Dillon Falls Engagement Photography Lighting

March 16, 2023 Profoto Lighting

Sarah and Mario's engagement portrait session at Dillon Falls with the Profoto

I use a Profoto light extensively in my work as a portrait photography and wedding photographer. It has become an indispensable tool for creating magical moments in peoples lives. Sarah and Mario would be shadowy blobs in this cover shot without the Profoto.

Mixing ambient light with the Profoto becomes a fun challenge because ambient light quality and amount varies continuously throughout the day. Sometimes I like to whip out a machine called a light meter to measure the ambient and the Profoto to get them balanced exactly right. But with the mirrorless cameras able to show the rough exposure of the picture right in the viewfinder using a technology called EVF (electronic view finder) I can adjust for the ambient right in the camera and then play around with the power of my light as we go. Once a light is set up I have time to let the couple be natural, or as natural as possible, for a few minutes before either the light fades or we want to move on to the next posing scenario.

After the portraits are done I go into Lightroom or Photoshop to fine tune the light, shadows, and color temperature to get exactly what I want. When this step is finished I sometimes like to play around with some plug-ins to further enhance and adjust what the picture will look like for printing.

My business model is all about getting the wedding and portrait photography as prints on your wall, in the portfolio book, and into an album. Form the start of any engagement portrait session I'm working towards making prints. I continuously adjust and play with the light to get things just right.

For this entire set of pictures I used the Profoto with the beauty dish and a grid to focus the light and not spray it around the environment. The Milky Way portrait was done with two Profoto lights: one on them, the other behind them. The goal with the second light behind them was to both separate them from the background and make it look like the light from the stars was shining on them.

Sarah and Mario at Dillon Falls in the afternoon.

Dillon Falls rocks for engagement portraits

This first picture was done over at the elbow in the river with the aspen grove in the background. I've done tons of portraits in this section of the Deschutes River. The afternoon light sweeps across and through the trees giving me lots of options. The pine tree growing right at the corner makes a great sun-block and lets me use my Profoto as the subject light. Using my light instead of the sun allows for less harsh shadows and lets me direct the beam of light where and how I want it to go on their faces. Once the background and light is chosen i try to get the couple to pose in a natural and fun way. Rarely are the first pictures used in the final cut because it usually takes awhile for people to get used to everything. Sarah and Mario were the exceptions to this rule, they came out of the gates ready to get some winners.

I loved this picture of Sarah and Mario and used a plug-in filter to warm the tones and add grain. This would look really nice printed on watercolor paper.

Options are important in engagement photography

Dillon Falls gives options if you can work quickly in the fading light of a Central Oregon afternoon. Even hustling around with a light and 30 pounds of sandbags to weigh it down I stay working and thinking about what's going on during the shoot. It really helps when a couple does their posing. Even though this looks like natural light, I was using the Profoto on a very low setting to just paint the slightest amount of light onto their faces. Balancing ambient and artificial light takes a lot of practice to get right.

In black and white you can really see how the Profoto with the beauty dish and grid makes them pop out of the background while not splashing light all over the place.

Changing it up with black and white really helps with options

Most people don't really like black and white. My business model was different when I did these portraits and I just edited and burned a disk of maybe 80 images for them. They of course didn't print all the pictures. I would always give both the color and black and white versions of the pictures done in black and white. This picture isn't possible now because the Forest Service has flooded this field and made it into a summertime marsh and mosquito ghetto. When it was a grassy field this view on slightly smoky summer days just after the sun had set was supremely beautiful for portraits. It's made possible only with the use of focused artificial light.

A tripod, two lights, and lots of patience for this picture.

Milky Way portrait photography is a challenge

So we all know the earth is round and rotates. While it rotates the stars move through the sky from our point of view. I didn't really want the Milky Way to be growing out of their heads, but by the time we started hitting these pictures at maybe 10pm we were getting tired and hungry. Not a good combo for creativity. I used a Profoto B1 with the beauty dish/grid in front to light their faces and a second Profoto B2 with a small grid behind them to light the backs of their heads. The camera was on a tripod to freeze the stars.

So here's the challenge: to get the stars I had to dial the camera way up to shoot in the dark. At this setting the lights were too powerful even at their lowest setting. So I had to hang a jacket over part of the B1 and dial the B2 to it's lowest setting. Plus, I had to have them freeze in position for 30 seconds so the stars would show up. The flashes can freeze motion, but if you look closely you can see a dark shadow next to Mario's head from body motion. It's a small thing, but it was there. PLUS, because it was 30 second exposures, holding still, trying to pose, and the Milky Way moving left to right, we had to work fairly quickly.

I was very happy with the end result considering the work that went into this picture.