In the ongoing effort to bring more content to my blog (my wedding blog gets a lot more updating than this one) I’m trying to add a few series. I’ve already begun posting to the “What’s in the Bag?” series, as well as the “What I’m reading” series. Now I am launching something I think could be just as helpful for up and coming photographers, as well as forcing me to look deeper into my own work.

This ongoing series will be called Behind the Shot and focus on diving deeper into some of my images.

My first image I want to look at is one of my favorites from last year. This is Whitney during her wedding day at The Coal Reserve.

Now let’s break this shot down!


The Situation

Ben and Whitney’s wedding day

The Setup

Date: June 29th, 2013
Time: 1:36pm
Location: The Coal Reserve, Somerset, KY
Weather: Sunny, warm, a bit humid

It was a beautiful day! It really was…a bit warm, but I’ll take that every time. The Coal Reserve is a beautiful location with lots of green and a few large trees to find open shade. Almost every location has the issue of too much sun for mid day portraits.

With the sun blaring so hard we worked our way around the building and the trees getting that nice even lighting. I had been to The Coal Reserve several times before, but for some reason I had never really noticed this spot. It’s actually on the side of a neighboring home. I was turning my head to see if I could shoot from a different spot for my usual setup and fell in love.


There are so many levels to this spot. There are at least three levels of depth from Whitney, the branches, and the trees across the yard. Having three levels to your photograph gives a feeling of depth and helps carve out your subject. I also love the triangle cutout that I moved her into. Whitney’s dress had this amazing triangular silhouette that mimics the cutout on the tree and this really pushes the focus on her.

As for posing…I don’t pose. I know it sounds pretentious and cheesy, but I “guide” instead of pose. I give the little tips of course. Arm away from the body with a slight curve, a more dominant hip toward the camera, etc. However, the “posed” feel of her stance is actually because I directer her attention as she was standing naturally. A simple “What did your mom say?”  will cause a bride to look in her mother’s direction and most times never break the look.

The Gear

Camera: Canon 5D Mark ii
Lens: Canon 85mm f/1.8
Misc: 6’x3′ silver reflector

I generally only shoot two bodies during the ceremony and reception, but on this day I actually didn’t want to grab my bag since we could get back to it and retrieve gear fairly quickly. I had my 24-70 on my Mark ii and my 70-200 on my Mark iii. So where does the 85mm come in? It was on my assistants camera. I could easily have shot this with my 70-200, but there is something about the 85mm’s fall off.

The big kicker here (pun intended) was the gigantic reflector acting as a fill light. It is just slightly off camera to the right where you see the darker patch of grass. My assistant is holding it vertically with it resting on the ground because 1. it’s taller than she is. 2. it was somewhat windy and that thing catch wind like a sailboat. That gave a little more brace and let him feather in enough fill light to give that creamy skin tone that I wanted.

The Settings

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/2.5
Shutter: 1/320
Focal Length: 85mm

On a day like this when there is sun everywhere and we’re hunting for open shade, I will occasionally have to cheat up the ISO when there isn’t enough fill light. With the Mark ii (and even more with my Mark iii) I’m not scared to shoot a portrait up to 400 if it gives me the rest of what I need. However, we had a ton of light bouncing around and more than enough fill light coming from the giant reflector.

As I’ve said, the 85 f/1.8 is a monster of a portrait lens. It has a near perfect compression for the subject with a very creamy bokeh (background blur). However, a lot of people who use it tend to treat it as though it only shoots wide open at f/1.8 and that’s simply not the case. Ideally if I’m wanting that bokeh effect that pops someone out of the scene, the lens really gets crisp and sharp at f/2.5. You give up a little of the bokeh falloff, but not enough to sacrifice the sharp subject.

As a rule I try to keep my shutter speed at least double my focal length on a portrait. Something that is usually very easy to do on a sunny day. If I’ve got my ISO set, my ideal aperture locked in, and I’ve cleared that “double the focal length” number I will keep dialing in more shutter until I get my exposure.

The Edit

Software: Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop

Please don’t read the words Photoshop and think this thing was “photoshopped”. Almost everything I did with this image was done in Lightroom (and in camera).

I don’t have the original file history with me as I’m writing this, but I believe there was a very slight bump in vibrance. I also adjusted white balance a touch because there was a little green cast from the ground and leaves. There is also a small vignette (on top of the natural one) to help drive home the focus of the shot.

So what was Photoshop for? Well, there was a divot in the ground on the lower right. I could’ve probably cleaned it in Lightroom, but I knew I was ordering a large canvas of this and wanted to double check the leaves, grass, and see if I needed any skin retouching.

I didn’t.

What would I change?

Honestly, not a lot. I can rip almost every image I’ve ever shot because it’s in my dna to self criticize to try to improve. I’m very pleased with the photograph, but I regret not taking more. Don’t get me wrong, I got several different frames here but I’ve been using this image in marketing and would’ve loved more…especially horizontal shots.

The framing of the trees lend far more towards vertical shooting, but I wish I had given myself a little more room for promotional use.

Final Thoughts

This was one of my favorite photographs before it was every taken. It’s one of those wonderful moments where in a split second, nearly everything you’ve ready in this post ran through my head. I saw the shot and then sat it up. Those always feel amazing.