Want a pro tip from a Washington DC wedding photographer for making your selfies or other casual photos stand out? Create a little something called rim lighting around your subject. That is a technical term for light that shines on the person you are photographing from behind. It illuminates the back of their head, creating a narrow halo around it. And using it will make the photos you take look positively gorgeous!
What is it about rim lighting that leads professional DC wedding photographers use it in their work? And how will it make your shots look fantastic? There are two reasons why it is such a great way to create beautiful portraits. The first is the way it lights up the subject’s hair. Shining light at the back of a person’s head causes their hair to glow in a beautiful and striking way. You can see that in the portrait posted here. The sunlight hitting this future bride’s blonde hair makes it light up in a very pleasing fashion. This effect is particularly lovely when the light is relatively soft and flattering. We took this shot just before dusk, when the sun’s rays are at their least direct. That bathed the back of the bride’s head in some light without overwhelming the scene or “blowing it out.” So the key is to find just enough light while avoiding too much of it.
The second reason why DC wedding photographers often illuminate their subjects from behind is to achieve a more subtle effect. The best photos are those that have depth. In this particular case, we are not talking about emotional depth. (Though as photojournalistic wedding and engagement photographers, this is a very important component of our images.) No, here were are referring to physical depth. Or at least, the illusion of it. Photography is a two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world in which we live. It captures the width and height of a scene. A camera does not see the depth dimension as well as our eyes do, though. With only one lens (and not two eyes and a complex brain), the photographic equipment cannot process a scene that way. (For now, anyway. Camera technology is evolving pretty rapidly!)
Given those limitations, the best photographers — the ones who have truly mastered their craft — are those who can create pictures that add that missing ingredient. There are many different techniques that we use. For example, relative size differences of things in the foreground or background tell the eye that not everything is on the same plane. That effect gets more pronounced if there are meaningful scenes playing out in front of or behind the subjects. Shooting through objects in the foreground is another great technique for creating depth. As is the use of parallel lines that run to the horizon. A photographer can also open the aperture of their lens, causing everything but a small window to be blurry and out of focus. All of these tell our brains that elements of the scene are different distances from our eyes.
Rim lighting adds that much-needed depth to your photos via a different technique. It creates separation between the subject and the background. When a person is backlit and whatever is behind them is illuminated from the front, we can tell intuitively that there is distance between them. Our brains know that them existing on the same plane is a physical impossibility. We know that a third dimension exists in the scene represented.
This particular image demonstrates that quite effectively. If you look at the tall grasses to the left of the head of the groom-to-be, you can see that they have rim lighting that is similar to the subjects’. The centers of the shoots are dark, whereas the edges are glowing. That suggests that they are relatively even with the couple. The grasses behind the pair, by contrast, are fairly dark. Because they are not illuminated the same way as the bride- and groom-to-be, we know that they are not right behind the subjects. They sit some distance away.
Rim lighting is not the only technique we used to create depth in this portrait. We also positioned ourselves such that a stalk of grass was between us and the couple. In addition, we used camera settings that rendered everything not on the same plane as the subjects a little blurry. These two techniques added extra depth, but neither contributed to the beauty of the portrait the way that the rim lighting did.
So armed with this knowledge, are you going to be able to take pictures that rival a Washington DC wedding photographer’s? Probably not. You will, without a doubt, take much better shots of yourself and your friends. Your Instagram account will start looking awesome! But creating the kind of unforgettable images that you will want in your wedding album is a whole different kettle of fish. If wedding photography were that easy, everyone would do it! But the reality is that it is actually very physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. It requires a feel for knowing which wedding-day moments will matter the most to you. It takes years of practice figuring out the best angles from which to photograph people. We do not just mean the ones that are the most flattering to you, but also the ones that capture the whole scene best. It needs a gift for storytelling. That means a flair for creating a narrative that tells the world who you are as a couple and what your marriage celebration was like.
The good news is that you do not need to worry about having to take pictures on your wedding day. That is what you will hire wedding photographers to do! And if you pick the right ones — professionals who are dedicated to giving you beautiful photos and the very best in customer service — you can rest easy knowing that the job is in good hands. And then you can do what you are supposed to do: enjoy one of the best days of your life!
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