How I shot it: Ashley & Aaron’s master wedding photo

**More about my engagement soon, I promise!**

A couple of years ago, I saw the book Masters’ Guide to Wedding Photography: Capturing Unforgettable Moments and Lasting Impressions by Marcus Bell. I really can’t recommend that book enough; it made me think about wedding photography in a whole new way. It also made me subscribe to Marcus Bell’s blog, which is a constant source of inspiration. The thing I like best about his photography are the landscape-style master portraits he creates, and as soon as I saw the Abita Quail Farm, where Aaron and Ashley had their ceremony and reception, I knew I wanted to try to create something like that.

On Location

It was about a million degrees and a trillion percent humidity in Louisiana on the wedding day, so I could only keep the bride and groom outside for about 4-5 minutes before they started to get all sweaty – and I didn’t want that to happen. I had scoped the location out the day before at the rehearsal, so luckily I knew just how I wanted to set up, and air conditioning was only steps away.

I had Ashley and Aaron stand near a corner of the fence. Originally I had them between the window and the door, but as they moved into different poses they drifted a little closer to the window. I probably should have moved them back, but at the time I was just more focused on being speedy. Whoops! Oh, well. In the end, I shot about 20 frames in quick succession and then we moved back inside.

Source images

I had two images I really liked: one wide angle (the composition I liked) and one closer-up (with the pose I liked). These are unedited exports of the RAW files.

In practice, I adjusted RAW levels just a bit to bring as much detail as I could into the visible range. So, turned recovery up so the sky wasn’t clipped, and added a bit of fill light. I didn’t adjust vibrance or anything like that here – that will all be done later. The idea was just to make sure there was as much information as possible in these source files.

Combining the images

Now the two had to come together. At first I thought I’d try to just paste Aaron and Ashley in, not the whole building; but in the end that proved to be WAY more complex than replacing the whole building, because by replacing the whole building I was able to avoid trying to match up the fence and all of the planks of wood on the siding of the building. So that’s what I did.

  1. Crop the wide-angle image for the right composition.
  2. Paste in the second image in a new layer, and warp it so it fits in the wide-angle look.
  3. Do some basic cleanup – specifically in this case, removing the statue to Aaron’s left which is really distracting using the clone stamp.
  4. Fix the bell tower on top of the building. It was cut off in the closeup source, so I had to use the one from the wide angle source. This involved some warping and moving but really wasn’t too hard.
  5. Finally, removing most of the base of the statue, which I skipped in step 3 because I was just too lazy.

To be honest, it was somewhere in the middle of the curves adjustments (coming next) when I realized I ought to do some more image cleanup – removing things floating in the water, and especially getting rid of some lawn chairs hiding in the shadows to the left of the building. But to make things easier I’m showing the curves with those already gone. So, now it’s time to start working on curves and other adjustments! These are the layers from my final photoshop file (I opened a new one once all the pixels were in the right place).

The bulk of those layers are curves, with masks. The idea is, mask out everything but the area you want to change, then set up a curve that creates the best contrast/levels for that area. Rinse, repeat.

  1. First up was the sky. There’s no detail in the original image, and I want the blue sky and clouds that I knew were there! It’s just that the exposure was set up to capture the trees/buildling/etc., and the sky was so much brighter. Now, it’s fixed!
  2. The building:
  3. The people – I’ll show this as a before/after closeup.
  4. Trees – these need a lot more light. Often when you brighten something that was dark, the saturation also goes up. In the case of the trees, that works out in my favor – I want them saturated. Just to illustrate the point, by the way, here’s what the tree layer’s mask looks like:

    And the image after the adjustment:
  5. One more layer for the trees – in this case, I wanted additional brightening on the branches that were closest to the camera, to add depth.
  6. The beach – this needed to be darkened up considerably.

  7. We’re close to the end now – I hand-painted in a vignette:
  8. An overall curves layer made a small difference in contrast, and finally, an all-over vibrance adjustment really brought out the blues, greens, and the pink in the bouquet!
  9. The final step was going back to the source layer and adding some sharpening, which became a new layer beneath all the adjustments. I painted out a couple of areas (around the bell tower, for one) but mostly sharpened overall. (I wouldn’t do that with a closeup portrait, but it worked here.)

And that’s it! I’m so happy with this and I feel like it’s an important step for me as a photographer. This will definitely be a part of my offering going forward.

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