Photographed by Andrea Verenini

Story

This photograph was taken in St Giles, a luxurious yet quirky period property on the south coast of the UK. The staircase of the property offered some interesting lighting, colours, and perspectives and I knew I wanted it as a feature for an environmental bridal portrait that would encapsulate the essence of the place.

In a nutshell, my personal photographic style revolves around the pursuit of capturing emotion through the dramatic use and juxtaposition of light and shadow, and the staircase at St Giles offered an abundance of raw moodiness to play with. It’s a relatively simple image, but one that encapsulates my style and I hope that by stepping behind the image with me, you will be inspired to play with light and shadows in a more cinematic way in your photography as well. So, without further ado, welcome to the dark side!
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Directions

CalmNaturalWalking

Calm Energetic
Planned On the spot
Tricky Easy
Posed Natural
Initially, I framed the image with my bride out of camera and identified a particular spot within the scene where I wanted my bride to be. When I was happy with the composition, I told my bride to slowly make her way down the grand staircase, making sure to hold onto the balustrade as she walked down. Walking down grand dark stairs in high heels and a big dress is not easy! Often brides can look awkward and goofy doing so purely because of the logistics of the motion itself. By telling my bride to hold onto the balustrade, it automatically puts her body in a more elegant, natural, and flattering pose which translates into a nice confident posture and reads well in the photographs. Furthermore, it positions the arm closest to the camera in a more fluid pose and allows it to be seen.

As the bride walked down the stairs I followed her movement through my viewfinder whilst giving her positive reassurance by saying words like “perfect”, “beautiful” and “nice”. I find this adds an added level of confidence in my subject and keeps a positive line of communication.

When she finally reached the exact spot I wanted her to be in, I simply told her to look up into the skylight for me quickly and took the shot.
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“Beautiful! Now, look up into the skylight for me.”
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Composition

Rule of ThirdsCenter FramedLeading LinesFull BodyNatural Frames

I framed the image the way I did because I felt it accentuated the architecture of the staircase and the natural beam of light that seeped through from the above skylight.

When I pre-visualised this image, I loved the idea of the bride walking into the darkness lit from above by a somewhat mysterious light source. I wanted to give these staircases a sense of scale by shooting the frame portrait rather than landscape and placing the bride in the center as a reference.

Having the bride in the middle of the frame also gives the final image a strong focus in the location where the light beam and the shadows meet, which coincided with the natural kink in the staircase and this reinforced the composition.

I made sure that the bride’s head and the painting the background where sufficiently separated too to give it some space.

The image is primarily about a central composition, but there is also a diagonal line also at work here, which is reinforced by the angle of the light beam from above, the stair, and the painting which directs the viewers eye around the image from light to dark and I think this works really well.

My images always strive to incorporate within them an air of romantic mystery and I tend to achieve this by playing with light and shadow. I feel this images, in its simplicity, underlines my fascination with this concept.
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DON’T FEEL THE NEED TO OVERCOMPLICATE THINGS UNNECESSARILY. OFTEN, THERE IS BEAUTY AND STRENGTH IN REFINED SIMPLICITY.

Focusing

Single Point Focused on The bride’s face Single Shot Autofocus
Because the bride was walking slowly and because it was a staged shot and not a documentary spontaneous moment, I decided to switch my focus mode to one shot autofocus with the focus being on a centre point aimed at the bride’s face. It pretty old school and straight forwards. I focused on her face because, shooting at a shallow aperture (f1.4), precision is vital even with a 35mm at distance, and because I wanted to make sure that the sharpest part of the image was the bride’s face. The only difficulty was that the bride was in motion but she was walking so slowly that I had enough time to focus and recompose without any problems.
Light & Weather

Artificial LightDarkMoodyIndoor

For this image I relied solely on available natural light in the form of filtered light from a skylight above the staircase. Whenever possible I prefer to use available light as it fits my particular style more.
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Equipment & EXIF

1/60 f/1.4 ISO 400 WB Auto

Camera

Canon R6

Lens

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L II

Editing

Adobe Lightroom Classic Own personal preset

Software used:

 

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop

Editing is a huge part of our jobs as photographers. It’s what gives my images my own individual custom look and feel.

I actually do not use any presets when editing. I do however have a custom curve I created which I add to all of my images as my starting point, then I create a tonal palette and an exposure tweak shoot by shoot which brings out the feelings I felt and want to transmit to my viewer, and finally refine the image with a series of custom brushes I developed which complement my custom curve.

In this case, I wanted the image to be about the shadow at the bottom of the stairs and the natural light coming from the skylight. I based my edit on that feeling… that mystery.

I also wanted to bring out the cool blue tones in the staircase and juxtapose them with the warm golden tones of the oil painting behind the bride.

Finally, I did some minor cloning to remove minor distractions in the frame (like the slightly ruined wallpaper behind the bride’s head) and balanced the highlights on the oil painting to tone them down and bring the focus to the bride.
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This image was edited with

Own personal preset

Challenges & Solutions
There where two main challenge in this image. the first was how to successfully balancing the subject with the context in a way that felt harmonious and told a story, and the second was to somehow generating a spontaneous moment which didn’t feel static in a photograph which was directed and therefore manufactured.

Location

Period Property United Kingdom

St Giles House

St Giles House, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 5NA

Final tips & Advice

It is always tricky to shoot in very dark locations where there are contrasting bright highlights present (in this case the light glow on the oil painting). I find it is always a game of balancing exposure curve, making sure that you shoot dark enough to avoid blowing out the highlights, but not dark enough to add noise and murkiness in the shadows (especially the subject’s faces) when you bring them out in post production. My advice is to expose for the highlights just enough to keep them from blowing out (and thus loosing all detail) whilst shooting at the lowest ISO you can afford. If it helps, turn on your histogram while shooting and review your shot afterwards for blowouts. In this particular case, because the bride was moving slowly and my Canon R6 body benefits from being stabilised, I could afford to take a risk a shoot a slower shutter speed at the advantage of retaining a decently low ISO with no noise.
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Andrea Verenini

Photographer United Kingdom Canon R6 50mm f1.2
Hey everyone, my name is Andrea. I’m a Wedding and Fashion Photographer. Italian. Based in the UK but working worldwide. I am easy going, my images may be dramatic but I definitely am not! In 2021 I was the recipient of the highly coveted Rangefinder ‘Rf30 Rising Star’ Award which was a dream come true (and it still feels like a dream). I am on a never ending searching for unique couples to frame in breathtaking light and stunning scenery around the world. I would love to tell you photography was always my passion since an early age, but it would not be true. I came to photography slowly and in my late 20s. In my previous life I was an Architect and later a Design and Architecture Editor for a small online magazine. My useless possession is a PhD in Urban Regeneration which is currently used as a doorstop… and a pretty lousy one at that. My only regret? Probably not finding photography sooner but then again, better late than never! When not travelling and working, I can be found obsessing over the latest crime-docuseries next to a Margherita pizza and a good Old Fashioned on the rocks. Aside from shooting for clients, my other passion is transmitting my endless love for photography through education and mentorships to the next generation of shooters.
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“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” – Cecil Beaton

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