By Jamie Cobb
Photography and weddings have been a part of my life since covering my first one at the age of 14 as my Dad’s second shooter. I’ve always admired my father’s many talents and his drive has inspired me to reach daily for my best in serving my own clients. But what I remember most from those days are my Dad’s words, “Pay close attention to details.”
Wedding photography is more than just documenting the wedding day. It’s about capturing special moments to illustrate the first chapter of a couple’s new life together. Faces and expressions change from one wedding to the next but there are those little hidden treasures that make each wedding story unique, and it can be challenging to highlight each of them so that they become an art piece symbolic of the couple’s passion.
Before diving into my favorite aspect of telling the story of the day, we should talk about the skills needed as a professional photographer. In addition to the technical skills of image capture, you also need to have expertise in time management, skills for dealing with personal conflicts, a bit of psychology, knowledge of event planning and team leadership, and even some talent as an occasional floral arranger. Make no mistake, successfully navigating and capturing wedding images is no small feat. You will use any and all photographic and personal skills. However, at the end of a very long day, your exhaustion will lead to an exhilaration of accomplishment after mentally reviewing your captures that most triathletes would regard as “runners high.” Your images become the first words, first sentences, and the first paragraphs of the very first chapter of their new life together.
Those are my favorite parts of the daily captures from a wedding. The details are often very small, yet they represent the much larger idea of the joy, commitment, passion and love. And, of all of those important items, the two circles that join them into one would be my most favorite detail of all… the wedding rings. They are an art statement that represent the couple’s uniqueness and various photographers have photographed the rings in bouquets, on rocks, tied with twine, on bales of hay, on the bride’s veil, or perhaps on a sandy beach or balancing on the edge of a banister. I’ve probably tried them all but there is one shot that always gets my pulse running quickly… the “Rings of Fire.”
Creating this iconic ring shot is fairly easy if you follow some basic rules of exposure and placement. But the key to controlling your lighting in the scene is blending flash and ambient light and minimizing post-processing. Because I’m usually creating this shot during the wedding reception, it is usually nighttime and the camera settings are usually very similar from one wedding to the next, with minor adjustments depending on the background available. One technique that works well is to find a background with some sort of light bulbs for some out-of-focus bokeh balls. However, if you are in tight quarters or need to shoot off-location, I highly recommend Replica Surfaces. I travel with a full set of these backgrounds to create “locations” for the details I want. They are easy to set up, photograph very well, and are a breeze to clean up. As an added bonus, they make a great wind block to keep your flames from jumping around.
The kit is pretty simple and doesn’t require a macro lens. In fact, I usually choose a macro extension tube if closer focusing is needed for bringing more attention to the rings. However, since I’m trying to include some of the background for placement, using my Fujifilm X-T4 paired with the Fujinon 16-55mm f2.8 is a perfect setup and is always within arm’s reach. I start with exposure settings ISO 400, f5.6 and 1/15 sec. Find a solid place for your rings setup and lock your tripod down after framing the shot. Don’t forget to include some nice lights for background.
Getting the right amount of long match sticks through the rings is very important as well. If you have too many, you can’t spread them out for a stable base. If you have too few, the rings can drop below the pivot point. So, take your time with this process and find the perfect number of matchsticks that can be separated to make a wider base and use the rings as the pivot point. Longer sticks will make it a little easier and give you a few extra seconds for images during your capture.
The light from the fire is going to be intense, bright and fairly fast-burning. But it will not give you great exposure on the rings. For that pop of light, I prefer to use a speedlight with a MagMod snoot to focus a beam on the setting and not flood the foreground, thereby killing the mood. I love using the magnetic system of MagMod and can’t recommend this company enough to photographers needing a quick and solid modifier system for small strobes. Keep the flash close and pop a few test shots to check the spotlight hits just the rings. At this point, your test shots should be slightly underexposed since the flame will add color and intensity to the scene. Double check the background and adjust angle of view if needed.
When you are ready, it’s best to have someone else do the lighting of the matches. The first two seconds of flare up will get you the best images to highlight the burning passion of this new union. Now get ready to shoot and change your shutter speed each frame, working your way up and down the settings. This will increase/decrease the exposure for the ambient (the flame and background) for the best captures to find the perfect image. But the rings, lit by the flash should be pretty consistent in tonality.
Now it’s your turn to get your supplies together and create some magic “Rings of Fire” images for your next wedding. If you feel inclined, kick up some Johnny Cash on the music box and practice at home with different Real Surface setups. Good luck. But keep a bucket of water nearby, in case everything gets way too hot or out of control.
Jamie Cobb is often described as part photographer, part Photo Booth entrepreneur, and all-around hustler. As a young advertising sales professional in the early 2000s, she quickly learned there was always more to a client’s story and peeling back the layers of hidden needs has been the focused strategy along with simple goal planning, hard work and delivering outstanding experiences. Jamie is happy to share her passion with anyone willing to grow as a business owner. Join her at Texas School ‘23.