the Shoot

Location Equipment
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I was initially inspired by the sleeve of Grace’s dress, so when I saw the light streaming in through the almost floor-to-ceiling windows I knew I wanted to highlight that form using the light available. It actually involves a bit of luck for me to capture a bridal portrait like this on a wedding day. I often don’t have that much time to devote to carefully observing light and slowly and methodically creating portraits of just the bride… normally I carve out the most time for the portraits of the newlyweds together. But I ended up with a good amount of time before the ceremony that day, so I took advantage of it.
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Location Name

Olde Dobbin Station

Location aDDRESS

2849 Old Dobbin Rd, Montgomery, TX 77316


United States

Location TYPE

Wedding / Event Venue



Canon 5D Mark IV




Canon 35mm f/1.4 L II

Lens Filter


Other Equipment
No additional equipment was used.

the Shoot

Directions Composition Focus Light & Exposure
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Calm Hand movements Playful Movement


I asked Grace to go stand in the pool of light being cast on the floor by the window, and I had her face the window so that the front of her body would be illuminated and clear even if other parts of her body fell into shadow. I always prefer my initial directions to my clients to be somewhat subjective, because everyone naturally has a slightly different way of making certain movements or interpreting directions. I think this helps to keep any directions or posing to look natural and believable, and it helps my clients to look like themselves in their portraits. From there, I can always narrow in and get more specific with my directions until I achieve what I’m after. I asked her to turn her face slightly toward me so that I could see all of her features. I didn’t want her in strict profile because that felt a little too sterile to me, especially considering the high contrast caused by the harsh lighting. From there, I asked her to create some subtle, continuous motion with her arms to highlight the unique shape of her sleeves, and to make the image feel more natural and fluid. She initially began by bringing her arms up in front of her chest in controlled, alternating movements, but I asked her to get a little more uncontrolled, release all tension from her arms and hands and to really focus on making them limp and swinging them up high so the light would catch her hand and sleeve. I believe I asked her to think of “dancer hands” in respect to how she was holding her fingers, and that helped to communicate the concept to her. I also was consistently affirming her and telling her when she was following my directions correctly so she knew what she was doing was right and to keep doing it, even if she felt silly.

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What was said

Grace, could you go stand in that light patch you see on the floor for me? And face the window with your body. Then turn your head slightly toward me and cast your eyesight downward. With your arms I want you to swing them up in front of you and alternate which arm you’re swinging – and then make it a motion so keep doing it for me. Ok great, then release allllll the tension out of your arms and fingers. Keep a little soft bend in your elbows and make your hands “dancer hands.” Perfect, this looks amazing! Keep swinging your arms for me”

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Why I composed the way I did

I centered Grace within the frame so that I could really focus on her as the subject, and I wanted to be able to surround her in all of that delicious negative space created by the background which was thrown into shadow. Typically I always center my subjects, or follow the rule of thirds. I do occasionally break these “rules” but usually to intentionally draw attention to something specific within the frame. My goal was to create something with simplicity, where the main focus is light and form. It is also worth noting that I wanted to keep the wall to the left of the image and the implied (hidden due to foreshortening) window within the frame. It was important to me not to crop or brush that out so that it could give important context to the image. The window is the light source and I think showing it helps to keep the image from feeling too produced or fabricated.

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Center Framed Lower Thirds Wide Mid Range


Focus mode

Single point auto focus

Focus Technology

Live View Single Shot

Focused on

Bride's cheek

Focus description

I focused on Grace’s face where the light was hitting her cheek. I wanted to ensure that her features would be in focus and crisp, particularly because I was shooting wide open with a low aperture. I used the live view on my camera to tap the screen to select focus and take the shot. I’ve never mastered or liked back-button focusing and I’ve found that focusing in live view on my camera gives me the most accurate results over looking through the viewfinder and depressing the shutter button halfway to lock on focus.

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Shutter Speed






White Balance


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

How the light was used

The kind of light I had was midday pretty directional, harsh light coming in through a west-facing window. It was very bright and there was a large shaft of it streaming in through the window so I did have to raise my shutter speed as high as 1/8000 to compensate for how wide open I had my aperture. Because the window was so large and unobstructed it allowed for a pretty clean shot. The only challenge were the metal windowpane frames which cast a bit of a shadow pattern of harsh lines onto Grace. It was just a matter of having her stand in the right spot so that those shadow lines would not fall on her face. It is also worth noting that because there were no other large light sources or elements on the wall behind Grace (in the direction the camera is pointed) I was able to create a pretty dramatic image with a lot of shadow and few distracting elements. I perhaps might not have been as interested in making this image if there had been a lot of distracting clutter and other unimportant elements in the frame. As a result, these were kind of my ideal conditions for creating the type of portrait I like.

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Harsh Light Directional Light Dark Moody Window Light Natural Light Indoor

the Shoot

Editing & Presets
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Editing &

Editing Software used

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Preset Used

own custom preset

How I edited this image

I used my own preset to edit this image, but I find I still have to spend quite a bit of time with each image I apply my preset to, just to counteract differences in things like the type of light, color casts, and contrast present in my subjects and settings. I definitely don’t have a one-click preset or editing process. I applied my preset to the image, then I lowered both the contrast and clarity sliders to soften the image and prevent it from looking too “crunchy.” I always want my images to feel more painterly and soft than contrasty and sharp. I pulled the tint more green to balance out a bit of the magenta that my preset brought into the image. Then I lowered the highlights a bit to make sure detail was preserved in Grace’s face where the light was hitting it. I didn’t touch the shadows slider because in this case the shadows were deep enough in the RAW file to begin with, but my preset lightens the blacks and usually pulls down the shadows to make them feel more matte and “milky.” I added a touch more saturation to the image so make sure the colors in Grace’s features and complexion were natural. Finally, I added a medium amount of grain to the image using the Effects panel.

I didn’t touch the tone curve or HSL sliders in this particular case, but my preset desaturates yellows, greens and blues and brings the luminance up on oranges and greens.

I prefer to do all of my local adjustments outside of Lightroom, so once I exported the image I pulled it into Photoshop to remove the window in the background behind Grace. First, I used the healing brush to remove the bulk of the window shape and I followed up with a non-destructive burning technique to even out the shadow tone.

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Challenges Solutions Advice

Challenges & Solutions

Events that were challenging during the shoot

Overall, this shot came about because we were in the right place at the right time with the right light and the right attitudes from everyone. We also had the ability to take the time to get it just right. I’d say perhaps my only challenge was initially getting myself in the right frame of mind to capture this. I really try not to shoot like this but on a wedding day I can sometimes feel a little “timed” meaning it’s always in the back of my mind that I’m on a timeline and there’s limited amounts of time to achieve certain things. If I feel like the clock is ticking I don’t always feel like I can concentrate and there’s definitely pressure I put on myself to perform “on a dime” under those constraints.

Solutions I found

On this day I got so lucky that Grace was so wholeheartedly trusting of my vision, she was in absolutely no rush, and she had a real eagerness to put her best efforts towards every direction I gave her. I do primarily operate on-the-fly for weddings – I’m not usually a planner and I like to wait to see a location or environment and craft my shots around what catches my eye or inspires me. So when my couples understand that and helps to create an environment where I have plenty of time to observe and be inspired that is when I can produce my best work.


This is a pretty classic shot I like to try and capture when the lighting conditions allow for it. Getting the light hitting your subject just right involves some fine-tuning but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll learn how to recognize the perfect conditions and where to direct your subject to stand in respect to the light.
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Photographed by

Valerie Thompson

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