Interview with Jeff Ascough, Wedding Photographer a photo.net interview by Mary Ball • Jeff Ascough has been a professional wedding photographer in the United Kingdom since 1989. He has covered over 1000 weddings with a documentary photography style. Ascough emphasizes capturing the moment without any prompting or interference and using available light. American Photo voted Ascough as one of the ten best wedding photographers in the world. Ascough was asked questions in the photo.net wedding photography forum, moderated by Mary Ball. Mary Ball edited and reorganized the interview into the article below. Ascoughs development as a wedding photographer Jeff Ascough Ascough: Around 1994, about five years into my career as a photographer, I started to be disillusioned by traditional wedding photography. Im glad I first took a traditional approach, as it taught me a lot about lighting, face position, camera heights etc. However, it seemed to me I was being too intrusive on the wedding day. Around this time, I switched from Leica rangefinders and bought my first SLR: a Canon EOS 100 and a cheap 28-80 lens. Between the formal images, I took candids, mainly for my own pleasure just to keep my interest going. What surprised me was the client reaction: they loved these informal images. I knew then I was onto something. I could satisfy my own artistic desires and please my clients. His photojournalistic wedding style My style is all about anticipation. Compared to others, I capture relatively few images at weddings. I like to see a picture, set the composition and angle relative to the light, and then wait for something to happen within that picture. I may take several frames to get the perfect capture. If something doesnt happen, I go and look for another image. Im very deliberate and controlled in what I do, most of the time anyway.
If you ever get to see the film War Photographer (2001), with James Nachtwey, the way hephotographs is very similar to how I do things. Nachtwey is very deliberate and takes his timeover the image. I am drawn to the sheer aesthetic beauty of his images. Forget the content andjust look at the use of his composition, the light and his understanding of the decisive moment.Nachtwey is a genius with a camera. In many cases, he has achieved fantastic images while beingunder intense stress, far more than you or I will ever witness with a camera. That is what is sospecial about the guy.I will take several frames of each picture to make sure I nail the decisive moment. Unfortunately,I have to capture several frames with DSLRs as the view finder goes blank at the point ofexposure. When I used to photograph with rangefinders, I could see the moment as it happenedso my actual frame rate was lower. I position myself for the picture I want to achieve and go for it.I dont move around too much, nor do I blast away with the camera, as this is distracting to thesubject.Finding and using natural light vs. flash Jeff AscoughIn my world, sufficient light means enough illumination to get a photograph without too muchsubject movement. This could be 1/15th sec, f1.2, 3200 ISO for static subjects, or 1/50th sec, f1.2,3200 ISO for slightly moving subjects. However, the light needs to be good as well.If Im completely in a bind, I will use flash to either clean up the light or to freeze movement.However, this is usually a last resort. The flash is always balanced for the background. The onlytime Ive used flash this year (2007) was for the first dance at two weddings. During the summer,I dont use flash at all.Find the rooms where the wedding will take place and look for the main light source. Get yourassistant to move around the light source while you see how the light plays on the person. Look atthe angle of light and how it changes as you also move in relation to the light and the person. Youwill then get a better idea of where to be in relation to the subject to take your pictures at a giventime.Great light and composition are more important to me than anything else in a photograph.Cartier-Bresson, one of my heroes, always looked for the composition first and then waited forthe decisive moment. He enjoyed the mathematics of composition. Im the same. If I can combinegreat composition, great light, and something interesting within the image, I have the makings ofa great picture. I always go for composition and light first.
I follow my clients, looking for the light within the environment they are in. In some cases theymay never venture into the best light. Thats the way it goes-I wont ever ask them to move intobetter light as Im not there to interfere.If the light was bad, I would capture the image with a wide angle and make the subjects verysmall in the frame, allowing the rest of the frame to tell the story. That way the client would gettheir processional image, which would look great, and you wouldnt have to worry too muchabout the light on their faces.Sample wedding photos illustrating using natural light Regarding exposure and backlighting: I tend to overexpose by 1-2 stops to get detail in the faces. I then run my highlight paramedic action to bring back detail in the highlights. Jeff Ascough Similar lighting outdoors. Jeff Ascough Side lighting with the brides dress acting as a reflector.
Jeff Ascough 3/4 lighting. As above but with the brides face at 45 degrees to the light.Jeff Ascough Good old tungsten light at the reception. Jeff Ascough Tungsten light at the reception used as a backlight.Jeff Ascough
Bright sunlight outdoors--light reflected off the building behind me to light the brides face.Jeff Ascough Bright sunlight used as a spotlight in church.Jeff Ascough As you can see, good light gives a great three-dimensional quality to an image. It can be hard, soft, or angular. As long as it lifts the image Im happy.Jeff Ascough Poor shadowy lighting. Some dodging has been done in Photoshop to lighten the brides face. The eyes are still quite dark, but the expression and my relative distance from the subject allows me to get away with it.Jeff Ascough
Really strong full sun. This photograph wasnt possible when the bride looked up, so I waited until she looked down, in order that the poor light doesnt affect her face negatively. Jeff Ascough Full sun again. This time Ive included a lot of the environment in order to hide the poor lighting on their faces. Jeff AscoughThe two things you have to consider when photographing in dim light are your focus and yourshutter speed. Focus is fine as long as you can confirm it, and the camera has some help. To thisend, I use aCanon EC-A microprism screen in all my cameras. It allows me to judge whether ornot the subject is sharp in low light. It also allows me to manually focus if necessary. In really lowlight, I use a Canon STE2 Speedlite Transmitter on its own. This throws out a beam of light thathelps the camera to focus. I dont try to photograph subjects that are moving about in dim light.That is the domain of the flashgun. If I can get a shutter speed of 1/30th, Im ok. I can handhold a35mm down to 1/8th sec without issue, but there will always be subject movement.I always squeeze off three frames at a time. I can guarantee the second one will be sharper as Irelax momentarily.
85mm, f1.2, 1/40, ISO 1600. It has a little softness to it, but I think that is part of the charm. Im braced against a wall, and this was the third image in a continuous capture sequence. The B&W is done via my actions. Jeff Ascough Some really, really strong backlighting. The rim light is fine on the grooms face. I had to wait for the expression from the bride. However, the lighting isnt the greatest on her face. By including more of the environment, Ive hidden the poor light on her face. The expression more than makes up for it. Jeff AscoughI dont own any lighting equipment other than a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash (review) and abeat-up Canon 550EX (discontinued model). I certainly wouldnt be interested in bringing outany sort of large light modifier just to do two or three formal shots.I wouldnt photograph formals in any place where I couldnt control the light. If the ceiling is toohigh or dark, I would move the couple to an area with a lower, whiter ceiling, even if it meanssacrificing a slightly better background. If I have to do formal portraits in a high-ceilingenvironment and I need to use flash, Ill flip out the white diffuser on the top of the CanonSpeedlite 580EX II Flash (review), angle the flash head upright, and bounce into that.Thoughts and methods regarding digital wedding photography Jeff AscoughDigital has allowed me to make my product better. I have total control over everything now,something film never allowed me to do. However, my product is exactly the same as it was when Iused film, just more refined and true to my own vision. Digital cameras allow more artisticexpression through post processing, far more than film ever did. Photographers doing something
unique with post processing will inevitably be copied, and then the post processing becomes astyle. This is what is happening now.My White Balance (WB) is preset to daylight. I leave it on that all day unless I am in tungstenlight. Then Ill switch it over to tungsten or do a custom WB if I get the time. Since Photoshop CS3and Aperture 4 have arrived, I could photograph an entire day using Auto White Balance (AWB)and do the WB correction later in the software.Regarding actual pictures, I take around 300 composed images. This translates to anywherebetween 1000 and 1200 actual presses of the shutter, given that I take 2-4 images in continuouscapture mode for each composition. All finished files and original images are backed up toexternal drives. All finished JPEGs are backed up to Gold CDs.My Canon EOS-1D Mark II N (review) is set to neutral and the contrast is backed off by one click.The images come out of camera pretty flat. I use one of my actions to boost the color and contrast.Most people use curves to do this but I find it blocks up the shadows too easily. My actions are setso the shadows dont block up. Jeff AscoughI like my color images to look like film: my colors should be real as Im documenting reality. Imnot into heavily saturated colors or too much contrast. I also like my flesh tones to be on thewarm side, so I usually boost the WB a little to get this. I retouch blemishes in closeups only. I doa fair amount of work through actions on each image though. This is to emphasize different partsof the image rather than trying to polish it. In the future, as RAW software becomes better at skintones, and camera resolutions become greater with better highlight detail, there will be moreemphasis on subtlety and true color rather than the heavily saturated stuff that we see now.Many photographers claim that photographing RAW actually speeds up workflow. Ive alwaysfound the opposite. However, while browsing one of my favorite websites, www.digitaljournalist.org, I came across an article on how photographing in JPEG actuallymakes you a better RAW photographer. In theory, JPEG photographers tend to get it right incamera. If they carried over their photographic technique to RAW, the images straight out ofcamera should require very little manipulation in the RAW software and should be ready to beconverted to JPEG without messing too much with the files. The advantage here is that less timeis spent adjusting JPEGs in Photoshop. I am constantly trying to improve this major area of myworkflow.Post-processing with RAW images
To make RAW work for me, it needs to significantly cut down the time I spend tweaking JPEGs inPhotoshop. Aperture and Lightroom dont do that. I need an application that will give me thequality that I want, especially in the realm of skin tones, with absolutely minimal work requiredafterwards in Photoshop. Then I could take this RAW thing seriously as a solid workflow option.I think I have found the answer: Capture One Pro. I had completely overlooked this programbecause of its price tag and its unique workflow. The user interface took some getting used to, butit does make sense. The noise reduction is excellent. High ISO images have never looked so good.I havent gotten into the different profiles yet, but the black & white options look interesting. Jeff AscoughThe last three weddings Ive captured in RAW and processed the images in Capture One Pro. I amdelighted with the results. The colors straight out of the camera and into the software arebeautiful. The files generally only need a quick contrast/exposure tweak and they are done. Thisis saving me so much time as I dont have to then load the images into Photoshop to process theimages. Im impressed.Could this be the start of a new beautiful relationship? Its too early to tell. I am still learningabout the software, but I have to say its so far-so good. Im still not convinced that the qualityfrom Capture One Pro is better than from my JPEG workflow, but its not taking as long toprocess my images. Im sure the technical quality will improve as I get used to the software.Lens choices for wedding photographyUsually, I have a 24-70 on my Canon EOS 1D Mark II N and a fast prime, most often a 50L on thebackup body, same model. In the pouch, I have a 35L and sometimes an 85L. Thats pretty muchit for how I work. If I need to carry more lenses, I use a small satchel-type bag. My current bag ofchoice is theLowepro Rolling Mini Trekker AW. I try not to work while wearing it, though, as it putspressure on my back. For my spare kit, which lives in the car, I use a Lowepro Compact AW.During the summer, Ill ditch all the primes and just use one body with a 24-70. Thats my mostpreferred way of working, but I need a good sunny day to do that.For more information regarding Ascoughs cameras and lenses, please view his equipment page.Black and white wedding photographyI love B&W images. Its what drew me to photography in the first place. Photography to me is allabout light, shape and form: B&W allows you to strip away the distraction of color and get rightto the heart of the image. With that in mind, I capture most of my images knowing they will endup being B&W. I rarely try a B&W conversion out on an image just to see what it will look like; Ipretty much know which images will be B&W even before Ive downloaded the cards.
Wedding photo albums and design Jeff AscoughAlbum design is my sole responsibility. Clients dont have any input into it. Its part of the servicewe provide. I use Jorgensen Album Designer Software and Yervants Page Gallery 4 for designing the albums.My albums are Jorgensen exclusively. The number of pages and album shape/design variesaccording to clients taste.Some people have objected to having a completed album, but in all honesty they are very few andfar between. Once I explain my philosophy behind my approach, they are quite happy with it. Iphotograph for the album, not to sell pictures after the event. The album is the vehicle for mywork and I capture images accordingly. It makes a difference to me as an artist to have thatfreedom, without having to work within the constraints of taking pictures, which I have to sellafterwards.The clients get their albums within six weeks of the wedding and they dont need to visit me,choose pictures, or even have to contact me again. With my clients busy lifestyles, most of themappreciate this hassle-free approach.If you proof your images, you are saying to the client, "I cant decide which are the best picturesfrom your wedding. Im going to let you decide even though you dont have any experiencelooking at wedding photographs." Furthermore, if a client has to choose a set number of images,how will she do it? Shell look out for the pictures she doesnt like, implying that there are picturesin the set that arent very good. In my opinion, thats too negative a standpoint to take. I wouldrather present my clients with an album compilation of only the best images.We have a Skooks Shopping Kart available on my web site for clients to see their wedding pictureswhile the album is being made. It also allows guests to order prints after the wedding.Also important is a relationship with a good lab: I have a good lab. We are fully color-managedand use the labs recommended color space. The labs printing profile is assigned to the images.My actions also ensure there is no color cast in the images before we send them to the lab. Theprints we get are perfectly neutral and consistent over the whole wedding.The occasional obligatory posed imageMy formals are very simple. They are very quick to do and the clients appreciate that