Before
the Shoot

Location Equipment
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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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Location

Location Name

St Giles House

Location aDDRESS

St Giles House, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 5NA

Country

United Kingdom

Location TYPE

Period Property

Equipment

Camera

Canon R6

Flash

None

Lens

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L II

Lens Filter

None

Other Equipment
No additional equipment was used.

During
the Shoot

Directions Composition Focus Light & Exposure
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Directions

Tone of Directions

Calm

Action of Directions

Movement Natural Walking

Description

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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What was said

Beautiful! Now, look up into the skylight for me.

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Composition

Why I composed the way I did

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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Compositional Rules

Leading Lines Rule of Thirds

Compositional Framing

Center Framed Wide Lower Angle Full Body Natural Frames

Focus

Focus mode

Single point auto focus

Focus Technology

Single Shot Autofocus

Focused on

The bride's face

Focus description

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.

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Shutter Speed

1/60

Aperture

f/1.4

ISO

400

White Balance

Auto

Other Light Sources
No additional light sources were used.
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Light &
Exposure

How the light was used

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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Type of light

Artificial Light

Time of Day

Morning

Quality of LIght

Harsh Directional Front Lit

Weather

Indoor

After
the Shoot

Editing & Presets
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Editing &
Presets

Editing Software used

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Preset Used

Own personal preset

How I edited this image

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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Conclusion

Challenges Solutions Advice

Challenges & Solutions

Events that were challenging during the shoot

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.

Solutions I found

The solution to the first challenge was to make sure all the elements in the context aligned – the light, the shadow, the architecture and the artwork – and to then position my bride in a way which reinforced the harmony of all these different elements and that gave meaning to the shot.

The second challenge was solved in giving the bride a clear direction to begin with, being “walk slowly down the stairs”, but then giving her an impormput action prompt (“look up into the light”) at the right moment. By shooting this spontaneous action, you get that natural moment and flow which would be impossible to recreate in an otherwise static pose.

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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Photographed by

Andrea Verenini

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