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First Dance

Lesson 48 from: 30 Days of Wedding Photography

Susan Stripling

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Lesson Info

48. First Dance

Next Lesson: Wedding Toasts


Class Trailer

Day 1




Evolution of Susan's Style


Branding and Identity


Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned


Day 2


Introduction to Gear & Equipment


Lenses Part 1


Lenses Part 2




Day 3


Seeing the Scene


Seeing the Scene Q&A


Rhythm and Repetition


Leading Lines and Rule of Thirds


Rule of Odds and Double Exposures


Day 4


Intro to Business


Day 5


Financing Your Business


Day 6


Q&A Days 1-4


Day 7


Pricing Calculator


Day 8


Package Pricing


Day 9




Day 10


Vendor Relationships & Referrals


Day 11


Marketing w Social Media


Day 12


Booking the Client


Day 13


The Pricing Conversation


Day 14


Turn A Call Into a Meeting


Day 15


In Person Meeting


Day 16


Wedding Planning


Day 17


Actual Client Pre Wedding Sit Down


Day 18


Engagement Session Details


Day 19


Engagement Session On Location


Day 20


Wedding Details & Tips


Day 21


Detail Photos Reviewed


Day 22


Bridal Preparation


Day 23


Bridal Preparation Photo Review


Day 24


Bridal Prep - What If Scenarios


Day 25


Q&A Days 5-11


Day 26


First Look Demo


Day 27


First Look Examples


Day 28


Portraits of the Bride


Day 29


Portraits of the Bride and Groom


Family Portraits Demo


Family Formal Examples


Wedding Ceremony Demo


Day 30


Wedding Ceremony Examples


Different Traditions and Faiths


Wedding Cocktail Hour and Reception Room Demo


Wedding Cocktail Hour and Reception Room Examples


Wedding Introductions


First Dance


Wedding Toasts


Parent Dances


Wedding Party


Reception Events


Nighttime Portraits


Nighttime Portraits with Found Light


Post Wedding Session Demo


Post Wedding Session Critique


Wedding Day Difficulties


Post Workflow - Backing Up Folder Structure


Post Workflow - Culling Shots


Post Workflow - Outsourcing


Q&A Days 12-23


Post Workflow - Gear


Post Workflow - Lightroom Editing


Managing Your Studio


Post Wedding Marketing


Client Care


Pricing for Add-Ons


The Album Process


Balancing Your Business with Life


Post Wedding Problems


Parent Complaints


Unhappy Customers


Working with an Assistant


Assistant Q&A


Lighting with an Assistant


Q&A Days 24-30


Lesson Info

First Dance

Let's talk about the first dances and let's talk once again about the gear now you might be taking a look at this and you might be saying hold on just a second this is exactly the same slide that you showed me when we were talking about introductions just kind of has a different picture at the top and you would be absolutely right this is the same slide that I showed you when we were talking about introductions and there's a very good reason for it it's because I'm using the exact same lighting set up the exact same camera and linds set up and the exact same approach as I do an introduction defore with the seventy two, two hundred and the off camera flash which I've talked about multiple times my assistant with the flash in the model pod by d three us with twenty four to seventy and the on camera flash now my goal is to photograph the entire first dance with that defore with the seventy two, two hundred however, as with the introduction sanders standing right there with the d three s w...

ith the twenty four to seventy in case I need it, you never know it can't hurt to be prepared so immediately after blair and jeremy intrude into their wedding reception they went straight into their first dance and this is pretty much exactly how it went down it was a very short first dance with the first dance could be kind of infuriating and again it's very helpful to know things about the wedding so that you know whether their first dance is going to be thirty seconds long or four minutes long whether they're going to invite people in to join them on the floor for the first dance like halfway through now everybody join the bride and groom or whether they're going you know, tough it on out on their own it's important to know whether they had it professionally choreographed for them have they been taking dance lessons? Are they going to do a great dip at the end so that you can kind of see that coming? These are important things to know that's not saying that I can't shoot a first dance if I don't know these things but it helps me not walk into it completely blind what's going on here if you look at it hard enough you can pretty much tell me exactly where the off camera flash is coming from it's coming from off camera left you can tell because it's coming through bypassing blair's face and hitting jeremy right on the face we're at probably about sixteenth power here midway between eight and sixteen because the dance for so small because the space is so limited sandra is having the stand much closer to the bride and groom that I would normally have her stand on a wedding day regardless of whether the dance where is big or small she's always standing on the side of the dance floor, she doesn't come out on the dance floor. I'm out there and I'm moving around one of us is enough! We don't need two of us out there distracting people so she's on the edge of the dance floor near the side of the crowd she stays in one place and on lee moves if I tell her to this takes away any confusion of she's trying to move she's trying to second guess what I'm doing, I'm trying to convey what I'm trying to do but that's not really working out, she knows to stay unless I indicate that I need her to move most of the time when I'm shooting the first dance, this wedding is a bit of an exception. I'm going to shoot towards the crowd instead of towards the band, the reason being that every single person sitting out there watching the bride and groom doomed their first dance is important to them. It's a guest. We've got reactions in the background if I shoot towards the bandits a bunch people they don't know, so I'll shoot towards the grouping if we're here in a reception space right now and the band is back here. And here is the dance floor right here, and the guests were sitting around out there if I'm here shooting out that way. See this flower arrangement right here? Sandra is the flower arrangement and the bridegroom are my water glass. So I put her out towards the corner of the dance floor, aiming back towards it so that I know that I'm going to get light coming from that direction every single time. Now I might have just lost some of you. Some of you might look at this and be like, this is way too complicated. I can't possibly do this, but I abs salute. We assure you that you can. If I can do this, you can do this. But as I was talking about the other day with off camera flash for family formals, if I find out that you try this for the very first time at a wedding, I'm gonna come over to your house and I'm gonna smack you because that's not how we do this. You need to practice this at home. You need to practice this with friends. You need to force your kids to dance around the living room or put a teddy bear on a chair or whatever it takes, and you need to practice this on your own before you take this to a wedding and doing do it on a paying clients time and on their dime, attempting something experimental like this at a wedding without knowing what you're doing is disrespectful. There is nothing stopping you from practicing this at home, so give it a try if you don't get it right away, which I definitely didn't get it right away, practice practice and practice again soon you'll be comfortable enough to take it to an event, and then soon you'll be so comfortable that it absolutely become second nature to you. So what's happening here. I met eightieth of a second, as we've talked before, slow enough to let in some ambient light fast enough to freeze the subjects, even with off camera flash. I've dropped down from f ford f three point five to knock out a little bit more of my background. I'm shooting with the seventy two, two hundred, but because I'm in a small space, I'm only able to really get to one hundred five millimeters on an esso sixteen hundred because that work as in tandem really well with my shutter speed toe, let in my ambient light, same thing, same setup, same scene blair spun around to the other side, you'll notice that. All of my settings where the exact same but I'm a little bit of a mistake here and that I've moved a little bit too much and sander got a little distracted and swayed a little bit too much and we've got a burst of light coming from the top left from the flash I do my best to keep my off camera flash out of the range of my linds because I think it's distracting it's a little frustrating if I were putting this in their album I would either darken it down or crop it out but if I were putting in the album I'd also good in town on some of those exit signs but that is neither here nor there it's showing you exactly where the light's coming from you absolutely cannot miss it in this frame but we improved it she backed off a little bit I moved a little bit jeremy spun back around to the other side and there we go and their dance was over it was thirty seconds quick and done off we go back into the party now let's talk about some other weddings and let's talk about the approach to the first dance what I normally do if the first dance is going to be short or long the first thing I'm going to try to do is get a nice clean picture of the dancing because you have no idea where it's going I want tohave, my assistant standing pretty close to me so that I can emulate the look of the on camera flash. I can get a really good clean exposure of both the bride and the groom before I start trying something more experimental now with blair and jeremy the wedding was the dance was happening so fast they literally walked in and went right into their dance. And there wasn't what's happening here with christine and michael, which was a brief second in between the introductions when they kind of composed themselves on the dance floor for a minute before they start dancing. They just walked in and went right into their dance. I told sandra when we were working with the introductions for blair and jeremy that while she was off to my camera right during the introductions, the second the introductions were over and they started dancing, I wanted her to move to the opposite side of the dance floor so she need to pick up and get going in this instance with christine and michael because we knew that they were coming in and going into a first dance, she started off standing pretty close next to me, kind of like we were doing for the introductions. She was in the exact same spot she'd been when they introduced in, so I was able to get a nice, clean, well exposed picture right before they started dancing same here with amy at her wedding flashes right next to me nice clear, simple picture of them dancing same thing here before we attempt anything else because whether it's thirty seconds or two minutes you don't really know how it's going to go down you don't know if they're good dancers you know if there's gonna be a lot of spinning you don't know if they're gonna be really awkward you don't know if they're going to do that terrible thing that I really hate which is where they dance they put their arms around each other's necks and then they smashed their faces together and a second they're crushed together like that you lose any opportunity that you have to do any sort of dimensional lighting because all you can see is like facemash to face and you can't do dimensional lighting cause there's no room to get a dimension in their eye all star also drives me crazy when she puts her arms around his neck and she put her head on his shoulder because then you've lost her then there's no way to get any expression whatsoever off of her face because it's busy being buried in his neck now I'm not going to tell my clients how to dance I'm not going to step in I'm not going to be like hi I understand you're having your first dance but can you pick your head up because it's my job to be able to document what's happening, but we're always going to start off with something nice and clean and easy. This is one of those instances that I was talking to you about before, where you've got a lot of windows in the room and the lights coming in from exactly the right way. If you look up off camera right here, you can see where the light's coming in through the window and it's hitting sarah and ryan in the exact same way that I would have my off camera flash hitting them where I using off camera flash. So once I've got those safe pictures done, once I've got two or three frames that are just well exposed and well lit and you can see their faces, then I can start experimenting, then I can work with the off camera flash in the way that I want to and hope that I can get something a little bit more interesting. Not every venue is like the marion in sentiments in new jersey, with the world's most polished floor that actually doubles as a fantastic reflector. I saw this happening dropped to the floor in an instant pretty sure the guests thought I was crazy, but it looked really cool now where is sandra? You might ask, you can't really see the shadows on the ground because I am on the ground myself. But if you take a look at the bride's back and this gentleman's face, you can tell that it is coming from off camera left, but ahead of them instead of behind them. She's not over on the other side of them aiming the light that way. If she were, you would be able to see her in the frame because this is ah, wider angle shot. You can tell that she's coming from off camera left more towards the front. This you can tell exactly where she's coming from. I was in kind of a midway between dropping down to the ground and trying to put this light right behind brice's head, but I hadn't made it quite there yet. You've got the light from my flash popping in. I included this so that you could see exactly where it was coming from. It's a little behind its a little to the side, and you could see how it's wrapping around his face and illuminating his face. Same thing here you can see exactly where the light's coming from. How it's coming from off camera, right hitting kate right in the face, ah, hundredth of a second, fast enough to freeze them low enough to bring up some of that ambient light. From the up lights in the room f four everything's in focus eighty six millimeters some doing the best that I can with my seventy two two hundred on a smaller dance floor and so one thousand same thing exact same settings is the shot before eightieth of a second you know fyi for you know why two hundred millimeters because duh and sixteen hundred on my s o in this instance I actually am shooting into the band sometimes I break my own rules at two hundred millimeters with a wide dance floor and I was able to get all the way to the far side I really liked the graphic element of the people in the band behind her and it is pretty obvious where are flash which has said it eighth power is coming from you khun see how it's coming from off camera left you can see exactly where it's at the crystal space now if this is something that you're struggling with if getting the light to hit your client in the face and the exact right way is something that you're having problems with practice, grab your best friend and her husband or your best friend and his wife and get them to hang out with you and spin around you in the middle of your living room put your light on a light stand and practice this is infuriating this is infuriating to me I can't control it I can't tell them to move faster, I can't tell him to slow down, I can't tell them to please god spin when they just stand in one place like this and they don't go around at all, I can tell them to pick their head up, I can't tell them to separate out, I can't tell them to smile, I can't tell them to stop covering their face with their hand when they're crying I have no control over this part of the day whatsoever all I can do is be ready and do I miss these shots? Of course I missed the shot, I'm not foolproof, I mean, I'm good at this because I've been doing this for a while and because I've been practicing and because I understand it, but do I screw up? Of course I d'oh do I think that the brides in exactly the right spot my fire only to find off find out that she's a couple of inches off and I've missed her face? Of course, ideo what do I do in that instance? Well, I'll hold my breath, I take a break, I let her spin a little bit further and shoot it again he just keeps doing it if you don't get discouraged, if you try this and you totally blow it, which you probably will, which I did I had a really hard time. It took me about six months to get comfortable with this before I took it to a wedding. My husband taught me how to use light like this. I took what he taught me and added it to what I learned from the one light workshop which I went to, which was completely revolutionary. I put those two things together. I put them with the way I like to use my lenses. I put them with the aesthetic that I wanted. My pictures tow have I put it with the way I wanted my pictures to feel. So I took all of my inspiration. I took all of my teachings. We all learn from each other. There's nothing new under the sun. If there is something new and wedding photography, I would love to see it because I don't know what it is. I put all of those things together, and then I still had to hone that. I still had to work on it. I did practice with my kids. I went to a wedding with my husband and I watched him do it. Now some of you might be sitting there saying okay, well, great, you married? The guy that taught you how to do this, which do you know, that's kind of helpful, but that doesn't mean that you can't go to a workshop. Cliff teaches workshops, he can teach you how to do this. I'm teaching you how to do this right now, it's up to you to take the knowledge that you have take it home and start working with it. And if you get stuck, don't quit, do it again and do it again and do it again. That's why I write the quick sheets that's, right, a right the think books that's why I have a whole section of my think books dedicated to introductions, first dances and parent dances that's why there are diagrams in those books to help you with this so that you're not out there stumbling for months, trying to figure out how to do it yourself, so that you're armed with a basic idea of settings, a basic idea of what to set your flash on, and then you go out and make it your own indifferent back to pictures, same things over and over and over again is you see these, you see the consistency in the settings, you see the consistency in the quality and the angle of the light, you see the consistency in the shutter speeds that I'm using the f stops that I'm selecting that my focal lengths are varying wildly depending on the room that I'm in depending on how big the dance floor is depending on how far back I can get from my clients so you could see in this image that we just passed through of ashley and zack sweating I'm at seventy millimeters the only way I could have gotten farther than that was to literally sit on somebody's lap at one of the tables and while I love my clients and I like to think they like me too I'm not going to go climbing in their guests laps just to make a better photograph however chiara and peter had a larger room for their reception they had a bigger dance floor I was able to get further back now I'm not trying to tell you that this picture is better than the picture before it's just different and I'm utilizing all of the focal lengths that I have to make it effective sometimes I am blessed with a little bit more time and the ability to run around like an insane person leah and brian their first dance was a good long one they didn't smash their faces together they interacted she looked at him it was fantastic and there was a balcony so midway through the first dance when I knew that I had all of the images that I needed sandra still down on the dance floor her light is still coming from the same direction that it was coming from the entire time. I didn't change a single thing about the settings on my camera because I'm shooting in manual because my flashes on manual I can go two feet away from them or ten feet away from them. As long as my radio's khun still talk to each other, the exposure is going to be consistent. So I took off. I ran up the stairs, went up into the balcony and shot down. Same thing at sylvie's wedding. The light is coming from the exact same direction that it was coming from. When I was on the ground, I was able to just get up on a staircase that was going up the side of the room and shoot into it. The only thing that I changed when I went up on the staircase was I had sandra turned down the power of the light. I wanted to focus on sylvie and only on sylvie. And if the flash were on quarter power or eight power, it would have really lit up all of the people around her. So I had her turn the power of the flash down. I had her angle it more directly at the bride that meant I had to raise my s o. To kant to compensate for that and I went from a ford f two point eight so that sylvie became the sole focus of the image and everything else with secondary sometimes when we're shooting the first dance, if luck and time permitted, and actually able to use the flash in different ways, so instead of having her stand right next to me so that the light looks like it's coming from where my camera is or having her make the triangle with me so the lights coming at an angle, I will make a hand gesture that looks really professionally a little bit like this I wait she's always making eye contact with me, she's always looking directly at me during the first dance, she's not watching the dance, she's not watching what's happening she's watching me because she's to see if I'm willing to signal her to move she's going needs to see if I'm going to signal her to raise or lower the power on the flash, and she just needs to be conscious of where I am if I've gotten the first thing, which is nice clean pictures of people dancing, if I've gotten a second thing, which is some really nice sidelight of people dancing, then I'm gonna try to put the light directly behind their heads and I look at her and I do like that. What that means to her is it means to take the flash which is angled like this and pop it so it's straight on dead straight on aimed right adam she then telescopes the mono pod back down and she crouches down on the ground so that the light is coming from probably hip height on the bride and groom. I need to wait until the bride and groom have spun so that they're blocking her in this image she is directly behind the bride and groom. The reason why I had her drop down is first of all because I don't want to see her and second of all, because the flash needs to come from a lower height to put that light around them like that I'm still in eighty eighth of a second I haven't changed that I'm still a three point two I changed from f four to three point two so that the focus went a little bit more towards the bride and groom I'm still at seventy millimeters and still it s oh eight hundred. The only difference between this and anything else that I've done so far is that the light is coming from directly behind my subjects instead of next to me or to the side like so and like so very simple, very easy does it take practice? Yes does it take coordination between you and your assistant guess does it take conscious thought to all of your settings as well as where your assistant is and where the clients are and where you are yes but when it works it's beautiful so why not try it? Why not practice it? Why not see if that's something that you can add to your arsenal of tips and tricks that you bring to the first stands now sometimes you just get really, really, really lucky and this is something I want to add these in so that you'll be conscious if this happens to you we talked about the introductions that sometimes you're blessed with a situation where you have windows where you have natural light or there's light in the room that will emulate what you would be doing with your flash and you're able to use that in a different way if you go into the space and you're always just trying to assess what's my flash gonna do how am I going to turn my flash on? What are my settings going to be and you don't really look at the space don't open your eyes to other possibilities you might miss something like the fact that the light on jenna's dance floor was so club like it was so interesting that burst of light that you see from all the way over there that's not my assistant's light that's the light in the room I was actually able to shoot on aperture priority at a hundredth of a second at two point eight at s o sixty four hundred and utilize that light there's no additional flash going on at this wedding here. I mean this is this is like cheating. This is that ash for two state in new jersey what you're seeing off camera right is not the light from my assistant is actually the light from the windows in the room coming in on the space this is the bride and the groom. They were practising their first dance before anybody came into the space. I was shooting the reception room when this happened I was able to see this happening. I was ableto wait for him to hit in exactly the right spot. This is not opposed. This is not set up. This is just a knowledge of the light in the room and understanding how to use it. But it doesn't always is work that way and sometimes you kind of screw it up. You can see where my flash is coming from on the left. This is one of the things that I'm constantly trying to improve on myself. I tend to get distracted I tend to be looking at the clients and the interaction between the two of them and I tend to not notice that sandra maybe got a little tired and wandered a foot off to the right or I wasn't paying any attention or got bumped by a guest and moved over a little bit, and I have lost focus on where she is, but a lot of times I will try to work the scene in multiple different ways. I'll try to shoot it horizontally. I'll try to shoot it in vertically and I'll try to shoot it a tight vertical so you can see in this situation the only thing that changed was I made a slight tweak with my eyes so on I was able to go from one hundred twenty millimeters to one hundred eighty millimeters when I zoomed in on them dancing and again, lucky coincidences. This is at the plaza, those air not lights that I set up in the room, those air lights that were set up to illuminate the decor, and I was able to use them to my benefit when photographing the dancing and more than anything more than the technical things. Because the technical things are important, you need to know your shutter speeds. You need to know what the different shutter speeds are going to do with the ambient light in the room. You need to know your f stop, you need to know why you're choosing it and what it's doing. You need be conscious of your focal length you need to be conscious of your s o u need toe work with your assistant to know exactly where she needs to be but once all of that is innate once you stop thinking about your settings when you could just go out there and perform then you're looking for moments then you're looking for that great second that kim's whole face lights up at the end of their first dance you're looking at the tears you're looking at the laughter you can look past the technical and see what's happening in front of you so we've covered an extraordinary amount of things today we've learned how to shoot introductions we've learned where to put your assistant we've learned howto light it we've learned what you dear you're selecting and lindsay's you're using and why we've talked all the way through the first dance and all of the different ways that it can happen in all of the different ways that you can focus on it and documented thank you so much for sitting here with me and listening to me talk about introductions and first dance is for an entire hour hopefully something that I've taught you today will help elevate the way you shoot these situations maybe you've never considered off camera flash and this will help you have a good place to get started and get going and stick with it because the results are really really worthwhile. Thank you so much for being with me today, and I'll see you guys tomorrow.

Class Materials

bonus material

Quicksheet Inside Guide (one large PDF file)
Quicksheet Inside Guide (zip file of individual PDF pages)
Pricing Calculator

Ratings and Reviews

Misty Angel

oh Susan, you are AWESOME!! I am not a wedding photographer (despite dipping my toe in this intimidating pool for one of my dearest friends), I shoot all forms of portraits and love sports too! Your '30-Days' has been the single most influential and educational moments since I started my venture into photography in 2009! THANK YOU! Your honesty, directness, bluntness, humor and vulnerability makes these 30-Days the most worthwhile time spent away from actual shooting; while simultaneously is the most inspirational motivator to push you out there to practice these ideas/techniques! #SShostestwiththemostest You raise the bar in this industry, not just with wedding photographers, but with all genres of photography! I wanted this course to learn about shooting and thought, great... I'll get a little bit of the business side too... OMG! I got it ALL! I'm dying! What an awesome investment in myself, my business and in YOU! PLEASE keep doing what you are doing! I love your new Dynamic Range, I feel that it is a wonderful extension of the work you do with Creative Live! I watch you EVERY DAY, every morning... I know that I continue absorbing your wisdom through repetition! I don't want to be you, I want to rise to your level! So thank you for the inspiration, motivation and aspiration! Keep on being REAL, its what we love about you! We embrace your Chanel meets Alexander McQueen-ness! :) Thank you for stepping into this educational space and providing us with your lessons learned so we can avoid the negative-time investment making mistakes... we are drinking your virtual lemonade!! HA! Like the others, whatever wisdom you offer in this medium, I will be jumping at the opportunity to learn from you! THANK YOU!


All the positive reviews say it all. When Susan took on the challenge of teaching this course it must of looked like attempting to climb Mount Everest...and she accomplished just that. Susan is a detailed, well-organized photographer and this clearly comes out in her teaching. Using repetition, clear instructions, a logical and well laid out presentation, she answers most any question you might have when it comes to wedding photography. I felt like I was having a private consultation when watching the course. She is real, honest, tactful, funny, and a gift to the photography community. Finally, her photography is professional and inspiring. Thank you Susan for the tremendous amount of work that you put into making this an outstanding Creative Live course for us all.


Wow. What a super, comprehensive, entertaining, informative course. Well done. I've taking a lot of photography classes and this one is definitely top of the list. Susan Stripling was very well prepared (and great job by the CreativeLive Team too). Terrific course. Susan shared so much. Thank you! P.S. Love the CL boot camp courses.

Student Work