry, flowers, etc. and require a minimum of an hour; totally uninterrupted (as my client’s have fabulous taste to document, an hour and a half is preferred). I explain to them while they are getting their hair and make-up done I will be close by photographing their details, emerging for “getting ready” shots when their make-up is nearly complete. Prior to the wedding day I also request these special elements be gathered and ready to be styled upon my arrival and suggest they bring along any extras they’d like to include (i.e. Invitation suite, any ribbon used in arrangements, guest favors, wedding day stamps, etc.). Having those additional accoutrement makes sure the pieces of their well-thought out day are fully documented. Plus, all those tidbits add some extra styling umph.
Set Up in Good Light
The key to visually appealing images is the right light. Before getting started I find a well-lit area to “set-up shop”, typically in front of a sliding glass door or large hotel window. In this small 4×4 space is where I curate most of my detail shots in even, diffused light. Bonus points if it’s on a white bed or neutral ottoman! If lighting is scarce this is where an assistant holding a video light (still by a window if possible) is clutch. I’ve been known a time or 10 to fling open every curtain in a room like Cinderella to her stepssters. Let in the light, baby! In the photo below (shot in film) the room was very dark with one small window. I placed the shoes on a white bedspread and asked my assistant to hold a small but mighty video light to my left side. bonus tip: Having a piece of white foam core board on hand is versatile, great for a simple background or in a pinch as a reflector.
Knowing the couple’s style I look around my location for colors, textures or elements that compliment the feel of the day. For a vintage farm wedding I’ll head into the kitchen to use a wooden table to photograph a boutonnière on, snag a Bridesmaid’s glitter gold clutch as a backdrop for rings, or even add touches of “partly in the frame” styling extras. My assistants are forever out picking leaves and foraging for berries (literally!) that I can incorporate (don’t worry, they don’t mind…) or borrowing decor from the reception site (that we put back, of course). In the ring photo below the hula dancer print is actually a photo I took off the wall at the Billabong House. Open your eyes, get creative, and see the possibilities! bonus tip: If you have a good relationship with the florist, email ahead of time and ask to include a few loose flowers when they deliver the bouquets to the room. This way you have some on hand for styling!
Study What’s Around You.
I know it sounds ridiculous but details have always come naturally to me, it just takes time and practice to hone your eye and continue to define a signature look. I credit my passion for curating to my affinity for eye candy, I am always ooh-ing and ahh-ing over perfectly placed things. If you don’t know where to begin, start absorbing the way things are around you (not just photographs). When thinking of a scene I consider a lot of things: colors, composition, textures and elements that add an extra thoughtful touch and dimension in framing (I love to have pieces on the edges of a photo), but most of all how items would lay naturally. As a girl I pay close attention to how my shoes drop onto the floor, how my bangles stack up when I strip them off onto the counter, and how artfully my laundry draps over my chair (truly!). Then I try to recreate those realistic settings and often times take pictures of details at events simply as they lay instead of putting one grubby finger on it. As much as crafting to perfection can be an art, so can shooting something just as it is. bonus tip: Anthropologie is a GREAT store for styling inspiration and their catalogs are always impeccably done.
Practice at Home
Walk around your house and collect things to pair together. Dig into your jewelry box and find some bling to photograph. Take your time and test what works and what doesn’t on your own time so when you arrive on a wedding day you are comfortable, confident, and ready to make it fabulous. Bonus tip: You’ll wind up with some fun “stock” instagram + blog post photos. I mean, really, you don’ t think I get boxes of donuts THIS often do you?!?! Okay, maybe I do, I’ll never tell.
I flung my legs over the side of the pink chair as I usually do and continued deep into our conversation. “The thing is”, I debated within my own head and aloud, “there are so many things I want to do I just don’t know what ideas God wants me to run with or which I should leave for others…you know how I get with business ideas…”
“Well tell me what you want to do!” my Mom quickly replied, encouragement welling into her voice, determined as always to find a way to help. I listed off the multitude of ideas, passions and goals, culminating into a mismatched frenzy of seemingly far too ambitious dreams that one person simply couldn’t, or shouldn’t, tackle.
“Sounds to me like all these ideas go together perfectly”, my mother confirmed in true inspirational Becky Goodwin form. “Martha Stewart doesn’t just do one thing, she does lots of things that go together”. I knew she was right but my mixed plate of somewhat random and lofty desires seemed so far fetched. To endlessly travel the far corners of the world. To fill the market with items I have a need for. To inspire, encourage and help others. To speak. To spread the love of Jesus + incredible testimonies of God. To curate once buried treasure. To sincerely and happily do it ALL, and with great hair. I have been quiet over on this part of the internet because I have been busting my ass working, but for quite some time these thoughts and passions have been cultivating, giving the illusion that they are coming together into one fully formed plan and purpose, little tidbits and opportunities popping up here and there, but nothing has given birth. Continuing to keep my head down and work hard I’ve entertained these grandiose ideas but continued to stay levelheaded, ticking away at day-to-day routine, keeping business successful, not starting up anything new just yet. Still somehow, someway, finding myself daydreaming of these notions, a mix of desires burning SO deep within me that I know they are not my own rather seeds planted within me since the day I was born. Never-the-less they seemed foolish and audacious and downright ridiculous. I am a wedding photographer with a thriving business I have worked hard for I’d think. You get wild ideas all the time, Ashley, maybe they aren’t for you and you just need to focus on one thing at a time I’d calm myself. That’s right, keep doing what you’re doing, keep your head down and focus. Continue to work hard and get ish done.
That evening after getting off the phone with my mother I decided to head out for a run. There’s a marathon in my future, you know. To get me through one foot at a time I decided to tune into a sermon given by Wendy Perez at the women’s Arise conference my church hosted this winter. I had missed Wendy’s presentations and had been told how similar we were so I wanted to gauge exactly how funny this woman was myself. It was in that sermon that, as often as he does, God spoke directly into my heart about the VERY thing I had been in such a tizzy about that day. Focus. Purpose. Plans. The unshakeable desires we have within us are not our own, but instead put there by God when He knit us into our mother’s womb. It was on mile 7…okay fine, mile 2….the spirited Wendy Perez explained how her son wanted to be “A Christian Rapper, A Firemen, and a Youth Pastor” and during a previous sermon she gave against this idea os her son’s explaining how we need to HONE OURSELVES and focus on one thing instead of many that the crowd began to cheer. Turns out THEIR Youth Pastor was also a Christian Rapper and a Firemen.
Halfway through my run, in the dark, I stopped in my tracks and began balling crying. Like a crazy person. First off WHO LISTENS TO SERMONS WHEN THEY RUN? Second of all, DO I CRY ALLLL THE TIME? And lastly, wow. That message in that moment was 100% for me, when I needed it most. Confirmation that while I keep my head down and do the work, all these crazy ideas DO make sense, and with time, will be birthed into something great. Something that may not make sense for everyone, but will make sense for me and my life because all of these random creative passions and pullings can, and will have a divine purpose. It was then I chose to nourish, not suppress my influx of wild, crazy ideas.
With her generous smile brought on by his unwavering ability to brighten her day, Lindsay + Bret spent an evening picnicking, taking cover from passing showers and embracing the rain on the North Shore of O’ahu, the perfect beach spot for these long time kama’ainas. The perfect mix of chic with beachy boho, I just can’t WAIT for their villa-inspired wedding this summer.
Shot on Contax 645 with Fuji 400h film | To see more from their session, click here.