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Readers Shoot Back: Vivian Chung

Dontcha hate it when your bride-and-groom portrait gets photo-bombed?

Okay, maybe not if it's by a Beluga whale. And for Vancouver wedding photographer (and Strobist reader) Vivian Chung, this well-planned cameo was no accident.

Complicating things, she only had a little time—and a key technical restriction—to make this shot.


"I had a few nightmares about this wedding," Chung said, "once I was informed by my friend that they are having their wedding at the Aquarium."

Adding to her nightmares was the fact that the rather large reception would have to be split up over three rooms, each of which would have to be pre-lit. A Canon shooter, she used a mix of Canon and Nikon strobes—and even continuous LED lights—to light the rooms. (One of the rooms was so dark the LEDs were needed for the guests.)

"I admit, I did research A LOT regarding how to utilize this awesome opportunity for photographing wedding portrait inside the Aquarium," said Chung, who was also dealing with a tough restriction:

"We have thirty minutes," she notes, "and you are not allowed to flash directly into any tank in the aquarium. And naturally, they don't guarantee that the whale will cooperate."

She covered herself, shooting standard portraits of the couple smiling in front of the tank. But the facing away shot with the whale was her favorite.

"I love this shot because the couple are interacting with the whale," Chung said. "Which is what you do when you are in font of any giant tank of water containing creature—you look at it!"

Chung said there was a wedding coordinator who's job it was to inspect every lighting setup to make sure it complied with the restrictions. Chung worked spontaneously and creatively to light within the limits.

To get this shot, Chung used a Canon 24-70/2.8 L II on a 5d Mk III. It was lit by a single Canon 580 EX II flash (with a dome diffusor) triggered by a Yongnuo RF-603 remote. There are also two gobos and a reflector being used in the photo.

To abide by the no direct flash restriction, she placed a card (gobo #1) behind the domed speedlight. This shielded the direct light from the tank. As the flash lit the bride (AKA gobo #2) her dress and body also became a bounce reflector, which allowed the softened, reflected flash to reach the co-star of the photo. The ambient exposure component was set to record the daylight entering the tank from above. Finishing off the light is a slight tungsten wash on the dress courtesy the on-camera light of a nearby videographer.

Even when not dealing with whales, Chung's wedding photography philosophy is to work with fewer lights and more creativity.

"As much as I would love to have three umbrellas set up and have two reflector for fill," she said, "it's not about how many cool strobes you can throw in when dealing with twelve people who are cranky and tired waiting for you to test your lights. It's about engaging the happy couple with all their friends and egging them on to do crazy things for you to capture."

For Chung, the result is a playful and human quality to her images—with a sensitivity to small flash. You can see much more of her work at Please do take a look.

And if your wedding ever has an oceanic theme, you know who to call.

Photo ©2013 Vivian Chung. Used with permission.


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