aka Emily & Dirk Engagement Pics
Despite endless inquiries, I typically don’t photograph weddings or senior pictures. I highly respect those that do. I have done a few weddings in years past (who hasn’t) but figured out they were HARD WORK with lots of pressure AND you had to wear a suite and tie while working weekends and humping gear and sweating like crazy. NOT FOR ME!
But when my daughter Emily asked me to do an engagement shoot for her and her fiance Dirk Mathews, I just couldn’t say no. PLUS I know my daughter and knew that this wouldn’t be just any old engagement session. If you know or have seen my daughter in my photos, you know that she is quite an independent person and dances to a different drummer than just about anyone I know. But she DOES have great style and taste, even if it is quite a bit different than mine. We have done a lot of work together in the past few years and have grown to appreciate the talents each brings to the table. She is incredibly creative and talented as a designer and our skills have merged quite well on many projects. She was planning to leave the next day to live in Pittsburgh with Dirk so this would be my last chance for a while to both photograph her and do a project with her.
We spent a couple of weeks bouncing around ideas and she finally came up with the idea of shooting the session in a very small bar where her and Dirk liked to hang out – the HiLo club in Oklahoma City. This is an eclectic hangout that has room for MAYBE 20 people. I had never been inside but had seen it when passing by. She did NOT want posed pictures. Like me, she prefers some type of action or emotion in her pictures.
Walking into the bar at 10 am from a bright sun on a 105 degree July day, I stumbled down the stairs as my eyes tried to adjust to the dimly lit venue. Humm. This is going to be challenging. It was DARK in this bar. I have the Nikon D3s wonder camera but the lighting here would be pushing my ability to create great photos without a lot of grain or digital noise. When I first measured the light it was about ISO 2000 at F1.4 and 1/10 shutter speed – NOT MUCH LIGHT. I could bump the ISO higher but then things really start to get grainy. I could fire off my powerful Einstein strobes but then you lose some of the ambiance of the bar scene.
I chatted with the bartender and he mentioned that all the lights in the bar were on dimmer switchs. Oh yea? I asked if we could turn up the lights. He went around bringing up the lighting to at least barely acceptable levels -about ISO 1000 at F1.4 1/60. This I could work with. “This is my ‘GET THE F&$K OUT OF MY BAR’ lighting levels” he explained. Ah yes, I have seen those 2 am light levels before. The infamous GTFOOMB lighting. I am usually too bleary-eyed to recognize it.
GTFOOMB lighting makes for great ambient background light levels – for a bar. If you can remember GTFOOMB lighting (and many of you are passed out by then so won’t remember) it a mixture of cold neon, puke green florescent, and a pale yellow that matches the liquid in the men’s urinals at 2 am. All mixed in with the smoke of stale cigarettes and forgotten promises.
My challenge as a photographer was to match clean, crisp 5500k daylight balanced light from my Einstein strobes with this GTFOOMB lighting. I could just nuke my subjects with my strobes, but then the background ambiance would either disappear, or at best turn an ugly yellowish-green that denotes “amateur photographer”. My solution was to dial the white balance of my D3s to 2500K (the lowest possible setting) and gel each of my Einstein’s with my GTFOOMB gels. Oh wait. Nobody makes a GTFOOMB gel? Darn. Engage backup plan, which is two CTO (color temperature orange) gels taped together over my gridded strobes, shoot at 2500K, and then use a custom white balance in Nikon Capture NX 2 during post production.
We ended up shooting in the bar for about 45 minutes, trying various backgrounds to capture the feel of the place. It was very tight quarters and even though the bar had just opened at noon on Saturday, the bartender was already hard at work so I had to squeeze around him to work. He and the other patrons were very accommodating so we wanted to get our work done and get out of their hair as quickly as possible.
Once we were done inside I packed my gear and we decided to do a few quick shots out in front of the bar – at 2 pm in the afternoon, with direct sun overhead, no clouds, and 109 degree temperatures outside. A photographer’s second worst nightmare lighting. OK. I can do that. I am a pro, right?
So I placed Emily and Dirk in various places in the shade and used an SB-900 on a speedlight, mounted to a Justin clamp, and triggered by my Pocketwizard FlexTTL system. Shooting in the shade meant my speedlight didn’t have to compete with the sun, and FlexTTL meant I could shoot at high shutter speeds and still keep a wide open aperture for a narrow depth of field. I shot several of these outdoor images with either my 85 1.4 or 50 1.4 close to wide open. The speedlight would add just a bit of pop into the shade and made for crisper, cleaner images.
All in all I was quite happy with the non-traditional look we got for their engagement pictures. These capture the essence of who my daughter and her fiance is, and that is all I could ask for.