A Country Wedding.




Wedding ride 2

Guest wagon

Kevin & Marci

Me too

Marcie's wedding

Country dancing

Just Married


My friend and neighbor, Kevin, called to tell me that he was getting married and asked if I would photograph his wedding.

Although I am pretty much retired, without hesitation I said yes, only asking the date. He continued, “It will be western casual and at our place”. With that I thought, “Well, of course,” and hanging up the phone I turned to my wife and said, “Kevin and Marci are getting married at the end of the month, I hope it’s an overcast day.”

Who knew British Columbia would be having such a record breaking, rainless, hot summer that steadily got hotter and hotter. So by the time Kevin and Marci greeted their guests who waited in large shade tents under a cloudless blue sky the temperature had reached 40 degrees Celsius.

I kicked up dust as I walked into the large coral glad of two things. The first was that my wife made me put on sunscreen and the second, was that high-speed flash sync had been invented.

I remembered the limiting days of film and the one-power-fits-all flashes with which we struggled. On a sunny day we’d load our camera with 50 ISO film, shoot at a high-sync of 1/60th or 1/80th per second depending on the camera and hope the flash didn’t blast the detail out of the wedding dress. On torturous bright days, like the one I was preparing to photograph my friends under, I’d use my favourite flash diffuser, a functional white handkerchief that served to reduce the flash and, when needed, wipe off the salty sweat that made my eyes sting.

I made my way to the plywood dance floor and took a of couple test shots using the DJ as my model. My goal was to slightly underexpose the background. I really don’t like those pictures of people standing in an overexposed environment.

After the ceremony we joined the newly married couple in horse drawn wagons brought over by neighbours, Ellen and Steve from The Ranch, and traveled through the trees to another location where family and guests patiently stood waiting for me to take group pictures. Then we all, bottled water in hand, loaded back in the wagons for the waiting wedding feast.

I wrote that Kevin told me the wedding would be western casual. I don’t know if the ties, vests, and dark, western-cut jacket that the groom, best man, and father of the bride wore were casual attire, but the hats and boots were western, and I will mention that most of the guests were wearing cowboy boots and hats, and boot-cut jeans were the norm.

As everyone enjoyed a meal under the shade of the large tents I snuck away to set up a portrait studio in the barn. My lighting was two speedlight flashes positioned behind a six-foot diameter shoot-through umbrella. I like the wide, undirected, soft light a shoot through umbrella delivers, and a large shoot-through like the one I employed in the narrow walkway between horse stalls in the barn gave a flattering light that allowed me to quickly and easily pose the bride and groom.

Then it was back to the dance floor for the first dance. And I worked my way around capturing photo after photo of Kevin and Marci as they showed everyone how country music should be danced to, then I stepped back so as not to block the many pictures being made by guests holding their cell phones at arm’s length for that perfect shot that I am sure was quickly posted on some social media site.

In spite of the heat I had a great time. And I am certain everyone enjoyed the day. I left before sun down, but later Marci told me things were hopping till around 2AM.

Since then I have seen more than one over-exposed, wedding pictures from at other events displayed with misplaced pride, and read photographer’s complaints about shooting under the bright sun, and working in the heat. My advice for them is to under expose, to use a flash, and not to forget sunscreen.










Using Flash – even – for Sunny Day Portraits

John Mike & Shannon Constable Mike Moyer View from the Bonniville Royal Canadian Mounted Ploice

Using a hot shoe or auxiliary flash is confusing for many photographers, and when I say that I prefer adding flash to all my portraits whether inside or outside, on overcast or bright sunny days, and that I rarely make a portrait without one, will often produce quizzical and disbelieving looks from photographers.

I got one of those looks recently at a wedding I was photographing under a cloudless +35C day. The unforgiving conditions were sunny and bright with participants’ faces constantly affected by strong shadows. A guest, wielding a sophisticated DSLR that was sporting a very wide angle lens, inquired about my bracket-mounted flash and politely listened when I said I always used flash, however, I could tell that he walked away still confused as to why I would bother to use a flash when there was plenty of daylight. I suspect that the unflattering shadows across the subjects’ faces were not all that evident on his camera’s LCD, or he just did not see the problem. Besides, he might have thought himself more of an event chronicler, or, because of the wide-angle lens he was employing, an artist.

I read a query in an online photographer’s forum asking, “I’ve been shooting headshots recently and it got me thinking a lot about metering. How do I meter for flash portrait photography on location? I know that without a flash, I would just spot meter their face…and snap. What happens when I have an off camera flash? Do I just meter normally then shoot? Because when I do this, once the flash goes off, the exposure would be completely different than what I’ve just metered, which would usually mean overexposed. This is so very confusing. Please shed some light on this (no pun intended).”

I also recall a friend’s class assignment to photograph someone wearing a wide brimmed hat under the midday sun. (My apologies to those that adhere to the words from Noel Coward that “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”).

She explained, “Our assignment was to light the shadowed face under the hat and still have properly exposed surroundings.” At that time flash technology only produced constant light. The solution was to diffuse the light by placing a white handkerchief folded once or twice over the flash head to open up the deep shadow.

Fortunately, modern TTL flash is almost foolproof and only a modicum of thought is required on the part of the photographer as to how much light should be added for the subject’s exposure.

My camera is usually set to manual exposure mode. That allows me, not the camera, to choose the overall ambient exposure, and to add flash to those areas that are underexposed by shadows.  I meter the existing light, set the exposure, and make tests using the flash’s exposure compensation feature to increase or decrease the output level. I then check the histogram to see if there are blinking borders around any white areas indicating over exposure, and if I observe them I dial the exposure compensation down, till the flashing borders disappear on further test shots. That highlight-warning feature is set in the camera’s menu.

My photographs from that wedding day are evenly exposed with attractive, open shadows and do not appear as if there was a flash involved. Besides, using a flash really was not much more effort than if I didn’t, and I did not have to spend hours using postproduction software to lighten and darken my subjects from that day.

I use a bracket that places the flash high above the camera that can be quickly removed if I want to light the subject from one side. The bracket isn’t a must, however, I recommend a connecting cord from camera to flash so it can be used off camera.

I also advise reviewing the camera manual to determine if it has a feature called “high speed sync” that allows for a high shutter speed when using a flash. That’s a discussion for another time, but I recommend doing some recon on the web where there is lots of information.

Blending flash with ambient light isn’t really a mystery. The combination of off-camera flash, and a light meter to measure ambient and flash contributions, will give you complete control to craft portraits your friends and family will love.

A burst of flash will reveal your subject’s eyes and soften shadows all round, so it’s definitely a good thing and will improve your pictures.

I appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Remembering those Great Portrait Photographers that influenced me.

Mike and Shannon Moyer's wedding in Kamloops.

Mike and Shannon Moyer’s wedding in Kamloops.

I had been editing images from a wedding (pictured) I photographed on the weekend and decided to take a break, and settled down to watch a documentary that my wife had recorded on television about photography-great Annie Leibovitz.

Leibovitz made a name for herself with her collaborative style of portrait photography in the 1970s as a photographer for the Rolling Stone magazine and, of course, if you’re my age you may remember the incredible photos she made while touring with the actual Rolling Stones rock band.

The program was a walk down memory lane for me, and I thought about how she and other successful photographers had influenced my approach to photography, and as I watched I considered some other great photographers that impacted my view of portraiture.

The first photographers I became aware of while living and beginning my study of photography in Los Angeles so long ago were the co-founders of Group f/64, an association of west coast photographers.  I would go to exhibitions of their work and irritate my friends because I would ignore them to sit for long periods viewing each photographer’s work; I was amazed with the way they dealt with light and shadow. Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham, although not especially portrait photographers, were among those that changed the way photography was approached. Adams is well known to most, but Cunningham’s controlled photography of patterns, detail, and texture is worth viewing not only for her portraiture but also in her botanical work.  On portraiture she was known to comment, “The thing that’s fascinating about portraiture is that nobody is alike.”

Discovering Arnold Newman stopped me in my tracks. Newman photographed the world’s most influential people and his portraiture was termed “environmental”.  Unlike many of his contemporaries at the time, he might include tables, pianos, and other elements he deemed structurally important to a portrait and when interviewed about his style he said, “I am always lining things up, measuring angles…. I’m observing the way you sit, and the way you fit into the composition of the space around you.”

Another woman that challenged the way photographers approached portrait photography at that time was Sarah Moon. Her photographs were mysterious and surreal, sometimes in weirdly muted colours, or nostalgic with diffused grain. Her comment as to her portraiture was, “I never photograph reality.”

One of my favourite portraitists that I have mentioned and quoted many times is Richard Avedon, and his minimalist style with stark white backgrounds. The provocative three-foot high photographs from his exhibition entitled “In the American West” were an important hallmark in 20th century portrait photography. When talking about photography he said, “if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.”

There are many more that made me want to spend time making portraits in my early days with this medium, but the last I’ll mention is Irving Penn.  Truly an artist, his portraits are more than images depicting beautiful people and his prints take on the mantle of works of art in themselves. He said, “I myself have always stood in the awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.”

Photographing people and stopping their lives for a fleeting moment is pure enjoyment, and for those photographers that want to become more proficient I recommend spending time searching out the famous photographers I have mentioned, viewing their works, and applying the lessons learned to their own portrait photography.

To complete my tribute to those portrait photographers that affected my photography, and that of many others. I will end with Imogene Cunningham’s famous quote “Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

Don’t hesitate to leave me your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com