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The Story of How I Shot a Wedding Inside a Cave

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My name is Andre Oliveira. I’m 24 years old, and I began learning how to use DSLR cameras in 2008 starting with a Canon Rebel Ti that my school supplied. I worked my way to my first Nikon, the D3100, and then eventually up to a D7000. My best upgrade was buying a Nikon 50mm prime lens 4 years ago.

I found a happy medium with photography and now I aim to just impress myself, but I still do random jobs if they are easy to come by and I also love to help friends who can’t afford $1,000+ for a professional to cover their wedding.

Knowing this, my wife referred me (without consulting me first) to her friend she is being the maid of honor for, because she was having trouble finding a photographer for her wedding and was desperate.

“Sure, I’ll do it. What are the details?” I said.

“OH MY GOD, THANK YOU SO MUCH! WE ARE SO EXCITED!… It’s going to be in a cave, by the way!”

I felt conflicted.

Days went by and nobody could get me pictures or exact details of what kind of cave I was going into, so I turned to /r/photography on Reddit to ask for some quick tips and help. To my surprise, it ended up on the first page. What was more surprising was the majority of comments telling me to “respectfully decline the job” or telling me I was screwed and that I should just use the on-board flash to at least salvage a few normal pictures.

None of that was acceptable to me, so I mentioned the idea of getting a dimmable LED video light and that was shot down as well. The most logical advice involved renting a high-end camera and flash equipment, but I didn’t have time to learn how to use a complete new setup — or the money, for that matter.

The best advice I received was to get over my fears of ISO, go crazy with it in RAW format, and touch it up with DXO’s noise filter. This was the kind of advice I was looking for, so that’s what I did.

I flew into Georgia from Oregon and could only access the venue the morning of the wedding since it was over two hours away from my hosts.

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On the big day I got to work preparing the area with the few things I could fit into my carry on: two stage lights a friend had found in a dumpster, and my “stupid” LED video light.

I was blown away by the seven minute walk through various tunnels that eventually opened up into a large cavern with stalagmites, stalactites, and pools of mirror water everywhere…

“Holy s**t!”

I blasted my narrow beamed dumpster lights where their faces would be at the front stage. I shot in camera RAW with a Nikon D7000, ISO of 1200-1600, the shutter pushed at 125 for speed. I alternated between a 18-75mm lens at f/3.4-4.8 for normal filler shots and my 50mm at f/2.5 for the money shots.

I adjusted the white balance to “shade” to make the white LED look good with the gold lighting.

The following images are converted to JPEG and downsized from 20×13 to 10×6. They where processed through DXO, adjusted in light room, then I applied one of my own solid color exclusion actions in Photoshop.

A shot of some cave as you enter into the seating area:

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The opposite side (notice the LED light color, currently tilted away).

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This was my reference shot so you can see what I am dealing with, I made adjustments from here on out:

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This is what I got with no hard light on the subject, before they entered into my beam lights (and yes this is a Jewish wedding):

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They even had a cool trumpet player:

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Example of lighting once subjects where in the beam lights, I wanted to keep the cave visible in the background also:

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A distant shot. Rather than getting the best exposure, I wanted to achieve the dark intimate cave feeling as much as possible with all the soft lighting:

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So cute. You can see my stage light outside the frame, using it to my artistic advantage:

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I realize the Internet has incredibly high expectations and I have seen some exceptional photography all over the place, but I wanted to share this story with everyone not to show off my pictures, but because in the end it was a success for me and for them, and they were blessed simply by my efforts and willingness to help.

Some people told me to decline the job because it wasn’t fair for me to ruin their wedding with bad pictures. They said I was way out of line trying to step up to the challenge. I completely understand the logic behind that and I would say it’s not the best decision to take risks for a wedding, but to me there is a risk worth taking when a good friend reaches out to you and you’re the last photographer in line.

I want this to encourage any of you guys out there who are stuck in a rut with photography or creativity:

Most of us can be “professionals” if you give us state of the art equipment and a studio, but what If I gave you a roll of duct tape, a stool, a few microphone stands, three of my grandmas coffee table lamps and ask you to take a product shot of an iPad using a $800 Amazon Canon DSLR bundle without a tripod?

The point I am trying to make is that you need to constantly challenge yourself and never bring yourself down, no matter what resources you have. Learn to be resourceful, and always accept the fact that someone will be better than you.

Realizing this will keep you moving forward, accepting new challenges, learning, and coming up with new ideas forever.

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About the author: Andre Oliveira is a photographer and designer based in Florida. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here.

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