Low-key photography is a genre of photography consisting of shooting dark-colored scenes by lowering or dimming the “key” or main light illuminating the scene (hence Low-key), and emphasising the natural or artificial lighting in a specific areas in the frame. This photographic style is usually used to create a mysterious atmosphere, that only suggests various shapes, letting the viewer experience the image a glimpse of a subject and leave the rest up to their imagination.
It doesn’t suit every wedding or indeed every part of a wedding day; in my experience it’s most often the evening that suits this style- when I am in control of the lighting with my speed lights- but sometimes there are moments during the day when I’ll spot some natural light that speaks to me. Here’s some wedding photographs that illustrate low key photography.
Although there are 2 lights from the DJs set-up in this shot, the light that illuminates the couple comes from a speed light (flash) I’ve got on a stand- hidden in the corner of the dance floor. Whilst I could use Photoshop to remove the the DJ’s lights, I think they add integrity to the image- after all it was a real moment not a staged scene.
The couples first dance was captured by having 4 speed lights on stands in each corner of the dance floor; I just moved around keeping the light exactly where I want it to create that low key mood.
Dropping a coloured gel in front of my light allows a warm tone to modify the image.
Unlike many of these shots, the lighting is in front rather than behind the couple. It’s a speed light again, but with the couple moving so close to it, I was able to allow the background to drop into darkness, giving the intimate feeling to the first dance photograph.
To create the star burst effect in this shot, I popped a grid on the front of my speed light to create a small pool of light. Ordinarily I shoot with a very wide aperture (f1.2-f2.8) on my lenses, allowing lots of light into the camera and throwing the background out of focus but to ensure the starburst effect I actually did the opposite; shooting at f8.
Unlike some dance floors, where throwing the background out of focus or into black is there best option for low key images, here the gorgeous chandelier, ceiling, painting and warm tones in the walls are integral to the scene.
Unusually, I was restricted by the vicar at this church to photograph the ceremony from this one location behind the couple. Whilst there, I captured this image of the organist- I don’t think this is strictly “wedding photography” but I’m always on the look-out for interesting images and of course give them to a couple.
No speed lights required here, nothing can beat the atmosphere created by the setting sun.
Whilst the girls were having their hair done I spotted this harsh light coming through the window- something I avoid for the majority of the wedding day. Thankfully the hairdresser didn’t mind us moving the chair to a location that placed her in exactly the right place to frame the hair.
I spotted these two in the most perfect light- it has an almost painterly style to it.
Back-lit by the lasers in this image we get the contrast of a private moment with the hard lines of the laser.
This bridesmaid had been frantically dancing and was now having a well deserved break. Shooting only using the lights from the LOVE sign allowed be to drop her into near silhouette.
Using the soft light from an open window and focusing only on the bridesmaids eye lashes gives this image a very soft, tranquil feeling.
This image is a perfect example off where black and white is best, this shot was taken through complex, colourful wedding decorations using only fairy lights to illuminate the scene. In colour, it’s far too distracting, the eye doesn’t know where to look and it feels far too dark, but fortunately with modern mirrorless cameras I can set the viewfinder to monochrome and whilst it captures the image in colour it shows me it in clack and white- I done;t miss my film cameras one bit!
Low key doesn’t just suit portraits, sometimes it’s the perfect way to show the details of a wedding day.
The DJs lights at this wedding were all I needed to capture this scene.
The setting sun was used to back light this groomsmen shot, exposing it just enough to keep it away from a pure silhouette.
I love to be invited to stay at a wedding until LATE, leaving after the first dance only tells part of your story and those drunken dance floor stories need telling! Having spent the day with a couple, their family and their friends I become part of their day and can record it from the inside- without interrupting the evening’s action. Photographs like these can’t be captured by cruising around at a distance, they need the photographers participation (plus a bit of creative lighting). Everyone is always surprised how late I stay, particularly as its only a bit more money than the Gold plan but I’m a photographer because I love it- I absolutely love wedding photography- if I could afford to do it for free I would (but sadly Nikon Z9s don’t grow on trees). See my Platinum plans at https://www.acronymphotography.com/services. Chat soon, Simon.
I agree, the idea of posing for photos sounds awful but especially if you prefer the photojournalistic/ natural look of your shots there’s some tips in here that will make the final results and the day itself run smoothly. There’s a lot in here; my intention is not to confuse or worry you; these are just some things that if you can practise at home (and if we meet beforehand) will speed the process up and the results will be natural and beautiful.
For live interactions with other people, casual and slouchy is good enough. But in photography, we must take that acceptable posture a step further into a slightly uncomfortable state. It is much easier to look good to others when there is movement. The angles others see you from are always changing.
So if someone happens to catch a glimpse of you from a bad angle, it will be just a glimpse. That’s it! But in a photograph, that glimpse of time becomes permanent - which is why it takes effort to make sure we look our best in a photograph…
Raise the back of your head towards the ceiling/sky. Slowly breathe in. Drop your shoulders down towards the ground and back by 2 inches.
Straighten your spine, imagine a string at the back of your neck pulling you up.
Turn your body away from the camera slightly and make sure there’s a gap between your torso and your arms ie let your arms be squashed against your body.
Stand with one leg nearer to me than the other: put your weight on your back foot- use that to support and hold yourself. Bend the front leg just a little bit but make sure that your knee is pointing the same direction as your toes (ie not twisted).
Your body should twist a little so you aren’t flat on to the camera (but you probably already know that trick) just make sure your shoulder isn’t closer to the camera than your face.
Females: curve your lower back.
Men: don’t point your toes towards each other, have them out in a non-exaggerated V shape. One leg in front of the other helps this.
Keep your back straight, sit on the edge of the chair not sinking back into it. Try to lean forwards so your face is as close to being on the same plain as your knees as possible. If you have your legs crossed, avoid 90 degree angles at the knee and ankle
This sounds strange but…. walk as if you’re on a tightrope and let one foot cross over the other. (Walking is incredibly natural but a static photograph of people walking doesn’t quite look right without this suggestion)
If you hold hands, do so lightly, it looks better if one hand holds and covers all the fingers of the other rather than see a horde of fingers. Practise: male puts his fingers under the females palm, his thumb on the top/back of her hand.
If your hand is behind someone’s back, even if it is affectionately around them leave that hand hidden from camera view (otherwise a few fingers appear around shoulders- it never quite looks right without specific posing or luck).
Make sure your wrists are extensions to you arms not limp or tilted up or down but can be curled; we don’t want them to look broken.
Try to show the side or back of your hand rather than the palm.
Try not to have your hands parallel to each other: have one higher than the other.
Females: Relaxed hands! Rest your hands don’t grab, use your finger tips to hold things. Elongated, gently curved fingers with small gaps between fingers and a slightly larger gap for the thumb.
Try to show the side of your hand in preference to the back, but never the palm.
Give your hands something to do: Perhaps lift your dress slightly, your veil, hair (if you can: use your thumb and middle finger).
Males: you can curl your fingers more than females but keep your thumbs in closer to your fingers.
Match your emotions: if one of you has a big smile on their face it’s really best if you match their energy or it will look like an arranged marriage.
If you put your hands on your face or body, do so lightly: rest your hand.
Don’t make a fist with your hands nor let your thumb pop far from your fingers or you risk making the thumbs up sign.
Enjoy having your photo taken, ultimately I’m there to freeze moments in time forever and if you aren’t happy when I’m taking your photo I don’t think you’ll be happy when you look at them and I want you to be happy during and after.
Whatever is closest to the camera looks bigger and is the focus of the photo.
On looking at the photos our eyes are directed towards where you are looking (even if we can’t see your eyes- like the bridesmaid in the photo below- we look at what you are looking at) so look at each other or something that’s also in the photograph (friends, dress, a glass, a bouquet) or the camera but don’t both always look at the same thing.
Viewing photos, our eyes also take special notice of hands so be careful where you place them as the part of the body where you rest them or the object you hold or rest upon becomes a feature of the picture.
Wow that was a lot wasn’t it!
Most of the tips are things for me to worry about not you but I really think it makes sense if you know what I’m looking for before I press the shutter on my camera.
Please get in touch if I’ve confused or worried you and I will think of another way of explaining these tips because that’s all they are: tips, not instructions.
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Image editing, they all need it, but how much and what we do as photographers differentiates us; in this blog I’d like to explain why I edit, how I edit and some examples. Forgive me if I’m telling you something you already know in the first, following paragraph.
I shoot in RAW, which for those of you unfamiliar with the term is the highest resolution image cameras can produce; I like to think of a RAW file as a film negative. Just like the negative of film days, it need processing and developing before we can deliver the files in a format you can enjoy: jpeg. Whilst we are talking about jpegs, there are lots of different resolution/sized images you’ll come across that are jpegs; those that are on the internet, particularly sites like Facebook have to compress their images enormously to manage the 350 million uploaded every day! so the quality and sharpness of the images is often lost. Even on my photography specific website I can’t upload the full sized images- you as a potential client flicking through my gallery would have to wait a couple of seconds before each image appears, so I fall foul of this crunching of my files too; quality is reduced by about 90% on my site.
However, let’s get on with the good stuff. I edit using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.
Lightroom gives me the opportunity to organise, process and develop your images whilst Photoshop solves some problems- importantly, I don’t use Photoshop to make you look like a doll. A featureless doll with just eyes and lips, a look you’re familiar with in one off those Snapchat filters we are all familiar with. I don’t use Photoshop for that because the way you look is not a problem that needs solving, the beer glass that someone left on a table in front of an otherwise beautiful photo is a problem. Let me explain with some photos:
Photoshop. This its Sarah and Simon at Sandy Cove Hotel wedding venue near Ilfracombe.
The image was taken straight after they’d got married, they hadn’t even signed the register yet so I didn’t want to intervene, I didn’t want to pose them or get involved at all; I just wanted them to have that first photograph as Mr and Mrs. In the original, there are a number of reflections that complicate the image so I got rid of those using Photoshop to replace the areas Sarah’s dress is reflected. There are a few annoying marks on the floor and some nasty creases in Simon’s trousers needed tidying up, so again Photoshop was used to remove those. Lightroom was used to develop the photograph into a specifically warm black and white. Because I didn’t know if they’d prefer a black and white or colour version of the photos, I delivered both (after the edits to both the colour and black and white). Incidentally, they prefer the black and white and are getting in printed as an enormous print.
Lightroom. Re-touching photographs gets a bad name (airbrushed skin and those snapchat/instagram filters spring to mind). I want to produce images that stand the test of time so I never produce images like those black and white with a spot of colour (a red umbrella in an otherwise B/W shot) those are immediately dated as late 80s/90s images and in my opinion should reside there. I think the airbrushed skin that removes any indication of a persons age are equally of the past. Nowadays (and I cannot see any reason why they will upset future generations of photographers and viewers of your photos) as professionals we only remove temporary marks ( a smidge of lipstick, a pimple ) and just smooth skin a little. But why smooth skin? Well, I only ever do it if I’m shooting a close up portrait - a headshot and that’s because I have professional camera and professional lenses. The detail possible with the glass is too good. It’s fantastic to see the fine netting of your dress, but printed large, we’d also see every pore, every little baby hair that covers our faces so I just smooth that out a little so you look like you do in real life and not under a microscope. Remember, I only need do it when I’m taking a head-shot and very rarely with guys as of course we have flawless skin (I’m joking!!!, we get pimples too, I just don’t need to remove any tiny facial hairs or smudged lipstick).
If anyone had a permanent scar I would leave it unless asked to remove it, after all you’ve got to share the amazing story about how you were attacked by a shark.
Lightroom. This its Charlotte at Ocean Kave wedding venue Westward Ho!.
The first image, straight out of camera, needs warming up, the distracting chairs darkened so they are less visible, the details in the dress and warmth of her complexion are brought back by fine tuning the exposure and the smallest amount of skin smoothing. You’ll see in image 3 that her skin texture is still there; she’s not been “airbrushed”.
There’s more than editing that make this photo, I knew I had to position Charlotte with that dark background and place her so that the light would shine in her eyes, in fact you can even see me, holding the camera reflected in her eyes.
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So which do you choose? black and white or colour? Some images work better in colour, others in black and white; there’s no right or wrong (which is why I deliver both); it’s subjective.
Color catches the eye. A bright hue often highlights the main subject and will get our attention, red particularly: a red dress, red lipstick, poisonous red berries and the red balloon of a scary clown all grab our attention in life, film and photography. Certain colours provide indicators of times of the year, lush greens and autumnal tones but in wedding photography and perhaps in all photography colour creates a mood. Mood can be communicated based on a photo’s colour scheme. A blue, cold tone can elicit a feeling of sadness or loneliness, while a warmer orange tone might suggest tenderness or joy.
The rules of colour theory attract a viewer’s eye when used effectively; often subconsciously. We use complementary colours or analogous/similar colours, to focus relationships between subjects in our photographs; this subtlety is impossible with black and white photography.
I love to use when colour it is a main element in my photographs. The beautiful colours of a wedding dress, the bouquet, table decorations and (fingers crossed) some warm evening light. Back at my computer I love to work on developing a simple pallet of tones that produce a warm, romantic and happy feeling to your photographs. As digital photographers we are fortunate to be able to change the white balance at the flick of a button or mouse and arguably it is the single most important decision we face in processing your photographs; it’s how we build the mood and feeling of the various parts of your day.
Black and white images instantly appear timeless and because we don’t see in black and white we respect and study them in a more reverential manner. Colour can often suggest a specific time period; the faded tones of my early film photographs look nothing like the crisp and realistic colours that come straight out of our digital cameras and phones - consequently I deliberately process and develop my photographs to have a timeless, warm tone and avoid the sharp realistic colours of the every day.
Removing all the colour however makes it more difficult to put an exact date on a photo. Without colour we focus on the light and shadows. Backlit subjects and dramatic shadows are brought to the audience’s attention quickly in black and white images.
As humans we are drawn to faces, we see them in clouds, burnt toast and even a simple upside down triangle of 3 dots is enough for us to recognise a face shape; it’s how we have evolved. Removing colour from a picture removes the distractions, it allows us to quickly see the faces, the emotions. Even viewing a silhouette we instantly read an emotion based on their body language; without the details to clarify a scene, our mind fills the gaps.
I prefer black and white when the light, form, or texture in the scene is more compelling than the hues of the subject matter. Black and white is my choice when the colour in a photo serves only as a distraction from the message I want the image to convey; more often than not that means the reception or dance floor. Perhaps there are a lot of competing elements: coloured and contrasting lighting, guests in a broad range of colours, a busy scene full of busy people. I think black and white brings everything together and allows you the viewer to focus on the subject of the photo in a timeless and stylish way. But that’s only my opinion.
Here is a selection of identical images, I think some work better in colour, others in black and white. What do you think? and why?
For me it is about light, after all that’s what photography is: it’s the science of light (albeit an arty farty way of studying it).
There is no right or wrong and because, as I say, it is subjective; I think you should have both sets of images: colour and black and white.
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A full day’s wedding photography often ends with about 1000 high quality, developed and processed colour photographs. I also process and develop a similar amount of black and white shots. Black and white is often better during the reception to simplify the scene, you naturally concentrate on the subject of the photos (you and your guests) rather than the often complicated background or lighting, but that is your choice so of course you get both colour and black and white wedding photographs from your day.
I’m going to include a couple of colour and black and white shots in a separate blog so you can see what I mean.
I’m never able to tell you how many shots you get as as you can imagine it depends upon the wedding. Some weddings have guests quietly sat around drinking and reminiscing, others run out onto a sunny evening lawn or stay dancing until midnight.
My job, as I see it, is to tell your story and naturally your story dictates the number of photos required to tell it. But what do you do with 2000 photographs!? Don’t worry, I provide a folder of “simon’s picks” of both colour and black and white that I think tell your story in the most concise, thorough but elegant way. I don’t think it’s right that I don’t provide you all the other photos though as you never know, sometimes a wedding is the last time you might see a friend or family member.
The following video is about 7 minutes long, the full version is nearly 7GB and has therefore been heavily reduced in quality by YouTube but what hope it does is show you an example of some of the shots from Sarah and Simon’s wedding at Sandy Cove near Ilfracombe in Devon recently that best tell the story of their day.
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Photography Is a Small Business.
Besides the expense of actual photography equipment, photographers are paying for the same bills that your hairdresser and mechanic pay.
Self-employed tax, National insurance, liability and insurance, etc.
Unlike your mechanic, there are often “seasons” for photography. Wedding photographers are busiest during the warmer months, and often book very few, if any, jobs during the winter where outdoor portrait sessions are often limited by the weather.
The photographer that you thought was making a fortune is probably earning an average wage. Many of us work other jobs or work in different areas of photography to make ends meet, and the ones that don’t are charging well above my charge for a one-hour session.
Photography Is More Than Just the Camera
Yes, you can probably get photos for under my hourly charge by walking into a department store. But here’s the thing—I’ve seen the staff recruiting adverts for these types of businesses, it’s the same as the company who take the school photographs, they state no photography experience necessary in their adverts. Why? because every photo looks the same.
These companies don’t hire photographers, they hire people with sales experience; the idea is that you walk in the door for a £ special offer and walk out spending £200 in an up=sell of prints and extras.
When you hire a photographer, you hire an artist. Chances are, they’ve spent years perfecting their craft. They’ve invested a lot of money in learning how to take beautiful images, we are going to put time and effort into helping you relax and smile—not rushing you through a session and then spending twice as much time convincing you to buy the framed, super-deluxe matt print for only an extra £30.
What if you Don’t Hire a Professional Photographer?
I believe that everyone should take photos, whether it’s of their own children growing up or the places they travel too. I think you should carry a camera with you everywhere, and with mobile phones, we do. But, there’s a big difference between a casual snapshot and a professional image.
When you hire a professional photographer, you’re getting an artist who knows just how to light the scene, how to help you pose. You’re getting a photograph that, because it was taken with a professional camera and not your smartphone camera, can be reprinted onto a large canvas. And because you hired an artist, you’ll actually want to.
When you hire a professional wedding photographer, you get images that are just as beautiful as the memories you have of that day. You get a permanent record of all the elements you put into your day.
Memories you get are worth getting a pro.
Photography is expensive—but so is not hiring a professional.
I understand, when you are paying for caterers and bands and flowers, it’s hard to see that wedding photography price sheet. But you know what my wife and I still have left from my wedding day? The photos and our wedding rings. Her dress is collecting dust in the loft somewhere, a small box of the dried bouquet, an invitation and a cufflink; a cufflink.
Good photography is expensive—but it’s expensive on both sides. Photographers spend thousands on gear and expenses, often sacrifice their weekends and spend many more hours than the time you actually see them shooting. It’s easy to look at a photography price sheet and picture photographers around the world living in luxury mansions. But, in reality, much of that cost is going towards expenses.
I pride myself in not just taking photos of who is at your wedding; but of capturing the mood, the colours, the details and the flavour of your day. If I could do it for free I probably would… but those f2.8, 70-200mm lenses that provide that lovely shallow depth of field and swirly out of focus background you love just don’t grow on trees.
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Yes. Absolutely. Photography is expensive. But remember… photography is expensive for both of us.
Photographers don’t really earn the price you pay for the session. When you consider the hidden time and investment in training, equipment, insurances and the like- most photographers don’t earn much more than your hairdresser or mechanic.
Here is what you are really getting when you pay for a professional photographer and (in part 2) what you miss if you don’t hire one.
When a photographer charges £100 for a one-hour session, they’re not charging £100 an hour. At the very minimum, photographers typically spend at least 4 times that on a session.
Whilst you may only see the top hour of the iceberg, you don’t see or you may not consider:
The time spent arranging the shoot with you, the planning/pre-visualising of your photos, maintaining the photographic gear, selecting the specific equipment for your shoot, readying the gadgets (from charging batteries to cleaning the lenses), the time and cost in traveling to the shoot, setting up the paraphernalia, the actual hour at the shoot (its never just an hour- which is fine, really it’s fine, I don’t clock watch), packing up, traveling back, about an hour to load and choose the best images, another two hours minimum to edit the images, a to&fro email discussion about which ones are best to print, perfecting shots for printing and refining them for Facebook.
Your one hour session quickly becomes a 5 hour session.
How much do you pay your hairdresser? Mechanic? It feels easier to justify those expenses, because you can see how much work went into the project firsthand. But, when you hire a professional photographer, you only see a small amount of what it actually took to produce those final images.
Photography Gear Is Expensive.
Because of the hidden hours, what seems like £100 an hour is actually only about £10-£20 but don’t forget…
Professional cameras costs at least £1,500. Most photographers have a second camera body, even if they only carry one, there’s a spare in a bag. Oh, and our £1,500 cameras will likely be replaced after about three years, because like any technology, they become outdated pretty quickly.
And of course cameras don’t come with lenses. Professional lenses are £900 plus and we will probably bring 6 of them.
Not to mention the lighting equipment, bags, straps, memory cards and other gizmos we rely on. We require public liability and equipment insurance for all our toys.
Editing photos isn’t cheap either. You probably know we don’t supply your photos SOOC (straight out of camera), we take photos in RAW, similar to the film negative of days past and then process and develop them to be their very very best.
To keep you looking beautiful, we use a high quality display that will show the image properly. Most photographers have about £2,000 in computer equipment (including external hard drives to back up those photos), and like cameras, they have to be replaced every few years. We can’t get away with using Instagram filters, we’ll have an annual subscription to the essential editing software Photoshop and Lightroom.
That’s a lot of money.
While it’s easy to think that wedding photography is given an inflated price just because its a wedding, different types of photography require different gear (and different time commitments). We all know there are businesses that are accused of charging a premium because its a wedding but I’d like to believe that they do this for the same reason I do: there are no “do-overs”, you can’t walk down the aisle again because my camera failed (so I carry two), you can’t do your first dance again (so I have 4 different lights); you can’t afford to lose any photographs so I shoot on two cameras that that record onto two separate memory cards in each camera body and I pay to back them up on site and also off-site so that even if my house burnt down your photos would be safe.
As a wedding photographer I invest in even more gear so I can shoot in any condition. The lenses that handle the limited lighting of churches and receptions while still offering zoom flexibility are £1500. We need super reliable gear that can back-up every single photograph the moment it’s taken.
We have attended courses, read books, coveted and read reviews of the latest equipment and employ the latest techniques because we love photography and we love weddings but most of all we are story tellers. We tell your story.
I agree, charges for photography always look high, but ”consider the longevity of these expensive services. The alcohol, food, and cake get flushed down the drain (quite literally). The venue and accommodations will serve as faint backdrops to your memories. The flowers will wilt and decorations, tossed away. The entertainment will be a ringing in your ears the following morning. Your makeup will be washed away and the hair slept on. Your wedding dress will remain, but there will never again be a practical occasion to wear it. Of all these unnecessary, impractical, and conspicuous expenses, the photo and video documents hold the most utility. Their value increases with time, having an inverse relationship to your recollection of the day.”