When I started to second shoot weddings for Eva Bradley Photography back in November 2014, the first thing that I realised about wedding photography is that the hardest thing is not necessarily nailing the shots, but it is knowing what is happening next and getting in the right place for those shots. Let me explain.
As most of you who follow me on Social Media know I shoot ( and post process ) weddings through the summer season as a second shooter for Eva Bradley Photography, but I don't share my wedding photos under my own branding. So to show some of the cool things I get to photograph I thought I would put together this blog with some of my favourite photos that I shot over the 2017 / 2018 wedding season.
My role as second shooter means that I often get to shoot the non-traditional angles of the wedding day, and I also often get the chance to shoot more candid moments when people are focusing on Eva in her role as the main photographer.
These photos are in no particular order, and only represent a fraction of the 20,000 frames that I shot over the 20 weddings of the season.
Now is time to start planning for next season, with my first wedding at the start of October.
So there are some people out there who think a lot of my photos are fake, but for this Monday blog I thought I would share a few techniques that I use when shooting architectural photography, one of which requires complete fakery.
I recently shot a collection of images for Architecture HDT of a complex of buildings know as Village Exchange, in Havelock North, as part of their entry into the recent NZIA architecture awards.
One of the images was the one at the top of this blog, showing the corner of the complex which fronts onto the roundabout in the centre of Havelock North.
There is a lot of post processing work that goes into a shot like this, and to give an idea of the before and after images the image below shows, on the left, a single frame from the shoot, unedited ( except a bit of cropping / straightening to make it match the final version in this comparison ) and the image on the right is the finished product.
So how is it done? Here is my check list of some of the things I do for Architectural Photography
1. Stand in a garden on a roundabout
Or in other word don’t be scared to stand where you need to to get the shot. In the 30 minutes that I was standing in this roundabout I got plenty of strange looks, a few toots, and the local constabulary went around twice to see what I was up to.
But I got the shot from the angle that I wanted, so I didn’t mind the attention.
2. Balance the light / timing
One of the trickest aspects to shooting the exteriors of builing is getting a balance between the ambient light ( ie daylight ) and the artificial lighting of the building and surrounding streets. If you can get the balance right it really helps to show off the building at it’s best.
This invariably means shooting buildings around sunrise or sunset to make sure that the ambient light doesn’t overpower the artificial lights, but also to get nice soft light across the whole shot.
But it is also important to make sure that the ambient light is coming from over the shoulder of the photographer to light up the faces of the building. I had tried this shot a couple of nights earlier at sunset as I thought the ambient would work, but one of the faces of the building was in too much shadow for me to get the shot I wanted. So I returned on the next fine morning to get this shot ( and some of the others that I included in the final set )
This shot was taken about 20 minutes before sunrise ( see point 3 for why I can’t give an exact time ) which is often about the right time to get enough light from the sky but retain the brightness in the artificial lighting.
3. Movement / life
One of the things that I try to get into my architectural photos is an idea of movement or signs of life around or in the building. Architecture by its nature is quite static and so it can add a lot to a photo to get some sign of human activity to balance the non-activity of the buildings.
For this shot there were not a lot of people around at 6:30am apart from those driving their cars through this intersection, so I chose to get the lights of the passing cars into the photo. This just required the slowing down of the shutter speed to about 1/2 sec and waiting for cars to pass by, and then timing the shots to get the lights in different parts of the roundabout and surrounding streets to build up a series of images that would make the final shot ( see point 4 below )
You can see in the comparison above how much more alive the scene looks with lots of car lights in different areas.
4. Multiple shots blended in Photoshop
I will let you into a secret; the final image ( as seen at the top of this blog ) is not a single photo, it is a blend of multiple photos ( 8 in total ) used to build up the scene that you see. All of the shots were taken from the exact same spot, with the same lens, with slightly different camera settings to compensate for the increasing light levels as time passed.
As I mention in point 3 above I was trying to get shots of cars lights to blend into the final version of the image, and seeing as traffic was pretty light at 6:30am this meant that to get the number of light trails that I wanted in the final shot I had to keep taking photos as cars passed around me.
Once I had taken all the shots I needed ( and the light was getting too bright to get the look I wanted ) I picked the best shots of the collection of 30, and edited them in Lightroom, and then moved them into Photoshop to blend multiple images to get the car lights from each image into a combined photo. Obviously as the buildings and light poles etc didn't move between shots it is a relatively easy process to blend together the objects in the photos that did move.
I am not going to go into the details of the blending process in Photoshop, as there are plenty of tutorials out there on this, and I might write another blog about it at a later date.
5. Turn the lights on
Once I had created the overall image that I was after, with a nice sky, well lit buildings and car head lights, there was still one part of the scene that I didn't like. Again this comes down to getting the building to have life to them, and in the photos I shot there were very few lights on in the buildings themselves so they looked a bit lifeless. Often it is possible to get the lights inside the building turned on before the shoot, but the problem with this complex of buildings was the varied ownerships of the various buildings which meant it would have been incredibly difficult to get lights turned on.
So I faked it, and painted the lights into the windows that I thought needed it. It was a very slow process ( as you need to paint only the glass areas and keep the window frames unlit ) with an attention to detail. Even though the windows make up only a small part of the overall photo, if the faked light is not done well it makes the overall photo look strange, and people looking at it will 'feel' that there is something wrong even if they can't see the exact problem.
Also it has to be remembered that light shines onto parts of the building from the windows, so when fake light is added to a window the external faces of the building around the window might also need light added. For example the ceiling in the outdoor deck area of the 'drum' had to have a little bit of light added as it would normally be lit by the window behind it. It is very subtle but very important for the feel of the image.
Below is another comparison to show the fake light; this time it is one of the shots before editing, and the same shot with the only the 'fake lights' added to the windows and building faces.
Hopefully there is some helpful information in this blog for anyone looking to shoot some architectural shots. The overall process is more complicated than I have made it sound in this blog, but it should give a good starting point. In terms of time this photo took about 1/2 hour to shoot the various shots and about 2 hours to edit it.
But it was worth it in my eyes.
This isn't a post about the esoteric need for photography in our post modern western world. It is far more simple than that.
So for those that don't know I went full time as a photographer in October last year, and since then ( and before to some extent ) I have had conversations with other photographers about photography and the age old question of how much to charge as a photographer, and why not to do work for free etc etc.
And it got me thinking; have a lot of photographers forgotten why they take photos?
I was watching a video by Kevin Mullins recently ( if you don't know Kevin he is a wedding photographer who shoots with Fujifilm cameras; so is a bit of an idol in my eyes ), and he made the point that very few people who become photographers for a living leave school planning to get into photography. I certainly don't remember my Careers Advisor giving me any information on that career path. For most people it is either a passion for photography that develops ( pardon the pun ) through their lives, that they see an opportunity to use to earn a living, or is something that they 'fall' into ( e.g. the age old scenario of shooting a friends wedding and then getting paid for it ) that they find they really enjoy doing and can earn a few dollars at the same time.
I fall into a bit of both camps when it comes to my photographic career; I discovered that I loved to shoot photos of landscapes and other non-people related subjects, and then got the chance to shoot weddings ( which I also discovered I love to do ) and earn some money in the process to pay for my 'gear habit'. And that was like the holy grail: doing something I enjoy and getting paid for it.
But the bottom line to me is that you have to enjoy photography to earn money as a photographer. It needs passion and drive to keep taking better and better photos, and I can't imagine doing the job if you didn't have that drive. People often ask me ( normally at weddings ) if I enjoy doing wedding photography ( and let me assure you there are plenty of photographers who don't ), and my answer is always the same; "You couldn't do wedding photography if you weren't enjoying it, because it is hard work ".
I, like a lot of photographers, could earn better money for less hours and less physical and mental effort working in another field other than photography.
So if the reason that people get into photography is about the enjoyment / passion for producing images, why does money become the topic that dare not be talked about amongst photographers, and why when it is talked about in oblique terms does it cause so much anger and vitriol amongst 'professional' photographers.
I don't have the answers to those questions, but here is my thoughts on money in photography, some of which I have stated on this blog before.
I love to take photos, I rarely leave home without a camera ( and not just the phone based variety ), and I will always be looking for photos to shoot. I do this because I enjoy it and not because I think there might be a dollar in it. I have 1200+ photos in my personal portfolio ( www.flickr.com/photos/ajecaldwell/ ) of which only a small number have ever generated an income.
I will happily shoot photos for worthy causes and not care about the money side of it. Aside from all the gear I have bought to allow me to function as a professional photographer ( which is more than paid for by the money making gigs I shoot ) the only thing it costs me to shoot some photos is my time. And whilst my time is valuable to me if I can spend it doing something I enjoy, even if I am not being paid for it, then that is not a loss in my eyes. And every photo session I shoot is a learning experience, either on the technical or artistic side of my shooting process, or from the story's you hear about peoples lives as you spend a few minutes or hours trying to get photos that capture them as people. I have learnt a lot about life from the people that I have photographed, and in the modern world you don't often get the chance to just sit and chat to people about themselves or there views on things.
So when people tell me I am "devaluing" photography for shooting for free or charging less that they do: I don't care, I am 'up valuing' my enjoyment of life. When people say I didn't charge enough for a gig and the going rate is $xxx, I will charge what I need to survive.
It might sound cheesy but the "profit" I get from my photography is when a person says to me; "that photo was amazing, I love it" or "that is exactly what I wanted" , or something similar. It doesn't come from my bank balance.
That is why I take photos.
I got up to to a clear starry sky over Lake Heron at 6am, and left Liz in the warmth of her sleeping bag, and headed around past the farm house to boat shed we had seen yesterday. I took a few shots but wasn't really getting what I wanted so I moved further around the shore to find a little bay that faced the rising sun.
I stood and waited for the sunrise, watching the paradise ducks flying around and the little bit of cloud that there was on the horizon light up. After an hour or so I headed back to camp, had some breakfast, drank some coffee, packed the van ( for the last time in a scenic location; our last night before flying home to Napier will be spent at a camp site in the suburbs of Christchurch ), and left at about 8:30am
We pretty much drove straight into Christchurch, which took about 2 1/2 hours, for the camp in Papanui ( Top 10 Christchurch ) checked in ( using a drive through checkin ), paid the $48 and parked the van. We have stayed at this camp before, and it is a great location both for getting to town and the airport. It is used a lot by people starting or finishing their campervan holidays in the South Island.
We jumped on a bus and headed into town, getting off at the Central Bus Station and having a quick wander along Colombo St. This is our 3rd visit to Christchurch since the earthquakes that struck in 2011, and each time there are more and more buildings built, and it gets more of the feel of a City again. This time is no exception, with a new area of Cashel St having been reopened which gives Christchurch a good central shopping area, and also with the main 3 banks having returned to the CBD. One of the best things about the new buildings in the Christchurch CBD are their use of alleyways and laneways within the buildings, with little hidden courtyards and cafes. I can only assume this comes from the planning rules that are in place for these new buildings; so well done Christchurch City Council!
So we grabbed some lunch at Ballantynes then wandered around the shops, through the Square ( still no change to the Cathedral ) and along the Avon to the Earthquake memorial. Then back to the bus depot at 2:30pm and back out to Northlands Mall for a wander around the shops and a milkshake. We walked back to the camp at 3:30pm and relaxed.
We decided to have a night off from the sunset / sunrise schedule of the last couple of weeks, and headed in to the Casino for some tea and a donation to their coffers, and drove back to the camp at 8:30pm. It feels weird being back in a city again, after 2 weeks travelling around some of the quieter areas of New Zealand, with the traffic and people all around.
We were up at 7:30am the next morning, had some breakfast then packed up the van. As this camp is the starting point for peoples travels there is a cupboard in the kitchen for all those left over things that you might have at the end of your trip ( sugar, salt, pasta, beer etc ). So we paid forward all our left over supplies, including the gumboots we bought after arriving in Christchurch. We then packed all our belongs into our bags and headed out of camp at 9am. Before we returned the van we needed to fill up with diesel and also fill the gas bottle. So after visiting 2 service stations we ticked both of those boxes and headed out to the Mighty offices out by the airport to return our home on wheels ( and settle up the final account ), and catch the shuttle to the airport.
As per normal we had plenty of time to kill at the airport ( we checked in for our 1:20pm flight at 10:30am ), so we headed upstairs to catch up on some work, have coffee, lunch etc.
We went through to our gate at 1:00pm, and onto the plane and off home again at 1:30pm.
This was a really interesting trip for us; the focus of this trip was photography, and we spent most of our time either shooting or processing photos. We didn't do any tourist activities that you would normally do on a South Island holiday, and it was nice not to feel the need to do them.
Again we got to visit some of New Zealand's amazing locations, and again we made the effort to visit some areas that aren't on the tourist route, but are equally as stunning.
But the highlight ( and the main purpose for the trip ) had to be the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow; just an amazing day of planes in a stunning location.
Until next time....thanks South Island