Sure, the camera gear is important (to an extent), but there are some other bits of gear I use that play just as much of a role in my shooting and in bringing out certain moods.
Say hello to your new best friend. If I could only give you one tip to loosen up a couple or model on set, it would be to play music. It’s really that powerful. I have a few different Bluetooth speakers that I use. (Some are bigger than others. The type of shoot and how light I need to pack helps me decide which to bring.)
There are two huge reasons that I play music on set, and the first one is to help bring out a mood. If I’m expecting a model to give me an energetic, happy vibe, why not play something faster that she can dance around to? Why not play some fun, loud music to flood the room with the mood you want her to convey? On the other side of the spectrum, if you are trying to elicit a quieter, more serene mood it may be helpful to play something soft and soothing so your subject can portray those emotions. I actually have a few different playlists on my phone that are ready to go depending on which mood I’m trying to convey. Reason number two, music kills the awkward. Silence can be awkward. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite traits in a person is being able to be quiet with someone without feeling like they have to say something, but the truth is that not everyone is as comfortable with silence. Music helps fill that gap. Aside from that, if you ask them to laugh out loud, the music drowns out the laugh that they might think sounds awkward. It even allows your couple to talk to each other and be cute without the fear of you hearing it. Music has some sort of magical power to bring out the natural in people. I love it.
Seriously people, music. Just try it once. Looking for energy? Fast music. Looking for something peaceful? Soft tunes. I often switch up my playlists throughout couple shoots like this so I can work through a variety of different moods to give the shoot some depth.
WHAT I USE: AomeTech Bluetooth Speaker
This little thing packs a punch. It’s loud, it’s waterproof, it clips on to my strap or belt, and I can change songs and volume right on the speaker. It’s exactly what I need, and it’s cheap as heck.
PIECES OF MAGIC
Yep, I call these my little pieces of magic. In reality, they aren’t anything more than ziploc bags, broken cups, or little crystals but when I shoot with them, they do magical things for me. About seven years ago when I was shooting portraits of a friend under a tree, a leaf fell in front of my lens and started my love affair with shooting through things. The leaf left a soft blur over a portion of the frame that created this gorgeously soft, dreamy mood. I still use leaves every now and then but now I prefer to use clear or translucent things (like the items pictured below) to get funky reflections, catch light in a different way, or just to create a dreamy blur. To use these, I literally hold them right up against my lens hood and peaking into the frame. This creates a soft washed out blur, perfect for adding to the dreamy mood of an image or just adding a bit of visual interest.
Typically nowadays I shoot through glass or plastic pieces (below) instead of leaves because those create a soft, translucent blur instead of adding any color in. Every now and then I’ll still shoot through plants or branches like this. Whenever I do, I make sure that I have some light on the plant (instead of having the shadowed side of the plant aiming towards me). That light gives a softer look than it would if I had a dark, shadowed shape over my frame. That doesn’t mean it won’t fit your style, I just prefer the light!
Here it is. The magic kit. A ziploc bag, a broken cup, a convex lens (works well as a makeshift macro lens when held right against my 50L), a piece of a plastic light cover, and a hippie crystal. All of them capture light differently and all of them rock.
The fun of shooting through things like this is that it’s always different, and there are so many variables that can change the look completely. What I’m saying here is to experiment. Each lens will capture this in a different way. Shooting through something on a wider lens (like my 35L) will leave a more defined shape in the frame while a longer lens like my 85L will leave more of a haze in that portion of the image. The longer the lens, the less recognizable the shape becomes. Personally, I love how it looks the most on my 50L because it’s still a clear shape, but it has a bit of that soft, hazy blur to it.
This is what I love about shooting through things, the variety. In each of these frames, I have a ziploc bag covering my lens with a two to three inch slit in the bag that I can stretch open and shoot through. On the left, there is no hard light hitting the bag which gives it a soft and subtle blur around the edges of the image. On the right frame, there is direct sunlight hitting the bag which gives it that funky texture. If you want to shoot this way, make sure you expose for the highlights in the bag. If I were to expose for Monique in this shot, I would have blown out that texture, and the detail would be lost.
Aside from adding to the mood of an image with this trick, there is another HUGE reason I use these. Imagine that you’re shooting a bride getting ready, but right behind her is a table full of clutter. Starbucks cups, old food, etc. Ideally, I’d clean the table but if time doesn’t allow that, frame up your shot, place your glass piece over the cluttered area, and watch it fade away into a soft blur. Win! I use this pretty often in situations like that or if I’m shooting portraits and need to simplify a busy part of the image. It’s honestly a lifesaver for people who crave minimalism.
WHAT I CARRY
What I have in my gear bag and what I actually carry with me on the average shoot are very different things. Let’s go over a quick break down of what I actually have on me at both shoots and weddings. I always carry two bodies (yay backups!) on my trusty Holdfast Moneymaker straps; one camera has a wide lens, and the other has a longer lens. At weddings, I have my 35L and 85L. That’s it, all day. I’m a big fan of simplicity, so I never switch lenses. I just carry what I need. At pretty much every other shoot (engagements, lifestyle, editorial, etc) I have the same setup but with my 35L and 50L. If I’m shooting film as well, I’ll bring that along in a little satchel bag. Yay simplicity.
That’s it, friends. I hope this was helpful for you all. Equipment is absolutely not the most important part of creating beautiful things, but it can play a huge role in helping you draw out certain emotions or moods in an image. Play with your gear, do some research (in other words, watch movies and see how they use certain lenses), and learn how you can use what you have to your advantage.
Lastly, be good to each other. We’re all in this together.