Making Something Out of Nothing with Raph Nogal
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There is an expectation for professional wedding photographers to deliver our best work at every single wedding. Location can certainly help with this. It’s a lot easier to create impactful images in the streets of Venice than Flint. Now, I don’t know about you, but I rarely get to shoot in the streets of Venice, and still create artistic, impactful images for my clients on a consistent basis. You need to set yourself up for success. Try sending out a questionnaire to your clients prior to the wedding with not only questions, but also with a guide so that they understand what it takes to create the images they are hiring you for.
Experience, thinking on your feet, challenging yourself and a drop of “I can do this” all go a long way toward achieving this. But it seems challenges somehow always present themselves on the wedding day.
Here are some examples of how I managed to get out of a jam on the wedding day when the location was less than ideal.
The Party Room
I arrived at the groom’s condo and we all headed to a party room in the basement. I was taken aback by the extremely low ceiling and the collection of pot lights scattered throughout. This is where tools such as the Westcott Ice Light 2 and off-camera flash come in handy.
With a location like this, there was really nothing to work with. There were four walls, a couch, a table and a kitchenette. After doing some getting-ready images, I had the idea of using some of these elements in my shot to create something dynamic. I shot through the handle of the refrigerator. The highlights on the stainless steel created some interesting patterns. We lit the groom with off-camera flash.
Sometimes things get out of our control. On this wedding day, we got a torrential downpour. The first look was initially planned for an outdoor location in a nearby town, but that was quickly scrapped due to weather. We had to move indoors. Without a gorgeous, stunning venue, we still had to deliver great images, but we had to shoot them at the groom’s parents’ home. For bride and groom portraits, we settled for the dining room.
Fear starts to fade if you have the right tools in the bag, if you embrace spontaneity and if you have a vision.
I love dramatic images. Using off-camera flash and the right modifiers, we were able to cut out the messy bits of the room and focus our light on our bride and groom. I used a snoot and a grid on top of my speedlight to prevent the light from spilling onto parts of the scene that I didn’t want lit. Grids are useful when you are working with existing light elements, such as existing ambient or natural light, chandeliers and wall sconces. You can see these elements and light up only the parts of the scene that you want.
In the dining room, I noticed two wall sconces and a light fixture above the dining room table. I asked my assistant Oliver to snoot and grid the speedlight to expose for the sconces and the light fixture and control that light beam. We were able to turn an ordinary dining room into something special. We repeated this process and shot into a mirror as well to create some complementary images for the wedding album and to carry the story along.
The Mail Room
The bride and groom finished their first look upstairs in the hotel room, and wanted to go downstairs for some photos. This condo, unfortunately, did not have any particularly stunning features, but I thought, “Wait a minute! There’s a mail room.” My clients gave me a puzzled look. I posed them, then used a red gel on the backlight and a grid on the keylight, creating a vibrant, cool image in the mailroom of their condo.
Hotel lobbies are packed with nooks and crannies for some great photo opportunities. You just have to find them. In this example, the bride was rushing away from the hotel into the limo to head to the first-look location. As I walked past this alcove in the wall, I knew I had to drag her back in to do a cool fashion-inspired image. I placed the bride in the alcove and made sure that her heels were visible and staggered. I tilted her face toward the light to create a beautiful jawline and cheekbones.
With the dress cascading off to the side, the image comes together. At the end of the day, we need to seize these opportunities not just to scratch our creative itch, but to give our clients our best.
The next time you find yourself in a location that is less than ideal, take two minutes to look around, think outside the box and see how you can make it work. There is always a way. Hold up a reflective surface, shoot through some clear bottles, take out a prism that’s been sitting in your bag for a year.
As Sal Cincotta always says, innovate or die. I think that statement applies not only to our business, but to life.