Before
the Shoot

Location Equipment
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This was the only shoot I was able to do during the corona spring 2020 and I had a huge amount of repressed creativity, ideas and hunger for connection boiling inside me. The elopement was without a doubt a very personal, private and important occasion for the couple. I felt like there was a strong emotional charge from both sides and we were able to take advantage of it. I would describe it as a shared flow state.

The Suomenlinna sea fortress island is a 15 minute ferry ride away from the city, which really makes it feel like an adventure no matter how many times you make the journey. Being extremely versatile the island is one of my favourite photo locations with endless secret spots. We’d already been shooting for a couple of hours in the freezing February temperatures when I walked us to the furthest corner on the island. I had saved the spot for the sunset time really hoping the couple would still bear the cold for a couple more minutes. Playing with a prism is always a hit-or-miss game and knowing I didn’t have much time to pull it off, I was aware I could end up with nothing special. But in the end I was so happy I went for it because for this one shot all the elements just clicked together.
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Location

Location Name

Suomenlinna sea fortress

Location aDDRESS

Susisaari, Suomenlinna, Helsinki

Country

Finland

Location TYPE

Archipelago

Equipment

Camera

Canon 5D Mark IV

Flash

None

Lens

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L

Lens Filter

None

Other Equipment
No additional equipment was used.

During
the Shoot

Directions Composition Focus Light & Exposure
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Directions

Tags

Natural Playful Dancing

Description

As I was going for a silhouette shot I knew I wanted the couple a little apart so that they wouldn’t blend into each other. I also love natural movement in photos because body language can bring out quite strong emotions. So I asked the couple to do a little dance and made the groom spin his bride a couple of times. Besides wishing for some cool frozen motion poses there was another reason for the dance. I needed to distract the couple from the feeling of near hypothermia!

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What was said

“For the last photos I’d like you to do a little dance. Spin each other around, pull away and then back close together. I will go shoot from down below, so just do your thing and be yourselves. I know you’re freezing and suffering but you can do this!!! You can spend the rest of the night – or your whole lives – curled up under a blanket or in a hot bath drinking red wine.”

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Composition

Why I composed the way I did

There are no mountains and not many high places in Finland. That’s why I wanted to use the opportunity in this location to shoot up towards the sky and not down towards the sea. I wanted to create a delicate and ethereal sensation of a higher altitude. I wanted to make the picture look and feel a bit surreal, as if the couple was floating on an island in the sky. My chosen perspective made me achieve this as the clouds appeared to be hanging low at the level of the couple. In reality the view opened up to the sea right behind the little hill and the clouds were very far away in the horizon.

This is a very classical, easy to look at composition with no gimmicks. It follows the rule of thirds very precisely, thus I think that the actual interest of the picture lies in the content (the pose) and in the negative space (of which there is a lot). Wanting to have the tree in the picture the placement of the couple was a no-brainer. Too close to the tree, they would’ve felt overshadowed by the tree. Too far off to the side, it would’ve felt as if the couple was falling off from the floating island in the sky.

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Tags

Center Framed Wide Full Body

Focus

Focus mode

Single point auto focus

Focus Technology

Single Shot Autofocus

Focused on

The groom who stayed more still

Focus description

I used single point focus for this shot and pretty much just locked the focus on the couple and fired away. It was easy to decide on the correct focus because the bride and the groom were on the same focal plane. They moved a little bit while dancing but the distance didn’t change. The only thing that made focusing trickier than normal was trying to find a good position for the prism at the same time. That’s where a third hand would have come in handy. It’s just a matter of preference but I tend to “see” my compositions better when using the viewfinder instead of the live-view.

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Shutter Speed

1/2500

Aperture

f/2.0

ISO

200

White Balance

Auto

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

How the light was used

The shot was taken probably around 20 minutes before sunset. The sun was setting to the back right of the couple so that they were almost backlit but the light was extremely soft because of the gentle cloud coverage. Compositionally there was only one angle I wanted to use, so I had to have the couple turn their face towards the light in order to have some remnants of light falling on them.

The use of a prism added quite a lot of lightness to the picture as the bottom of the photo is a reflection of the sky. I find this to be very strong manipulation of light and therefore only effective used occasionally. I used it this time because of the mood and narrational effect I wanted to create for this picture.

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Tags

Soft Light Back lit Natural Light Cloudy Sunset

After
the Shoot

Editing & Presets
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Editing &
Presets

Editing Software used

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Preset Used

Personal

How I edited this image

If I’m not doing studio work I practically always rely on auto WB. There’s almost always temperature tweaking to do in post so it doesn’t matter too much what setting I use as long as the file format is RAW. However, with this photo the colour and glow of the sky must have somehow confused the camera as it didn’t do a very good job. The unedited image is way bluer than how I perceived it in real life – it was sunset time after all. I have never before or since had to push the temperature as high up as 25 000K in order to get the temperature that I like. And still, the picture doesn’t feel too orange or too warm.

The most drastic change to the image came from the white balance shift alone. Other than that, this wasn’t a very technical image to edit at all. For colour work I applied my personal preset. To get the dreamy feeling, I lowered the contrast, texture, clarity and saturation a bit, but also introduced controlled highlight and shadow hues in split toning. I also brought down the overall highlights in order to make the cloud structure more visible, and dropped the shadows to enhance the silhouettes.

I didn’t feel this photo benefitted anything from local adjustments like brushes or filters. The subjects are half silhouetted on purpose so I didn’t want to bring extra light to them.

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Conclusion

Challenges Solutions Advice

Challenges & Solutions

Events that were challenging during the shoot

Having your wedding portraits taken during the Finnish winter is no stroll in the park. A lot, and I mean A LOT of cold resilience and courage are required from the couple. On this particular day the temperature was only a few degrees below zero but being out in the sea the wind chill made it feel like -15°C. I believe the (dis)comfort factor plays a huge role in what is possible to be achieved, what and how I can shoot, how everything feels, how I direct the session etc. Yes, the couple was freezing.

Another challenge was trying to work out in which angle to hold the prism in front of the lens in order to make the hill look like a floating island, keeping my own fingers (holding the prism) out of the frame, all while holding the heavy camera in one hand, trying to keep the focus on the moving couple and capturing the best movements they pulled off. Tricky much?

Solutions I found

The solution for feeling cold is to wear warm clothes, obviously, but in the case of taking wedding photos it just doesn’t work. When the cold has already reached your bones there’s not much more to do than to keep moving; squatting, jumping and being active. What I did too is I talked to my couple a lot, encouraging them but also distracting them from the cold sensation.

As for the technical challenges, I found it important to stay calm and keep trying, trying, trying. I knew what I was doing but it takes a bit of luck as well. I call the result a happy accident, which is often what the nicest photos come down to. Success out of experimentation.

Advice

In photoshoots make sure to take your safe shots but always leave room and time for playfulness, creative experimentation, self-expression and spontaneity. Don’t get fixated on the results and the need to deliver. Just give your ideas a chance and they might turn into something really beautiful.
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Photographed by

Heidi Kouvo

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