I don't blog very often about portrait sessions these days...likely because my photographic work has steered me elsewhere and I rarely do them. Yet when previous clients-turned friends recently contacted me and asked if I'd be willing to photograph them for their five year anniversary along Lake Michigan, I dusted off the portable studio strobes and got in my car.
Jonny Pearson and I shot Tony and Bridget's engagement and wedding photos five years ago. Besides being great people in general, these two are a photographer's dream: comfortable in front of a camera, patient, fun and up for anything.
They chose two locations for the shoot: Atwater Beach and the McKinley Marina break-wall, both along Milwaukee's Lake Michigan shoreline. I arrived early at Atwater Park to photograph the crooked docks that jut out into the lake. The docks are frustratingly (albeit it safely) fenced off from the public which meant getting a bit creative with my shooting position. By hanging my camera and tripod on top of the fence I could get a clear view. I fumbled around with my auto focus until it locked on the portion of the dock I wanted, then marked the fence with a Sharpie marker, removed the camera, locked the focal point and added a dark filter so I could I shoot a long exposure and smooth out the water surface before returning my camera to the position I'd marked. It took a few tries but I finally got it right.
Tony and Bridget arrived shortly after I'd photographed the old dock and as always, they were excited, ready to get to work and up for anything. And as if that weren't enough, they brought me a sample pack of beer from their new home in Nebraska.
The weather earlier that day had been miserable: high winds, overcast and showers. I'd almost called to cancel the shoot but by the time I was loading up for the trip to Milwaukee, things had started to make a change for the better. As we headed to the beach for our first images, we all knew it was going to be a beautiful night. We shot at Atwater for about an hour then headed to the break-wall and as the sun lowered, the sky became smeared with beautiful reddish-purple hues and the rising moon began to shine.
Capturing the moon behind the two required a couple of techniques. First, I positioned a remotely-triggered strobe unit close to them, just out of frame. Then I attached a long telephoto lens to my camera (which allowed me to show the moon as more than a dot in the sky) and hiked back to shoot them from quite a distance away. When the image was exposed correctly, I quickly shifted my focal point and exposure to the moon so I could bring back the detail of it during processing. At the beach, I created my own subtle sunlight using the same strobe unit positioned low and angled slightly upward, neatly hidden from view behind Bridget. While the image is meteorlogically incorrect (putting the sun low in the sky at dusk in the east) the effect was perfect and everyone was happy with the outcome.
Our final scene of the night (Bridget and Tony against the backdrop of the Milwaukee skyline) required a much shorter lens (50 mm) and some tricky climbing on the break-wall's rocks to get in position. We got what we needed and walked back to the parking lot as the boats returned to their safe harbor for the night.
I've broken photographic convention over the past decade or so. Most successful photographers will insist that you find your niche and stick to it, practicing until it's perfected. It's sound advice to be sure...and advice that I haven't followed. I shoot underwater, aerials, celestial scenes, High Dynamic Range, and even portraits. I haven't perfected any of them but there's one thing I can say without doubt: I've learned from all of them. And techniques from each discipline have found their way into others. Portrait lighting for example has been a great benefit for me when lighting my subjects underwater. There's always something to take away from any kind of shoot.
A warm thank you to Bridget and Tony for trusting me to capture their evening together. I hope your trip back to Milwaukee was a memorable one and I look forward to working with you again.