Sponsored as official writers of WPPI by this rad hub for photographers, SLR Lounge, we are excited to share with you the 7th of a 9-part series with one of the people that inspired us to become wedding photographers:
Susan Stripling 2011 | Taking Your Work to the Next Level
Two hours later, we all stood excitedly, applauding.
Welcome to the Platform Class of a master photographer who got a standing ovation at WPPI: Susan Stripling.
Who is Susan Stripling?
From starving actress to waitress to receptionist, Susan Stripling never expected to become a wedding photographer. But in 2001, she picked up a camera, shot her first wedding, and fell in love.
Published in the biggest name wedding and photographer magazines, she’s become a star in the photography community, teaching in conventions, workshops, and at WPPI. Just last year in 2010, Susan won the Grand Award in Photojournalism at WPPI.
In fact, her beautiful photos were among what inspired us to get into wedding photography in the first place. So we just had to hear her speak at WPPI.
You can view more of Susan Stripling’s work here.
After 4-5 years, her business hit a plateau. Every wedding started to look the same. She was no longer able to create images that moved her or her clients. To get to the next level, she had to do concrete work to make herself better. To move from Point A to Point B, she had to strengthen her actual abilities as a shooter.
Introducing Susan Stripling’s WPPI Platform Class: Taking your Work to the Next Level.
Her Platform Class
Susan’s first step to taking her work to the next level: Write down all the problems she saw in her work.
• Incorrect lens selections
• Fear of talking out loud (especially at a wedding)
• Bad lighting
She knew she couldn’t sell her personality. It wasn’t what she does. It didn’t fit her. She was hired as an artist. She lets her photos tell a story.
“YOU CAN SELL IMAGES AND IMAGERY WITHOUT SELLING THE EXPERIENCE OF YOU.”
– SUSAN STRIPLING
So what did she do to improve?
Flattering Focal Lengths
She looked for flattering focal lengths.
Before: She’d get up in front of people’s faces with a 24mm and not understand why her bride’s forehead looked like a drive-in movie. She was afraid that, by stepping back, she wouldn’t be able to capture the intimacy.
After: She chose lenses for what they do, instead of for the proximity it gave her to her clients. For getting ready, her favorite lens became the 85mm 1.4, which let the lens compression make the subject look closer. She then would only use the 24mm to distort on purpose. It’s unattractive on faces but NOT ineffective and can help you push your viewers to look at what you want them to look at.
She learned about lens compression. Lens compression makes the background look much closer to the subject.
Have you ever had a client want to have a specific venue/site in the background of their shot? Susan advised you use the 200mm so that you can bring the background right behind them. In fact, the Canon 200mm 2.8 is her favorite lens because of the intimate portraits they create.
Don’t ALWAYS use 1.2 or 1.4. Susan only uses that when she wants to focus on one thing and put everything else out of focus.
“JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE A 50MM 1.2 DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO SHOOT AT 1.2 ALL THE TIME.”
– SUSAN STRIPLING
Never shoot brides and grooms together at 2.8. She always shoots at 4.0 to prevent one from going out of focus.
For ring shots with a macro, do NOT use 2.8. The plain of focus is so teeny tiny. To get a ring in focus, shoot at f9 or f11 to view the entire diamond. To get an engraving inside the ring, shoot at f16 or f22.
For dress shots, use the 24mm and involve other people in the shot to make it more compelling.
Talking to Your Clients
Don’t be afraid to talk to your clients. Once you’ve learned your gear, light, and what you want to photograph, don’t be afraid of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to say, “Hey guys, this isn’t working. Let’s try something else.”
“WHEN YOUR CLIENTS LOVE YOU, THEY WILL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT BECAUSE THEY TRUST YOUR WORK AND KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT ENTIRELY SURE IT’LL WORK, SOUND CONFIDENT AND THEY’LL DO IT ANYHOW.”
– SUSAN STRIPLING
Susan focused on learning strobes before learning how to use natural light. Once she understood strobes, she then applied what she learned for natural light settings. She learned from the masters: Zack Arias, Marcus Bell, Cliff Mautner, and the Chrismans.
The Four Types of Lighting and How to Use Them:
1| Natural Light Indoors:
• Step 1: Find directional sunlight, not open shade.
• Step 2: Put the client between you and the sun.
• Step 3: Block light from the lens. You must be in the shade to get the shot.
• Step 4: Find an interesting dark background. You won’t see the light direction with a white background.
• Step 5: Use the 200mm and stay away so you do not intrude on the moment.
2 | Natural Light Outdoors:
• If the area is really overcast and there is no good directional light, put them in an area of shadow so the slightly overcast light looks lighter.
• Find patches of light.
• When you want your clients to look at the sun, tell them: “I’m going to burn your eyes in the sun. Close your eyes. I’ll count to 3. Then, pop ‘em open and close.”
3 | Artificial Light Outdoors
• For Family Formals: Look for a background with texture (no black or white). Put the subjects slightly in the shade but make sure light is hitting the background. Then, use the 70-200mm or 200mm lens to pull the background closer to the subject. Take a meter reading of the scene and take down for 2 stops and use the light to fill it in. Susan will put an SB800 on a monopod or at ½ or full power 4’ to the photographer’s left and 15’ from the subject. You need to have only enough flash to kiss the subject in the face and lighten pockets in their eyes.
• During a night shoot, use a video light from behind the subject (even during the rain). Find a natural light to mimic flash and use a video light as a spotlight.
4 | Artificial Light Indoors
• Great sources of light indoors are video light and a fire
• For shooting during the reception whether it be for toasts or the dance floor, Susan has her assistant use a light on the monopod, stand in one spot at 1/8 or 1/16 power. She then takes her 70-200 and circles the dance room. The assistant is the only light, stays where she is, and Susan is the only one that moves.
“THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE LIGHTING, YOUR SKILLS, YOUR OWN IS TO PRACTICE IT. PRACTICE IT. PRACTICE IT.”
– SUSAN STRIPLING
where can you read the rest?
To view the entire article on Susan Stripling’s awesome class, like our Facebook page here and go to the “For Photographers” tab to download all the WPPI articles from the great speakers there!
Stay tuned for more from Jose Villa and Jules Bianchi in the coming weeks.
- Share these tips on Facebook or Twitter!
- More Photographer’s Corner posts here.