Greg & Megan's Wedding Portrait at The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix Arizona
Today I'm continuing a new series on my blog for photographers call "Behind the Image." In addition to the topics that I get questions about and address on my F.A.Q.s posts, I often get asked about what went into creating specific images. As you know, I love to share info and so that's exactly what I'm going to do in this series. So as you browse through my blog, if an image catches your eye, feel free to ask me to feature it in an upcoming "Behind the Image" post.

Today's image comes from the wedding day of Greg & Megan in February. This shot was taken at the Desert Botanical Gardens during the bride & groom's portrait time.

I love the effect that flare can have on an image. This one worked out quite nicely and gave the image a really dreamy feel that I love. There's a number of ways to shoot flare but I'm just going to talk today about what I did to create this particular image both in camera and in post-processing.

In Camera:

This image was shot in RAW with my Canon 5D, on manual, hand held, with a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 lens, at a focal length of 20mm, f22, 1/50 of a second & ISO 640.

Sometimes I shoot flare with a wide open aperture for a different effect (generally when I'm shooting tighter shots with a longer focal length) but in this instance I wanted to have definition in the sun rays that streamed down over the building and the couple. The KEY to getting the sun defined as a star shape and being able to see the rays of light is the aperture setting. You need to close down your aperture as small as possible. It was a bright day and in order to be able to shoot at f22 I had to raise my ISO to 640.

You'll notice that I used the building to block part of the sun. If I didn't do so the entire frame would be obscured by sun flare. It's useful to use a building, tree, or the subject's body to block some of the flare so you get just the right amount to create the desired effect. Two more keys to shooting flare are that you have to take a lot of shots and move around the subject. I'm sure Greg & Megan wondered if I had sampled the cocktails as I squatted to get the building to cover part of the sun then moved left and right to take various shots to make sure the colored sun spots didn't land on their faces. I spent longer in this setting than I normally do for a portrait because it's hard to tell what you're getting when shooting with the sun in your eyes. What you see through the viewfinder at the time isn't necessarily what you're going to see when you look at the image later. That's why I take a lot of frames and move around the subject quite a bit when shooting flare.

As far as posing goes, all I asked Greg and Megan to do was to stand with a little distance between them and hold hands. I took many other shots that were decent of them looking at each other but I love this specific instant when Greg looked up and smiled and Megan looked down at their hands. It's so romantic. The reason they look so natural doing it is because it WAS natural for them. I didn't direct them to look a certain way. Sometimes you have to put a couple in a specific setting and give them a little direction then just wait. The money shot usually happens after they have hung out there for a bit and start to forget that you're there. So spending extra time here worked out for me in two ways--I got the flare just right and caught a great moment.

When taking this shot I relied on my in-camera meter for exposure and this is the image straight out of camera:
Sun flare shots tend to be VERY washed out straight out of the camera and oftentimes the blacks are not rich. Don't freak out about that. This can all be tweaked in post-processing.


I shoot RAW so I opened the image in Camera RAW and upped the contrast, blacks and recovery siders (to bring a little more detail into the sun flare). This is the result:
Then I converted the image to a .jpg. I opened the .jpg and used Kevin Kubota's Digital Fill Flash action to lighten Greg's face a bit. I love this action as well as Kevin's Smokeless Burn to lighten and darken specific areas of my images. They work like the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop but much more realistically.

Next I used the clone tool in PS to clean up the sensor dust spots that inevitably show up when you close down your aperture-- NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU CLEAN YOUR SENSOR!!! No, actually I use these handy things and they work pretty well. But inevitably you still have a few spots to clean up.

I also used the clone tool to get rid of a couple of the sun spots above their heads that were distracting to me.

Then I ran Kevin Kubota's X-process combo action at about 18%, used magic sharp (also Kevin Kubota) for sharpening and WA-LA!
I had NO idea I could talk at such lengths about one single image. Craziness! Well, if you've made it this far, let me know in the comments. I don't want to keep doing these posts if they're only causing my readers to clean up drool off their keyboards once they wake up from a nice nap :).
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