Portraits In The Bluebell Woods

On Sunday just gone I was lucky enough to be given the privilege of shooting a wedding, well a blessing really, in a set of Bluebell Woods near Henley-On-Thames.

Carrie and Ken had actually legally been married at a registry office some days before the blessing, due to the fact the bluebell woods are not licensed for marriages, but as I understand it some of the guests weren’t aware of that and they themselves were treating the blessing as their proper wedding in the location they so desperately wanted.

The Bluebell woods were a perfect location for such a romantic event and they make for the perfect location for taking the bride/groom portraits after the ceremony has been done. You can go any which way with them, natural light that is perfectly exposed, add to that a bit of fill flash, or go slightly over exposed shooting towards the brighter areas of the woods getting a hazy effect, or you can under expose the woods getting a moodier effect that shows the patches of light that are actually reaching ground level but this usually means making the image to dark and therefore leaving the bride and groom in silhouette against the lighter patches of the background.

This can be easily overcome by the use of off camera lighting, and that is what I’m going to show you here. The bonus of course with off camera lighting means we can do more in terms of how we compose the shot, or more to the point where we take the shot from. With a flash fitted on top of the camera we have light that is just blasting straight forward and if we move to further away from the model it’ll become less effective. With off camera flash however we can work from quite a distance or up close, shoot from eye level or get down low because the light source isn’t moving away from our subjects.

So I thought I’d show you how I approach this kind of scenario, therefore the following is the basics behind how I shot this image below.

To start with all we are concerned about is the camera settings, so I put the ISO to it’s lowest being 200 and set the shutter speed to match the sync speed of my flashgun, in this case 1/250th of a second. I then set about taking some test shots. I started at f/8 and the ambient was a tad to dark for my liking. So I had two options. Open the aperture further to say f/5.6 or f/4 or whatever to make the ambient lighter, or I could increase the ISO. As it happens I wanted that little bit more depth of field that f/8 offers and so I stuck with f/8 and increased the ISO to 400. I now had the ambient where I wanted it, so from here on in, unless the ambient light itself increased or decreased there is pretty much no need to change camera settings.

So adding our model, or in this case willing bridesmaid whom I told I would be doing this blog and so happily took part in these test images, to this image above shows that she is indeed far to dark against the back ground and that some form of lighting is required.

So we bring in the off camera lighting. I tend to work wirelessly using the Nikon Creative Lighting System, ie using one flashgun as a commander to fire other flashguns as remotes, and this time was no different. My weapon of choice is a single flashgun through a softbox designed for used with flashguns and lightstands as opposed to those that are for use with studio lighting, they work the same but have different fittings plus it’s not too big and cumbersome to maneuver around and yet it’s not too small and that it’s ineffective.

So it’s now a case of getting the power of the flashgun correct. Here I work manually and will basically just take a guess at what the power should be. So lets start with half power. If it is to bright you have two options. Decrease the power to a quarter or simply move the lightstand further away from your model. If it is to dark, guess what, you have two options. Increase the power to full power or mover it closer to your model. The only limitation to this of course is if you move it too close to your subject that the lightstand ends up being within the image you are taking, then you will have to recompose your shot so that you can’t see it anymore.

So your final image should look the way you wanted, with the ambient being darker and moodier and yet your subject is perfectly lit. This works in woods, at sunset, sunrises, days where the rain is threatening and the skies are a moody black and it’s relatively quick and simple to do. Just expose your camera for the ambient light and let your flash power illuminate your subject, but always keep your shutter speed at your flash sync speed or less and try to keep your ISO low in order to have a nice, clean, noise free image.

Sure the main wedding image above has been worked on in Lightroom to give it that standout effect where I have accentuated the lighter areas and dumbed down the darker areas but the base of that image will have been the same as this one just above.

Anyway, hope this is of some help to anyone wishing to try off camera lighting, I had better get back to editing the rest of these images as I’ll have a bride wanting to know where her images are lol


Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon


Dom :-)

4 replies
  1. David Kelly
    David Kelly says:

    Good informative post Dom. Out of interest what stand / softbox are you using?
    BTW I presume it wasn’t very windy in the woods as I don’t notice any sandbags or weights on the base of the stand.

    • Dominic
      Dominic says:

      Thanks mate. The stand is just a standard light stand I picked up a few years ago second hand. The softbox however is one of these http://www.bessel.co.uk/info/Speedlite%20Softbox.html

      It’s very reasonably priced, not to big and cumbersome, yet not too small that it’s ineffective. Simple and quick to put together yet packs away into a small bag. I think it’s ideal.

      There was not even a breeze in the woods that day, so no counterweight needed, but the bonus of shooting weddings is there is always a counterweight on hand, he’s called the best man lol


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