Adam Gorski of La Belle Vie

A looser approach to documenting Adam Gorski, bar man at La Belle Vie. These images illustrate a story at Heavy Table as he takes over the cocktail program at one of Minneapolis’s finest restaurants.

Adam Gorski of la belle vie making cocktailmaking a martini at la belle vieAdam Gorski making drinks at la belle vieclose up of cocktail at la belle viecasual portrait of Adam Gorski at la belle vie

4 tips for taking portraits with the Pixelstick

I recently received my pixelstick (LED light wand) and have been toying with using it for portraits and weddings. The need for several assistants, almost total night, and someone with great timing to lug the 6 ft light around makes it a rascal of a tool to use, but after an initial trial with some portraits, I am excited to see where this can go. Some initial thoughts on using the pixelstick for portraits:

1. Utilize the photo-realistic aspect of the LED.  The major advantage to the pixelstick over regular LED lighting is that you can load your own images (from geometric shapes to 8 bit graphics to photos). To my mind, for portraits, this creates a unique opportunity to really build layers of visual interest. In this case, a photo of the Minneapolis skyline at dusk. pixelstick portraits minneapoils at night

2. Engage you subject with the image. Having a photo floating in space or a fun graphic to the side of your subject is fun, but you could get a similar effect in photoshop. Bringing your subject and the pixelstick into interaction together is a huge way to build layers of interest. In this case, I liked the graphics supplied with the pixelstick to create a wall effect that my model could look at. It almost creates the effect of her being in a cell. Below utilizes an image of fairy lights, wrapping around the model. pixelstick portraits minneapoils at night

pixelstick portraits minneapoils at night3. Hold very very still. There are certainly lots of artifacts in these super long exposures. Finding a subject and stance that can be still for the whole time in very useful. Also, while the flash I used on rear-curtain sync “freezes” the action of my subject, any movement while the pixelstick is passing behind will show up in a shadow on the pixelstick imagery. All of these images are taken between a 3 and 5 second exposure.

pixelstick portraits minneapolis at nightpixelstick portraits minneapoils at nightpixelstick portraits minneapoils at nightpixelstick portraits minneapoils at night4. Play with something weird. You can’t know where the edges are if you don’t try to push through them. This pixelstick image is actually enlarged bokeh from a previous shoot, mimicking the effect of very blown out background lights but at a scale at odds with the laws of physics.

pixelstick portraits minneapoils at nightpixelstick portraits minneapoils at night

If the saying is true that “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, I think that “when you have a pixelstick, every dark space is screaming for a wall of light” – we will see how true that holds in the bustle of weddings.

Anyone else playing with the pixelstick for portraits?

  • William Keiffer - Becca,
    Hello, we are wedding photographers from Clarksville, TN and we have just purchased the pixelstick. We were admiring your pixelstick portraits at:

    We were wondering…how do you get your model to look so bright while using the pixelstick? Our problem is we are not sure what lighting to use on the model since we are keeping it dark when using the pixelstick.

    Thanks for any advice on this.

  • Minneapolis Wedding Photographer | Becca Dilley - Well, the subject (as I mention is section #3) is lit with a flash. There would be no other way to freeze the movement of a model for the long exposure required to utilize the pixelstick. It is almost like thinking of two photos that are happening simultaneously – one is the long exposure light painting, and the other is the long exposure subject with flash.

    TLDR; lots of trial and error.

  • Sheri Baker Johnson - I was looking for examples of the pixelstick in use. I just ordered one yesterday. I like the photos you shared. How did you light your model in these shots?

Overpowering the sun

Stone Arch Bridge wedding couple flash compositeElyse and PJ’s destination Minneapolis wedding had to involved the Stone Arch Bridge. Why? Because they have never really visited the twin cities before their wedding! Showing off the skyline, the old-mill-town-meets-modern-riverfront vibe, the Mississippi was at least as much tourist destination as magnificent backdrop.

The only downside was shooting in the sunny sunny sun-filled afternoon. Luckily, this is not a problem if you own a tiny portable sun, which I do. At least in 1/6000th of a second bursts. So this is actually a flash composite – my lovely assistant Wendy held the flash very close to Elyse and PJ to overpower the sun for a moment, then darted away so I could capture the rest of the skyline and then stitch the two images together.

And so that is how you show off Minneapolis!

Night portraits with an edge using a pixelstick

Night photography. Many people avoid it at all costs – how to make it look natural, how to make it seem integrated into day time images. I personally love taking photos at night – getting the ambient city lights involved, seeing spaces in new ways, and crafting light to best suit the subjects. You expect so little from a dark space, and yet there is so much there to tease out.

Several months ago, I backed a kickstarter for Pixelstick, a LED light wand that allows for photo-realistic images in long-exposure photography. I wasn’t sure if this would integrate into my love of night photography, or my tinkering mind.

Here is a preview of the results (more coming next week)

night portraits with pixelstick

Copyright Becca Dilley Photography D600 ISO 100, f 5, 3 second shutter.

Thanks to Katrina from Studio Laguna and Jeannine Marie Photography for being my lighting/running/troubleshooting associates for these pixelstick portraits.

  • Justin R - It looks awesome! It seems that one has to do some preparation work, but the results are worth it!

  • Heather Kanillopoolos - Wow! Looking forward to seeing more!

  • Anton Chia - Interesting shot. Hope to learn more!

  • Caryn - That is such an awesome shot and such a cool tool!!! I’m dying to play around with one of these someday!

  • heather nan - Ooohh, this is exciting. Interested.

  • Per - Cool effect, leaves me wanting more.

  • /mariahedengren - This is awesome! Looking forward to see more.

  • Kristian - Yeah that looks pretty awesome, definitely up for seeing more..

  • Sarah - Woah that is crazy good!

  • mathias - whaaaat? so cool!!

  • Golden - Asian Wedding Videography - wow, so cool. Looking forward to seeing more.

JJ Hill Library Wedding St Paul MN

The best part of weddings, to me, is the whole-hearten support that your community brings to celebrate. The dancing friends (kudos to you, Kansas City, for having some good-dancing residents!), the emotional parents, the laughing bridemaids. But also the extended family, the family you have never met, the friends who meet each other for the first time. The entire extended group of colleagues and friends and roommates and family that each person brings with them.

And so it was for Abby + Harrison’s wedding – joyous, sweet, and very celebratory.

jj hill library wedding st paul mn-045

ballet wedding shoes and garterbrides mom looks on as bride gets dressedgroom in librarywedding party under archesstring quartetgroom waits for bride at altarbride sticks tongue out while walking down aislefather hugs daughter at end of aislebride and groom read along during wedding ceremonyjj hill library exterior signinterior table settingsfirst dancewelcome toastcookie tablebride and groom on dance floor

Ceremony: Church of Christ the King
Reception: JJ Hill Library
Catering: Mintahoe

Capitol Blues

wedding photos at night at Madison capitol

And now a totally different take on the Wisconsin Capitol from yesterday’s panorama.

Whenever I am at the Capitol, I always search for the balance between capturing the amazing (!) architecture while still having the final image be a portrait – focused on the couple.

For Elisabeth and Brian’s wedding, this meant a bit of night time magic to make the capitol the best background for embracing that has ever existed.

The only problem to fix with this scene (the beautiful building, the happy couple) is how to make the dark city-lit sky and grey-green night lighting of the Capitol building into something extraordinary. A quick warmer color temperature for the LED brings the whole scene into a bluer tone.

This also involved my lovely assistant (thanks, Scott!) holding an LED while I worked my manual focus tilt-shift lens in the dark (gotta get those faces *and* the windows of the capitol in focus!)