Purpose of the Creative Portrait
We talked a lot about our approach to storytelling, and one other part that complements our storytelling approach is really the creative portrait. It's still a big part of what we do. It keeps us fresh and motivated as artists, it's something that we really, really enjoy. And although it doesn't represent a big part of our body of work, it is something that we really enjoy doing together.
So it's important because it opens our slideshow. And as we've discussed, the slideshow is the final product for us, it's what we're working towards all day long, it's why we employ the formula that we do, and the creative portrait is what's going to open that slideshow. It's gonna set the scene, it's often gonna be location related, and yeah, it's going to just be something impressive, hopefully, and something that's gonna set the tone for the rest of the slideshow.
And so just as methodical we are with, you know, our storytelling approach, well, the same applies with our portraits. We really hav...
e a method to it.
But that has not always been the case. We have a bad example, unfortunately. Several years ago, so as you can see, I mean, you know, it's tilted, there's all sorts of bad stuff going on here. Several years ago. So we thought that we were cool and creative wedding photographers, and that means that we don't have to do traditional stuff that everybody else is doing. But after this bride got her photos, she's like, "You know, it's great, but I don't have a full body photo, "or like, you know, just these simple photos of us looking at the camera, and like I really wish we had that." And we were like, "Oh, we have to do that? "Even though we're super cool photographers who like tilt and do all this creative awesome stuff? But that was a great gift that she gave us. 'Cause she was honest, and she told us basically the easiest simplest way that we can make our clients happy, which is by giving them the most basic portraits.
So now at every wedding, we make sure that we do spend the time to do these very, very simple photos of the bride alone, full body, closer, of the groom alone, full body, closer, of the two of them together, photograph all of the details. And we do these in a very quick methodical manner, it takes maybe five to 10 minutes, all we need is a good pocket of light, a clean, ideally dark background, or just any kind of clean background, and then bride alone, and do all the photos that we need to do with her, do all the photos we need to do with him, and then the two of them together. We'll repeat this a second time if we find another good pocket of light with a good clean background, and it's a more extensive portrait session, but on a wedding day where we maybe just have 30 minutes for portraits, we'll do it that one time. And as soon as we do that, the pressure is lifted off our shoulders, we know at least we have those photos to give to the bride and groom.
Yeah, previously we talked about the mental state that we're in and how doing something really safe and just covering your bases can really give you that mental clarity. So starting our portrait sessions with that means that after that we can really just focus on doing something creative and interesting, because this stuff is out of the way. So within the context of our formula, it's all the way down here, goes under our responsibilities. So it's not slideshow stuff, it's the extra stuff but that we know we need to do at each and every wedding.
And just like with our storytelling photos, once we get that responsibility out of the way, it allows us to be more creative and play a little bit more with our photography. As part of that playing, we like to get curious. And brought that up already a few times, it's really something that we let our mind roam free and really get curious about different things, like here I see a glass table, I know that there's a reflection on here, I just wanna look at it and see what that looks like. Or any kind of highlight in the room, or the lights, those are all things that pique my curiosity from a photography standpoint.
So what's important is that we never walk in a room and know exactly what the final shot is gonna look like. We never go to a location and know exactly what the final shot's gonna look like. It always starts with one thing that's going to pique our curiosity. And sometimes that thing can be the most random thing you can imagine. But the important thing is to just build on that, and to allow yourself to explore that, whatever it is that caught your attention.
So for example, here, just a puddle of water, it's a reflection, a slightly a different take on a silhouette in the sky. Nothing really great, but again, it's just starting with that curiosity. As we were doing this photo in Costa Rica, all of a sudden these dogs come up and start playing with the bride's veil. And we both remember in that instant, like our initial reaction was to run up to the bride and get the dogs out.
That's actually what I did.
But just for a second.
As we took a couple steps forward, we kinda stopped, we were like, "Oh no, wait a minute, we have that reflection, we have the dogs, like let's keep shooting." And so the final photo is this one where we blended that first step of curiosity with that little element of where the dogs came to play with the veil. And just kept shooting through it.
So you'd never walk up to this situation and envision anything like this happening, right? I mean, you don't know that this is gonna happen for sure. But you can see how it started with just that visual curiosity of the puddle, which is still in the original photo, and we got extremely lucky with these dogs coming to play with the veil. And also having a bride who didn't mind that that was happening, yeah.
This is at a wedding in New York. And here the curiosity starts with just this very graphic, symmetrical hallway with good window light coming in from both sides. We knew that this would be the passage where all the guests would walk through, and the bride would walk in and out because she would go from the dinner to other parts of the wedding. So we knew we would have opportunities to photograph her in that space, but ultimately we decided to do a portrait with her there because we had the time and we wanted to execute it as well as possible. So aside from like the visuals of it, we also like how the candles lined the bottom near the floor, so we asked the planner if they could light all the candles so we could do a portrait with her.
So remember, team good photos. Yeah, that's come up a few times. Planners are on team good photos. And as Max said, don't be afraid to take control. So just asking them to light the candles, it wasn't time to light the candles, that was going to happen a few hours later, but that was the time that we wanted to do the portrait, and we knew the candles would really add to that. So we just asked them to do it, wasn't a big deal.
Yeah, so turn on the candles.
Turn on the candles!
Yeah Really exposed for the window light, close the doors behind the bride so we get that really nice dark background, and then just had her walk through it. And so this stands alone as a portrait of the bride by herself, but it could also have been used as a transition photo later on throughout the day. Curiosity here is a path where the bride and groom can walk, and we have a good vantage point on them so we're able to look down. Combined with a sunset happening in the background, so how do we bring those elements together, well, walking in that path through the sunset.
Vantage points are a big source of inspiration for me because I'm so short. So whenever I can get height and look down on something that's always going to be a source of curiosity for me. So balconies, or any time there's that vantage point.
Yeah. And again, really just follow that instinct that we all have as artists, especially as photographers we have such a strong relationship between our visual instincts and what's happening in the real world, and really just foster that curiosity that we all have inside.
So this, teamwork, plays a huge role between the two of us, obviously, but with other members of the wedding, planners, and decorators, and florists and everyone, is, I've said it already a few times, team good photos, so we try to just use everybody to help us. So this is the wedding we did in Bhutan, which we've discussed already. They had tons of petals that they used for the ceremony, they used it in a lot of the decor. So the day after the wedding we were doing a day after session, so we thought, let's try to see if we can use some of those petals in a portrait situation.
This is all you, because you pushed for this.
So we got the staff to, you know, get us a ladder. The original vision for the photo was the bride lying there and the petals really in the foreground, sort of between the camera lens and the bride herself. But it wasn't quite coming out, I think because the petals were so small so they just looked like tiny out of focus dots, so that didn't happen. But when they landed on her it really made for a more interesting photo. So then the teamwork really came together in perfecting the pose. Just like a fashion photographer has a whole team with them setting the lights, and guiding the models and someone's on the computer, you know there's a whole team working on it.
Yeah, a stylist as well. Why should we, as wedding photographers, have to do everything on our own? Well, we shouldn't, so... You know, in this case, Davina was really helping me out with the posing, but at other times for other instances we'll switch, Davina will be doing the photos, I'll be the one doing the posing. So it was really--
We also had guests, sorry, we also had guests holding umbrellas, because it was starting to rain, and my fear was that these petals would stain her dress with the rain. It was very stressful. I was actually a little bit like, "Okay, we're done, we're good," and Daniel was like, "No, I don't think I have it yet, let's keep pushing." And that's an important lesson, as well, to just keep pushing through, especially when you've gone to such great lengths to put something like this together, if you're not gonna take it all the way and really nail it, then it's kind of all been for nothing for everybody, so...
Yeah, exactly, you definitely don't wanna give up. Once something is coming together, really see it all the way through. I think it took about 20 minutes to execute the one photo, but in the end it was definitely worth the efforts.
So we talked about keeping it simple yesterday. You know, portraits that we start off with just good light, trying to do something very simple, looking at the camera. We'll often try to do something in that same spot that's a little bit less posed, or maybe not less posed but less traditional. In this case, she had a beautiful veil. They made her this headpiece for the day after session, so I really just wanted to showcase that. So we did kind of like a boudoir-ish kind of shoot to start the session with, so I had her get naked, get on the chair, wrap herself up in her veil, and just really, really keeping it simple, and it's kinda awkward, but I'm talking with her a lot, trying to get her to relax a little bit, and speaking to her until she gets that smile. What's important in situations like these, especially when the bride is so vulnerable, 'cause she's naked, is that you give her a lot of attention. So that's one tip that I try to employ at every portrait session that we do, is just to like put my camera down for a second and really give her my attention. So I'm gonna go and I'm gonna just fix her hair, or I'll just fuss over her a little bit, even if she looks perfect, I'm still gonna give her that attention so she knows that I have her back, and I'm taking care of her, and that makes her feel a lot more confident, right? You don't wanna be like, "Oh no, you're fine, "everything's good, no no, it's perfect, don't worry about it." You know it's like, "Okay, but is it perfect? Do I look okay?" So just give her that moment of giving her that attention.
That's such a good little tip. I try to employ it whenever I'm doing portraits on my own, as well. I think just the act of putting your camera down and looking at someone straight in the face when you've been clicking at them all day long, it makes such a huge difference in the way that they interpret what you're saying to them. So definitely a good little tip. Again, teamwork here. You know, this is shot with the 60... Sorry, 85 mm lens, so we're quite far away to take this photo and to get the veil in front of the lens while also perfecting the pose, while also making sure that you're getting the best photo possible. It's a lot of work and you do need the help. So one of us is holding the veil over the lens over the camera while the other one is taking the photo and maybe giving a little bit more of the direction for the pose.
You've caught a bit of glimpse how I like poke fun at Daniel. It's maybe come up a few times. And I do that a lot when we're, you know, with our couples, especially in the portrait situation, I'll make fun of things that he says or sometimes he mispronounces things 'cause English is his third language. He is okay with it, right?
Okay. But, you know, it's a good way of getting them relaxed and they kind of often identify us a couple with, you know, our little banter and these guys were a little challenging. They were very nervous about their portrait session, and, you know, they came into it a little bit stiff so I just had to really give it a lot of energy to just make all the jokes I had to try to get them to relax and smile. We just needed it to happen for one second so that we can get that photo.
Yeah. And then the ultimate teamwork, you know, which started with Davina's idea but ended up being my photo.
I would like to talk about that.
It's a, you know, really sort of a team effort to make this image happen. So it started just with the idea of doing a double exposure against a white background. But if you think about that, that's a little bit hard to do because when you're doing a silhouette against a sky, usually you're gonna see detail in the sky because the exposure difference isn't that great. So we needed to find a spot where you could get a silhouette but also white sky as a background. So you needed a eight stop difference in the exposure.
So when I had practiced this... This is in Guatemala, but back home when I had the idea, I took a picture of my hand against a white like screen, just my computer so I got black on white and then took a second exposure on like a blanket or something that had texture in it and I was, "This is cool because we're going to Guatemala, there's a lot of texture, there's a lot of textiles there." I was like, "Maybe this could be a good idea "if we can pull off that proper first exposure of a silhouette with a textile or something." So that's where the initial inspiration came from.
Yeah. So this is the first covering shot where we finally found a spot that was covered, it was in a shadow but also we could see the sky behind so there was that great exposure difference. This is really just a test photo to, you know, see if the concept works. So silhouette or almost silhouette with something overlaid on top. It's all one expose in camera, so on the D700 which did this photo, multiple exposure mode just takes two photos and combines them into one file so nothing was even overlaid in post-production.
Yeah, so it's straight out of camera, that means everything has to align perfectly in the moment and you don't get a second shot, you have to start over again.
Yeah. Then when the time came to execute the photo... Well, this isn't in the same spot where I took the photo of Davina but the overlay of the landscape of the mountain and the ruins, that is right behind them. So when you would go, you know, just behind them and peek out to what the view look like, well, that's what you would get. So in the end it ended up being different ISOs, different exposures, different lenses. So between every photo, between every click you would have to change lens, change your settings, take a photo of them, do the same thing, go and take the second click of the background all while perfecting their pose and making sure that all of that was perfect. So once it was all set and done, it took about 30 minutes to do just the one photo. So it was a lot of patience on our part, on the couple's part. But, again, the team good photos, they knew that we were working on something that was exciting. We kept communicating to them that we're almost there, we're really trying to make this happen. And it was really a team effort between the four of us.
So the day after session... Is this a good time to talk about it?
I think so. The day after session is something that we do quite often with our couples, especially when we're doing destination weddings. We actually also do it locally, like if we do a Montreal wedding, it's something that sometimes we pitch to our clients, as well. Just because it allows us to go to a different location, it allows us to time it with the best time of day, so sunset you know, that's not always possible on the wedding day, sometimes there's other stuff going on during sunset. There's no pressure for time, you know, nobody has anywhere else they need to be. So that takes a lot of pressure off of us and we can get away with working for 30 minutes on one photo so that really, all of those reasons are why we really encourage our couples to, you know, do the day after session. Sometimes they're hesitant 'cause they're like, "We're gonna be hung over, we're gonna feel like crap, we don't wanna do this," but, you know, we encourage them becuase most of the photos that you'll see in our portfolio, most of the portraits will come from day after session. So once we educate them on that, they understand the process and then they can get excited with us about creating these interesting portraits.
And our mental state on the wedding day when we don't have to do, you know, extensive portraits is just so much more relaxed and it's so much easier to just, again, be in a storytelling documentary approach. We'll still do the safe photos for maybe 20 minutes, but the two of them make sure that they look as good as they can because they'll have professional makeup, professional hair and then for the creative, playful stuff that we're going to do on the day after.
That's actually a good point because it does give us a lot of mental clarity on the day of to really focus on the story and on the moments. It takes like the creative portrait out of the equation and we're able to really just like get into the groove of the storytelling.
Yeah. All right, so our goal with the opening photo. By opening we mean that it's the one that's gonna kick off the slideshow that we're gonna use as the cover photo in their full gallery. Really that one photo that sets the tone and sets the scene. So our goal with those is to have one wow photo that they're gonna be able to hang on their wall or, again, open their slideshow. It really needs to have good light and that's where the day after session is really crucial, you know, doing portraits at twelve o'clock in July was just not the same as doing it at sunset, you know? The lighting is gonna be very different and much more challenging. And we also wanna show off the location of where they are. Whether that's, you know, on a beach in Hawaii or, you know, downtown Montreal, we still wanna show where they got married because we know that that's gonna have value to them in their portraits.
So we talked about our pre-wedding meeting with our clients yesterday previously. And that question of like why are you getting married here? You know, what's important to you about this location? And just not making assumptions about the things that they might like or not like about the place. That's where this can come into play, as well, because then we are too indent to what they specifically really love about the place that they're getting married. You know, if they mention that they really like flowers and there are flowers, we're like "Okay, well, let's try to incorporate that into a portrait." Or there's this one amazing view that we really love, or actually we don't really love the venue itself but we love, you know, this place nearby. Well, those are all things that we're gonna try to incorporate into the photos.
So here, you know, really showing off the location, this is on the beach on the front of the resort where they spent a lot of time for their wedding. And the good light, you know, at sunset. This kind of photo is so hard to execute in the middle of the day. But the day after session really allows us to execute these kinds of images. This one is actually not a day after, it's a day before the wedding. The bride and groom really wanted to just be in their casual clothes, they felt like that reflected them a little bit more and they had more time before the wedding, rather than after. And while typically we would really prefer to have them in their wedding outfits, you know, if it's gonna have more value to the bride and groom, then, you know, we were more than happy to oblige.
This was a really great experience for us because we had to put our desires aside and really prioritize the bride and groom and what they wanted in the situation. And we struggled with it a lot. The day before we were talking to them about this, we're like, "Okay, so what outfits do you have? Are you gonna wear sari?" She was Indian. "Are you gonna wear a sari?" And we were discussing all this and they're like, "No, actually I have this like casual dress and he's gonna wear a T-shirt that has like Science Museum," or something on it, right? "That means something to him, it's like, you know, symbolic for us and this dress is really important to me." And I was like, "Okay, so we've waited 10 years "to shoot a wedding in Hawaii, "we had finally booked this wedding in Hawaii "after 10 years of doing weddings "and we're not actually gonna get our like wedding dress, "grandiose like portraits that we had gone into this wedding thinking of, right?" Expectations what you're supposed to avoid. We certainly had expectations. And we talked about it so much and we discussed it with them and we were like, "You know, it looks better when you're "in like a bit of a formal outfit, you know, you'll stand out more and we had our drone." But then we were like, "You know what? "This is what feels more them, "they don't want to be in formal wear for this, "it's not what is going to be meaningful to them "and if we're true storytellers "and we want to make images that are meaningful to them, then they should be wearing whatever they want to wear." So it was interesting, he was in shorts and sandals and his T-shirt and she was in her dress but they looked amazing, they felt great and, you know, it didn't take away from the photos, and yeah...
The experience that the bride and groom have, you know, with us when we're doing portraits is, you know, almost as important as the final portraits. If they have a terrible experience, they're not gonna like the photos when they look at them. So we definitely didn't want to impose too much of our own preference on them.
Right. One note about this photo because our settings are here, you'll notice that it's at F16, so that's just so that we still get that texture of these plants in the foreground 'cause I didn't want to lose that. So it's very rare that you'll see us go very high, but there's always a reason for it.
This one actually wasn't done on a day after shoot, it was in the middle of the wedding day.
It was the first look.
Daniel] Yeah, exactly, just after their first look which they had in that same spot. We knew that we were in a place where that showed the location, Costa Rica and the clouds just happened to part and really reveal the top of the mountain. So we knew that the opportunity for the opening photo was really in that instance. Even though we did have a day after shoot with them.
To critique myself a little bit, it's been quite a few years since this photo was taken, I would today try to avoid the line of that hill going through their heads, which is the first time I've actually noticed it, but now that I'm really close to this giant image, I get to notice that. I guess I'm extra in tune after taking about framing so much yesterday. But, you know, the frame of the horse is what I was looking at, obviously, and the horses kept moving so I had to keep moving. So, you know, it's anticipation and I knew what I wanted my frame to look like but my foreground element kept moving, so I had to just keep up with it. I was also like really on the ground so I was basically shuffling around on my knees. The more ridiculous you look, often the better the photo will look in the end. Unofficial tip.
Again, just really showing off the location. You know, we're in Italy, Tuscany. Their wedding venue was about 30 minutes from the little town but that was where they hung out with all of their friends, where they would have a lot of meals, where they would all get together, so it made sense for this to represent really where they got married. You know, whenever we have a view of something, that's definitely something that we're gonna gravitate towards.
Two things about this photo. So, from a technical standpoint, Daniel's down below with them and he was actually holding two off camera flashes to match that exposure, so, you know, we do only use a veil now but at the time we were doing flashes, apparently two sometimes. So that's how that balanced out. I also love, like Daniel touched on the experience that we can give our clients through the day after session. That's something I'm constantly trying to think about and work on and I feel like we sill have a long way to go with that. I'm always thinking of ways that we can make it a better experience for them. And in this case, we were like, "Go down there, "have a walk, it's just the two of you and like just enjoy yourselves, talk about..." It was the day after session. So, you know, "Talk about your wedding and just..." And they actually really enjoyed that time that they got to spend together. We were so far away I was so far away taking the photo, so, you know, it was really a private moment that they got to have. And I like it when an image isn't just, you know, they were standing and holding a post for 20 minutes. It's actually like they actually got to have a moment at the same time.
Yeah, when a day after session is not possible, it's just really important to scout ahead of time and be prepared and know exactly what you're gonna do. This wedding in Quebec, so not too far from where we live. And we had just a regular amount of portrait time, 45 minutes or so and no crazy landscapes, no crazy venues, nothing like that, so we just really kept it simple, found a field, you know, that had an interesting element, in this case, the barn which we ended up using for a lot of the safe portraits, as well. You know, that's where we did, you know, the photos of the bride alone, the groom alone, the two of them together, good light, dark background, that's kind of all we're looking for. And then we really try to maximize it and create something a little bit more environmental. And one more, really when the light is good, you really want to take advantage of that. This is during the cocktail hour, so not even during dedicated portrait time just because the opportunity was so good, you know, we saw that the sun was going down just perfectly, they had a glass of wine in hand, it just seemed to make sense to really take advantage and do a portrait at that time.
So here is where we are in our formula, the opening. It's at the bottom because it's none of the storytelling stuff. But it's also, obviously, gonna be the first thing that the couple will see in the slideshow.
So from Cathleen who says have you ever pushed a couple too hard to get a great photo? And how do you know where that line is?
It is an excellent question. I think the line is a lot closer than Daniel does, right?
Right, that's it. (laughs)
I'm always like, "Okay, it's enough, I think it's too much." And he's like, "No, let's just a little further." I don't know that there's a real clear answer to that. I think you just have to really feel it out and use your instincts and... But, at the same time, I try to remember and this happens quite often, that one of the two might not really be into it but it doesn't mean that because they're not into it in that moment, that they're not gonna be into it in the long run. You know, I think a lot of times, they will be happy that they were pushed. Safety, I'm not gonna take risks on. I think that's really just no train tracks and no crazy... Like oftentimes it looks like they're on a crazy cliff or something, but they're not. It always has to be safe, that to me is... I don't physically wanna push them into these unsafe... Situations.
But, do you have anything that comes to mind?
No, I mean, I'm pretty stubborn when it comes to that until I feel like we've really executed the perfect portrait I tend to just keep going, keep going, keep going. Obviously, if a couple says, "We're done, like that's it," then I respect that. But I think they feed a lot of off our energy and if we're excited and they see that we're still motivated to keep going, they'll push on through just a little bit longer.
A part of that does also come from communicating with them ahead of time. And I tell them flat out, "You are not gonna feel like doing this, but it's going to be worth it in the end." So they go into it knowing, you know, that it might not be super fun for them right away.
One more. This is from Anita James Bow says how do you deal with not so pretty locations, rainy day, cramped venue, if you're just not feeling it to create that different shot for the opening?
It really goes back to like that curiosity, and just finding like the smallest element to work with. Like here, we're in a studio, I have a reflection, I have a clean background. You know, I'll just simplify it and really start working with those elements to try to create something a little bit more interesting. We'll often rely on the venue and the space that we're in. Sometimes it's even better to be really limited by the options and by what's around us rather than have a million beautiful landscapes to work with. They can get very overwhelming very easily because you just don't know what the best option is.