Post-reception dance parties can pose some of the biggest challenges for wedding photographers. So, to field test the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, for Profoto’s theme, “The world is my studio,” Canada’s Two Mann Studios arranged a dance party in a black-walled, black-ceilinged conference hall—a wedding photographer’s worst nightmare.
Named the world’s top two wedding photographers four years running by Fearless Photographers, Canada’s husband and wife team of Lanny Mann and Erika Jensen Mann have been creating images since 2002.
It all started on a mountaineering trip to Patagonia. “Photography was a way for us to share our experiences around the world, with our friends and family,” Lanny says.
Adds Erika, “We use our cameras to capture what we find interesting. And that, in turn, has determined our style. We love raw nature, we love epic landscapes, and we love personality. The combination of these three things has determined our style. We hope our style is real, energetic and candid.
“We don’t consider ourselves creative photographers,” she continues. “Our favorite thing to document is reality, because in our minds, we can’t make anything up that’s as interesting as reality.”
“Did they write this slogan with us in mind?”
When Profoto approached Two Mann Studios and asked if they wanted to try out the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, they were excited about the possibilities.
“We know from industry colleagues that quality and reliability of Profoto products is second to none,” says Erika. “However, nothing within the current Profoto product lineup fit with our minimalistic ideals. We want to just show up to a wedding or a location with one shoulder bag.”
That’s partly because the two don’t come from a background of studio photographers but from a background of on-location, documentary photography. And with the theme, “The world is my studio,” Lanny says their first gut reaction was, “did they write this slogan with us in mind?”
No wonder: With their passion for travel, Erika and Lanny have designed their entire business—and lifestyle—so that they can work anywhere in the world, with a laptop and a very simple photography setup. In fact, the pair has taken their two small children out of school for a globe-trotting year of travel to six continents, creating images and blogging all the way. “‘The world is our studio’ is actually very in line with our current lifestyle,” Erika says.
A photographer’s worst nightmare
So, with the idea of documenting reality in mind for this project, they decided to create a dance party that would be as realistic as possible by inviting a bunch of Calgary wedding photographers and wedding planners to a local disco.
To add to the challenge, Two Mann booked an ugly conference room that has black walls and a black ceiling—with no possibility of bouncing light. “That venue is known among the photographers in the Calgary market as the worst nightmare,” Lanny says.
7,892 shots without a miss
A dance party is also one of the only parts of a wedding day where Two Mann use flash consistently and where their current gear limits them. “Depending on the craziness of the dance party, we shoot between 5,000 and 8,000 images on a dance floor,” Erika says. “With our current system, we go through about 35-40 AA batteries, and we miss at least one-third of our shots due to the flash not recycling fast enough.”
Lanny adds that the way they shoot is very different from studio photography because they don’t have control of ALL the little variables that make all the difference. “Reality is unfolding before your camera,” he says. “You have no control over that. You just have to make the most of it.
“Typically, it’s hoping for everything to line up, for the camera to grab focus on the right subject at the right time, and then for the shutter to fire at the moment when the subject is in the perfect position—or their hair is. Those little microseconds. And then hoping that the flash actually fires!”
Fortunately for everyone, the Profoto A1 delivered on its slogan “Never miss a shot” with ironclad reliability. “The night of the Profoto shoot, our shutter went 7,892 times, and the flash fired 7,892 times—every time the shutter clicked. AND, this all occurred with one battery!” Lanny says. “So we are no longer missing shots because of our flash failing, which is HUGE!”
Documenting the dancing
For most of the shoot, Erika and Lanny used one Profoto A1 off camera, with a second A1 on camera as a trigger. For one dramatic black-and-white shot of the bride, Two Mann used ambient light from the DJ’s console to expose for the foreground. A single flash on the dancer angled in from the right of the camera, about 90 degrees from the subject. “In some cases, a black-and-white edit lends itself more to what’s happening with the light,” Lanny says. “If it’s dramatic, hard light, for example, sometimes going black-and-white will bring out that effect.”
Sometimes, Erika and Lanny used a single Profoto A1 to serve more than one function. Shooting from between the legs of the guest playing the role of groom, for example, the camera was at floor level with a Profoto A1 on camera as a trigger. An assistant with a monopod held a second A1 at an 80° angle to the guest playing the role of bride. “It’s as simple as one off-camera flash coming in from the side,” Lanny explains. “But that single flash is also serving the role of backlighting the groom’s legs. So it’s side-lighting the bride, but it’s also rim lighting the groom’s legs.”
Rim light and beautiful skin tones
When the fog machine came out, Erika and Lanny backlit their subjects, providing rim light from within the fog with one Profoto A1 and a second A1 on camera with the A1’s Bounce Card for fill. “We chose to do this because we knew the fog would pick up the back flash really well and essentially create a canvas for the dancer,” Erika says.
Two Mann also found that the Profoto A1’s TTL capability made it easy to combine it with ambient light. In one shot, they used the DJ’s lights to backlight the fog while a Profoto A1 was placed off camera about 90 degrees to the left of the dancer.
Another shot froze the action of a young woman tossing her head, sending her hair flying. To create the image, Two Mann put one Profoto A1 behind her as a rim light and used the a second A1 with its Bounce Card to provide soft, beautiful and natural skin tones.
“The girl was really flinging her hair around, and we knew from past experience that hair picks up backlight really beautifully,” Erika says.
A1’s simplicity saves mental bandwidth
All of these combinations happened without any previous experience with the Profoto A1 or even a manual to read. Instead, Two Mann had about two hours to familiarize themselves with how the Profoto A1 worked before the party started, with two A1s on loan shipped in on the day of the shoot.
“We got the flashes in our hands two hours before the dance party started,” Lanny says. “And there was no instruction manual! So to be able to learn it that fast speaks volumes. And we love it because the way we’ve always thought about flash has always been very non-technical. We haven’t thought in terms of f-stops, shutter speeds and power outputs. It’s very much like we taste the soup and if it needs more salt or less salt, we turn the flash up or down.
“And that’s basically the way these flashes are designed. There are big numbers 2-10 on the back, and you just dial up or dial down.”
“We’re not gearheads”
That ease of use suited them perfectly. “We’re not gearheads, we don’t love technology, we couldn’t care less about the mechanics of a camera,” Lanny says. “We want to avoid getting sucked into the mechanics of our equipment, which is why it’s always been important to keep our equipment as small, light and simple as possible. Anything that slows us down prevents us from capturing moments that are fleeting before us.
Erika adds that they try to prevent anything from taking them out of the moment. “It’s not just about equipment physically slowing us down but slowing us down mentally as well. The idea is to be on the dance floor, be in the action and be 100% there mentally and not use mental bandwidth worrying about flash settings and technical variables.
“We shot a wedding a few days after the party and we were wishing we had the A1s. It’s crazy how quickly your body and your psyche normalize to something that’s improved.”