Engaging Engagement Photographs: Harder Than It Looks…

Emerald Gothic

I am not a wedding photographer. I repeat: I do not shoot weddings. So please do not ask me to shoot your friend’s sister’s friend. Still, when your brother offers to fly you home to photograph his engagement you cannot really refuse. Prince Edward Island is a place where time cannot change, if only because Islanders have a way wearing down those who come “from away” to improve the Island Way. Good luck with that, I say.

For my part, I knew that I was flying down to capture a balloon ride with Scott and my mother. I also knew that I was to shoot a post-engagement session on Saturday to capture the love Scott and Courtney have for each other. I sort of knew that I was going to attempt to shoot a music video for Courtney’s new album. I had no idea what the actual outcome of any of these sessions might be. Portraiture is one of the most difficult genres of photography to do authentically, and the success of any session depends on the relationship formed between the photographer and the photographed. I have taken a few truly compelling portraits this year, and I hope the karma continues. Fortunately, this time around I already knew the people and how to work with them to produce quality work. Both Scott and Courtney were fun to work with, and they genuinely enjoyed running all over the Island, changing in parking lots and parked cars, and capturing their moment.

Honestly, a couple should only expect about three to four stunning photographs from any session. I know the actual expectations are that if you took 500 images, then they all must be seen. No. They. Should. Not….Ever. The reality is that 500 captures are filled with blinking eyes, double chins, incorrect exposures and blurred movements, and the photographer is really being paid to edit the session down to a small number. Personally, I do not want to even show the selects; I always think it best to show the best and forget the rest on the editing room floor.

Another reason to not show all of the captures revolves around the reality that time is required to make each photo look its best. Post-processing is often twice as time-consuming as the actual session, especially when a couple wants a collection of spectacular photographs to show friends and family. Our society is super-saturated with images, and a series of similar looking photographs will quickly lose their interest.

What makes a great engagement photo? Authentic interaction between the subjects, a series of striking scenes, perfect exposures with sharp details, diffused apertures, and colour or its complete absence. I was lucky, in that my brother already had elaborate scenarios and a collection of printed images that had moods he was going for. Nothing helps a photographer more than seeing his client wants “something like this or along these lines.”

I had three hours and seven scenarios to work from. The first three were like clockwork, but then the sun came out and changed the game. Direct afternoon sun in the summer causes all kinds of problems, especially when shooting with wide apertures. With a close inspection, an astute viewer can guess which images were under direct light. Ideally, and no one ever gets the chance to shoot under ideal conditions for long, you want either evening light, the light at sunrise or a cloudy day with the sun peaking through diffused clouds.

If I had an assistant, a budget, and an airline other than Air Canada transporting my  Profoto D1 lights, then I would have had more options. Given the nature of the session, however, I decided to bring no lights nor use any flash. Instead, I relied on my Canon 50m f.1.2 and 135mm f.2.0 lenses on my EOS 1DmkIII body. Make no mistake – this is about $10,000 worth of camera gear, and not your cousin’s iPhone. If you cannot capture photographic moments with this combination, then pack up and leave Dodge.

As I state in my bio, I take photos because I want to. I have the luxury of working hard enough to provide myself with the choice to photograph people I connect with in some way. I never, ever offer to photograph people unless I find them compelling, beautiful, authentic, fascinating or brilliant – I simply do not have to, nor do I have the time to waste. I am only free if I ask you if you want to work with me; otherwise, you will need a worthwhile project plan or be willing to pay commercial rates – which is just the way it goes. I am doing this while I can with people who value the beauty that can come from a quality portrait. In twenty years, the objects we always cherish are the photographs that showed who we were, when we were. Print your photographs on quality paper, please.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum of this session, V. was fortunate enough to be chosen as the successful candidate for a twelve month contract in Thunder Bay. She deserves the superb work opportunity, and will be brilliant at it.

I head to Barcelona alone next week. Have wonderful hotels lined up, great food venues, and will only take one camera with me: the Hasselblad 501 c/m with one lens; either the 50mm or the 80mm. The Ducati Monster was into the shop today – two new Pirelli Angels tires on order, another rear brake pad set in the slot, and I have a few modifications to add on Wednesday.

New web page under design. A few dozen photos from Prince Edward Island to process still. Business meeting for school. Yoga, cycling, running, sleep…reconnected with many old friends back home. Cannot complain, never apologize, never explain.

While we can…


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