December 4, 2012

Pancake Session: Working in a Tough Room

Good morning & Happy Pancake Day!!

One of the most common questions we get in our Walk Through a Wedding workshops, is how to shoot in tough getting ready rooms where either the light is not really that great, there’s too much going on in the background, or both.

I blogged about some general tips on shooting in a tough room in this post, but we also recently found ourselves shooting in a pretty tough room for Krissy & Stephen’s wedding in NYC . So I thought it might be helpful to walk step by step through the thought process on how we tackled it.

Krissy chose to get ready in her apartment that she shared with her sister. And the first thing that I want to be really clear about is that this was a great apartment. It was in a really nice building right near Battery Park, it had beautiful views of the city, it was a luxury complex. And I can totally see why Krissy would want to get ready there. When I say it was a “tough” room to shoot in, I don’t mean that it wasn’t a nice place….it was beautiful! What I mean is that it was tough photographically, and we’ve seen that happen before in the nicest of homes or hotel suites. And we’ve also of course seen it happen when the getting ready location wasn’t that great like in a church Sunday school room. The point is, we need to be able to know what to do no matter the situation.

Let’s take a look at what made this room tough, photographically speaking:

There were a couple of things going on in the room with regards to both the light and the background. On the lighting side of things, the main lightsource in the room was this beautiful big picture window with views out toward the riverfront. The problem though was that the way the room was laid out, the window was backlit to where I wanted to shoot rather than coming in directionally. The cream colored couch was the best backdrop for shooting those getting ready details like shoes, jewelry, etc, so I knew I wanted to shoot there. And the room was too full with people for me to start moving the furniture around. So I was stuck. The second complicating factor on the lighting side, was this lamp on the right side with a tungsten light bulb and a red lamp shade. Between the three (window, light bulb, lampshade) I had a lot of mixed lighting going on, and all my shadows were getting filled in with red. Here’s the first picture that I took of the shoes to show you what I was getting: backlit, flat lighting with red in the shadows.

To fix the lighting problems I was facing, I made two quick adjustments. One, I asked the makeup artist/bride if it would be ok if I switched off the red lamp (side note: when we did, the makeup artist said that it was a huge help too). That eliminated the tungsten & red in my shadows. And then to create direction in the lighting, since I couldn’t move the couch I just moved where I was positioning the shoes. I swung them around to the corner, and now I had great right to left dimensional lighting. But now the problem became what was going on in the background.

As you can see in the first picture of the layout of the room, in that left corner there was both a baby bassinet and a large tree that had the potential of getting in the background and making it really busy. Because I had swung the shoes around to face that corner, I didn’t have the full height of the couch to block out what was in the background. So I got closer. As you can see, I was able to get close enough to block out the branches of the tree, but you can still see some of the bassinet.

But in general, I was pretty happy with these changes. I had a fairly clean background, daylight balanced directional lighting, and I was able to bring in a white pillow to prop up just to the left of my frame to create clean fill in the shadows and make a softer, less contrasty image.

My only problem now, was that the image was a little too plain, and I still needed to get that bassient out of there. So now that I had my general set up & settings, now I started styling the shot. I played around with bringing in Krissy’s sash & purse, and you can see that evolution below. I liked where it was going, but I was finding this set up a little too messy.

So my final adjustments were to make a nice fold of the sash and swap the purse for the jewelry (I felt like the pearls went better with the shot than the purse). And then finally, since I couldn’t get an angle that completely cropped out the bassinet, I went ahead and just moved that out of my shot for this final image.

Once I knew the best place & angle to shoot and had my lighting dialed in, I went ahead and did a few more detail clusters adding the purse back in.

This whole process probably took somewhere between 5-10 minutes. But hopefully you can see what a difference it can make just taking a few extra minutes to think about your light and background. And how a few quick changes from what you’re given can have a HUGE difference in the final result. So that whatever situation you find yourself in, you know you can rock it out.

As always, we hoped this helped! And if you like the Pancake Sessions & want us to keep ’em coming, leave us some love (feel free to ask questions, request future topics, or just say hi!) in the comment box below! It makes us all warm & fuzzy! :)

Happy Pancake Day y’all!

  1. Tiffany Farley

    :) Well now I feel like wearing ribbons and pearls. :)

  2. Tiffany Bolk

    Awesome, awesome and awesome! :) You guys always make my gloomy days shiny!

  3. ashley barnett

    So helpful!!! We’ve become big fans of rearranging hotel room furniture- bridesmaids always look as us like we’re loony toons but oh well!

  4. Abby Grace

    I love how crisp and editorial every single one of your shots are. Oh! Here’s a possible idea for another Pancake Post- I’d love to hear how y’all deal with situations in which you have people watching over your shoulder, making suggestions as to how and where you should shoot details. I know you prefer to take shoes, dresses, jewelry, etc. into another room to shoot, but when that’s not an option and people are trying to direct HOW and WHERE you should shoot, how do you gracefully decline?

  5. Kristin

    Love this. I think the thing I wish people would have told me when I first started was to take time and focus on the light.

  6. Samantha Melanson

    Thanks so much for sharing! I always love reading these posts!

  7. Sharna Wilkerson

    I am a huge fan of the pancake sessions! Please keep them coming. Love love love learning from you guys!

  8. Lara

    Great information, as always. Hi to you all!

  9. Kari Jeanne

    Love this post! I always enjoying reading the thought process that goes into creating your amazing images. Super helpful – thanks for sharing!

  10. Erica Keane

    Thank you Mary! I just LOVE reading your pancake sessions & what a great reminder about the little things that make a BIG difference in our photographs :O)

  11. Allison Patel

    Great post! Thanks for the step by step!

  12. Emily

    So helpful! Thank you!!

  13. Jessica Frey

    Hi ;) Great post! I always feel like I take a ton of time with the details, but they’re my favorite and I want them just right…it’s a process ;) I struggle with table decor…can’t remember if you’ve done a pancake on that! Have a wonderful weekend!

  14. sharon elizabeth

    great BTS post =)

  15. Abbey

    Mary you are the BOMB!!! Seriously, this past weekend’s wedding I was in a dark hotel room room with tungsten lighting and to make matters worse, the walls were RED!!! I turned off all the lights, pulled the chair as close as possible to the window and got to work. Thank you for always being soo generous with what you know!! XOXO

  16. Mandy Ducote

    Thanks so much for your killer Pancake Sessions! I love seeing the evolution of a shot and all the critical thought that went into it. You guys rock!

  17. Rachel McCloud

    so much help. Thank you for sharing your experience :)

  18. Lisa Cour

    You are ever fabulous, Mary! Thanks so much for such step-by step detailed instructions!

    Sunshine on a gray day, right here in this little corner. :)

  19. Jamie

    Confession: When I saw the very 1st shot of the shoes, I thought, "That’s plenty fine!" And then as I read and looked through the rest of your thoughts and tweaks, and the end result, I arrived at, "Oooohhh…!! SO much better!" I really, really appreciate your Pancake Sessions! Thanks!!

  20. Michelle

    I love seeing the pull-back photos to have a glimpse at what you’re working with. From the end results, I would have never guessed!

  21. Sandra Fazzino Photography

    EXCELLENT Pancake Session! Excellent examples of how small, simple, well thought through changes can make a stellar image. Really really nicely done. Thank you.

  22. GrandmaIna

    Now I see why your photos are so great! I always admire them, but now I can do it with a little more knowledge of how they are done. Good Work!

  23. Becky

    I was sad when I found out the first photo was the "before." Obviously I still have a long way to go since I know I would have never thought about those extra things that make so much difference.

  24. rich

    wow – this was so helpful and the photos you posted are BEAUTIFUL!! great pancake session!

  25. heather

    very practical – thank you!

  26. jamie

    I absolutely adore detail shots, and it is so fun to see the "before and after". Great job pulling together elegant and well lit details.

  27. Liesbeth

    Thanks for the tips – it makes a huge difference, to just take the few extra minutes. The bride and groom will thank you for it!

  28. peggy

    love your posts. love you work. keep it coming. thanks.

  29. Sheila Sim

    Hey Mary, I’m a garden photographer not a wedding photographer, but I started following your blog when my sister asked me to photograph her civil partnership ceremony. Since then I’ve been following you like an addict. Your work is wonderful, and this is such a useful post. Thank you!

  30. jenn

    thanks for the tips!

  31. Laura Gordon

    LOVE this post! So helpful.

  32. Rici

    Thank you for sharing your own steps of work flow in this much detail! I love it and it helps so much to think about how I tackle a situation like this.
    ~ Saluti.

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