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.


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger wonderlens said...

Awesome! I love the bride's sea-surf themed dress and how it follows the line of the whale :)

May 13, 2013 11:54 AM  
Blogger NYSTAN said...

GORGEOUS! One of those, "Wish I had taken that shot," shots.

May 13, 2013 1:08 PM  
Blogger Richard Wintle said...

This is brilliant - I can't even begin to imagine how she got the exposure on both the whale and the dress anywhere in the right ballpark, let alone looking this good.

And if the bride isn't waving the way she is, the shot would not be anywhere near as good... so props to Vivian for engaging the (human) subjects too.

May 13, 2013 2:31 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Richard- Yeah, it almost feels totally serendipitous—until you realize how much thought and pre-planning went into making sure she didn't waste the opportunity...

May 13, 2013 3:41 PM  
Blogger Brian Lahue said...

Quite the creative problem-solving and a nice outcome. I would even go as far as to say the "separation whale" one-up's your "fill-goat!"

May 13, 2013 9:51 PM  
Blogger Vivian Chung Photography said...

Thanks guys!
Richard, regarding the exposure of the whale vs. Dress:

I got lucky since it was unusually warm for Vancouver at the end of March, it's almost like early summer! So I got sky light illuminating the tank,the whale being white also help things out. The dress do reflect a lot of light onto the whale and since I do a lot of night time wedding portrait, I know the groom face will pick up light reflected from pointing the flash on her belly behind the camera.

May 14, 2013 11:54 PM  
Blogger Pietro Castelli said...

The shot is point blank brilliant.
It's a bit shocking that on such a mission critical assignment after all that planning she relied on a humble Yongnuo trigger in order to get the job done.

May 15, 2013 11:58 AM  
Blogger Vivian Chung Photography said...

Hey, it's cheap and reliable, and I drop these sucker everywhere (water, sand, side of highway while we attempt to do something probably shouldn't mention in here because it is illegal.....)and they are more tough than others...(plus, the one that was drop on the side of road/water we just shrug and say, errh..$30...)
To me, they always fire, and because I started with B&W film with manual camera when I first learn flash, I am pretty good at est. the exposure thus hardly use ETTL.

May 15, 2013 11:54 PM  
Blogger Pietro Castelli said...

Hi Vivian,
thanks for your answer!
It's good to know that they provide professional level reliability for such a cheap price.


May 16, 2013 3:36 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

It's a beautiful picture. Reminds me of a wedding I attended but with a slight difference...the couple was in the tank-I like this idea better.

As far as shooting in the aquarium goes, they all seem to be incredibly dark with very warm lighting. How did you deal with group shots during the reception?

May 16, 2013 8:58 AM  
Blogger Vivian Chung Photography said...


To be honest, I don't find the lighting in Vancouver Aquarium that warm compare to the normal westcoast style decor most restaurant/ballroom employ (Birch Veneer & Timber column, false stone wall that look murky because we have...lots of trees!). Of all the light we set up, they were all gel up with either a yellow straw or amber filter...
I think except the Tungsten lights we set up in the tropical room..the tanks were light with a cool daylight color lamp (will need to double check with my 2nd shooter because I think I spend a total of 20 mins in that room....I try to avoid that with all cost because it was very close to the Amazon gallery...which is pretty hot.)

May 21, 2013 5:17 PM  
Blogger Yugo said...

Gorgeous work, Vivian! Two questions:

1) Is the groom holding the flash, or is it on a stand hidden by the bride? Either way, brilliant! I love the gobo card concept.

2) How did you avoid significant reflections on that glass tank? Was the gobo card enough to prevent it, or was the bride blocking the strobe's reflection? It just looks especially tricky to avoid with a concave glass wall.

June 03, 2013 6:12 PM  
Blogger Vivian Chung Photography said...

Just came back to check..because I was trying to find my own tumblr address and got directed here...

Shawn was holding the flash, which make it so much more fun because I like to get couple in to tight spot and humanoid c-stand made adjustment easy...

There were not that much reflection to be honest, the glass is pretty thick, her dress is pretty big and since I had to block out the flash that leak into the tank; it cut down a lot of glare. They were actually standing very still, and I move around to limit as much reflection glare as I can (lightroom highlight recovery help a bit too..)

September 20, 2013 2:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home