Great Falls Maryland Sunset Engagement Session
Potok's World Photography

Great Falls Maryland Sunset Engagement Session

Spend five minutes around DC-area wedding photographers, and you are sure to hear a lot about camera equipment. Most people who photograph professionally are always on the lookout for the next great piece of gear. We want cameras and accessories that make our jobs easier, our setups faster and our pictures better. Because when those things happen, we get happier brides and grooms. And that, more than anything, is why we take pictures of marriage celebrations in the first place!

We appreciate the value of having great equipment. However, we would not classify ourselves as gear junkies in comparison to our peers in the Nation’s Capital. Actually, it is probably fairer to say that Pete is not really obsessed with camera equipment. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer who would probably own five total possessions if his wife let him. Anji, on the other hand, is in love with her Nikon D5 and D4, and also recently purchased her first Sony camera. So if you average the two of us out, you get a photography team that is only mildly into gear.

Jokes aside, we have always tried to work as light as possible when photographing DC-area marriage celebrations. For starters, we have always preferred a more natural approach to our wedding and engagement photography. When possible, we want to let natural light illuminate our subjects. If we need to use artificial lighting, we obviously will. But it is hard to improve on the way natural light makes brides and grooms look.

There are also practical considerations that influence our choice to carry minimal equipment. Marriage celebrations can be pretty hectic. Things move pretty quickly. For that reason, a wedding photographer needs to be agile and free to follow the action. Mobility is absolutely critical. Having bulky lights set up can potentially limit the ground the photographer can cover. If there are moments happening outside the reach of the lights, then they are lost forever.

In the same vein, there usually is not a lot of extra time on a wedding day. Brides and grooms tend to pack the schedule as tightly as possible. Because of this, any small delays will throw things off. When that happens, the planner will be looking for ways to catch back up. The easiest way to do this is to cut into the family formals and couples portraits. No wedding photographer is happy about this, but there is often not a lot we can do about it. The wedding reception usually needs to start on time so that it can finish on schedule. So we just have to work quickly to create treasured family formals and unforgettable couples portraits. And that means we do not have the time to mess with complex lighting setups. We need to be able to pose the subjects, light them and fire away.

With all these challenges on a wedding day, you can imagine how excited we were to get a handheld apparatus that delivers studio-quality lighting. The MagMod MagBox is a new product that recently came on the market, and it has revolutionized our approach to portraiture. It has allowed us to make our clients look like professional models with minimal setup time. The MagBox is basically an umbrella that is two feet in diameter at its widest. It has an attachment that we can affix to a stand or use as a handle. We attach our flash(es) to the back of the apparatus with a magnet. A white cloth then covers the opening. The latter diffuses the light emitted from the flashes, illuminating brides and grooms in a soft, flattering manner.

The image posted here is a great example of what the MagBox is capable of. We took it during an engagement photo shoot at Great Falls in Northern Virginia. One of the future brides proposed to the other at that famous natural landmark, and they wanted it in the background of their engagement photos. They particularly liked the idea of a sunset shoot, so we knew we would need to bring artificial lighting. Without it, it is not possible to get both the sunset-lit sky and the brides exposed properly. The former requires fairly dark exposure settings. There is not a lot of ambient light at dusk, so people typically require lighter exposures. Unless the photographer wants all of the shots to be silhouettes, they need to use dark settings and illuminate the couple with a flash.

We got the brides-to-be in position on Olmsted Island just as the sun was sinking below the hills on the Virginia side of the falls. We started by posing them in a very flattering and romantic way. We asked them to both face the camera. That works well when there is a considerable height difference between the fiancés. As you can see, the taller bride was able to hug her future spouse from behind without obscuring her own face. Then we set our camera exposure to the correct level for the sky and water behind them. Finally, we aimed the MagBox at the brides. We stood a bit to the left of them, so that the shorter woman’s shadow did not fall on her partner’s face. Once all of this was set, we took the picture.

The result, as you can see, was beautiful. The spouses-to-be are lit perfectly. The light falling on them is soft and flattering, and not harsh in any way. Though it is clear that we used artificial light, said light is not jarring or unnatural. It looks like the light that falls on people’s faces at dusk. At the same time, the exposure levels of the sky and falls are just right. It makes the glow of the setting sun a deep orange and the water a pale blue. Because those colors are complementary, the backdrop for this photo could not look any more lovely. It is the kind of portrait we know the brides will remember forever. And it would not have been possible without our newest piece of equipment!

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