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EXPOSING FOR HIGHLIGHTS

 

Today’s post is a bit of a journal on using some of the techniques I have been talking about the last few weeks.

These images were created over the course of a day at one of Montreal’s synagogues with an orthodox jewish couple.  Using only a 24-70mm lens on my Nikon D3s camera and flash, I had a very minimalistic setup for this shoot.

The approach I decided to take here was to expose for highlights, technically speaking in terms of the exposures, but also in terms of the highlights of the day – hence the name of this set of images.

Now very often actually, the Jewish wedding theme associates with B&W in my mind.

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There are various reasons for this, ranging from broad cultural influences like Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List” and pictures of war, to more specific ones from my own life growing up and looking at the old pictures of my grandparents who were jewish. As well the black & white theme of bright contrasting against dark lends itself well to expressing the emotional opposites of sadness and happiness, which for me express the mix of emotions one feels at a wedding simultaneously.

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Flashes were used a lot on this shoot because I was exposing for highlights and I needed the flash to bring the subjects out of the shadows. The reason why I created this way is because I had the freedom of doing so and that is actually quite rare. Weddings are a very commercial assignment, so you have to make the bride pretty, but here I was actually exercising style, doing whatever I wanted to do, and some pictures were quite unusual:
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The whole shoot made me feel like I was almost expressing my thoughts, and in a way I was: I respect and I know a lot about jewish culture, yet at the same time I’m kind of confused by the deep religious part that is totally unknown to me – not because I don’t know the traditions or things like that, but rather it’s just that I’m not religious to that extent. So that’s what makes me feel my use of black and white here was also expressing my own relationship to the mystery of this hidden world and how the understanding of it is somehow held secret from me in a kind of darkness, yet I am still illuminated by it.

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Anyway, it’s actually the best opportunity and best scenario when you can use flash outside in a very interesting way. When there is bright sun, highlights can be very bright and if you expose for them, everything goes black. So here you can use flash creatively:

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I have been talking about the techniques to use flash in my posts here and and if you want to go even deeper, you can have a look at my Flash Forward cards in the store section of this site. They’re a pretty handy resource to have on hand in your camera bag.

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The difficulties in creating this set was exposing for highlights no matter what. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes not, and sometimes I could cheat a little bit.  But in a way it was actually liberating to a certain extent. I didn’t worry so much about what was going to go into complete darkness and I didn’t care about super-posing and all the usual burden of wedding photography. I was just enjoying the process and I knew the result would be something my couple would appreciate and like. And quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by many of the results myself.

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Actually, I have had a relationship with the bride’s family for almost 6 years now and photographed just about every one of the girls from this family.

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Obviously they are a family with traditional values, but at the same time they have a very modern taste in photography and really wanted something different than what is traditionally done.  So I found this interesting – even back when I first began photographing them – that they were drawn to the photojournalistic look of the pictures I produced because orthodox jewish families are often very traditional most of the time.

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Now, I must mention that it is primarily the brides who wanted this style of photography for their weddings and not necessarily the parents. What I did with this wedding in particular is almost unheard of and delivering this kind of work to any family could be a little bit challenging, let alone to a traditional orthodox Jewish family.

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Yet this family truly embraced what I did here, though I would be lying if I said the entire wedding was only photographed like what I’m showing in this post. I did traditional portraiture and traditional bride and groom pictures with families and all the rest – that was a must. The grandparents might have had a heart attack and some relatives that wouldn’t understand. But at the same time, the family really enjoyed this kind of work – especially the bride and her mother.

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Now, I’d love to hear what you think, so go ahead and leave me a note in the comments section below!

Thanks,

~Michael

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