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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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How did you direct 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.

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.

How did you compose your image?

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.

How and what did you focus on?

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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How did you use the light in your image?

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.

What was the gear & settings you used?

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Camera

Nikon D780

Lens

Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 G

Filter

Tiffen Black Pro Mist 1/4

Other

None

Shutter Speed

1/1250

Aperture

f/3.2

ISO

100

White Balance

5650K

How did you edit your image & what did you use?

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.

Software Used

Adobe Lightroom CC

Preset

Personal Preset

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What challenges did you face?

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.

How did you solve them?

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!

Can you share any last thoughts or advice?

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.

Seán Bell

Shooting since

1999

Current Home

Scotland

Website

Instagram

I live, breathe and work in Scotland, but also shoot all over the UK and beyond. My affair with photography started at an early age thanks to my Dad and his basic home darkroom, this love ran alongside my total obsession with music, drawing and writing too. In my teens I was playing guitar in bands full time but also shooting other gigs and the joy I got from that eventually led me to go study photography and film in Edinburgh. Im inspired by nature, cinematographers, music and classic art and enjoy documenting the elusive, quiet moments between couples as much as the big epic frames. I live for the outdoors too and the more extreme the terrain or the weather, the better! I shoot mostly elopements in Scotland, working with couples from all over the World, aiming to craft intimate and honest work in some of our most rugged and remote parts.

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