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Wed. Aug 8, 2012 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: The Thought Process

I am a thinker. And I like to think a lot.

So much so that sometimes I even think about thinking (it's like imagine's really deep.)

I have a degree in Philosophy. I went to law school. I'm a girl. I'd say that's about the perfect storm formula for over thinking right there.

So yea, I spend a lot of time in my own head.

And I really like it when other people get me thinking too.

On our first night here at the conference for Skip's Summer School, we had the pleasure of meeting Jamilla who is one of the attendees. She told us that she had been reading along here on the blog for the past couple years, and that what she especially liked are the Pancake Sessions. So I asked her if she had any ideas/requests for upcoming posts she'd like to see, and her answer definitely got me thinking. She said that she would love to see a post that got into some of the thought process behind why we shoot an image the way that we do. That we had explained in past posts what we're always thinking about on the technical side, but she would love to know more about all the other thoughts that were going through our heads when we're creating the actual images themselves.

Whoa. Way to come out swinging Jamilla.... you're gonna make me work for it! :)

So....I did what I do, and I started thinking. About what the best way to go about doing that would be. And what I decided was to pull the sneak peeks from two of our most recent weddings. And I'm just going to talk. I'm going to go kind of stream of consciousness and just spew everything that was going through our heads for each image. And hopefully when we're done, this will have been helpful for somebody out there.

Or at the very least....that it will have gotten you thinking too.

Here we go!

Image #1: Sara & Ron's Indian and Catholic Wedding at Tappan Hill Mansion

For this image, we were actually shooting in this super dark bridal suite with not a ton to work with as far as the background went. The room was also really full with people, so we really only had the one corner to work in. And we were on a very tight timeline, so we had about five minutes total to shoot some bridal portraits. One thing that was really working in the room though, was that the bank of windows was all on one side of the room so it already had some great existing directional light. To focus in on just that natural light and keep clean shadows, though, we turned off all of the extra overhead and tungsten lamp light in the room and used only the window to light our image. This one is actually Justin's shot, so we had positioned Sara to the right of the window so the light was raking across her left to right and Justin finished out the equation by standing right in front of Sara to create a 90 degree angle to the light (imagine drawing two strings: light to subject, subject to photographer...that angle it creates was 90 degrees). One of the things that Justin said was really working for him when he was shooting this picture is that although the light was directional, she was also standing a little further into the room than we would normally place her because there was a couch in the way. Having her just a little bit further into the room meant that the contrast was reduced (there wasn't such a pronounced difference between the highlight and shadow that would result if she were closer to the window), and it made for a softer image which was really fitting in this case with the softness of the veil and the look he was going for.

The final two pieces of the puzzle for this image, were that he knew he wanted her looking down but he didn't necessarily want to just say to her "ok look down now" because he wanted it to feel more organic and less like something he just told her to do. So he asked Sara to hold out her hands (which had the henna from their Indian ceremony earlier in the day) so he could take a picture of that. As she was holding them out, the natural thing for her to do was to look down and that was the shot he was waiting for. And finally, in many ways this shot is really about the veil because it was a very important family heirloom that had first been worn at Sara's mother's wedding 40 years ago, then at her sister's wedding, and now at hers. So Justin decided to focus in on the lace edging of the veil and crop part of Sara's face out of the image. He split the image evenly down her face and shot it at 1.4 to create the fall off that would make that a less harsh crop. And what we're left with is an image that is about the softness of what the light is doing, the importance of the veil, and an overall feeling of emotion that comes from the image not being strictly posed (i.e. that there was something else going on with her looking down at her hands.)

Image #2: Tessa & Mathias at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami

This second image is one of mine from Tessa & Mathias's wedding in Miami. When we did their portraits, there was a lot going on to say the least. First of all, it was incredibly hot in Miami that day and we didn't want to have them out in the heat too long so we were working with a small window of time. We also had with us a team of planners to make sure everything was going ok and on schedule, a makeup artist for touch ups in the heat, the videography team getting their footage, and the event stylist and her team going in and out behind us putting the last touches on the reception room. All just literally a few feet behind us. But we didn't want to feel any of that in the image....we wanted it to be this calm, quiet, very intimate moment between the two of them that felt like they were the only people in the world. Since the light was really harsh outside this hallway and we didn't want to take up too much of our time moving them around the property, we decided to work right where we were and to do what we could to coach them into that calm feeling. This location in particular was really working for us because we had directional light coming in from that bank of columns on the right, but it also had a soft, light & airy feel to it because of all the fill we were getting from the light bouncing off those cream colored walls on the left. So we ended up with a softer, more romantic image while still reaping the benefits of directional light (look at the detail it highlights across the back of Mathias's jacket and the bottom of Tessa's dress with that pattern of highlight and shadow.). Even though this location had all of that natural fill, we're still always going to have highlights and shadows because the light traveling to the highlight side is never traveling as far as the light that goes all the way to the opposite wall and bounces back to the couple as fill. That highlight side is always going to be somewhat brighter.

I knew I wanted this to be a full length image with a very open background to give the feeling that they were the only people there that day. Doing that, thought, meant keeping the architecture/columns in mind and making sure that I was shooting while keep my parallels (i.e. not tilting or shifting my lens) as straight up and down as possible so as not to distort the columns and to create those nice lines. Finally, I didn't want to just say to Tessa & Mathias go stand over there and pretend the rest of us aren't here. Instead, I wanted to get them into the pose in a very organic way and give them something to do that would help them forget about everything else that was going on. So I asked them to start where I was while holding hands, and walk away from me a few feet before bringing their foreheads together. That got them into the pose in a way that felt more natural, and once they were in it I just had them slow dance a little to keep the pose from getting too stiff. And because I was giving them something to do as a team, it helped keep their minds off the rest of us. So what we end up with, hopefully, is an image that feels like they were the only people there having a moment that was just for them.

I hope hope hope this helped at least somebody out there! And if nothing else, it at least gives you a little behind the scenes pass into our brains and the kinds of things we're thinking about and taking into consideration when we're shooting. Definitely feel free to ask any questions you have in the comment box below & we'll do our best to answer them!

Happy Pancake Day!


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