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Behind the Scenes and technical info on Red Rocks Bridal Photos

So recently I showed some of the images from a bridal session I did last October up at Red Rocks Amphitheater and I just wanted to share the details of the shot setup for other photographers still learning how to use lighting for a dramatic result like this.

So here’s one of the key images captured, this one from the top entrance to the amphitheater with the “stairway to heaven” rock (it’s official name is Creation Rock I believe) in the background.

This image is just about SOOC – straight out of camera – This was all done in camera with lighting – not photoshop.

Red Rocks Colorado wedding photography

So first of all one of the key things was time of day.   The shoot was late October and I knew I’d want to catch the setting sun so we planned on meeting around 3-3:30, taking care of the dog and engagement shots first, then changing to the dress and hitting these shots with the setting sun.   This shot was take at 4:40 in the afternoon.

What I really liked about this time of day was the fact that the upper rock was still bathed in sunlight, but the rest of the upper deck was in shadow.  This served two critical issues.

1) It allowed me to use a studio light on the bride, bright enough so I could underexpose the sky just enough to get that dramatic blue and have her pop out of the darkness on the lower frame.

2) Since the park wasn’t closed and we didn’t have exclusive access to the area, there are tourists wandering in the background of the shot.   However they are in such shadow compared to the sunlight on the rock, and the light on my bride, that they just disappear.   If that shade hadn’t of been there I’d have had to wait for several minutes to get the least amount of foot traffic behind her and then still spend a huge amount of time photoshopping out the rest .

Equipment used for the shot

Alien Bee B1600 Studio light and battery pack

2 Pocket Wizards Plus II

Canon 5DmkII

Canon 24-105mm L lens


For this setup it was vital to shoot manual exposure and manual flash – so nothing fancy with Canon flash and ETTL – sometimes that fancy stuff works nice, but when shooting a white dress against a dark background and an underexposed sky – it wouldn’t be predictable.   Odds are good every shot would have had different lighting.

So the first thing was to figure out proper exposure on the sky and upper rock at ISO 100 and 1/160 (for manual flash sync).   Normal exposure came out around F8 to F9  so  I set the camera to F11 and confirmed that the sky and rock where nicely underexposed just enough to over saturate them naturally – and all the rest was in shadow – including all those wondering tourists.

Then it was just a matter of dialing in the studio light to F11 and getting the proper angle for a little drama in the shot.   I’d say it took less than 5 minutes to dial this in and from then on out – every shot just rocked in camera.

Another thing if you’re doing something outside with a wedding dress BEFORE the wedding.  Obviously we didn’t want to get it too dirty – but this place is covered in reddish dirt and dust.   Under the bride is a bedsheet that is pretty close to the same shade of white as her dress.   The sheet was laid out first for the bride, dress hiked up, to come over and stand on.  Once the skirt was placed how we wanted the excess sheet was tucked under the skirt.   You can just make it out on the far edge.   For the final canvas prints this would be clean up in photoshop just a touch.

Here’s one more wide angle shot showing the light and bride in another location down by the parking lots.