A Special Chicago Union

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I’ve attended two weddings in as many months as a guest. Each time, I’ve had a camera with me. I was at risk of being “Uncle Bob,” that guy with the camera that irritates the hired photographer, but I didn’t prioritize my pursuit of an image over their ability to do their job. If I could make a picture without being intrusive or disruptive, I’d do my best to get in and out. I was there as a guest and not the second photographer. 

During most of the wedding and reception, the camera sat idly. Countless memorable moments occurred; so I dedicated myself to experiencing them rather than documenting them. There were too many times in the past when I’d missed out on an experience in pursuit of the image. I didn’t want to make that mistake yet again. 

The wedding of my wife’s second cousin was a special event for us, especially since the young groom had been part of our lives for so long. Seeing him grow into an exceptional young man of faith and integrity was moving and inspiring. Though we weren’t a constant presence in each other’s lives, we still felt pride and gratefulness for his parents, creating a solid foundation from which this young man would build his life and his family. 

I allowed myself to feel more that day and didn’t allow the camera’s presence to get in the way of that. It renewed the importance of family for me, not only for celebrating special moments but also for facing difficult ones. 

There were those in our families who couldn’t attend because of various health issues, mostly having to do with aging. Several of them were now caring for elderly parents, the resulting role reversal between parent and child. That cycle of life made this union even more important and resonant. 


Before the bride and groom took to the floor for their first dance, I was moved by the genuineness and integrity of their relationship. It was present for both families and was evident to everyone in the room. There was a power and beauty there that spurred me to pick up the camera and make a photograph. 

Technically, the circumstances couldn’t have been more difficult. The light levels in the room were low and made up mainly of mixed artificial light sources. Even with the lens aperture set to its maximum, I had to increase the ISO to 4,000 to achieve a reasonable shutter speed. Though the Fujifilm GFX 100s possessed image stabilization, I had to contend with the possible subject blur as the couple danced. I wasn’t using flash, and so I relied entirely on available light. I knew that I faced both color and noise issues, but that didn’t deter me. It was the moment that was important. 

In the end, I made a single frame that I felt encompassed the young couple’s love and the beauty of the moment. The RAW file needed work to complete my vision, but the heart of what made that moment special was there in the frame. [KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller DNG version of this image to follow along for practice purposes only.

STEP ONE: After opening the image, select the Crop Overlay tool (R). Click outside the image and drag to rotate the image counterclockwise for an angle of –0.51°. Make sure that the Constrain to Image checkbox is checked in the Crop Overlay panel. Press Enter to commit the crop. 

STEP TWO: Correct the overall color of the image by adjusting the Temp slider in the White Balance section of the Basic panel to a color temperature of 2,540K. 

STEP THREE: The white color of the setting resulted in the couple being underexposed. To remedy this, increase Exposure to +1.50 and Contrast to +5. 

STEP FOUR: Further refine the look of the image by tweaking the quarter tones. Adjust Highlights to –5, Shadows to +10, Whites to +32, and Blacks to –34. 

STEP FIVE: To remedy the overall flatness of the image, add a romantic glow, and enhance the color, set the Texture to +11, Clarity to –20, Dehaze to –5, Vibrance to +15, and Saturation to +5. 

STEP SIX: Boost the overall contrast of the image using the Tone Curve panel. Select the Point Curve (the second icon to the right of Adjust) and, using the Point Curve pull-down menu at the bottom of the panel, select Medium Contrast. 

STEP SEVEN: The adjoining room is producing a blue hue because of the light sources. This provides a nice color contrast to the white and warm tones. Enhance this using the HSL/Color panel. Click on the All tab to reveal the sliders for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. In Hue, set Blue to –8, in Saturation set Blue to +8, and in Luminance set Blue to –26 and Yellow to –1. 

STEP EIGHT: The image requires a modest amount of sharpening. Be careful with how much sharpening is applied to an image created with a high ISO because it can increase the appearance of noise in the image. For this image, go to the Detail panel and set the Sharpening Amount to 48, Radius to 0.9, and Masking to 65. The Masking setting isolates the sharpening to areas of high contrast rather than globally to the entire image. 

STEP NINE: To reduce the appearance of noise while retaining important fine detail, go to Noise Reduction in the Detail panel and set Luminance to 25 and Detail to 30. 

STEP 10: Typically, photographers apply a vignette to darken the edges of the frame to emphasize the subject. In this case, it’s best to do the service by brightening the edges of the frame. In the Lens Corrections panel, click on the Manual tab, go to Vignetting, and set the Amount to +55 and Midpoint to 26. 

STEP 11: Unlike the noise that’s produced automatically by the camera, grain can be applied to an image with great creative control within Lightroom. To provide a distinct look to the image that looks natural, go to the Grain section at the bottom of the Effects panel and set the Amount to 29, Size to 9, and Roughness to 15. 

STEP 12: A nice polish to the overall colors of the image can be achieved using the Calibration panel. In the Red Primary control, set Saturation to –23; in the Green Primary control, set Hue to –13 and Saturation to +15; and in the Blue Primary control, set Hue to –26 and Saturation to +21. 

STEP 13: Once done with postprocessing, it may be a good idea to revisit the image’s aspect ratio. In this case, a square crop brings greater emphasis to the intimacy between the new couple. Go to the Crop Overlay tool and set the aspect ratio to 1:1 for a square crop using the Aspect control. Press Enter to commit the crop. 

Though the image isn’t technically perfect, it doesn’t take away any emotion it captured and expressed. Family members’ responses to the photograph fill me with great satisfaction and joy. In a small way, I contributed to the memories that our family members will share for years to come. Most importantly for me, it aptly captures how I felt on that extraordinary day.