Hey fellow photographers & welcome! As many of you may know I mentor photographers because I believe in freely sharing knowledge with the world. There are so many wonderful photographers that teach, & so many courses you can purchase on every corner of the web. And while I understand that they too are just trying to make a living, & their knowledge is valuable, not everyone has that kind of spare income or may not be ready to invest in their business just yet. I, myself, wouldn’t even be in this industry if not for the kindness of one photographer sharing his techniques with me, so I try to pay it forward & help the next generation of shooters reach their full potential! That, & I just love photography & I love talking about it!
So many of my fellow colleagues & budding photographers have asked to be in my mentor program but unfortunately I just can’t take on anymore folks. Especially with the ongoing Covid pandemic, we haven’t been able to work together. But I’ve missed coaching so much & I know that so many photographers have downtime right now. THIS is the time to grow & learn!
While I am working up to doing a free Houston- based online mentorship, where we show you videos of popular Houston locations & I teach you how I would shoot at each of them, how I find good, soft light, & what lenses, poses, & prompts I use, all that is many months away.
So, for now I’ll be doing blog posts aimed at giving you all actionable advice, tips, & techniques that you can try today! Each post will be in the Education for Photographers category, so check back every other week or hit subscribe to have it sent right to your inbox!
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or you just picked up your first DSLR, I hope these posts will help you to create the style of images you see in your mind.
Topic #1: Ring Shots
There is nothing that will make your work look more high end than a striking ring shot. This is usually one of the first images in my wedding client’s gallery, so it sets the tone for the style and quality of the whole gallery. It needs to be bright, clear, sharp, and free of color cast.
The first thing I do is select my Canon 100m Macro f2.8 lens. But if you can’t afford one just yet, don’t fret. For the first 8 years of my career I didn’t even own a macro lens. While it does make it quicker and easier, there is another option. You can use extension tubes, which are adapters that can turn any lens into a macro lens by allowing it to focus closer, which is essentially what a macro lens does. You can buy them HERE. Make sure you select one that’s made for your camera mount.
This image is one of my favorites and it was taken with an 85mm f1.8 lens and an extension tube. Now there is a learning curve to using them because, unlike a macro lens where you can focus from any distance, each tube has a minimum and maximum focusing distance. One trick it to set your focus to infinity (that little sideways 8 looking thing) and then move closer and closer to the ring until it comes into focus. From that point it’s easier to adjust. You can combine the tubes to focus closer and closer, though you lose about a ½ a stop of light with each tube, if my memory serves me correctly. You’ll need to increase your exposure to compensate.
An extension tube is a great little tool. In fact, I don’t even take my macro lens on engagement sessions because its one less thing I have to carry. Instead, when I want to grab a quick ring shot while my couple is changing, I can just bust out one of those little guys and put it back in my pocket when I’m done.
Once you’ve got your lens set, you’ll want to make sure you don’t have any dust on it. The easiest way to do that is set your aperture to around f11 and take a well exposed shot of a blank white wall. If you see small gray circles all over your images, you need to clean it. A can of compressed air is my go-to cleaning method.
My Detail Kit
I try to use as many items that are authentic to the wedding day as possible, but sometimes a ring shot needs a little something extra.
I love the fold-able styling mats from the Styling Mat Company (here are the ones I use) but I also often use the bride’s dress, unless it’s a stark white tulle skirt (too poufy to stabilize the ring and the stark white color can sometimes cause a blue cast). I lay the dress on a chair or clear shower curtain to protect it and use the train as my white surface and background. I also bring an array of small white trays and dishes, as well as ring boxes in a variety of colors, and silk, velvet, and chiffon ribbon in about 20 different colors. I’ll link my items at the bottom of this post.
The next step to creating an epic ring shot is to find great light. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your ring is, if you don’t have good light, it’s not going to look luxe. I prefer to shoot details next to a large window, preferably a corner with widows on either side, and it is SUPER FREAKIN IMPORTANT that you cut off all other indoor lighting. The reason is because light has color, with daylight being much more blue than most interior lights, which are typically tungsten or florescent. If there are two different colors of light illuminating your images you will have color cast, aka the Bane of My Existence. Part of your picture will be blue, the other very yellow, and your diamond will not pop.
But unless you’re surrounded on both sides by windows, you’ll also need a white reflector on the opposite side of the window, to brighten the shadows. If you’ve ever taken a ring shot and thought the diamond looked too dark, the lack of fill light is likely the culprit. Remember, you want to be shooting with the window to your side, not behind you. The reflector needs to be as close to the ring as possible, a few inches if it’s not in your frame.
Now this is all about personal taste, but because I am a light and airy photographer, I am all about the white/light background space. A lot of photographers who are attempting to achieve this style often miss this key ingredient. I know I did for a long time. If you want bright images, you need a bright background so stay away from dark, dense surfaces.
Yes, I call them poses, and I have several. Not every pose will work for every ring style, but I’ll explain that in a moment.
The 1st pose is all 3 rings (engagement and both his and her bands) laid out on the same focal plane as the camera. The BIGGEST mistake I see photographers make is they line up the bands. But focus works backwards (actually 1/3 forward and 2/3 backwards to get super technical). So, if you line up the bands the rings will be out of focus. Instead, line up the bands to the edge of the diamond. I like to shoot this pose straight on like in the images below. Focus on the prong that is closest to you.
The 2nd pose is the girl’s rings laying halfway on the man’s ring. Again, just make sure you focus on the diamond, on the prong that’s closest to you.
Now that you’ve got them into this position, if the groom’s ring is engraved make sure you focus on that for one shot.
The 3rd pose is the girls’ rings fitted inside the guys. You’ll need a flat, stable surface. This pose won’t work if the guy’s ring is much larger than the woman’s, but a little bit of tack can help keep them in place. I use this brand.
This pose can be shot from different angles, as seen above and below. My go-to angles are straight on, directly overhead (make sure you focus on the prong of the engagement ring) and from a side downward angle. You may need to adjust the position of the diamond because if it’s facing the window you may get a reflection on the diamond, which is not ideal. You don’t want light to hit the gemstone directly so you can’t see all the facets inside. Basically if there’s a bright spot on the stone, just turn it ever so slightly.
The 4th pose is the guy’s rings and girl’s side by side, but this time you stack the girl’s wedding band on top of the engagement ring. You can shoot this from the front and overhead.
The 5th pose is the engagement ring set inside the guy’s ring, which is standing on it’s side. You can also shoot the guy’s ring alone like this.
I also like to get single shots of each ring alone, and always check for engravings.
The 6th pose is for couples who have class rings. One mistake I have made is forgetting to make sure the class rings are right side up. But you can lay these flat in a line or stack them. Have fun!
The 7th pose is with the stem of a flower. I always email the florist a few days before the wedding and ask them to bring a few loose blooms and greenery so I can use them to style details. They always say yes, and in return I share the images with them, which you should be doing with every vendor. Then I like to ask my bride which flower is her favorite and use one to style a ring shot.
You can also set the ring inside a large flower. I, personally, only use light colored blooms because a) light and airy, and b) it helps the ring pop. Same rules of light as above still apply here.
I also set the rings on the invitation suites. As I’m creating the blog post I pair the ring shots next to other details and vignettes.
And on the full invitation suite flat lay.
Now that I’ve gotten all of my main shots, which at this point has usually taken me 5 minutes or so, if I have time I like to get some more creative shots, either using material from the day or from my detail kit. One fun shot it to run ribbon through the rings. This is a great way to use more of the bride’s colors.
Another fun one is to stick it on the heel of the bride’s stiletto. Make sure the back of the shoe is clean.
If I haven’t already, I’ll break out one of my ring dishes.
And my Mrs boxes. There are so many ways to use these little guys. You can shoot with the rings in the ring slots, with the rings on top of them, singular, side by side, leaning up against them. Lots of options. I also use these to shoot earrings, which often fit on top nicely. But be sure to keep the seam of the box in the back.
The last ring shot I’ll do is during her bridal portraits, when I have her put her hand on the smallest part of her waist and get a tight shot of her belt and ring.
But weddings aren’t the only time I get ring shots. During my couple’s engagement sessions, I like to grab a few while they’re changing, as well as while they’re in front of me. Here are my go-to shots:
On a branch or flower.
If I’m in an urban area and there aren’t pretty flowers or trees nearby, but I still want a light background, I’ll use the white line of the road.
I also like to have the girl pinch her dress and get a vignette of her hands.
Then I’ll have them intertwine their fingers.
Here’s another that I love, but it works best with thinner couples. The reason is because, in order to see the ring, her hands must be on top. While of course every couple is different, in my experience this can often look maternity if the girl doesn’t have a flat tummy. For my lovely curvier brides I stick to the other more flattering options OR I have them hugging above her chest, around her shoulders.
Run her fingers through her hair.
With her hands around his neck (I try and bring a stepstool but sometimes I’ll have them kneeling so I can get a better angle).
Here’s a variation of that.
Holding hands, walking away from the camera.
1. Get at least one shot where you completely fill the frame with the rings. It makes more of an impact.
2. Understand that some rings photograph better than others. The larger the diamond, the easier it is to focus on it and the brighter it looks.
3. Increase your aperture. I tend to shoot all other details around f2.8 or lower, but with ring shots I increase to f5.
4. I love this tiny round silver reflector that bounces back light into the diamond. It makes a huge difference.
5. While I use a lens hood in every other situation, I take it off for ring shots because the hood will cause shadows or diminish my light, especially if I’m shooting super tight.
6. Ask your client to clean their ring before the shoot or keep these bling wipes in your detail kit. Women often apply lotion to their hands which diminishes the sparkle of the ring.
7. If adding your own styling pieces, like ornate scissors, don’t mix metals. If your couple both have gold bands don’t use silver styling pieces.
8. If the bride’s wedding band has diamonds but they don’t go all the way around the band, be sure to face the diamond side towards the camera.
1. One trick I do to all of my ring shots is remove chromatic aberration under the Lens Adjustments Tab. Purple hues in the ring in the highlights are a distraction.
2. Then I take a brush and brighten it just a smidge, as well as DESATURATE. Remember, one of the C’s in classifying a diamond’s worth is COLOR. Desaturating it makes it look cleaner and brighter. If it needs it, I’ll sharpen it as well.
3. I also increase my clarity, and it’s usually the only time I ever do this. For my portraits I set my clarity to -10. But for ring shots I might take it up to +10, as well as increase my texture.
4. If I see any dust spots I remove them with the clone stamp.
Links for my detail kit supplies:
Rose gold hangers (I also have 10 white wood hangers)
Marble contact paper (photographs like real marble)
Command hooks (to hang the dress)
Trays (they rotate inventory)
Cheese cloth, chiffon fabric, velvet ribbon
I hope this has been helpful and given you some new techniques to work with. I’d love to see the shots you’ve made after implementing these tips so comment and tag #amymaddoxphotomentor on social media. I can’t wait to see your shots!
Houston Texas wedding photographer, light and airy wedding photographer, Houston Texas engagement photographer, Magnolia Texas wedding photographer, Galveston, Texas wedding photographer, luxury wedding photographer, photography instructor, photography mentor, photography classes