Portrait Tutorial – Kitchen Portraits – Part 3

In this part I will demonstrate the typical mistakes done in portrait photography using natural light. The end of part of the article contains successful shots for reference.

You probably want to first read the previous parts of this portrait tutorial:

  • part 1 (rules of portrait photography, setup, post processing and examples)
  • part 2 (auto focus, don’t be afraid to shoot in high ISO, colors are important)

I have used exactly same location, my kitchen, and same model, my wife in this part as well. This time, thanks to a good reader feedback, I took intentionally bad photos to illustrate the typical mistakes. Instead of totally doing things wrong, I decided to make minor mistakes to make it more realistic. So fasten your seat belts, there are some horrible photos coming up!!

Wide Angle Rarely Suits Close Up Portraits

Even though Panasonic 20 mm F/1.7 is my favorite lens, it rarely suits taking portraits at very range. Even a slight wide angle as this lens (equivalent of 40 mm on a full frame) distorts the perspective enough to make it noticeable, especially if shot really close to the subject. It makes those body parts which are closest to the lens larger than life, usually emphasizing the size of the nose. While those body parts which are further away, look smaller than for real e.g. ears look small. You maybe obtain better results taking a few steps back and cropping the result, but I rarely ever crop photos in post process (99 % of my photos are not cropped). Now in this tutorial I have also broken this rule and you can see some photos cropped to 1×1 ratio.

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Panasonic 20 mm F/1.8, 1/60 s, ISO 800

It Really Matters Where You Place Your Subject

I intentionally placed my subject in the wrong location under the fluorescent lights so that the shadows and light fall unpleasantly on her face. Even worse position would have left her eyes completely in shadow/too dark.

Just mere 2-5 cm makes a huge difference, so experiment and try what is the best setting for you!

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Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 1600

Getting Exposure Right Matters for Image Quality

Even though it is possible to adjust exposure a lot in post process, especially if you shoot in raw, getting the exposure right matters a lot for post process. Here I got the exposure wrong by almost a full stop. Adjusting the exposure back and while the original was shot ISO 2500, meant a serious loss of image quality as can be seen below. The colors look flatter, the skin lacks detail despite DxO Optics Pro PRIME could remove the noise remarkably well. Normally such adjustment, increasing exposure value, and shooting high ISO using a small sensor camera like my Olympus OM-D E-M5 would have resulted a very grainy image in the shadows.

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Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/200 s, ISO 2500

Adjust the White Balance when Shooting under Artificial Light

All the shots were taken under a single fluorescent light in the ceiling. No additional lights, nor flash or reflectors were used and it was pretty dark outside. Now first I will show how the colors look straight out of the camera’s auto white focus and then using manual white balance. If you have trouble setting the white balance try using 2850 color temperate as your basis as this is the most typical white balance value for modern lights.

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Olympus 75 mm, F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 2000, original colors
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Olympus 75 mm, F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 2000, manual white balance

Creative Angles Require Talent

The general rule of portrait photography is to shoot from the level of the eyes and focus on the eye closest to the camera. Now let’s break these rules. The following two shots are intentionally shot at low angle, which is excellent way to peek inside the nostrils and count the nose hair and an upper angle, which is a good way to illustrate the potential male type baldness (my model doesn’t have it). I didn’t use too aggressive angles to underline my point.

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Shot about 30 cm from below the eye level
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Shot about 30 cm from above the eye level

Too Cropped because of too Small Room! Or Don’t Show the Mess!

My house is old and my kitchen is quite small, so we ran out of space. I have used an old wooden door as the backdrop of every photo above. Now you can see too much of the door. And if I would use a wider angle lens and reveal more, you would see the mess in the kitchen.

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Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/100 s, ISO 1600
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Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 4000

Better Photos

I really apologize my dear wife to make her look so ugly in these photos. So let’s now watch some better photos taken exactly same day and just few minutes between the bad shots.

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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 3200, custom film emulation
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 3200, custom black & white film emulation
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom B&W film emulation
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom film emulation
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom black & white film emulation
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/200 s, ISO 3200, custom colors
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
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Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600, custom black & white film emulation

Please tell me what you think.

Stay tuned for part 4, which will discuss the troubles shooting small kids at similar setting.

Wedding – Part 7

This is the final part of the wedding related photos. All the last photos are from Hämeenlinna approaching the railway station from North.

You can find other posts of our wedding:

  • part 1 ( civil wedding at Hämeenlinna magistrate)
  • part 2 ( photo shoot at the Hämeenlinna church. I think the best photos are here)
  • part 3 ( Aulanko Rantasipi spa hotel and Aulanko natural reserve)
  • part 4 ( Aulanko watch tower)
  • part 5 ( wedding night, silhouette photos )
  • part 6 ( the day after the wedding, wedding bouquet)

Now for the last batch of the photos:

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Hämeenlinna castle over the lake Vanajavesi
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Bride with the Hämeenlinna castle on the background
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Houses by the lake Vanajavesi
Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus )
Lupine ( Lupinus polyphyllus )
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Groom in a forest
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Same photo in black and white
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Side profile of the groom.

Ruins

While walking towards the Hämeenlinna railway station, we found several ruins in the forest. The ruined houses looked like they had been burned down decades ago and then just left there for the vegetation and nature to take over them.

These would be perfect location for trash the dress kind of photos, but the wedding dress was already so well packed, so we decided to catch the train. Some other day and time.

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Bride standing the ruins of a burned house.
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Groom under the ruined house
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The birch trees form a natural archway at one of the ruined houses.
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A ballerina or a bride?
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A portrait of the bride at the ruins
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A black and white shot at the ruins
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The bride looks lost.

That is all! I hope you have enjoyed the photographic diary of our wedding day and the day after. Next time I will post something totally different!

Wedding – Part 6

In this part I will share you photos from the day after the wedding. All the photos are from Hämeenlinna.

You can find other posts of our wedding:

  • part 1 ( civil wedding at Hämeenlinna magistrate)
  • part 2 ( photo shoot at the Hämeenlinna church. I think the best photos are here)
  • part 3 ( Aulanko Rantasipi spa hotel and Aulanko natural reserve)
  • part 4 ( Aulanko watch tower)
  • part 5 ( wedding night, silhouette photos )

The lake Vanajavesi divides Hämeenlinna into East and West half. It was finally sunny weather, so we decided to grab our bags and walk to the railway station (3 km). We were walking along the East banks of the lake, listening to Christmas music from a portable loudspeaker (!!!). Yes, Christmas music sounds the best in summer. I decided to take a lot of photos, as you can see from below.

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Lake Vanajavesi as seen from the docks near the Spa Hotel Rantasipi Aulanko
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Bride + wedding bouquet + lake
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Lake Vanajavesi
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Sunny noon by the docks. You can see the spa on the behind the white and red building.
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The bride and the sea of yellow flowers
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A sandy road by the lake.
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Toned photo of the bride. I love the background bokeh the Olympus 75 mm F/1.8 lens renders here.
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The beautiful bride in the shadows of a large bush.
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Bride + flowers + bush
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Bride standing near lake Vanajavesi. Too much symmetry makes this a bit boring photo.

The Wedding Bouquet

I took close up photos of the wedding bouquet using the Olympus 60 mm F/2.8 macro lens. The lens is reasonably priced (street price around 450 €), very light weighting and splash proof. It has 1:1 macro, which can resolve a lot of detail of flowers and insects. It works well also for portraits, but for most portraits I prefer to use Olympus 45 mm F/1.8 or Olympus 75 mm F/1.8.

I know calla lily is a flower often used in funerals, but the bride wanted three of them in the bouquet. It think it made a more interesting wedding bouquet than the traditional roses. You can click the images to see larger version of them.

Wedding flower bouquet with 3 calla lilies
Wedding flower bouquet with 3 calla lilies
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Calla lily
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Close of the wedding bouquet
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Wedding bouquet decorations

Next post is the last part in the series of our wedding photos.

Wedding – Part 5

In this part I will share some photos from the wedding night and evening. All photos are from the Spa Hotel Rantasipi Aulanko.

You can find other posts of our wedding:

  • part 1 ( civil wedding at Hämeenlinna magistrate)
  • part 2 ( photo shoot at the Hämeenlinna church. I think the best photos are here)
  • part 3 ( Aulanko Rantasipi spa hotel and Aulanko natural reserve)
  • part 4 ( Aulanko watch tower)

Spa Hotel Rantasipi Aulanko

Aulanko Rantasipi hotel
Aulanko Rantasipi spa hotel. Aerial photography courtesy by Restel Oy (who owns the hotel).

After the photo shoots we went back to hotel to enjoy some private time. The Aulanko Rantasipi hotel has a very nice spa and the spa is included even in the standard room price, which also includes a very nice buffet breakfast. I unfortunately don’t have any photos from inside the spa. Photography there would have been difficult without a water proof action camera.

The hotel is from year 1938, but it is still in relatively good shape both inside and outside. When the hotel was opened it was a considered an architectural sensation, featuring functional design by designers Märta Blomstedt and Matti Lampén. It had 250 beds and it’s great hall could fit 760 guests. During the winter war the hotel acted as a war hospital. In the old times it was considered as one of the fanciest hotels of Finland and many celebrities and important leaders from abroad have stayed in the hotel. In 1990 the hotel got a congress hotel wing and 2006 the spa was opened.

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Evening sky at Aulanko. Photo taken from the balcony of the hotel room.
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A view from the balcony.

I suck at Selfies

Couplies aka couple selfies or couples selfies have become a huge hit. I generally dislike taking selfies, but taking these photos at wedding night was fun! If I can choose between somebody else holding the camera or myself, I prefer the human tripod. My camera, Olympus OM-D E-M5, doesn’t have a fully articulating display, so it is very difficult to get the framing right as I cannot see the display when I take a selfie.

The sun was shining like a giant torch light from the windows at sunset and it was casting beautiful shadows of us on the wall. I used this opportunity to take some silhouette photos. It was quite difficult to position the camera so that it would not be shown on the photos. I used a small Gorilla pod clone as my tripod in some of the shots. I bought the tripod from DealExtreme few years ago for about 3.5 euros and so far it has worked well on my trips and it even comes with a quick-release lock, which is generally missing from small-sized tripods.

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A silhouette of the bride against the wall paper.
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Silhouette of the groom and the bride.
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Kissing silhouette
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Can you guess what is the thing on the lower left hand corner? It is my legs!
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Husband and wife in a silhouette.
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As you can see I really suck at selfies.
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Kissing selfie
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The night sky from the hotel room balcony
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Beautiful night sky

Stay tuned for the next part (day after wedding).

Wedding – Part 4

In this part you can see us climbing to the watch tower of Aulanko, which rises about 70 meters above the Aulanko lake and about 150 meters above the sea level. I have serious fear of heights, so this was literally a shaky experience for me.

You can find other posts of our wedding:

  • part 1 ( civil wedding at Hämeenlinna magistrate)
  • part 2 ( photo shoot at the Hämeenlinna church, majority of the best wedding photos are here)
  • part 3 ( Aulanko Rantasipi spa hotel and Aulanko natural reserve)

Sadly it was already evening (around 7 pm) and the sky was filled with gloomy grey clouds with sun nowhere to be seen. Adding a bit of warm colors + making the exposure +0.3 to +1.0 EV brighter helped a bit. I want to visit this beautiful location again to take photos on better weather.

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My friends Marko, Henri and Tomi near the Aulanko watch tower.
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Bride and groom by the Aulanko watch tower.
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A view towards the Aulanko lake.
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The bride wearing qipao with a lake view behind.

Aulanko Watch Tower

I have a serious fear of heights. Even climbing to a tall chair or a kitchen table can make me feel dizzy, not to mention going onto the roof of a normal single family house. I find that some bridges and railings are the worst for me. The watch tower is only about 30 meters tall, but it rises 70 meters above the lake down below. I was literally shaking and couldn’t go near the edge at the top of the tower. Also the view railing in above photo was a scary place for me. Some of the photos succeeded okay despite my shaky hands. I very much appreciate the amazing 5-axis Inbuilt Stabilization System (IBIS) has in Olympus OM-D E-M5. It able to remove almost all the hand shake even using long shutter speeds. Thus I rarely ever need to use any tripod.

Aulanko watch tower is from year 190. The location itself is much older. In the times paganism this have been a place for a defensive fortress and cult rites. There are 322 stone steps leading down the very steep cliff. The bottom has a huge statue of a bear with cubs.

Aulanko watch tower and the natural reserve area around it are fully free. So if you happen to be near Hämeenlinna and the weather is good, be sure to check them. The watch tower is open every day from 8 to 19.

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Aulanko watch tower
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My friends Marko and Tomi inside the watch tower. They look like cardboard characters in this photo (intended effect using higher point of view and F/2.0 aperture)
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The bride in the spiral staircase leading up the watch tower.
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A magnificent view from the watch tower towards North.
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The staircase leading down to the bear statue.
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The bear statue and the newly wed couple.
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Stairs leading up from the bear statue to the watch tower. It is great exercise to walk this up!
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A white swan at the swan lake of Aulanko. Photo taken after sunset.

See next part ( wedding night).

Wedding – Part 3

In part 1 and part 2 you already saw the wedding ceremony and official wedding photos. Now it is time to show what happened after that. Finnish “summer” never disappointed us.

After the church photos we went to have a buffet at Orient World restaurant in Hämeenlinna center. The mildly spiced pseudo-Chinese food was excellent as usual. After we got into the Chinese restaurant, it started to rain heavily outside. That is why we have no more photos of the bridge wearing the wedding dress, but I think the qipao great on her. Everybody got wet in the rain, so it was good time to spend some relaxing time indoors.

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Buffer at the Chinese restaurant Orient World.
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Our modest simple hotel room. Lack of double bed wasn’t a problem as I just pushed the beds together.
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A view from the hotel room balcony towards the spa.
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The beautiful bride wearing qipao at the hotel bar. Notice: no other customers!
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Having a glass of sparking wine (champagne).
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Raising glasses for happy marriage!
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The bride didn’t like the champagne. So I had to “sacrifice” and drink that glass as well.

No Sunshine after the Rain

But at least it wasn’t raining more. Summer 2015 in Finland has been unusually cloudy, rainy and windy. It has rained almost every single day and the temperatures have been clearly below long term average. Gray cloudy gloomy clouds are not the best for photography, but I did the best I could. The Aulanko natural reserve has beautiful parks, artificial ponds and truly magnificent looking scenery. Aulanko is one of my favorite locations in Häme region of Finland and that is why I chose it for the wedding day.

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Standing like statues in front of a pavilion in Aulanko
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A small artificial pond in Aulanko
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If you zoom into these photos by clicking them you might see some birds.
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The beautiful bride in qipao.
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Bride at the pavilion.

How did you spend your wedding day? What kind of wedding dinner did you have? Did weather try to ruin your wedding day as well?

Stay tuned for part 4, where we climb to a tall watch tower and see the entire region. Great for those who have fear of heights (me).

Wedding – Part 2

In this part I’m going to explain how to achieve good quality wedding photos without the need of complicated gear or professional photographer. Your camera or phone will be enough if you know what you are doing. Wedding make up or expensive dress are not needed. Spending more money doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results.

Most important rules are:

  1. Take advantage of the natural light. Place the subject to such location where the light falls nicely on her. Make sure the background fits the subject. If you are in doubt, use very simple e.g. mono color background
  2. Do not use any direct flash as it creates annoying shadows and red eyes. I didn’t use any flash at all. Almost all modern cameras allow to shoot at high enough ISOs to shoot indoors or late at night without any flash
  3. Explain and show your friends/relatives how you want your photos to look. Planning increases the likelihood to get the photos you wanted.
  4. Avoid shooting in straight bright sun light. If you really need to do that use pseudo HDR setting of your mobile phone camera. Use RAW if you can and do the pseudo HDR treatment in post process for the RAW image. Decrease the highlights and blacks and increase the mid tones in post process.

Take a Reference Photo before Giving the Camera to Your Friends

Most of my friends are not into photography. In order to improve the odds to get better photos I took a reference for almost every single photo scene. I did all the camera adjustments before taking the shots and gave my friends specific instructions what I wanted to be in the photo. I of course took all the other shots (where I am not myself e.g. the shots of the bride).

I think the overall result is good. Of course some professional photographer could have achieved better candid shots. Now every photo is more or less a stiff pose. But the we had very little time to do all these photos. I started to rain very soon after the photo session.

Wedding Photo Style, Post Processing and Colors

I do not like the photographic style of most Finnish photographers. Their portraits tend to be too serious, while I personally like to see warm smiles, happy feelings. Even in the photos of the so called “best” pros subject is too often placed exactly in the middle (anybody can do that) and 3:2 aspect ratio is used way too often. In my honest opinion 3:2 aspect ratio rarely ever works for portraits. It is too wide in horizontal direction and too narrow in vertical shots. I prefer the 4:3 aspect ratio my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera uses. Most magazines use an 1:1.3 aspect ratio, which is very close to 4:3 or 1:1.33 aspect ratio. The silver ratio or 1:1.4142135 is also a very good choice for portrait photos and it is used by the ISO 216 paper size standard (A1/A2/A3/A4/A5/A6 etc) .

Many Finns portrait photographers seem to really love using muted/neutral colors for the wedding photos and very high contrast (sometimes with extra clarity) for other portraits. Most professional use Canon cameras. I have never liked the “Canon colors”. Most Canon cameras seem to produce overly pink/red skin tones, which also exaggerating the green of the grass, yet the blue skies get a dull look unless you add vibrance in the post processing, which makes the greens look even worse. The high end models of Canon, especially the Canon EOS-1D X don’t seem to suffer from this problem, meaning that they are better color calibrated in the factory. I know that Olympus colors are not 100% realistic either, but at least they appear closer to the truth to my eyes and the skin tones and greens are more pleasant to start with.

Almost every pro uses Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom and many use similar settings, thus resulting a look which can be seen in millions of other photos. I used once again DxO Photo Suite for all the post post processing. DxO costs a bit more than Adobe Lightroom and offers less features, but it also has superior noise reduction called PRIME. I used PRIME noise reduction for every single photos, even though it is very slow (1-3 minutes per photo). I used both black and white and color film emulations and their fabled portrait mode.

Cheap Wedding Dress & Make up

My fiancee didn’t use any make up. I never remove or add anything to the photos in post process. I very rarely even crop any photos.

The wedding dress is from Taobao and cost only 219 RMB ($35). Yes, that is a price of a brand new wedding dress! And we plan to use the wedding dress again at the wedding party, at the nature and when taking “trash the dress” photos. Taobao doesn’t ship directly to Finland, but you can use service like kiinatukku, which charges 2 € + 10 % on top the Taobao prices. AliExpress ships world wide and has a decent selection of wedding dress at affordable prices.

For comparison I bought a new suit plus shirt for the wedding. The total price was 210 euros at Dressman. Sometimes men’s outfits can be more expensive, but I can use the same suit more often than the wedding dress.

The flower bouquet features 3 calla lilies, because calla lily is the favorite flower of my fiancee. It cost roughly 32 euros at Aulin Kukka ja Sidonta (a local flower shop). I can wholly recommend them for anybody who needs a professionally made flower bouquet. The wedding bouquet is still in good shape 10 days (!!) after making it.

You can click the photos to see a larger version. First some photos to show how the use different color adjustments in post processing make a subtle difference:

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The bride at the altar.
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A Fuji Astia color film emulation
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Close to natural colors. Olympus 75 mm, F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 500
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A black and white film emulation of the above shot
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A bride standing next to a church window.
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I wasn’t happy with the shot taken at the magistrate, so I re shot this image of me putting on the ring.
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A reference photo for my friends to set the position, angle and camera settings correct.
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Bride and groom standing at the aisle in church.
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Bride and groom smiling happily at church after wedding.
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The bride and the flower bouquet.
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A photo taken outside the church against the white wall of the Hämeenlinna church.
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Bride against the white wall.
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Bride and groom standing outside the church.
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The newly wed couple outside the church. Notice the dark scratches on the wall on the upper left. My mistake!
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Bride standing near a fountain, just next to the church.
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The bride with a market place and fountain in the background.

I think this blog post has the best photos of our wedding. How did you do photography for your wedding? Did you manage to get the photos you wanted or did some of them fail?

Stay tuned for part 3 where the bride will be wearing qipao = traditional Chinese dress.