July 28, 2011

Pancake Session: Video Light & Getting Ready Details

Good Morning!

After the sneak peek we posted from Brigid & Josh’s wedding, we got a lot of questions about how we’re shooting our getting ready details. So….we thought we’d post it up here as a pancake session so everyone can see. In today’s post, we’re going to be focusing specifically on how the addition of a simple $29 LED video light can really take your detail shots to the next level.

The first thing I want to say before we go any further, is that whether it’s all natural light or we’re adding in some off camera/video light set ups, our goal is always to shoot our details with directional light. By that, I mean light that is coming in from a side and falling on the subject as we position ourselves at a spot that forms somewhere between a 90-120 degree angle. If that’s hard to visualize, just imagine drawing a string from the light source to the subject and the subject to yourself. What kind of angle would that make? Like I said, our goal is almost always 90-120 degrees. Because what that does is create the optimum pattern of highlight and shadow (and therefore every gray point in between) and that gives the image all of that depth and dimension that we want.

A lot of the time, we are shooting our details using all natural, directional light. But more and more, we’ve been playing with the addition of a second light for more studio quality shots. On a whim a while back, we picked up this $29 video light mostly to use during dancing at receptions. But at some point, Justin started breaking it out during the getting ready portion of the day. And now we don’t leave home without it. Here are three ways we’ve been using it.

1. As a fill for natural light

Like we said, most of the time our main light is natural window light. We set the subject up so that it’s mostly facing us and the light is raking across it from the side. But sometimes, especially if what you’re photographing is white, that can create too contrasty of a situation. So we can use the video light (which is daylight balanced) to create fill on the shadow side. But because we hold the video light at a bit of a distance (a couple of feet), it doesn’t over power our main light and you still get that pattern of highlight and shadow while keeping it even enough not to lose detail in the shadow side. In this set up on the right below, a big bank of window light is coming in from the right creating our main light, and we held the video light on the left and from behind to create just a little kick.

**You may notice that the shot on the left has the window directly behind it. Shooting the perfume is about the only time we’ll have the light coming in directly behind because it lights up the perfume and makes the logo easier to focus on.

2. As a fill for off camera light

If we have a rockin’ pair of shoes or some jewelry that we want to go a little more dramatic with, we’ll set up our off camera light either shooting through a white umbrella or a small soft box and use that as our main light. This creates that rich, dramatic look, but if you’re shooting something darker (especially like Brigid’s killer black shoes) then you can end up losing a lot of detail in the shadows. So for this shot on the right below, we used our off camera light as the main source coming in from the left, but brought the video light around from the back and to the right to kick a little around the edge of that shadow side. Again, because the video light is never going to overpower our flash, you still get that pattern of highlight and shadow but are able to keep detail in both. And if you want to see the effects of directional light in action, just look at how it makes every fold in that bow stand out.

3. And finally, as the main light.

This one is much more rare for us, but occasionally there will be a piece of jewelry worthy of a little extra dramatic lighting. Like Brigid’s bracelet here. For this Justin held the video light mostly coming from above, but still off to the right to create that directional lighting. He exposed for the highlights, and because we wanted to simplify the background he was ok with some of the shadows going darker. But look at what the directional light does to each one of those pearls.

So, I hope that helps! Even if it’s just because it gave you a really good excuse to go buy a new photo toy. And, as always, if you have any follow up questions feel free to leave them in the comments below.


  1. Dottie

    Thanks so much Mary!

  2. Abby Grace

    This is seriously cool. I’ll be honest- I call myself a "natural light photographer," and though I really do love natural light, some of that title has to do with teh fact that I am woefully uninformed in the art of lighting. I have no idea what you’d need to set up an external flash in a stand with an umbrella. What the heck is a pocket wizard?

    This seems simple enough though- it’s continuous lighting, right? You just turn it on and hold it where you want it? I can do that!

  3. Gail

    I blogged recently about wanting to find a great video light and I love getting your recommendation for this one! Excited to start playing around with one. These detail shots here are KILLER!

  4. Damaris Mia

    This was great! Beautiful images too :)

  5. Trude

    That’s awesome and so helpful, thank you for sharing!

  6. Jessica

    Awesome detail shots! Just a quick question… how are you getting it to stand by itself? Are you just rigging whatever is around to hold it?

  7. MM

    @Jessica: we’re usually having one of us hold it while one shoots. Although J is multi-talented and has been known to both hold and shoot! :)


    Thanks for your comment on my blog, Mary! Also, thanks for the recomendation – a video light is next on my to-get list (and I already use Adorama – it ships to Canada, unlike Amazon)!

  9. jackie g. photog

    great post!! i love to peek behind the scenes! one of the photogs i often 2nd shoot with uses this video light…it’s rechargeable! http://www.amazon.com/Sima-SL-20LX-Ultra-Bright-Video/dp/B000WKW69Q/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I228RYHF6PTVAO&colid=8WEDCXDE2X8I

  10. jeramy

    great tips!

  11. Gabby / En Route Photography

    Well you really shouldn’t tempt me too much… I’ve just bought a 5mk2, a new lens and a speedlight last week so the last thing I need is adding more items to my shopping list! ;D Very useful post though! Thanks a million! xxx


  12. Arielle

    Gorgeous! And speaking of dramatic jewelry, can we talk about Mary’s stunner of a bracelet???

  13. Abbey

    Awesome tips Mary! I plan on pulling out that video light more often and use it to my advantage.

  14. Robin

    We never shoot details without video light…it’s been our secret weapon for several years now…so many uses at so many places.

  15. Sarajane Case

    Maybe I should know this, but, I’d love to hear how you all use the video light during the dancing.

  16. Mireille

    Should have read your post first! Just this afternoon order some stuff :o). This could have been on the list as well cause I love photo toys. Another reason to order again soon…

  17. Kristin Nicole

    great post! I would love to hear how you utilize the video light for dancing as well.

  18. Christa Hann

    I love this….now I have a whole list of stuff I need! I better be a really good girl from now until Christmas :)

  19. denise karis

    amazing post – thank you SO much!!

  20. lisa cour

    Thank you so spelling this out…so very helpful. I need to get one and practice, practice, practice!

  21. Kristin

    Oh thank you for sharing this. And for only $29. Nice.

  22. sherri lynn

    This is so helpful!! Thanks for posting these tips on lighting!

  23. Julia Noack

    I love you guys. :) I have been thinking of getting a video light for awhile now, but this post convinced me to take the (only $29) plunge. Thanks!

  24. Sarah Goodwin

    Fantastic! I am lost when it comes to lighting but I know I need the skills so I can rock out any setting like you two can :) (I too am like – what’s a pocket wizard? I have to google it everytime)

  25. Jessica Sweeney

    This was great. Even though you went through shooting details at Walk Through a Wedding, I still got a lot out of this post. Thanks for writing such a great blog.

  26. Peter M

    You know, this light isn’t a bad thing to have around when you lose power either!

  27. Diana Daley

    The Gorilla Pod Torch or Flare is a good off camera continuous light for quick on the go, macro/detail shots too. If for no other reason the super awesome gorilla pod tripod stand thingy with magnetic feet rocks when you don’t have a third hand to hold stuff! I have the Flare (but only because I was able to steal…urhmmm … repurpose it from a toolbox) http://joby.com/gorillatorch

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