Sunset Session at Broken Scar in Darlington with Amy & Tom

Amy and Tom introduced me to a new location for my sunset couples shoots - Broken Scar in County Durham. What an evocative name, eh?

It's situated near Low Coniscliffe, which is part of County Durham and on the river Tees, but only 2 or 3 miles from Darlington. Amy and Tom are regular visitors, bringing their dog here for walks along the riverbank. We did consider including the puppy in the pre-wedding session but decided against it as she is boisterous and could have been a distraction. She missed out on a glorious sunset!

One of the reasons I love pre-wedding and engagement couples sessions so much is that they allow me more creative space than I have at weddings. I can push the boundaries further and experiment without losing critical moments. If I completely stuff up on a portion of a couples session there is nothing lost as I'll there will be other portions of the session that will work. 

The new techniques and gear I use that does work might stick around and find it's way into my repertoire for weddings and later couples sessions, and in this way I am constantly learning and finding out what I like and don't like through practical experience.

I'll use Amy and Tom's sunset couples session to talk through some of the experimental techniques and gear I used for their photographs.

Double exposures for pre-wedding photography

The first photograph you'll see is a double exposure. Ideally, I would have liked to have captured this entirely in camera (I always prioritise getting the finished image in camera rather than spend time in front of a computer) but the Fujis I use don't have as great a capability for double or multiple exposure's as say Nikon cameras. I therefore created this in photoshop after the session.

During the session I took a photo of Amy and Tom kissing with a plain part of the sky behind them. This made it easy to get rid of the background altogether later. At the end of the session I went off and took lots of photographs of tree branches. I selected the one that I thought worked best with the silhouettes and merged them in photoshop to get the finished photo you can see below.

I like the final photograph but didn't like sitting behind a desk at my computer to achieve it, so I'm currently practicing in camera double exposures to see if I can perfect my technique. I'm not there yet!

Manual focus vintage lenses for mirrorless cameras

The second photograph was taken with a Helios 44m vintage Russian lens. Mirrorless cameras are great for experimenting with old lenses, as there are numerous cheap adapters for sale and the cameras themselves have great tools built in for focussing such as focus peaking. I picked up this lens and M42 adapter for less that £30 combined.

One of the things I love about old lenses is that they are full of character. In this digital world many people consider them flaws, but I am an analogue guy and love the lens flare, distortions, wacky bokeh and colour shifts you get with vintage glass.

Having said that, I'm not sure that I like this particular lens. Sharpness is pretty low down on my list of must have characteristics of lenses, but even for me it's very soft. I also haven't been able to achieve that out of focus quality I was looking for with this type of lens. You can see a bit of that dreamy quality in the photo but it doesn't match the image in my head.

I need to experiment more with this lens and perhaps get one or two different lenses to play with.

Fuji 35mm f2 for couples portraits

I made the third photograph with my Fuji 35mm f2 lens. Typically I shoot portraits with a 56mm 1.2 lens and it is a stellar performer, but I felt like I was relying on it too heavily and decided to try a different focal length for a change. The stop or two of difference means that the fall off from sharp to out of focus area is less pronounced, but it is still perfectly acceptable and there are a lot of other plusses to the lens. It is weather sealed, quick to focus, small and unobtrusive, much cheaper, and the micro contrast, skin tones and quality of the out of focus areas is great. 

This lens has made it into my wedding camera bag and has been my main portrait lens at several weddings now. Result!

One day I'd love to photograph an entire wedding with just this lens.

Brenizer Method photography for engagement sessions

The fourth photograph was made using the Brenizer Method. Landscape photographers have been taking panoramas for years, where they take multiple photographs of a scene and stick them together later to get a wider field of view than they could achieve with a single photograph.

The Brenizer Method is similar in that you take multiple photographs of the scene and stick them together but to get a more shallow depth of field than you could with a single lens. The idea is that the photograph looks more like a 3D image with the couple in focus and everything else out of focus.

I was using the Helios 44m lens I mentioned above for this photograph so it isn't as sharp as I would have liked, but the overall effect worked. I use this technique quite often at weddings and on pre-wedding sessions but it works better with the 56mm 1.2.

Blue Hour portrait photography

The last photo isn't a funky a technique or taken using unusual equipment, the thing that's a bit different is the time it was taken; blue hour. Typically I like golden hour light, which is the hour or so before sunset. The sun is low in the sky, filtered through a lot more atmosphere so it is softer and not as harsh, is warmer in tone and creates some lovely shadows and patches of light.

Blue hour is the hour after sunset. As the light fades it gets darker (obviously!), the contrast between dark and light areas lessens and the tone becomes colder and more blue.

For Amy and Tom's couples session the sky turned a more purple-blue colour so I metered for that, turning the couple into silhouettes.

So that's a glimpse into my thought process behind some of the photographs I take on a pre-wedding shoot and how I make them.

Thanks to Amy and Tom for being such good sports and allowing me to play with them. And congratulations on becoming a married couple earlier this year!

Thanks again, we love our pictures!
— Amy

Would you like an experimental pre-wedding session? Which new location, that means something to you as a couple, would you love to show me? Contact me to start the conversation. For further engagement shoots and real weddings in the area visit my Durham weddings page.