• Adobe Lightroom CC
  • Nikon 35mm 1.8G
  • symmetry
  • soft
  • Single Focus Point
  • Scotland
  • Rule of thirds
  • Quiet
  • Personal Preset
  • Nikon D780
  • Natural Light
  • afternoon
  • lower thirds
  • Funny
  • Continuous
  • cliff
  • clear
  • Center Framed
  • calm
  • Beach
  • Autofocus
  • Tiffen Black Pro Mist 1/4

The story behind the image

Ellison and Andy are from New York, Andy is the singer of a cool indie band ( Youngrisingsons) and Ellison a broadcast journalist for NBC. As working creatives they were both just super switched on and really into allowing me freedom on the day which was sweet. They were really psyched to use the coastal areas near the venue I had suggested when we hooked up online. I had done a bit of sea cliff climbing a few years ago near this place so knew there was potential for something but what is OK to access for a climber might not be for a couple, so two hours before arriving at the venue I drove to the headland overlooking the sea and scouted around for something with easy access and that would also give a sense of the area. I ran along the cliff tops for a while with my cheap ‘recce’ lens (28-80) trying to pre-visualise some frames and check my app (Sunseeker) to gauge where the light would be coming from by the time we were there for the couple shoot. A lot of it was fairly flat looking and standard cliff/Sea scape but after a short descent down one of the many pathways I chanced upon this low lying recess area with beautiful Red sandstone and this shapely ‘window’ out to the sea. I knew we could cook something up within that space and the overhanging roof meant I could also tuck them away from the Sun if I wanted softer light for more classic portraits.
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Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

Once the Groom sat down I asked the Bride to sit between his legs and fall into him but with her body facing me. I let them sit in this way for a while, I was just chatting and making small talk as they adjusted themselves and I waited until they looked like they were comfortable, clicking in to place naturally and were locked in tight. I then flicked the dress around until it fell into place, at first it was too far to the side but when I pulled it forward it created more of a leading line, as well as mirroring the shapes of the rock window.

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What did you say?

I was talking about how epic the backdrop was, how their ceremony was, how cool they looked and various other things to take away from the fact it was quite an intimate and locked in pose and to relax them a little. As I worked to build the frame I was mixing it up quickly, asking Andy to kiss Ellison on the head, the hand and then the cheek, then Ellison’s turn to do the same, which was difficult for her being so low down. I knew this would create a bit of fun and laughs, so even when shooting the intimate, pensive work I always try to shoot these lighter frames in between. I asked Andy to ‘fix’ Ellison’s hair during one kiss and she naturally brought her hand up which really added to the intimacy and connection so I asked them to keep that and for Ellison to close her eyes and breathe deep, on exhale this made her to fall deeper into Andy’s chest and I think and hope it gives it a less forced look.

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Tone of Directions

Quiet, Calm, Funny


The composition was led by the natural feature. I only had space enough to use the 35mm but this was enough. I chose not to include the sky surrounding the top of the scene as I felt it diluted the image a little so I framed tightly. I liked the dark corners and the way the only hint of the outside is through the rock window. Framing like this and cutting out the distraction of any lighter/brighter edges makes it feel intimate and along with the help of the leading dress line it pulls attention towards the couple, but also hints at the environment and a wider view in the background. I shot a few different images but the way the shape of Andy and the dress repeats within the shape of the feature I found myself stuck with this spot until I found the right moment for the couple. I placed the horizon line roughly on the upper Rule of Third line. It cuts through the couple for sure, but this looked like the most natural way to shoot at the time.

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Compositional Rules

Rule of ThirdsSymmetry


Center FramedLower Thirds


Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

I use back button focus with the D51 Continuous AF setting. I focussed on a point on the face and kept this locked in.

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Focus Mode


Focus POints

Single Focus Point

Focused on

The Brides face

Equipment &

Nikon D780
Nikon 35mm 1.8G
Tiffen Black Pro Mist 1/4
1/1250 @ f/3.2 ISO100 WB-5650K

The way the EXIF is written out follows the common photographic method (with the inclusion of White Balance at the end). Here it is broken down:

Shutter Speed @ Aperture ISO White Balance.

Light & Weather

The Sun was behind a thin veil of high cloud at this point and less harsh than it had been but I still opted to place the couple within the shade of the rock in order to create a softer, quieter portrait. The light was pretty much full cross lighting at this point but diffuse, which worked well as it dialled down the lux range between the shaded rock and the sea and sky behind.

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Light Type

Natural Light

Light Quality


Time of day




Editing Workflow

How did you edit this image?

For the majority of my work Im dealing with the various Greens and Browns of Mountain and Woodland so I had to tweak a little more than normal with this one being Red sandstone and Blue Sea. I use a Black Pro-Mist filter 1/4 as standard for most of the day unless it is super Sunny or low hazy backlight (or for any light situation that the use of a filter would further muddy the image) For this, even with the Pro mist on in post I felt I still had to take the edge off. I set my sliders for this frame to -14 for ‘Texture’ -14 ‘Clarity’ and -4 for Dehaze. My preset strips a lot of Blue so I added around +10 on this & Aqua in the HSL panel to bring back the Sea and Sky a little. I used the brush tool (K) in Lightroom to dodge areas within the rock on the right side, they were in total shadow but I felt it would balance the frame and give more depth to the images if there were visible slivers of lighter rock rather than full black. I used the healing tool to rid the scene of a few light coloured pebbles in the foreground which were distracting too and again with the brush I lightened the horizon line and soften the gradient between this and the sky.

I then gave the image a touch more overall warmth in the shadows and mids before tweaking the skin tones to a point I was happy with by using the Orange sliders in the Color tab. I then exported the image to Exposure X5 to add grain. In Lightroom there is one global setting for grain which can work for some images, but I prefer to distribute unevenly in an effort to mimic old film stock. I do this by adding most to the highlights and a little to midtones and less again for shadows and this is what I opted for here, I like this to be subtle, just enough to take the digital edge off. I also prefer the overall feel of the grain within Exposure and I used the Rodinal Developer at 25% setting as the initial preset but then shifted the sliders to suit.

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Editing Software
Adobe Lightroom CC
Preset Used
Personal Preset


I was limited by the space I had behind me and the light was harsh and directional at times. I battled withe the horizon line.

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I used the natural shaded area and shot with the only lens I had that would work. This lack of space ultimately forced me down a creative path I might not have taken had I had the option of pulling back and using another focal length, I abandoned my visualisation of a fully intimate portrait in favour of something more environmental, I broke some of my own ‘rules’ and it felt good to do that!

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Location Name

Arbroath Cliffs

Location aDDRESS

Arbroath DD11 5SB, United Kingdom

Loation Type

Beach, Cliff



Pre-visualise as much as you can but during the shoot try not to get too locked into one idea or pose, learn how to build a frame but know when it’s time to move on. Keep an eye on the lines and leading lines within the frame but always keep in mind that emotion will trump all of these ‘rules’. Allow the couple to lead you in the dance, be open and sensitive to thier input, when working with couples it’s about their feedback, spoken or not, learn to read body language and allow them to ‘fall’ into a pose, allow them to hang out a little, keep chatting and they will naturally begin to ‘fit’ and flow together. If you are struggling or find yourself at an impasse, create an ‘action’, in this case I asked Andy to use his hands and ‘fix’ Ellison’s hair and this action for me, lifts the portrait.

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