Aug 8, 2020
How to take dark and moody wedding photos: a complete guide (apparently this is what i’m supposed to write, but more like my high-school exam output, it’s probably more the “enough to get by, hopefully” guide).
Something i’ve always loved to do is find ways of photographing things in a “moody” way no matter what the scenario. Usually though at a wedding, these sort of images end up representing about 10-15% of what the couple receives, because the “dark and moody” stuff in reality only ever represents a small percentage of a wedding day.
Typically it’s areas like moody preparation rooms, or sometimes indoor receptions with natural light, that sort of thing. Regardless, they’re super fun to make, and nice to celebrate.
Weddings are joyous! Full of fun and confetti! Why would we try and imprint some Tarantino, Wes-Anderson-esque painterly vibes into something supposed to be uplifting? WELL.
What qualifies as a moody feel can be just as uplifting as the bright stuff in it’s own way, and it can channel a whole lot of other ways of connecting to the set of images that we deliver. My job is to generate the widest amount of emotional connection with the images as I can. That means tapping not just into the bright stuff, but also providing some images that nudge our brain into another direction, because all of those moments and moods are present somewhere on a wedding day – and we might as well show them for what they are.
If something feels dark and moody, I want to photograph it that way, and edit it in such a way that the qualities of that feeling are brought out in the best way. If someone tosses charcoal-coloured petals in Golems cave lit by a line of candles, then it’ll be moody. But if theres a bright petal-toss with colours and glory, that should also end up looking as it felt.
In this shot above, two single points of natural light in a bathroom made for a beautiful soft vibe, and the real thrill is making that come alive in the image.
I wanted to use a photo shoot with Dan and Dre as a main example, who flew down from their hometown of Canberra to have a play over a couple of days for their couples shoot, in some of my favourite locations in Victoria (see these other favourite Melbourne wedding photo locations) as an example.
Before we crack on, this thread on Reddit is worth a look, as it hilights a common misunderstanding of what dark and moody is, and how it can be interpreted as a trend, which is a bit of a misnomer that we can say about anything, and kinda implies there’s a “right” or authentic way of making an image. If we go deep into the real esoterics of photography, pretty quickly we discover there is no such thing as authentic capture: not only that, but the rich, hazy, beautiful colours of overexposed Fuji film for example, look nothing like reality: just a (really pleasant) interpretation of it.
So everything is a trend, and everything isn’t: the key is to nail the vibe in a really careful way, sympathetic to point #2 below: we want our folks in the image to love themselves in it.
How our eyes interpret light, differs from the person next to us. How theirs interpret light and mood, differs wildly from insects and other animals. photography is an act of interpretation, not a way of “taking something as it is”.
The images in here mostly use chiaroscuro, and open-shade.
This is the MVP (most valuable player) of the dark and moody vibe. Chiaroscuro is, to put it simply, highly contrasted light and shade. This can be found in the most unlikely of situations. Hot tip – anywhere that you have a room with a small window – the smaller the better – you’ve got yourself an instant kit for Chiaroscuro light.
Expose for the hilights, and you’re good to go.
Keep orange out, and flattering tones in. Per the Reddit thread up above, we should probably be more worried about making our couples look like they’ve swallowed a stick of uranium or a bag of carrots than them being too moody necessarily: this means that flattering tones and flattering light are a higher priority than whether the image is too light or dark per-se.
A great way to stay on top of this is to constantly reference where we got colour tones “right”. And for me, that’s any of either cinema, or great classic photo books with anyone shooting on film.
Calibrating our eyes to the skin tones of what we see on Instagram is a bad, bad idea.
Slim Aarons on the other hand? Holy basted badger-balls.
We want to have full, or nearly-full, black and white point in your image to give us the most room to play with in nailing a moody vibe.
This means that our image has a full range of information in it, that translates to a detailed print. Any adjustments we make to the “s” curve in Photoshop or Lightroom immediately throws away information in the image, so it’s a delicate exercise.
There was a bit of a movement towards really flat shadows some years ago, but my experience with Lightroom these days is that it turns an image to mud, really quick.
By keeping the shadows rich, we can selectively dodge them out later while maintaining a solid black-point that will print out beautifully.
Dark and moody wedding images, if they’re shot in lower-light situations, inherently have a lot less hilights in them. That means the highlights that are there, stick out a little louder than they would otherwise, and can quickly dilute the power of an image.
This means that in order to have a beautifully powerful dark and moody image, we need to exercise a high level of care in spotting our image, and dodging and burning it: you can read about both of those in this post about photo editing.
Spotting is the gentle art of removing unnecessary bits of information in the image – this could be a rogue hi-light or a rogue fly sat perfectly in the middle of someones forehead.
The aim is to clear out unnecessary hi-lights. “If it isn’t lifting it up, it’s bringing it down”.
Gain a wide vocabulary in painterly tones, from the source. My two favourite painters are Jeffrey Smart and Zdiszlaw Beksinski – and in a roundabout way they inform my love of moody tones. Dig into some books and find some painters you align with.
Follow my free wedding photography workshop series, or make an enquiry about joining my mentor program.
Jul 17, 2020
Since Covid has put a stop to conferences and workshops, I wanted to give a little back, and so have created a free wedding photography workshop. Using design as the main tool, this contains around 7 years of workshop content, and have separated the best bits into easy to consume, bite-sized chunks, and released them on Instagram as a 100 frame wedding photography workshop. Yours, for free! Boom.
Each of the 100 frames speaks to one of those. The current climate of workshops I found doesn’t appeal to my style of learning personally, and it made me wonder if other folks out there were the same.
I remember thumbing through MAD magazine, comics, and encyclopaedias, and found that a curiosity-driven approach to learning, where you can open a book up at any page and take something away without feeling like we have to complete a full syllabus, the best way to learn for me personally.
So that’s how i’ve crafted this.
Using typography and a particular style of writing, I want this to be useful no matter what page it’s opened up at. Rather than me dictating the learning from front to back (there’s plenty of brilliant other options for that out there), this is something where I hope there’s a nifty surprise useful to wedding photography, and photography in general wherever it’s opened.
The workshop is available from frame 35 onwards on my instagram, and as new ones are uploaded, old ones will be removed, so follow along and catch them (save, screen grab) them while they’re available.
At the end, i’ll be releasing them all, along with a set of bonus annotations totalling 400+ pages. It’s the exact wedding photography workshop resource I would have liked starting out, and has been tailored for both new photographers and working professionals 5+ years in the game.
Some conferences i’ve had the brilliant honour of sharing this at:
Jul 16, 2020
We all go into this strange old gig for different reasons, but never on that list is “to win xx award” (i’m pretty sure my couples don’t really give a shit about that stuff and nor should they). Regardless, it’s nice to be recognised by your peers as international wedding photographer of the year, and winning awards does help for visibility and for sharing of educational content that I enjoy putting a tonne of energy into.
So at the risk of compromising my desire to be a recluse artiste gnawing on my own fermenting dreadlocks (it turns out that celebrating the wins and actually talking about them is a necessary part of the capitalist empire we all find ourselves in), I thought i’d share some images judged at the International wedding photographer of the year (IWPOTY) competition last year, the same competition that i’m also totally rapt to be judging this year. It’s a ripper competition and has been doing tonnes to rebrand an industry that thanks to being associated with cheese and all that jazz, is generally the first thing folks think of when they muse “I wonder where all photographers go to die”.
For me it’s meant the most stupidly wild quests all over the planet, making stuff that matters for real humans.
Winning the analogue category is particularly special to me as i’ve got a huge love for shooting film, and as far as IWPOTY, have a tonne of respect for their judging panel and founder Luke, so it means a lot to be selected.
With this win I thought i’d share a selection of my entries across all the other categories, and I was fortunate to place as a finalist in nearly all categories.
Grandstand, grandstand, look at me me me, here we go.
Actually though, a special shoutout to all my bloody awesome couples who make this happen and (pre covid 19 anyhow) make me well aware i’ve stumbled onto one of the most bloody wonderful jobs on the planet.
I also love that I can look at all of these images and say they were made for them, and not for me, and that’s where it all starts and ends.
Thanks again to all the judges, and the IWPOTY founder Luke Simon who puts so much time and personal energy into making this happen, and sifting through the thousands of entries submitted from over 50 countries around the world.
Jul 6, 2020
An image of genius photographer Lucy, in front of a genius-designed mirror, stolen mid-application of lipstick midway through Lil and Jakes reception.
This image shot on Kodak film, and found amongst incredible company over here at IWPOTY.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X film.
Jul 2, 2020
In all the flurry of things happening fast movement not stopping click click go go get it all don’t miss a moment…
It’s nice to hold back, strip it all away, and wait,
for just, one.
Jenelle and Parker, one frame each, one click each, on film that expired over half a century ago, and processed at Atkins lab.
Whatever happens along the way, I reckon it’s nice if everyone can come outta this little plane of existence with just one image like this.
And in case you were wondering, the rest of their day was as inversely colourful and upbeat as these were moody and sedate.
This post here goes into detail about why I shoot film at weddings.
Jun 28, 2020
Every once in a while at a wedding, you’re graced with a little moment where the thing happening in front of you, the environment itself, the weather, and the gear you’re using all come together in perfect harmony.
You can read more about being a film wedding photographer here.
Jun 25, 2020
2017, overlooking the Cathedral of Porto: running a small portrait session for photographers at the Bodaf conference. Great time to pull out some gear well past it’s useby date in one of the most beautiful little cities I’ve been to.
This frame taken on a beautiful piece of 1960’s engineering (Yashica 635 twin lens reflex) on Kodak film.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.
Jun 23, 2020
Something I teach when lecturing about the strange bastard art of photography, is about segmenting our brains and our time when there’s a “thing” happening, so we can gracefully and intentfully photograph the “thing” from more than one angle, and in the process, gift that “thing” with more variety in how we see it.
Got it? No? Perfect.
A “thing”, is defined as a block of time where there is no deviation in the fundamental arc of the event by other contrasting events or alternative measures of some-such otherwise.
Canapes hour? That’s a thing.
First speech block? That’s a thing.
Portraits hour? That’s a thing.
Righto – glad we got that cleared up.
Case in point: the “thing” here, was about a 2 hour block, where Jenelle and Parker and all their guests were partying together on some ten houseboats that were tied together, off the eastern coast off the edge of Canada.
2 hours is a lot of time where there’s just partying, diving, and BBQ’ing going on. This means a lot of opportunity to intent-fully divide the time up, and try and extract some more wondrous things out of it that test both us and the narrative that’s there.
I’ll spend, for example, 25 minutes moving around doing photojournalism on digital cameras, and then, i’ll gift myself a calm lap, on a camera half a century old, to try and see this scenario (previously referred to as “thing”), in a different way.
In this lap, i’m extra slow, watchful, and, deliberately, not particularly worried about missing moments en-masse, but rather, more concerned with getting “a couple of good ones”.
Staying in a state of “fomo” and shooting like a maniac on digital is good for content creation and capturing opportunity in a sometimes thin way, but then the tradeoff is you’re watching less intentfully at what’s happening – and maybe missing the opportunity to show an event in a better light.
I walked along the edge of one of the houseboats, turned a corner, saw a bit of commotion, held this 1960s bucket of bolts to my eye, and breathed in.
One of my favourite images ever, let alone wedding ones.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X film, and developed by Atkins Pro Lab.
See their full wedding day featured on the USA’s largest wedding blog: Jenelle and Parker’s rustic week-long wedding featured on Wedding Chicks.
Jun 20, 2020
Atlas Singles is a little peek into some of my favourite images, along with some lyrical wax from the last bits left in the jar.
Here’s one from wayback.
A little cabin on a lake in the Blue Mountains.
A clunky, 50 year old camera, that just a few days later, i’d have to jam a stick into it’s front to trigger it.
Barely nailed focus.
Said god-knows-what to them which generated a reaction, took a wild guess as to when the right moment to click was (you only get one chance when you’re using a camera you have to wind-up).
Missed the “moment”, and got some ephemeral in-between.
For me, more perfect than perfect.
Shot on a Yashica 635G Twin Lens Reflex on Kodak Tri-X for Zoe and Adam, before they did the wedding thing out at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.
Jun 17, 2020
This is one of my favourite images from Lil and Jakes wedding. Up close and personal with my characteristically well-dressed friend John at The Diggers Store (nestled just over an hour outside of Melbourne) who probably thought he was the feature of the frame, who looked aside with furrowed brow, while I actually focused on old mate to the left, deep in a state of existential ponderment.
It was such a treat photographing this wedding on old, banged-up film cameras. This was the wedding of a couple of dear friends, and I somehow managed to high-tail it back to Australia the day after delivering a talk in Vancouver, landing the morning of their wedding, and catching a few hours sleep in my hire car.
And then at midnight, I hit the road again, to deliver another talk in Rome.
Small wonder none of the Italians could understand my blubbering, jetlagged Australiana, but it made the translators of Way Up North earn their fee.
I love this image, and it’s still strangeness takes me right back to that very odd few-day whirlwind.
Shot on god-knows-what camera, on Kodak Tri-X film.
Visit this post to see why you should shoot film.
Jun 15, 2020
For those with “can’t-let-go-of-the-past” syndrome, or beautiful pieces of engineering cut short before their prime? This is a little how and why I drag around gear that passed it’s use-by date half a century ago and why I consider myself a film wedding photographer.
For a brief moment there in the late 00’s, opportunistic young-things were meeting the cries of the old-guard lamenting “film is dead!” with “yes, i’ll take all that dead processing gear off your hands for free, thankyou very much”. All of the beautiful analogue film processing gear that had seen so much love, had been decommissioned and retired, before being snapped up by enthusiasts for a song.
As a result, more film-labs began to open than they did close, and now there has never been a better time to shoot analog at weddings.
Film has been a key part of my look and approach since I became a melbourne wedding photographer, and an ongoing reason why creative folks and even other wedding photographers book me – even if in some cases I just channel the look of film photos in my digital images.
In 2019, I was awarded the analogue international wedding photographer of the year award, and in this post I want to discuss why I shoot film, what it’s benefits are, and why you might consider the use of analogue film as part of your wedding coverage.
It slows you down, and costs you money. In a generation of excess, our freewheeling brains need to be reined in. Historical patterns show that the more Tik-Toks and short-form content (ie – catering to short attention spans) there is entering the arena, the more room is then created for long-form content, and things warranting pause and stillness, as we collectively look for a space to make us feel something again.
When something forces you to respond slowly and consider the cost, the by-product of that is that you give yourself to the medium more. Where there’s tonnes of advantages in firing off thousands of frames on digital, there’s just as many advantages to having the costly walls of constraint around us (constraint being the only true useful tool in creativity that continues to stand the test of time).
People throw the whole timeless thing around in association with analogue film, but I think that only really holds true for black and white (Tri-X) film.
Most colour stocks actually have their own distinct look and feel that, when processed by a modern lab, aren’t what I’d necessarily call timeless. I don’t say that in a bad way – but the timeless colour we’re perhaps used to, is more the Kodachrome, stuff from the 60’s-80’s that our eyes more closely align with timelessness.
The rich, punchy colours of beautifully over-exposed Portra film aren’t any more timeless than digital, and are actually very distinct in their own right.
The sheer variety of looks in analog film stocks, lenses, and camera bodies is staggering, and each link in the chain imparts it’s own little flavour on the end look of the image.
So for me, shooting analog film is less about timelessness, and more about variety.
In my own tests, shooting analogue film is an objectively better experience for the person in front of the camera – if for nothing else, because we’re slipping into a loss of generational memory of those old cameras: and so these crazy old things bring on a strange sense of removed nostalgia and wonder, simply because it’s assumed that they’re just mantlepiece decorations, rather than fully capable image-making machines.
Having someone use an archaic piece of engineering with all the romance of a past-craft makes them feel valued in a totally different way. Even if the whole shoot isn’t being done on film, having some gear in the bag to switch things up can completely change the tone of the shoot.
David Rees is a good point of reference for the question “can the intrinsic value of a thing be increased or amplified by wrapping some old-world artisan air of craftsmanship around it”.
Typically, there are two main approaches that a photographer will take when choosing to use film as well as digital during a shoot, and they are either hybrid shooting, or separatist shooting (I made that second label up, but I can’t think of another way to title it).
Hybrid film photography is when the photographer shoots analog film, but aims to have the feel and tonality of the images completely in tune with the digital coverage. Often the aim of the preset applied to the digital images is to have them look as close as possible to the film ones. In this way, hybrid shooting is a process-based approach to film photography, rather than an output based approach: which is to say that it’s used mainly to provide variety to the photographer, rather than to the couple. This is not how I shoot film.
Separatist shooting is when the differences in the two mediums are celebrated, and no effort is made to create consistency between the digital images and the analogue images, meaning that the photographer gets to enjoy the process of shooting with different cameras, as well as providing something unique to the couple, and extra variety in the images they receive. This is how I choose to shoot film.
Separatist shooting is my preferred approach, and this is why: over the last 100 years, we’ve had hundreds of beautiful, differing formats used to create images. Different analogue film-stocks, and different lenses that all interpret light and render a scene, differently. I think those differences should be celebrated. It also keeps me more entertained pushing to find the deeper uniqueness of a particular format, rather than agonising over getting a perfect match between analog and digital, which for me, defeats the purpose of enjoying analog film as a medium.
Mixing things up is probably the number one reason why I shoot analogue film at weddings.
I don’t necessarily think consistency is overrated, but I do think surprise and intrigue is underrated. And as a film wedding photographer, there’s no greater joy than delivering a set of images where couples get the chance to swoon over that sprinkle of images that seem to just have something… else, to them.
Sure, I could go into the all the impractical bits of it, but for me, they’re joys. The only prolonged implications of shooting this stuff, is that it costs. It’s easy enough to throw in a roll here and there, but with analogue film and developing costs, we’re looking at about $70 for a couple of rolls – or about $3 per shot.
That’s fine when it’s a small part of the shoot, but a full-day analog wedding shooting only film can run past $1500 in film and developing costs alone very quickly, and that’s where it has to be considered as an add-on, rather than something that can be thrown in.
If you’re considering having your wedding photographed on analog film, I can recommend a bunch of ways in which it can be approached: whether having your entire wedding photographed on film such as Lil and Jake here, or doing what I do much of the time, when I detect that the idea sparks joy: bringing along some weird, wonderful gadgets, and making some images on them over the course of the day.
If you like, you can see some of what’s in my camera bag over at Shotkit, although it’s in need of an update (i’m pretty sure all the kit there hasn’t survived my anarchist hands for half a decade).
The poor-mans Rolleiflex, this little beauty is quiet, a marvel of engineering, dream to look at, and a pleasure to carry around.
This is my “good afternoon, i’m making some serious work” camera. A little heavier, a lot louder, but due to having an enormous mirror inside it, what you see through the ground-glass is what you get: whereas with a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera, there might be a very slight difference in what you end up with.
The grand-daddy of common press-cameras in the 1950’s. Extremely portable, lightweight, invites curiosity, and the looks of it alone are good enough reason to be a film wedding photographer.
If I had to take one to a desert island, it would be the Yashica. If I got to take a tripod too, it would be the Hasselblad. My favourite film stocks are Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X, although these days i’m taking a leaning towards the rich colours of Ektar.
If you’d like me to shoot some analogue film at your wedding, you can connect with me here or on instagram, and maybe for a doubke-whammy of awesome, let’s get our analogue on at one of the best alternative wedding venues in Melbourne.
For more of my film-only work, you can follow my personal account here.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.