About a week or so ago I was up at Wittenham clumps with Matt and Jemma for an engagement shoot. Seeing as I get asked a lot, I’ll explain what an engagement shoot is and why we include it for every couple. I want to give every couple fantastic wedding pictures, be it posed portraits or candid shots. One of the most important ways to get better pictures is to get the bride and groom to be comfortable around a photographer, and an engagement shoot ticks that box in a big way.
Because I got to set the date of the shoot, I chose Wittenham clumps at golden hour on the day of a full moon. It’s a picturesque area with fantastic views, and we were very lucky with the light. There was a bit of cloud around which helped when I wanted the light to be more diffuse, but also golden and direct when that’s what we wanted.
I went with three images in mind, and came away with two as I wanted and we adapted another, as I’ll explain.
When we got there, the light was stunning and I was really excited to get started. The first image I had in mind was a natural light portrait with the grass in the fields as negative space. The result you can see below:
Nice and simple, naturally posed. With the sun behind them however, I couldn’t keep any detail in the sky. To do that, I climbed the hill a bit so the background was south, that way the sky stayed blue.
The light here is gorgeous with the sun playing detail light on the hair and some side light, plus we’re bouncing that light back in with a reflector. We shot quite a few like this, but this is concept one covered and done. We varied the posing a little, varied the position, but they are all natural light plus reflector.
Concept two was moonlit portraits. I knew the moon was coming up at 9:20, so at about 9pm we started setting up the light. The concept is as follows: the moon isn’t bright enough to provide a decent rim light, but I was going to emulate that with a bare flash behind them. Front light was to be provided by an umbrella, up and above them. Two flashes, cross lit, then exposed for the moon. All we had to do was wait for the moon, so while I was waiting:
More of a head and shoulders crop on this one. You can see the flash in the background in Jemma’ hair, and if you look really carefully, on Matt’s neck. I wanted to lift them off the background. The front light with the umbrella gives good details and soft shadows on the skin.
We also did this cute picture of Matt and Jemma holding hands across the flash which looked great as well: I did have to edit out my light stand but otherwise it looks fantastic.
This turned out to be Matt and Jemma’s favourite shot, so well worth doing.
After this, we waited a bit for the moon to rise in the east, not getting nervous at all (!), and eventually through the layers of cloud and atmosphere a pink lazy moon slowly rose. We applied exactly this set up with the moon in the background:
Great, except the moon wasn’t sharp. I was using my 70-200mm, and I tried everything but I was just asking too much, even at 70mm. If I’d had my 50mm lens with me, I might have gotten away with it, but I couldn’t get that moon sharp with Matt and Jemma sharp as well.
By this time, it had gotten pretty late, and we’d spent almost two hours taking pictures. I had another concept in mind, but I ditched it when I got something else instead. I wanted to try sun flare in an image that was flash lit, and it turned out better than I could ever have expected, which was a nice surprise:
I have that third concept in mind for another time.
What was great for me was to be able to relax around Matt and Jemma, and to notice how they relaxed as well. On the wedding day, we will all be rushed, moving from one place to the next, and the pressure will be on. I don’t get a chance to meet and know the bride and groom in that environment, so if I’ve only just met you, we have a tough job on our hands to create a rapport, an ambience where we can make beautiful photographs. The engagement shoot is about taking that pressure away, creating a time and space to relax in and make some great pictures. The couples relax, and the time flies.