Alston Hall

Alston Hall is quite an interesting venue, particularly as it’s government owned and run. A lot of really nice features and grounds that are crying out to be used as props for the location shooter.
Used as a residential education centre, the managers are having to be ever more resourceful to find funding. Having pretty much peaked with the educational courses, Alston Hall began offering conference facilities, and before long had an occasional enquiry for a wedding or two.Now that they’ve been granted their wedding licence, they needed some wedding imagery for their brochures, website and adverts. This is where I come in.

The Hall offers some wonderful indoor locations, but the one thing I really wanted to do, was to photograph a bride and groom outside the hall, to put the venue in context with being a wedding location.

It was a sunny day, which of course is something all our brides hope and pray for. Photographers on the other hand tend to mutter under their breath if it’s wall to wall sunshine. The stark contrast between a bright white wedding dress and the deep black of shadows, or even the dark suit of the groom for that matter, can cause havoc with the metering and the dynamic range capabilities of the sensor. If the weather is overcast, then the clouds effectively act as a humongous softbox and narrows the dynamic range between the white of the dress and the dark suit. It also means you won’t get the racoon eyes syndrome, or squinting for that matter.

However, I find the light on an overcast day to be less than flattering. The colours are muted and the whole scene can look flat and lifeless. I love sunny days, because the scene is so vibrant and the subject can literally pop from the image with little effort. Do I worry about the dynamic range or shadows? Not really, as I like to add additional lighting to fill shadows or reduce the dynamic range problem.

The above image was taken on the lawn, rather late in the afternoon in March. The sun is camera left and getting quite low, as indicated by the couple’s shadow. Here, the main problem was harsh shadowing on the couple, causing loss of detail in the grooms suit, and terrible contrast issues with the gown, not to mention poor detail.

The Lencarta Safari was set up with a single head (600ws) and mated to a 120cm folding Octabox (The non folding type are fine, but tend to eat valuable time due to construction when used for location work). With the sun as the key light, I placed the Safari camera right, effectively setting up a typical crosslighting scenario. With the sun as key, it would provide separation for the dark suit against anything dark in the background. The Safari was set at ¼ output so as to act as fill, rather than equal the key light.
You can see how it’s reduced the density of the couple’s shadow on the grass.

Nikon D3 1/200th sec ISO200 24-70mm f9

This second image was taken in the side garden, with the Hall basking in the last of the sunlight, but the garden itself in shadow. I wanted to light the couple, but not to make it blatantly obvious. A lot of photographers want to overpower the ambient to get that nice deep blue sky and make the subject pop. Can’t blame them, I do it myself regularly. But it’s a technique that doesn’t suit every occasion. It would have been very easy to reproduce here, but it would have rendered the Hall as dark and miserable looking, and that’s not a good look for a wedding brochure. Why does the first image look ok with the front of the hall in shadow? Because the whole image indicates the sun is low and to one side of the hall. It looks natural. If I overcame the ambient light in the second image, and lit the couple, it would work against the Hall and may seem discordant.  I needed to light the couple, so as they appeared to be sunlit. However, I didn’t want the light spilling too strongly onto the ground, as that would have given the game away.

The Octa was mounted on a 12 foot light stand at its maximum height, pointing down at the couple to give a similar direction to sunlight, sort of. The centre point of light concentration was on the faces and upper bodies, with a fall off that ended as it reached the ground. The Safari was set to ½ power, so there was plenty in reserve if I had wanted to overpower the ambient light.

Nikon D3 1/200th sec ISO200 24-70mm f9

The “Behind The Scenes” shot give an overall view of the working location and the light falloff from the Safari.