Scouting for the Creative Portrait
And so scouting is a huge part of what we do. When we travel for weddings, we'll arrive two days usually ahead of time, and really spend time going around the venue, where they're gonna be getting married, and also figuring out where we're gonna be doing the portraits. Even when it's a local wedding, we still wanna get familiar with everything. Really have an action plan. Being prepared just makes such a difference in the final results.
So there are a few different ways that we scout. We scout online, on travel websites. We're basically going at it as if we're tourists. Okay, where are the best views, or where are the charming streets? Usually where the tourists wanna go is where they're gonna get that authentic feel of the place, and that's maybe where, from a photography point of view, we can also get an authentic feel of the place. So, it's imperfect in that sometimes it's also where all the crowds are, and there's a lot of factors there. But it gives us at least a sense, so we're...
not going into it, and it's like, oh you guys didn't hear about this one super typical location that has the best view? And there we're trying to find our own versions of things, but that actually don't look that good. So that's where the preparation comes in. We'll wanna check it out when we get there for sure, but having an idea of it ahead of time through online scouting, is where we wanna start.
Then on location, so when we arrive to the location, we'll spend time, walk around, really figure out where the good spots are, how the light interacts with the city, or with the landscape. We wanna know all of those things once we're on location for the wedding. And then in the moment scouting. So as we're doing the photos with the bride and groom, we're always looking around and seeing what else there is that we could use for the photos. So really three different levels of scouting. This is a good example of online scouting ahead of time. Like Davina was saying, we were on a travel website, printing out where the best view spots are of Lisbon in Portugal. And this is where everybody, where all of the tourists go. Now, where this photo was taken is where all of the tourists go, but there is a restaurant even higher, which gives you an even higher vantage point. And we saw that, and we wanted to go up and see what that looked like. There's a very clear sign that says no tourists, no photos, because everybody probably just wants to go higher and take more photos. And we're like, ah, but the photo would be so much better if we could just get a little bit higher. So on our scouting day, we didn't really ask for anything from the restaurant, because we knew that when we come back with the bride and groom, we're like, look, there's the bride and groom right there. You know our chances of actually getting up there would probably be a little bit different.
Brides open doors.
Literally. (laughter) And so this is the view from the restaurant, just a little bit higher. Again, we timed it with the right time of day. So sunset, make sure that we still have a lot of light on the town itself. But for the couple, we used an off camera flash to light them. Then in the moment scouting, or kind of slightly ahead of time. This is the morning of the wedding. We're just going around. It was a tricky location to do portraits in, but they didn't have a day after session. They were not interested in it at all. Portraits was not something that they were into. So we had to respect that. It happens sometimes, and that's fine. So, we're like okay, how can we knock out just a few portraits? We're gonna do our safe stuff, but how can we try to find an opening, or something more creative? So it's just that visual curiosity. What happens if I expose for the highlights? Well, we have one opening in that bottom corner, that matches the exposure of the sky. So, here I am again standing in. It's a bit of a trend. You can see there's a highlight on the lower half of my body. So, not ideal time of day. We'd prefer it to be completely in a silhouette. There's my green jumpsuit again, that you'll see me in all the time.
But then as the light changed, and we got even harsher shadows on the building, well that was really perfect for us to execute the portrait with the bride and groom. The exposure made it so that the other parts of the staircase was a lot darker, and then we darkened it even further in post production. So again, just starts with that curiosity. Oh, here's a highlight. Here's some shadows. How do they interact with one another, and then try to really bring it all together.
This is in Mexico again. We've been to Mexico so many times on this journey together. But this is the first time we went. It starts with the shadows, and the Papel Picado in the sky was very interesting, but the shadows is really what interested us. So this is our scouting photo. This is at night, so the good thing is at night, things don't change that much. It's actually relief to me when the sun goes down, because I'm like, okay well nothing's gonna change for the next eight hours or whatever. So from here on out, the light is not a factor.
Yeah, sunsets actually come with so much pressure. They go so fast. It's fading on you, and you just know, your chances of getting a good photo are decreasing by the second. And so it adds all this pressure on you, and you see all these epic photos of couples standing in front of sunsets. So I kind of hate sunsets, just that pressure that comes with it. I resent it now. So we like shooting just after the sun sets, at twilight is really a good time for us. So yeah, scouting ahead of time. We really walked around the town so many times, really trying to find the best little vignettes to incorporate into the photos. And yeah, the Papel Picado, it just says Mexico so well, and so including that in the photos is definitely something that we wanted to do.
It's also right outside their venue, so every time you come in and out of the venue, that's what you see. So I loved the idea of reminding them of that. This is something they'll be very familiar with the week of their wedding. So doing a portrait that incorporates that will be very personal to them.
So this is the first scouting photo, where you just kind of see everything. It's very literal. This is far from the final photo. And just try to make it a little bit more interesting. So isolate the Papel Picado a little bit more. Show a little bit less, all while still understanding what it is. The shadows that's being cast from the street light is really what makes that spot especially interesting. So that's scouting photo. And then this is the final one with the bride and groom. So we ended up cutting out any real Papel Picado, and really just focusing on the shadows. And as the wind was blowing them, it was doing different shapes, and eventually where it made this perfect triangle, is where everything really came together.
While Daniel was working on that, I went for a slightly simpler version of it. So I was like, okay, just straight on and a little bit more straightforward. And then in post, to give it variety, we put that one in black and white. I think ideally, these should have been in this spot, but whatever. I was just second shooting. (laughter)
Yeah, taking advantage of a good situation is always key. When you have something good in front of you, why start over and go to do something else? Really milk it for all it's got. And that allows us to deliver more photos to the couple, so one wider, more environmental photo, and then a closer up that we do in black and white. And on this, there will be other variations in the pose, and variations in color versus black and white, so out of that whole sequence, it might be 10, 12, 15 photos that we can deliver to the bride and groom.
And these two photos actually ended up being part of their album, next to each other. They had selected those.
Mm hm. Okay.
Always a big one for me. So this is a bit of an overpass that had a view down into one of the small little streets in Lisbon. It's very typical of that city, so that's something that we're trying to showcase. In this case, that's a stranger, or maybe me down here, but it is my final photo, so.
Maybe our scouting.
We like, we actually do like to do that. Either one of us will run down, and walk where we would put the couple, or just passers by. And we do that so we get a sense of the scale. Because you know you have this photo without any humans in it, and it can be hard to say how big or small the people are gonna be in it.
So this is the first scouting photo. It's very literal. Showing too much of the sky kind of takes away from it. So, second scouting photo, which is a lot closer to the final image. Really just isolating the architecture. The stronger diagonal lines also make it more visually appealing. So that is the angle that Davina stuck to for the final image.
And this is actually probably a few days in advance.
Or a few days ahead of time. And my family was traveling with us, because our son Max was there, so they were sightseeing, and we were scouting.
You do the same thing, just have two different words for it. They're happy to get to see the sights, and we get to scope things out.
A lot of people ask us, do you have a chance to enjoy yourself, and see the places where you travel to? And the reality is, we do, but while we're scouting. We do all the things that the tourists do, but with a camera in our hand, thinking of where we're gonna do our portraits.
But as photographers, that's the best kind of being a tourist, because you get a souvenir out of it, which is a nice portrait for your portfolio. So I want to maximize these places that I think are beautiful.
Yeah, how often do you travel somewhere, and you think, ah if only I had a couple posing there. Well, we get to do that. So, scouting photo, and this is the final version, which is pretty much the same angle. Just underexpose it a little bit. A little later in the day, so the light is easier to work with. And again, they're being lit up with off camera flash. Or video light, can't quite remember.
I can't remember. But Daniel is in this photo. He's just been removed in post. Because he had to be quite close to them.
In order to have enough light on them. So I couldn't have him out of the frame completely.
Yeah. Here, in terms of posing, like the separation between the two of them is really key. Fills in the frame a little bit more. Just because they are so small in the image, so it's definitely something that we were paying attention to as well. Again, going to that curiosity, this is scouting the same day that we were doing the shoot. We arrived to the location maybe 30 minutes before the bride and groom, and decided to walk around the perimeter of the area where we were gonna be doing the photos. Any kind of opening, any kind of reflection, anything that just piqued our curiosity, is what we would act on. So here it's really just the opening between the trees.
And this couple is probably on a Tinder date or something, because apparently this is a very hot spot for athletic Tinder dates. So people are walking through this a lot. It's a popular hiking path in San Francisco. So, anybody who was passing by, as Daniel said, gave me a sense of scale.
And then when the couple arrived, you could just put them in that spot. So I liked having the light on her dress, because she did have a red dress, which is interesting. But then having the rest of them kind of in a silhouette.
Our day after shoots, or even just any portrait session, it's so structured. We know exactly which photos we're gonna execute where. All while leaving a little bit of room for-
Inspiration in the moment.
Inspiration, exactly, in the moment. But in general, the couple arrives, we're like, okay perfect. We're going there, you're gonna do this. Boom, done. Okay, next spot is there. Boom, done. We like to be super methodical. It makes for a much easier work environment. We're not stressed. We're not trying to figure out exactly what we need to do in the moment. So they're more relaxed, we're more relaxed. Same session. So again, just being curious about something. This tree, isolated against the sky. It's very graphic. There's a good opening to put the couple in. So, the final photo is extremely similar. Just with a little bit more post production, but otherwise it's exactly that. And so for almost all of our portraits, we have a scouting version, and then we have the final photo. Because we take that time to prepare ahead of time, and then execute those same photos with the bride and groom.
It's much less stressful. It's the same idea of anticipations, really, because you're preparing your frame, you're getting a sense for things, and then you're waiting for a moment to happen. Well it's the same idea. You're preparing your frame. You know where you want them to be. And then you're not focused on all of that other stuff. You're not deciding how am I gonna compose this? What lens am I gonna use? Should I be higher or lower? It's tiny, tiny little adjustments, but mostly just in their pose, or in their moment. So then you're really keyed into what they are doing.
Scouting photo once again.
I have so many photos of myself in various places, usually looking quite bored or frustrated. (laughter) I'm posing for the light though.
Yeah, exactly. Scouting allows us also to figure out exactly what the light is gonna look like. So, here it's really coming from above, so we know that the pose that we're gonna have to execute will have to have a little bit more of that looking up feeling. Final photo. We are okay with sacrificing the groom in the light a little bit, but making sure that the bride's head is tilted a little bit to get some of that overhead light. Come on clicker. So, this is really scouting in the moment, as we're walking around with the bride and groom. It starts with just, again, that curiosity, and seeing something that is interesting. Really like the clean wall with the harsh light and the shadow. And so this is the scouting photo. Then as people, as life just kind of happened in front of the frame, we realized that there were shadows against that harsh light in the background. So it gave us the idea to swap them. Let's put the couple in the silhouette in that shadow, and let the life happen in the sunlight. And really try to juxtapose those two together. So then that's exactly what we did. Put them in the shadow, and then let people walk in and out of the frame in that harsh sunlight. And we stayed there for a solid 10, 15 minutes. And we explained to the bride and groom exactly what we were doing, just so that they wouldn't get frustrated, and didn't wonder if they were doing something wrong. That communication in the moment is so important, because it allows them to hold the pose. We would also even tell them, it's okay, relax right now. And then we would see from afar that something good was about to happen. Then like, okay guys, come back in the pose, and then get ready to click all the way through.
And this also came from communication ahead of time. We did discuss this. What do you love about the location? They loved the streets. They loved the people. And they loved, yeah the street life of Antigua. So we're like, okay, we're gonna ... Let's try to do basically street photography with you in it. And it's hard, because it's gonna take a lot of patience. We don't know what we're gonna find. We don't know who's gonna be walking in and out of the frame. But if you guys are up for that, and this is an adventure that you wanna go on with us, let's do it. It's just gonna take more time, and you're gonna have to be patient. But, they were cool with that. They knew what they were getting themselves into.
So that's one version of the photo. The subject in the background isn't quite clear, so it didn't quite work. But then a few minutes later, little girls ran by. And that's when the photo really, really came together.
So you know, we, in the context of this class, are talking about storytelling. And this photo seems like just an exciting photo for a photographer to get, because it's got silhouette, and highlight, and culture, and little girls, and framing. It's got all this fun stuff going on. But actually, so I spoke to Seth recently, the groom in this photo, and he told me that his mom fell in love with Guatemala when she was there for the wedding, and she goes every year. And they made her a huge canvas of this photo. And it reminds her of the wedding, but also this town that she really loves. So, there's a lot of meaning, even to come out of portraits like this, and not just for the couple. Even for their families. I found that so special.
So this bride, Eliza, she actually has two sisters, and she's the best friend of Sarah, whose wedding we've been featuring on and off in Mexico. So we've been fortunate enough to photograph her sister's wedding, two years ago in Venice Beach in L.A. And I remember, when we were doing their day after session, I thought of this photo. And because I knew how much they valued that kind of image, and so I started looking for shadows against a blank wall as well. But I didn't want to recreate the same photo. So we decided to play around with it in the exact same way, all while creating an image that was a little bit different. So drawing inspiration from past work, and letting it evolve into something else, is something that we do a lot, and sometimes it's not gonna be the next wedding, or the wedding after. It'll be two years later, and another two years later, and another two years later. Just kind of knowing what works for us, and what situations have worked in the past, and just trying to create something new with them. So that's her sister's wedding. And then staying on theme of the shadow against a yellow wall, this is last fall in Hawaii. So very, very different image, but.
Yeah, parking lot. But the image, it draws the inspiration from that other photo. I'm not trying to replicate anything, but I am thinking of other photos that I've done in the past.