Photography by Rocco Ancora


One Hour Photo Featuring Rocco Ancora


Lesson Info

Photography by Rocco Ancora

Alright, well let's get to your images. So let's go ahead and take a look at what we got here. And so, what do you want to say about this? Lovely image. Yes it is. Where is this? This was shot in Japan. It was a kimono shoot that we did, and this is a real husband and wife, and I've always wanted to do a kimono shoot. This was shot on a 105 mil lens and I shot this wide open at 1.4, this is on a 105 mil. This is why you get that nice beautiful bokeh in the background. It's just a gorgeous lens, and it's a very, very sharp lens. And when you look at Japanese wedding photography there is a certain element of tradition that you have to follow and you have to stick to, and I wanted to kind of break that. I wanted to actually get a Japanese couple looking as romantic as they possibly could, and this was wonderful. And this beautiful touch by the man in the picture, where he holds her hand and she's looking across, it gives you this sense of connection and this sense of romance, and th...

is sense of him worshipping her which is what the image is all about. Was this a portrait shoot that you were doing for 'em-- This was a portrait shoot we did for them, yeah. So this is all available light, too, also. That's great light. Now, when you go out and shoot something like this, do you have a crew with you, or is it just you, or, It was myself and my partner Tanya, who comes with me; she's a photographer as well. But I like to keep things very, very simple when I'm out on location. Available light is king for me. So I pick the light, I pick the location, and that's where I'll shoot. And if things get a little bit worse for wear with light, then very simple lighting, even just with speedlights. So I don't take a lot of equipment, I don't have a big crew. As a wedding photographer you wanna be as unobtrusive as possible. You wanna just sort of blend with the crowd, so any big equipment kind of gets in the way. Yeah. It also allows you to be more mobile, Absolutely. And go with the flow as you see changes and stuff. That's right, yeah. Now, one of the really challenging things in this type of photography is: these are not professional models, I am assuming. No. And so how do you deal with giving them direction versus posing them, and y'know, "move your hand here," I think when we start talking about posing, posing in the wedding world has become such a dirty word, because photographers say, y'know "I don't pose, I'm not a poser." And clients now, clients are very educated. "I don't want you to pose me, I wanna be very very natural." So, we take that word and we change it. We don't call it posing any more, we call it "The art of directing someone." (chuckling) Which is kind of the same, it is and it isn't. When we think about posing in the literal sense, it's about telling someone to stand in a particular way, and shaping, and moving, pretty much like a mannequin. When we start talking about direction it is about creating a scene first and foremost in their minds, of what you're trying to capture. Like in here, exactly what I described earlier about the shot, is the brief I gave the groom before he held her hand. I said "I want you to hold her hand like she's the only thing in your world." And she certainly was, "and I just want you to show me that." And he did that. He walked up to her, and he held her hand, and that was it. And that was pretty much the extent of the posing I do even on the wedding day. It's about creating scenarios in the mind that the body believes, and if the body believes it, the body shows it, and the mind, it's all connected. But it's about making images look real as opposed to posed or structured. Right. Right. They look very natural in that regard. Alright. I love this image. (laughter) This is just fantastic. I love clean open space, and so one of the concepts I like to ask people is, when did you know you were gonna get this shot? I mean was this something you scouted like, well before it took place? No, no no. Or was this like "Oh, I'm just scurrying downstairs and I happen to notice that there's an opening..." Yeah, so what happened was, this was shot at the groom's house. This is during the groom's preparation. So in the morning when I walked in through that door, it was a beautiful house. Absolutely gorgeous. It looks like it, it looks like it. So I walked in through that front door, and I saw light coming from above, and I looked up, and I saw that there actually was an opening to the master bedroom upstairs that looked down into the foyer of this beautiful house. White walls, very simple, very clean cut. So, We did the shoot as we would normally do we did the family, we did everything else. And then, the video guy wanted to construct a leaving shot for the... for the bridal party. So I went upstairs and I thought, "this is gonna be my opportunity," because having that kind of scenario, and having just the groom stare right back at the camera, it's kind of a... It's a nothing moment. Ya know? You have great compositional lines, but really the shot is just a shot, it's a record shot. So I wanted to include the environment, but make it dynamic. And by making it dynamic, we had this environment with the beautiful lines that you see coming into where the groomsmen are, but they're actually literally all walking out. And this wasn't posed by me or set up in any way, shape, or form. In that wall there, just in the background, there there's a videographer standing there with a video camera and he's directing them, telling them how to walk, and I'm just shooting this from upstairs. I asked permission first if it was okay to go up there, and the mother of the groom is all very excited, because anything for her son, of course, and that's what we did. I shot it with a 14 to 24 mil lens at 14 mil, the aperture was about 5.6, to give me a little bit more depth of field and sharpness, which is what I wanted. And that was the result. But it was very, once again, available light. In Photoshop what we did was very little. We made the white walls even whiter, and that's it. A bit of sharpening, a bit of color toning. But there's nothing added. And we took a couple of the light switches out that were on the wall, which were very annoying. But there was nothing added. A lot of people think "Did you create this in Photoshop?" "Did you stitch it together?" Single capture. Nice and simple. It's about the art of observation, I guess. Yeah, no and it's great, that's a sign, for all of you at home, that's a sign of a great photographer. Somebody who can just walk in, look up, and know "up there, looking back down, is gonna make a good shot." 'cause sometimes you've gotta be there to see it yourself, but when you see the possibility around you, and say "wait a minute," Yeah And it probably comes with experience too. You've been in places, and you learn these sorts of things. This is another great image here, and I have really, I've just realized this in the last couple years that I've really developed a love for staircases. Yeah, (laughing) me too. That's amazing. I mean it's a big, three-dimensional, it's got patterns, it's got lines. It's just a great place for getting photographs here. So whereabouts is this? This is a place called Werribee Mansion, and it's a wedding venue in Melbourne, Australia. But it's also a very historical building. So the couple usually that are getting married there will either have the ceremony just on that staircase, but in this case here they had the ceremony outside because it was in summer. It was a beautiful garden wedding. And then we chose to go inside the mansion itself, and they give you normally about 20 minutes in there, and you're not allowed to use flash because it interrupts the paintings that are on the walls, y'know, you've heard the story. But I wanted to get a shot where you got that feeling of the grandeur of this place that obviously, they booked for their wedding and they wanted their wedding to be there. But also that essence of scale between them and the grandeur of the place. The wide-angle lens helped us to do that. With a wider-angle lens at 14 mil once again, we're able to capture a lot of the environment, but also giving us a lot of depth as well. Right. The very shallow depth of field is not something that you wanna do with a shot like this. You wanna have sharpness from foreground, middle-ground, to background, to get all that beautiful detail. This, in print, looks absolutely magical, because you can see every little bit of detail on the wrought-iron work on the staircase, through the tile work on the ground, right through to that back door, and then the beautiful detail on the bride's dress. But it's great. This shot now hangs in their home, as a canvas, and it's a 30x40 canvas, beautifully framed, and it's just absolutely gorgeous. Something different as a wedding picture I think. Oh yeah. Now I've noticed your style's a little different, we do have a lot of wide-angles, and this is really just taking advantage of the environment that you're working in. Yeah, absolutely. They're not getting married at the County Commissioner, and (laughs) you do have these places and when you have 'em, especially free from other people there, you take advantage of it, so that is great. Moving on to the next one here. So this one a little out of-- Yeah. This one I was like, "are you sure you got me the right images here, is it from the right collection?" Yeah, it is. I mean besides obviously shooting weddings, I love, obviously, straight photography as well but I love landscape photography. And this, in a recent trip to Japan we went down and saw Mt. Fuji. The weather being quite gloomy and quite eerie, this situation presented itself, and we have these birds on this tree. It reminded me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds" with these birds just hanging, and that's kinda the vibe I wanted to go for with this particular image. Once again, shot this with the 105, and I shot this really wide open at one-four, just to get the birds really, really sharp and we got this beautiful milkiness about the image right through to the background of Mt. Fuji. The telephoto lens, or the telephoto perspective of the 105 gave us a little bit of compression with the mountain and the trees. And this beautiful, just using blacks, y'know, and tones of blacks and whites just to give us the contrast and to give us the mood and feel of what I was trying to convey in the image itself. Well it definitely has that Japanese aesthetic to it. And kinda as we saw that one, okay well actually this one I had a kinda different question, and I wanted to talk about your treatment of photos. Because this is not a straight Raw image, this is not a straight JPEG image. You've developed a certain style and look to your photos, talk about that. It is, so basically we shoot Raw and we shoot the highest bitrate possible in Raw which is, on the Nikon D5 it's 14-bit uncompressed, giving you that beautiful tonal quality from shadows through to extreme highlights, and when you think about the dynamic range of the shot, we've got sunlight kinda peering through the clouds, making them extremely bright. The bride and groom is lit by a little bit of sun that's coming across and we can see that by the shadows. Then of course in the distance you have trees which are virtually in shadows. So what I like to do in Adobe Camera Raw is I like to work with smart objects, and we pull basically two exposures of the same file, one exposing for extreme highlights, one exposing for your extreme shadow areas, and sometimes I'll do a third for mid-tones. And then I use a technique called luminosity masks where we blend the three. Okay, so we have this extended dynamic range, it's not HDR because in the true sense of the word HDR means shooting multiple exposures and using other sort of nasty filters that give you highlighting and all that. But it's just about extending the dynamic range of what the camera actually captured, just with one frame. And it works a treat, because we've got so much depth in this image. You can look at any information right through down to right to the back of that building inside those arches, so, it's about losing yourself in the image once you see it. And once you print an image like this, and you print it quite large, you have a very different relationship with it than you would just by looking at that on the screen. I know you're blown away by this size here, but once you see this in print, it just takes you to a totally different place. And it's about getting lost in it. It's about looking at the leading lines. Compositionally we have this tree, and I'm actually standing on the tree with a 14 mil lens once again, photographing the environment. These trees kind of act as leading lines Oh absolutely. To where your eye really wants you to go. So it's about just thinking about composition a little bit differently. Not following any rules I might say, this is not your classic rule of third, it's not your classic... Maybe it's a little bit of a golden spiral because if you ran the spiral you'd find yourself finishing up roughly to around where the bride and groom is, but sometimes it's just a notion or a gut-feeling of what looks good. And I think that's, yeah. Okay, so one quick question 'cause my mind wanders on these things. Was this the day of their wedding, or-- Yeah, this is the day of their wedding. In fact, this is the same couple from the staircase, so that staircase is inside that building. Now you know why I'm asking that, because it's like I'm assumed you're dressed up quite nice, and you're climbing a tree to get a photograph. And so I'm lookin' at your in a tux, standing on these branches photographing. Yeah, nice pants, nice shirt, vest y'know, so it was quite, quite hilarious. So you'll do anything for the shot. (laughs) Anything for the shot. But y'know "safety" always comes first, I guess. Alright. Now I've noticed you do have a lot of black and white, beautiful black and white, and I'm guessing that has to come from your printing days. It does A little bit of, you're pulling that, bringing that forward. And so, is black and white still relevant? Is that just a Photoshop trick? No, it's not a Photoshop trick. Black and white does things. It does things because in an image, once you take the color away, all you have is shapes of, y'know, shades of white, gray, and black. Okay now what that means is that sometimes color information is distracting. So if you take the color information away it gets you to the message and the core of what the image is about far quicker than you would with a color image. And that's really what black and white photography is about. And also I just love the feel, and look, and the richness of a black and white print, and this had to be a black and white print. It couldn't be anything else. I shot this, this was during a bridal shoot, and it was a curved wall leading into a reception venue. I had my assistant, just with a speedlight on the other side of the wall, just where the bride is just creating a nice, crisp shadow on that beautiful white wall. And the ceiling was distracting, so what we did is we darkened it right then and actually filled it with black, because I just wanted the shot to have nothing more but blacks, and whites. Little mid-tones, and the only mid-tones you'll see are on the back of her and that beautiful curvature and the gradation of the wall. But yeah, black and white for me is about, it's far more emotive sometimes than a color picture and I've always loved black and white. And it's so easy to do these days, 'cause you just shoot in Raw and you have a color version, you've got a black and white version, A black and white version, yeah. and away you go. Same again (laughs) black and white. (chuckling) This was during an engagement shoot in Melbourne, and overlooking the city, and this is a stairway at the back of an old school. And it was great just to get a moment with the couple that wasn't once again cliche, not even the pose is cliche. They're actually looking in opposite directions, Yeah, away from each other. Opposite directions, holding hands, I kinda want to show that like, they're still connected, but they have their own personality which is what we're trying to show with this shot here. And we wanted to make it a little bit different, a little bit more graphic in content, as far as just once again the blacks, and the whites, and just the beautiful compositional lines that lead you to this couple on top of the staircase. Well I think it's a really nice framing, so your process, did you scout this out ahead of time? Or were you working with them and you kinda worked into this and found it at the time? I actually found it at the time. Yeah so we were shooting, just below there's a laneway, and we were doing some shots. Then we walked around, and actually we were going back to the car, and I saw this staircase sorta leading up on the back of the old school. And I go "wow, it's open?" There was a gate down below which wasn't locked, so that immediately says, "Inviting!" (chuckles) Yeah. And no security issues. So we climbed up there, and I shot this actually with a 7200, so at 200 mil because I wanted that compression. That city-scape is actually quite far away, and I'm really far away from them. So at fully a 200, I think the aperture on this would have been something around a four-ish, something like that, just to get a little bit of that city not quite so sharp, because I wanted to make them the center of the shot by being sharp, by being, y'know. Yeah. Well their silhouettes stand out so easily it's a fun photo with that. Yeah. Another one! Another black and white. You picked all my black and whites. So I'm assuming this is like a set up shot, this looks like it's a set up shot Yeah, absolutely. Now do you have a studio that you work with? No, this was actually at the reception venue. So how this shot happened is very, very simple. What you're seeing there is a frosted glass, that was part of the getting-ready room for the bride and groom, frosted glass. And so I got the bride and groom to walk outside with the bridal party, and rather than have drinks inside the room, let's have drinks outside. And I got my assistant on the other side of them. I'm shooting from inside the building, with triggers of course. Remote flash, so we fire the flash. It creates a shadow onto the glass, and then really a double shadow because the light's reflecting back onto them, and then spilling back onto the glass, so we're getting these silhouettes that kind of have masks on them, and it's quite interesting. And the flowers were just inside. The flowers were placed there by the bridesmaids and the bride, and I kinda left 'em there, because I didn't want to alter that, because that's the reality part. So that part was real, and then this part of them, I mean it's still real, them being outside, but I set that up, and I wanted the image to look quite, quite different. Once again a different bridal party shot, just with a different perspective. But it's beautiful to have just something that's so unique and different than your regular shots. Absolutely. That's just creative thinking and coming up with something great. Well thank you very much for sharing those, and I think we're gonna bring up a little page here. So if you're interested in Rocco's other classes, you have one already on the books called "Capturing the Story." Give us the brief 30 seconds on that class. "Capturing the Story" I'm presenting alongside another Australian, great photographer, and WPPI Grand Master, that's Ryan Schembri. And we take you through the process of capturing the story on a wedding day. We look at one of the most important aspects of photography which is light, and how we work with light very quickly and very easily on location, understanding that light really is the key to emotion. And when you're talking about wedding photography, we do wanna create some pretty dynamic and emotive images. We take you through the process of a wedding post-production scenario, how we deal with a lot of images in the least amount of time. And client relations. How we deal with clients, how we talk to clients, how we get emotion out of people on the wedding day. That is that one. And then of course "From Capture to Print," which we take you through the process from capture, through to final print, as I said earlier. So that's gonna be fun.

Class Description

Click here to ask John Greengo your questions for future One Hour Photos!

Every month, John gives you an hour of expert guidance and immediate feedback with ten questions and ten critiques in this exciting new series we're calling One Hour Photo. John will also sit down with one guest photographer to offer insights, advice, and industry knowledge, and this month’s guest is Rocco Ancora.

In this hour, John responds to questions about how to compress a close object and a distant background, how to know when to clean your sensor, best practices for TTL, setting up your camera for a night sky photo, UV filters, and more.

Named as one of the Top Ten Photographers in the world by the iconic photography magazine American Photo, Rocco Ancora’s poetic imagery continues to evolve with his mastery of light and the ability to capture the human connection. Rocco’s distinctive style is classical and romantic; his imagery is exquisitely imbued with evocative lighting and composition it’s a look and feeling that Rocco strives for. Check out his CreativeLive classes here.