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Tips & Tricks

4 Tips to Make the Most of a Messy Location

By Pye Jirsa on August 15th 2017

Imagine if you will walking into a bride’s hotel room on the morning of her wedding so that you can photograph the bride as she prepares for the big day. You’d likely find a makeup artist and a hairstylist, each standing beside busy stations stacked with gear, as well as bags, suitcases, and a bunch of other objects covering the floor and furniture. Add in the bridal party and family members, and it gets pretty crowded and messy.

Before any shoot, it is important to assess our scene before we begin taking pictures so that we can make necessary adjustments; otherwise, the overall production value of our images will diminish. Because they often take place in cramped, messy spaces like the room described above, bridal prep sessions offer a great example to illustrate this point. You can learn more about how we cover bridal prep in our Photographing the Bride workshop.

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Problem: MESSY ROOMS DISTRACT FROM THE SUBJECT

While some may argue that it is better to capture bridal prep and similar moments in a photojournalistic style without interfering with the action, it is important to consider the production value of the images you are capturing. Messy hotel rooms are full of distracting elements, and these details, if overlooked, can draw focus away from your intended subject. Shooting in a photojournalistic style doesn’t mean that you cannot direct or control any of the elements in the shot.

[RELATED: How to Transform a Boring Office Park into a Piece of Art]

Solution: LIMIT EXPOSURE

Beyond cleaning up as much as possible or asking the hotel to reset the room (if that is an option), there are ways to creatively conceal messy scenes using foreground and lighting. By making small adjustments, we can create drama and increase the production value of the images.

Here is a list of gear you may need to help hide the mess:

LIGHTING GEAR:

NICE-TO-HAVE LIGHTING GEAR:

SPECIAL EFFECTS ACCESsORIES

Click right in the box below to see a behind-the-scenes video:

A post shared by SLR Lounge (@slrlounge) on

Here is how to make the most of a messy location in 4 easy steps:

STEP 1: POSITION the SUBJECT

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100MM Macro, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO 800

Always be respectful of the makeup artist (MUA) when re-positioning the bride for prep shots; they also need to do their job to make sure the bride looks her best.

By this point, you should know if the bride has a preferred side; if so, place her so that you can capture that side. Include the MUA to tell more of the complete story.

STEP 2: DIAL IN AMBIENT EXPOSURE

Adjust your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to dial in your desired ambient exposure. Depending on the condition and style of the room, you may want to keep and reveal more or fewer details. The darker the ambient in relation to the brightness of your subject, the more dramatic the mood of the image.

STEP 3: POSITION FLASH with grid AT A FLATTERING ANGLE

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100MM Macro, f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 200

Place a grid on your flash to maximize light control, and position the flash so that the light direction and angle is flattering for your subject. In order to avoid mixed lighting, either turn off the other lights in the room or position the subject so that the lights don’t spill onto the subject.

[REWIND: 3 Primary Subject Positions Relative to Your Key Light Source]

STEP 4: USE FOREGROUND or effects TO CONCEAL

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50MM, f/1.4, 1/200, ISO 100

Foreground objects, such as the bags, bottles, and plants you may find on a table can be used to block out distracting elements in the room. What’s better than using messy objects to conceal other messy objects? When foreground objects are limited, you can use special effects like LED string lights, prisms, and mirrors to add interest while concealing unwanted elements.

CONCLUSION

Psychological scientist, Dr. Kathleen Vohs, found in a recent study, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.” From this, we can infer that certain challenges — like photographing subjects in messy rooms — tend to inspire people to think more creatively. Let’s be sure that we, too, rise to the challenge and capture incredible, creative images!

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To learn more about producing high-quality bridal images, check out some of our wedding workshops like Photographing the Bride, and our newest workshop, Photographing the Ceremony. As a Premium Member, you can enjoy new workshops before they’re released to the general public, and you can stream any of our other gold standard workshops at any time.

About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Hana Wong

    You are so awesome!Thank you so much!!I will try it!!

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  2. Subhankar Barai

    Great article. 

    Some other special effect items that I use are mirrors and copper pipes. Here’s an example with copper pipe. This hotel room was fully lighted up with sunlight which I killed first.

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