Shooting at night and Engagement shoot

Created by Anominal on Oct. 3, 2014, 2:09 p.m.
  • So I'm doing my friend's engagement photos (first time) this coming week. I've been on/off again with photography since I picked up my camera (I mainly got distracted when SolForge came out and that sucked up my time.)

    Camera: Canon 70D

    Lenses: 17-55mm f/2.8 and 24-70 f/4L will be the main two I will be using I think. I have some others to use. (40mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 100mm 2.8L macro, 10-22mm

    Lighting: I have 2x 600ex-rt flashes and the ST-E3 RT transmitter. Some reflectors, Blackrapid octobox for my flash, diffusion umbrella for the day time if I need it. And a friend to help me on the day of.

    What I've done so far: I've been watching as many videos as I could, been scouting out potential spots for photos, then repeatedly going out there on my own or with mutual friends to practice for the big day. (I'll be going out there for the next three days as well. I'd be out there right now, but I picked up a major cold and I don't want to make it worse so soon to the shoot, so I'm staying in today with plenty of rest and fluid.)

    Location: The Embarcadero in San Francisco. A nice place by the water with views of the Bay Bridge, a giant Cuipd's Bow and Arrow, some weird art sculpture that lights up at night, a long pier where you can have the city in the background, little hidden garden areas, etc. There are so many place to shoot, I'm set when it comes to variety.

    Main Goal: One nice picture to print out and have on display for their reception. They have a more experienced photographer for the actual wedding. They just wanted to save some money and asked if I could get this one pic for them. I'll get as many good ones as I can, but I like that the pressure is minimized with a low enough bar to reasonably reach. It's a good starting point.

    Prep: I've done scouting and some practice. My goal today is to get a more concrete lists of poses and ideas that I want to try out now that I'm much more familiar with the area. When I go out with my friends the next time I'm going to bring index cards with me and right down some finalized notes on what settings my camera should be at so when it comes to the real thing I won't look lost, with the intent of coming off as confident as possible for the couple so they can be as relaxed as possible.

    Night Shooting Question: I want to include some night shots. I don't understand how to do it properly. I can only seem to figure out how to do it by spot focusing on something that is bright and easy to focus on. If I had someone standing in the dark with the lit up city in the background, I don't know how to focus on the person. I can light them up and back-button focus, but after I turn off the light shining on them the camera won't take the shot. (Aperture Priority, Manual, Bulb mode... doesn't work.) How do people take pics of the night sky? I know it's possible but I can't seem to figure it out.

    Any other tips are welcome.

  • You didn't mention if you were shooting in auto or manual focus. For that night shot, you're going to need to do manual focus since you're shooting with strobes rather than continuous lighting. If your 70D isn't getting a focus lock on autofocus, it's not going to shoot. Shooting in manual focus overrides the camera's need to get focus lock before shooting.

  • Also, I know I'm double posting here, but here's another tip that you'll hear a lot, if you haven't already:

    Expose for the ambient/background.

    Shoot in manual exposure so you have full control over everything. Adjust your settings so the background is exposed the way you want it. Then dial in the amount of flash you'll need to illuminate your subject.

    If you haven't checked it out already, give the Strobist a read. Fantastic resource for learning lighting.

  • What you are doing is a brave thing. It is hard to come out of this one with a winning hand. I can almost guarantee you that most photo-forums would say; Leave it to the pros. -> So much can go wrong and in the end the results will be judged by people who wants the best photo ever and they will judge the results with very subjective eyes. In addition they are your friends... Not too fond of letting them down are we? That being said; You have done some really good work up until now and you should be able to pull it off. The rest of your work should focus on getting the pair of them into a relaxed state and give them the time and atmosphere to enjoy themselves and each other. If you capture the relaxed chemistry, you`ve done it.

    Protip; Bring a backup camera and batteries. Take "test" shots when the couple think they´re not being photographed. Remember how to reset control settings to standard. As for night skies; Manual or bulb should work (Learn the use of your equipment), then you could paint the couple in with lights in the foreground.

    Good luck.

  • Yeah, if she asked me to do the full on engagement shoot I would have been more hesitant, but when she said she just wanted one good picture that's what got me to say yes. I'm going to take as many pics in as many spots and in as many lighting conditions as possible to maximize the chances of getting her that one shot she's happy with. If she likes more than one, then that's even better. We'll be meeting up before golden hour, doing some shots in multiple locations as the time passes, take a break and get some food and wait for full night to come down and do some night shots.

    And yup. I was in Manual mode (By the second test day), and I just can't seem to figure it out why it won't fire off unless there is something it can focus on. I'm going to mess around with it again tonight as it gets darker. (I'm also not sure why the camera won't let me adjust the shutter speed in Manual mode by pressing the dial. It just flashes "L" for "Multi-Function Lock Warning" according to manual. I've gotten around that by just changing the shutter speed through the touch screen but I don't know if that's a related issue or something totally separate.

    I'm plenty happy with some of the test shots of potential locations I've scouted out, the trick (and it's a huge one) is going to be getting them to look good in those spots. My little excursions with friends has shown me the difficulty of lighting people. I do have some spots under arches that can create better side lighting if I can't get the more open areas to work out, and some beautiful garden areas that are always in shade because of all the towering buildings that could potentially work out.

    I've been watching and rewatching the CreativeLive videos on Posing, Shooting in Bad Light, Speedlight Basics, Skin, etc, and then going out and testing to see if I could pull it off, failing, then coming back and reviewing what I missed and going out again. I've also been googling things like engagement pics, engagement pics at the embarcadero, creative engagement pics etc. to give me some ideas.

    I do like the weather forecast says it should be partly cloudy on the day of, so that's a plus. I have plenty of backup batteries, both for the camera and the speedlites. My only backup camera would be the EOS-M with the 22mm and 18-55mm lenses. No adapter. I wasn't thinking of bringing it, but will do. The trickiest part has been getting multiple friends to come out with me at the same time so I can practice while having a lighting assistant, which I will for sure have on the day of.

  • Figured it out. So simple.

    I was in Manual Mode, but I hadn't flipped the switch on the lens away from Auto Focus to Manual Focus.

  • It´s always the easy stuff that trips us ;) Nice work figuring it out. Thank you BTW. for listening to my suggestions! I hope you can post a pic or two from the locations or maybe even the shoot? -> Would be cool to see the fruits of your labour. (With the permission of the couple of course.) Once again good luck.

  • I wish I could assist you for the shoot. SF is my favorite city in the world and I'm a professional wedding photographer.

    My initial feeling is that you're over-thinking this. It's good to be prepared, but I feel that your recent purchases have given you too many things to fiddle with. You really need to settle down and focus on just a couple of key elements. Pick two lenses and do your best to master them ASAP. My advice would be the 50mm and the 10-22mm. Those two lenses and one speedlight are all you need. If you want to get crazy, bring an assistant with the octobox on the end of your monopod.

    Shoot in Av mode with Auto ISO and a minimum shutter speed of 1/125, use the 50mm for at least 90% of your pictures, keep your aperture around f/2, only use the 10-22mm for wide establishing shots of the surroundings.

    You're crippling yourself with choices. You need to simplify. For instance, this picture was shot with one camera and one lens, on a simple evening stroll with my wife. No added lighting, no tripods, no anything.

  • Back from the shoot. And of course it went perfect. (lol. Yeah right!) Just a quick run down.

    A lot went wrong, I learned a lot, and learned a lot about what I need to learn about. But I'm pretty confident I did get at least one shot that I'll be happy with, which is the minimum I needed to reach. There are likely a handful that I'll be happy with. And a few more that the couple and my friend/assistant will think is good. (And I guess the couple's opinion is more important than mine, since this is for them.)

    Shooting in daytime while the light is constantly changing, while people are always late, and while needing to be spontaneous to keep up with the couple who also has their own ideas is rather difficult. Juggling all the technical and artistic and social aspects of the whole thing is quite a feat. Time flies so fast. Most of my plans went out the window because of my inexperience (and/or at least I recognized I needed to abandon them), but I did pull off at least one concept that I had in my head. It wasn't all bad, considering the couple came dressed like twins for their casual outfit despite me advising they don't wear the same colors. I should have been more explicit about what type of clothing to wear though. My fault. (They came dressed in grey hoodies.)

    There was one outfit change to some more formal wear, and without having to race the light, I do think my favorite shots might be from the night shots. I did have a small panic attack thinking I left my wireless transmitter in my work locker, but I remembered and successfully set up one of my 600EXs to be the master (while not firing itself) and the other to be a slave. Later one I did find my transmitter at the exact opportune time when the slave did fall on the ground (while attached to the rapid box so it didn't actually get scratched up) and one of the settings changed. I was able to successfully troubleshoot that as well without taking up too much time, so I was pretty happy with that.

    I still need to filter through the pics and do the editing in lightroom (and perhaps photoshop) before I'll share some pics here.

    I knew it was going to be difficult. And it was. But I do think I'll have pulled off getting at least one good shot to print (plus a few more that I'm happy with), and that was all that was expected of me. Without a solid look at the results yet, I do think I successfully passed. I didn't ace it, but I passed.

  • Sounds like things went reasonably well.

    We are all excited to see the pictures.

  • Any chance you have something to share?

  • I just got back from my vacation to Europe yesterday (and back to work today). Currently importing my Europe pics (200+ gigs of photos.) And hoping I didn't lose a bunch. My computer automatically rebooted in the middle of an import on a 64GB card (while I was asleep). Lightroom still shows that pics exist on the card, and can show which ones did and did not yet import... however if I try to continue to import any other photos from the card Lightroom tells me that there are no photos or videos to import. =(

  • Try one of these two things:

    1. Copy the files to a folder on your computer, then import from there
    2. Import from the card, but uncheck the suspected duplicates box
  • I already tried #1... but trying #2 right now and it seems to be working! Thanks a lot!

    Now I can remove the weight of this problem off my shoulders and get to the engagement pics. (After it's done of course. Importing now.)

  • I realize that the shoot has past and that this thread is now 3 weeks old but I think that this is a great thread for people who are having similar experiences. I work in a camera store and almost every day at least one person comes in standing in a similar position and who are scared out of their minds. First off, if your friend or relative is asking you to do this, than they trust you and your eye. Second of all, they are asking you to do this because you are going to be cheaper than a working professional photographer. Both of these should make you feel comfortable doing the job. Mistakes are going to happen, they always do. They happen even more early on. You have to make a lot of crap before you get anything good. This is one of those fields that you have to learn by doing and experimenting and making mistakes. Some of those mistakes will be good ones that will be stylistic and separate your work from others.

    Given all of that, here are some more concrete pointers: If you have the ability, try out all of your equipment in similar situations to the one where you will be shooting sometime before the actual shoot. Have a friend or family member pose for you. This will make you more comfortable when you are shooting the couple and will reduce some of the surprises of the shoot. Make sure to charge your batteries the night before.

    I'm glad your shoot went well and it sounds like it was a great learning experience to bounce off of for other shoots. Your specific shoot is one of the hardest in terms of lighting (constantly changing evening light, then switching to strobes/speedlites) and it sounds like you came out on top!

  • Oh, if this thread is helpful to other people, all the better. I have no shame about admitted any and all confusion, and every bump along the way. I have no ego to protect.

    I've gone two passes through all the pics right now, narrowing the 442 images that I took that day down to 41. Some of those 41 include "outtake" type shots that I'm sure they'll just enjoy having, but aren't "real" engagement pics nor will they have any chance of being chosen as the one to print.

    A lot of the images were easy to eliminate because of bad composition that couldn't be salvaged because of something important already cut off, blinking eyes or bad body language, not being in focus, or boring or ugly light. And in one pic that was almost perfect, there is some rather unfortunate foreshortening with one of the bride's legs and foot because it's aimed at the cameradue to the way she's sitting.

    I really wish they hadn't chosen to wear matching outfits because the majority of these 41 are of them in their casual outfits. They just blend in to each other too much, and I might try some Photoshop magic to help with creating more separation between the two. Thankfully I did have a silhouette location planned in my head (one of the few planned shots that I was actually able to get to) that I knew I could use to ignore their clothing color.

    I hope to have the list cut down to about 10 or 15 more before taking some time to pass them through Lightroom and then showing them to her. Then comes figuring out how to calibrate my monitor and experimenting with printing. I'd like to get it printed out by next week (either on my own or at a printing place). The actual wedding is the week after that.

  • You should register an account with Bay Photo (if you haven't already).

    They're a great company with fast turnaround times.

  • @Anominal: Any chance we might get to see some of your pictures soon?

  • @mclaren777: Soon? Well... if 6 months counts as soon, then here are a couple. (TESTING... for some reason I'm getting an error. maybe it has to do with image sizes. Edit: For some reason it won't let me put more than one image in the post.)

    The first image is just to show them in full color. Like I mentioned above if you remember from way back when, I was mortified when they showed up in matching outfits and tried to figure out what I could do with them while not letting that reach my face.

  • This second image is one that I simply copied. I got the idea from someone else's image online and looked for the location in the two weeks leading up to the shoot. It's more about the location than the subject, but I knew it would at least bring color to the picture and looks pretty.


  • Another option to minimize their matching outfits was to think in black and white. It wouldn't affect their color scheme at all since that's what they were wearing and it would look more intentional? natural? to have some black and white images. This is one of the images she did end up choosing to display on the registration table.I ended up doing several different versions of this, doing the most editing in Lightroom. Experimenting with darker and lighter exposures. Doing spot adjustments here and there, and then showing her a few options to choose from.

    On the Embarcadero there is this giant Cupid's Bow that a lot of people like to take pictures with. I found it actually pretty difficult to shoot, and did like any of the images that other people took when googling it. So I first thought to use it as a frame instead of showing the whole bow. I tried a couple with them properly exposed and a couple with them as silhouettes (again to help solve my matching outfits problem.)

    This last pic is one of the few shots I had in my head before the day started and before the couple kept getting sidetracked with wanting to try other things. This is also one of the shots where I gave the most direction in how they should be sitting so as to not be mirror images of each other. I'm happy I did insist we go here before they changed because this image ended up being the one they wanted to do postcard style with their names and the date on it. Adding in text to the top and bottom of the image did help to fill out the blank spaces and help keep from the sky looking too bare, so that worked out.

    I feel like I've grown as a photographer since then, and definitely know a lot more about Lightroom now and I wonder how I would have processed these if I did them today, but these are the images as I presented them to her (along with a dozen or so others.) At this time I was mostly using a lot of the basic tools in the Quick Develop box in the Library module. I have a much better understanding of all the sliders in the Develop module now which would give me more control.

    I was lucky that they had a lot of natural chemistry with each other and could get all lovey dovey with each other at the drop of a hat while I adjusted settings and change equipment and all that. I definitely learned from this experience, and wow does that golden hour pass quickly. The goal was to get at least one image they wanted to display, and they ended up with two, so I guess that could be considered a success. It was definitely terrifying wondering if I'd be able to get anything usable and I feel anxious right now just remembering the event, but it worked out in the end.

    And thank you to everyone who replied to this post and helped me get through the day. I go through on and off periods when it comes to shooting, especially when my work schedule get crazy, but I switched jobs which should give me a more regular schedule and I'm hoping to do it more regularly.