How I Made It: The Story Behind Jason Vinson’s Fiery Fall Photo

Photo of kissing couple under tree by Jason Vinson

Summer has just begun but Jason Vinson’s photo at the top of this story really puts us in an autumn mood. Shot as part of an engagement session, the kissing couple in the photo appear to form the trunk of the tree that explodes in auburn flames above them.

We wanted to learn more about this fiery photo, particularly how it was lit – the lighting is gorgeous – so the Arkansas-based Vinson agreed to answer some questions about the image for the latest edition of “How I Made It.” You can see previous “How I Made It” behind-the-image stories here, here, here, and here.

Q: Can you give us a little background on you as a photographer?

Jason Vinson: My name is Jason Vinson, and I am primarily a wedding and documentary photographer based in Northwest Arkansas. I’ve been ranked as one of the top 25 wedding photographers in the world and love the educational side of the industry. I have been a speaker at multiple conferences and represent a handful of photography brands.  

Q: What’s the story behind the photo? 

Jason Vinson: This photo was part of an engagement session we had here in Fayetteville Arkansas. For these types of sessions, I prefer to go into the shoot with little to no plan. Instead, I prefer to simply have a starting location and then just walk around and see what inspires me. For this shoot, we ended up in sort of alleyway between some buildings for the last set of images. At this point, it was already well past dark, and I noticed this big almost glowing tree. It was fall, and this tree had turned completely orange and was also being illuminated by a large streetlight. So, in classic photographer fashion, the last set of images wasn’t going to be the last because I just had to use this tree in some type of way.    

Q: The lighting in the image is exquisite. Is it a blend of available light and your own lighting tools? 

Jason Vinson: Yes, this is a blend of natural light as well as a StellaPro CLx10 with 25-degree Fresnel head attached. 

Q: Can you share some other technical details about how this image was shot including gear used, settings etc. 

Jason Vinson: This was taken on my Sony a9 with 35mm CZ f1.4 lens. Taken at f/1.6, ISO/160 and 1/30th of a second shutter speed. The positioning of the couple was a key element. I wanted to maintain the look that the tree was glowing, so the light from the streetlamp needed to come from behind the tree. This also allowed me to have the couple placed in a darker area so I could add my own light without getting any mixture of colors from the different light sources. I’m also shooting at 1/30th of a second in order to keep my ISO low. The in-body image stabilization of the a9 works amazingly so I was easily able to hand-hold the camera and still get a sharp image.

For lighting the couple, the StellaPro CLx10 came in handy because the couple had already been ready to leave and had been shooting for almost two hours, so I wanted to move quickly. The “see what you get” quality of this light allowed me to set up and dial in my power without taking any test images or even needing to pull the camera up to my face. The 25-degree Fresnel allowed me to really focus my light on the couple without having light spill onto anything else in the scene.  

Q: How much post-processing, if any, was done on the image? 

Jason Vinson: Very little needed to be done for this. I applied my preset from DVLOP while working inside Adobe Lightroom. I fine-tuned my exposure and white balance and then burned down a few areas of the background so that there would just be the tree and the couple. I also pumped up the saturation on the tree slightly in order to make it pop a bit more. 

Q: What was the biggest challenge with this shot? 

Jason Vinson: Once I found the tree, the biggest hurdle was figuring out the composition and how I wanted to shoot it. I have a handful of other images where I played with reflections as well as having the couple on one side of the frame and the tree on the other. But at the end of the day, I liked the minimal and centered quality of this image. 

Q: What’s next for you?

Jason Vinson: Right now, I have a pretty booked schedule of weddings. I’ll also be speaking at WPPI and am always creating content for my Patreon community. 

You can see more of Vinson’s work on his website and his Instagram page.

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