The gear I used on the wedding day

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Gear Review, Granite Dells, Photography, Prescott, RLC Design 1 Comment

The day has come and gone.  And I’m a little more rested now.  I think it’s time for some tech talk.

Off the bat, we all know I didn’t do weddings.  Period.  End of story….. Right?

Sean & Becky helped change my mind months ago.  Their enthusiasm, genuine respect for each other, and really fun dispositions left me rethinking.  And you know, I can do this for the right kind of people.  Anyone who has an engagement shoot and then jets off the next day for a “fun run” together (aka a marathon) is very cool in my book.  So, upon meeting great people who I click with….sure, weddings are in the realm of possibilities.

Now, without further delay…..let’s talk gear and photography.

I know I look attention to the big softbox, lighting assistant, and other gear in the background. Sheesh. Can you see where the sun is coming from?

Your wedding is where, and when???

Yeah, Becky & Sean picked a favorite location of mine.  I also live there.  The Granite Dells on Watson Lake.  I love the place.  You know I love the place.  Well, I mostly love the place.

See, by choice I do not go out photographing the Granite Dells between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.  I just don’t do it.  Well, unless there’s super cool clouds available, or a rocking storm.  Then I’ll do it.  Oh, and in the winter, not so harsh then.  But in August?  Really?  Uh……..ummmmm…….heh.

Becky scheduled months ago with me.  August 20th.  Ceremony at 10:30 a.m.

I prayed for clouds.  Oh how I prayed for clouds.  Then Thursday night another mega dust storm in Phoenix.  Friday morning?  Yeah, looked like the end of days had started here in Prescott.  I couldn’t even go out and do real lighting tests Friday as we had an end of the world sky looming.  And on Friday hoped that those skies wouldn’t stick around.  Fortunately, and unfortunately, they didn’t.

Saturday morning was hyper blue.  By 8 a.m. is was getting toasty.  I went to scout the scene.  And I started sweating.  Not because of the scene.  No.  The temperature was already heading up!

So, on slate for the day?  Hyper blue sky.  Lots of heat.  A location without real shade.  150 guests.  Hot participants.  Yeah, a piece of cake to be sure (the cake was butter cream by the way…..allergic).

Wrangle, corral, box in, and hide that sun

Early setup and lighting tests were key. Did you know I've got a sweet light meter for my IPhone? Yeah! F/9.0 with the Alien Bee at 3/4 power.

For weeks now I worried about the light.  The potential for harsh and unrelenting sunlight dominated my thinking.  And Saturday I got harsh and unrelenting sunlight.  Hey, I live in Arizona.  The odds were pretty good.

So, we took some test shots.  I metered.  There was some hand wringing.  There was a lot of Gatorade.  Water too.  Now I’ve got the “Waterboy” movie in my head.

In the end?  We could manage it.  Lowest ISO possible.  Guests and clients backs to the sun.  Big softbox.  Alien Bee 800.  580EX II.  The 5D Mark II and the 40D (I still love my 40D).  And a little patience.

Shots with no external lighting were done on Aperture priority.  Control what you want for the background.  Let the camera do the rest.  All of the images shot with off camera flash were achieved with full manual mode running between F/9.0 and F/11.  I had more room to work if I needed to, but found for the most part I didn’t.  A single Alien Bee for small groups with a 24×36″ Lastolite softbox allowed me to bring the background and skies in.  F/22 never saw the light of day (get it, that was funny, I made a light joke).

So, what did ya use, and how did ya use it?

My LowePro backpack and big Pelican case were on the scene Saturday.  The second Pelican stayed behind.  I reorganized everything last week and really compressed the gear list.  Here it is:

  • Canon 5D Mark II – Yeah, this is my workhorse now.  And being able to get ISO 50 sure helped in the harsh Arizona sun.
  • Canon 40D – Backup camera extraordinaire!  You have no idea how much abuse this camera body has suffered through.
  • Canon 70-200 f/4 IS L Series Lens:  This lens was used extensively.  I LOVE how sharp it is.  Even if I have to walk a long way off for a tight group shot.  People look great on this lens.
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L Series Lens:  Another workhorse for the day.  Often used with ambient light and shot at 2.8.
  • Canon 17-40 f/4 L Series:  I love wide angle.  I didn’t do much of it Saturday.  But it was there, and at the ready.
  • Canon 10-22:  Yeah, can’t remember the F stop.  Sorry.  This one was on hand for the 40D.  It was used to document the location and give some real perspective to the occasion.
  • Alien Bee 800:  I’ve had this strobe for a while now.  I love it.  Used properly, you can over power the sun with it.  For a small group or individuals this sucker will tow the line.
  • Canon 580 EX II:  Backup lighting.  I’ve got the battery pack for it too.  Love this one for individual location shoots.  It does the job.  Still, not as powerful as the Alien Bee.
  • Vagabond Mini LithiumPaul C Buff’s latest portable power supply for the Alien Bee (and other stuff).  Rocking portable power.  Once upon a time I knew this photographer who dragged generators into the desert to shoot (not me).  He should check out the Vagabond Mini!
  • Lastolite Softboxes:  14×14, 24×24, 24×36, and 36×36″ softboxes were on hand.  The 24×24 was setup with the 580EX II in the event we needed the second light.  2 430EX’s were on hand too, ready in case of any failures.
  • Radio Poppers JrX Studio Transmitters and Receivers:  Yeah, 2 transmitters, 3 receivers were on hand.  My “Group A” handled everything and the backups stayed packed away.
  • Matthews C Stand:  Yes, I need to own a second one of these stands too.  Just ROCKS!  Used it for the AAA shoot the other month in Phoenix, and I’ve known since then a second one is in my future.  Still, not today, but soon (donations can be sent to…….).
  • 15lb Sandbags:  Gotta hold the stand down with something, right?
  • Lastolite Tri-Grip:  Several ambient shots were done with no strobes.  But with the really harsh sun and harsh shadows we had to deal.  In comes the 48″ Tri-Grip. It rocks, I love it, and it will make more appearances in my work, guaranteed.  2 Stop tri-grip by the way.

There ya go, that’s the gear.  Okay, I had several huge umbrellas in the truck just in case.  But they weren’t required.

The gear is manageable for two people.  It took very little time to setup.  We set the C Stand off to the side out of the way of guests until needed.  The Vagabond Mini attached to the C Stand, which was nice.  The Alien B got locked down with the 24×36″ Lastolite and we were ready to go.

So, what’s all this about controlling the light?

Image #1. No off camera lighting. Shot ambient. Notice the sky. See the softbox? Yeah, I was using that.

Image #2. Shot within seconds of image #1. Off camera flash, ratcheting the ambient down, and filling with flash. Should have been camera left a little more.

My second shooter (hey Jodi) was off camera left.  She got Image #1.  Documenting the documentation as it were.  All Aperture priority.  Working with the ambient.  And the sky is kind of gone.  Many things are washed out.  Not the photographer’s fault.  If you talk to any landscape shooter you’ll know, mid-day sucks.  Stay inside, play cards, and wait for the golden hour light in the evening.

Image #2 was shot by me.  Off camera flash with the Alien Bee, Lastolite box, and the Radio Poppers doing their job.  Same exact scene.  Same time of day.  But I was shooting full manual, underexposing on purpose to get the sky and background, and using the flash to fill my subjects in.  Get the difference?

Now, I could have shot at F/22 and made the background almost dark.  I underexposed the background, but not as far as I could have.  Incredibly enough, even without ETTL and High Speed Sync (HSS) I could drop the background down measurably.  The more I use my Radio Popper JrX gear, the more I wonder when I would ever honestly need ETTL and HSS.

So you’ve told us your secrets, we’ll go do it tomorrow……

Yeah, you go.  You go now.  If possible, I’d like to come watch.  87 degrees, slight wind, no clouds, low humidity.  Now, get a mile high (Prescott is a mile high) and forget your sunscreen (I was in a hurry).  Blend in with the guests by not wearing your Tilley hat and really burn your face for 3 hours.  Invite me, I want to see what I looked like.

All kidding aside, Saturday was great.  It was shared with some super cool people.  Not just the Bride & Groom.  Their families were super fun too.  Wonderful.  And they baked out there with me.  Actually, I was the jerk who kept them in the sun too long!

If you have any questions about making war with harsh sun, get in touch.

Tri-Grip shade for a hot groom who is waiting.....

Getting everyone positioned. Sun is at their backs, as it should be.

The bride is coming. Time to make shade!


Comments 1

  1. I didn’t even recognize you Richard! Your not suppose to wear white to a wedding, no matter how hot it is.

Leave a Reply