A Walk On The Wild Side

“Meeting the beautiful couple a little over a year ago, my brother and I were hired by Shaun and Shari to shoot their special day at a very special place: the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO. Immediately we arranged to have a tour of the zoo and meet with the couple to create a game-plan for their day. The mountain zoo was amazing and full of opportunity and we were so very excited but had to wait a whole year until their wedding day. How many chances do you get to shoot a life-changing event at a zoo?

The wedding day went amazing. After their first look, we had time set aside to go around the zoo to the different animals and had some special moments planned. One of the big events the zoo had planned for their wedding day was feeding the giraffes by the couple. Our couple was especially looking forward to this moment. When we went to the giraffe pens, I was able to get plenty of great shots with the couple and animals; the giraffes even came over the railing and began licking our bride and groom which was wonderful for photos. However, I felt I wanted to give the couple something much more on the side of fine art. Part of the reason they chose me to capture their day was the artistic and dramatic photos that I produce and I had a year to think about ideas to this point. Now to the shot.

I used my Canon 5D Mk.III: 1/320 sec at f/8.0, ISO 640, with my 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM lens at 16mm for the entire shot. Using a form of the Brenizer method, I turned my camera vertically and shot a series of images turning from right to left like a human tripod of the giraffe pen. This would serve as my backdrop. Then using the same settings and lens, I took a photo of the bride and groom that would fit into the multi shot backdrop and not be too difficult to cut out in Photoshop to place them inside the pen with the animals. I hooked up my Quantum Trio and Pilot and had my brother stand off camera right. Behind me was a higher level of the zoo’s giraffe pen. I climbed up to this point to get a high view point of the couple and try to balance the height between the two different images (the giraffe pen was a good 4-5 feet below where I was shooting from) I would fuse together. Shutter speed was lowered for the flash to 1/200, f/stop was raised to 11 and ISO was lowered to 200.

Now to the really hard work to turn my images into a stunning piece of art for my couple. I began with having Photoshop stitch the 8 vertical images together that would make up the backdrop. Photoshop did a pretty good job stitching but I did have to do quite a bit of manual lens correcting and then cropped the panorama to 16×9. I used the Pen tool to cut the bride and groom out of their image in the same area and bring them into the giraffe pen and then used the Eraser tool to refine their edges and remove what the Pen tool did not do a perfect job at. When I had shot the backdrop, most of the giraffes were too concerned with dinner time to come be a part of my photography and pose for me, haha. So I decided to add a few giraffes to my photo and using the Pen and Eraser tools brought them into the backdrop photo.

I tend to love the look of drama in my artwork (have for 17 years as a painter) so, I also removed the sky and replaced it with one much more dramatic that I warped and refined to blend in as seamlessly as possible. At this point it was just a matter of adding shadows, removing unwanted objects (like an ugly feed bucket), and manipulating the subjects to look as if they were actually there in the pen and not beside it separated by a fence.

Long story short, (not really, haha) 86 layers, adjustments, techniques of a painter and 10 hours of sitting at my computer I had the image at a point I was very happy with. I then posted the image to Facebook and the couple loved it. And then with some insight from Abstract Canvas and David Beckstead I went back and refined the image even further to what you see now and I couldn’t be happier with the results. This is not the usual kind of photo you see in wedding photography for many different reasons. It’s dramatic, different, and very dark. Some will love it and some will hate it but you are sure to remember it. I feel so lucky when I have a couple who will give me freedom to take a few special photos to this level and give them something truly different to remember their wedding day. It’s a big treat for me to be able to take my skill, technique, and artistic side that I use in fashion and commercial photography and use it in a wedding portrait and create something so different and unexpected. You don’t always have to take a photo of the couple all bright and colorful skipping through a field of flowers. With the right couple you can think outside of the box and take it somewhere so different and unexpected yet amazing that tells a different story each time you view it. Not just a photo, art!”- Micah Jones


  • Ian

    Your hard work paid off – this is an awesome piece of art. The dramatic elements work really well – but my monitor doesn’t do it justice. I’m sure it would look incredible printed large.

  • jr456

    Great piece of work…just fantastic. And what a great detailed description of how you got there…..THIS is how you do Picture of the Day!!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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