Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Could I do it? Could I photograph a wedding?"

I have been meaning to write a post on my first wedding photography experience for some time but for one reason or another I put it off. Well finally and mostly motivated by what I read in online forums I decided to write this post.

I'm not sure what it is like in other photography forums but if you hangout in Flickr groups, I'm looking at you Strobist, for any amount time you will see posts, like "Help, I'm shooting so-and-so's wedding next week". The poster is usually seeking advice on how to photograph a wedding that they are doing for a family or friend. Such posts get a range of responses but it seems about 90% of them are "don't do it", "leave it to a pro", "based on your questions you are in over your head" type statements interweaved with somewhat more useful (but not much) advice on lenses and gear to carry. This is ridiculous. Just because you have not photographed a wedding before does not mean you will fail horribly. If you are a competent photographer and have reasonable gear then just do it. Take lots of photos, rely on what you know, and learn on the fly. How can one expect to learn without trying?

Now that my rant is done here is my story. Like most photographers I have asked myself "Could I do it? Could I photograph a wedding?". In the past I have been asked to do weddings. This has happen after a person has view my photos, most of which are not of people, or sometimes based on nothing but that I have expensive camera gear. Most would agree that these are not the most sound reasons. Anyway, I had always declined up until my sister's wedding in August of 2008.

The ceremony: This where the action happens.

Keep it clean, keep it simple, and keep it slick. People move fast! You can talk to them all you want before hand about taking their time coming done the aisle but when the music starts all bets are off. Compounding the issue is the poor lighting usually found in churches and halls; focusing on a moving subject can be is hard enough in good light. If you are going to use a flash then consider bumping up your ISO up so your flash is not doing all the work. This will minimize the flash recycle time and help you get more properly exposed frames .

My approach gear wise was to carry two cameras, two lenses, two flashes and leave the umbrella/light modifiers, stands, tripods, and bulky bags at home or in the car.

Canon 20DCanon Rebel XT
LensCanon 70-200mm f2.8LCanon 17-40mm f4 L

As you can see I carried a Canon 20D with a zoom telephoto and a Canon XT with a wide angle zoom lens. I kept the flashes on camera and left the off camera stuff to the reception. Two cameras are really a must as there is just not enough time to switch lenses between shots, plus you have a backup should one fail.

Group photos: Everyone is a photographer

After the ceremony it is time for group photos: couple with wedding party, couple with parents, friends, llama whoever and the list goes on. You may want to make a list before hand so you do not forget anyone. Get these photos done and out of the way first as guests tend to disappear or find the bar rather quickly. I also found this part of the day hard to control. Everyone wants to get in there or has a "great idea" for the next photo. As well, there will be people taking photos over your shoulder which just adds to the confusion of which camera the group needs to be looking at.

As always you are at the mercy of the weather. The day of my sister's wedding, it was raining in the morning but lucky it stopped after the ceremony. I used an on camera flash in ETTL mode for fill even though the light was well diffused by the overcast sky. Looking back, this was the best I could have hope for as far as reducing hard shadows. Had the sunlight been harsh there was no shaded areas near by to escape it.

Bride and Groom photos: Go with the flow.

For my sister's wedding we took about an hour taking bride and groom photos around the grounds where they got married. I was lucky enough to have Cynthia help me setup various poses and keep Carolyn and Shawn's enthusiasm up. With Cynthia talking to them I could focus on capturing the moments "between frames" that have a more natural feel to them.

The reception: Get the flash off camera.

The reception is no time to be shy; there are many great photo opportunities on the dance floor, at the bar, and among the crowd. For the reception I moved to one camera with a wide angle lens and use one flash off camera triggered by Canon's STE2. I kept the ISO high, a slower shutter and ETTL to control the flash. To get off axis light and prevent the "deer in the headlights" look, I held my flash at various angles in my left hand at an arms length.

First dance

Rings and other things: If you have time.

Once you are feeling better about the whole event with some standard "keeper" photos already taken be sure to grab photos of the simple stuff, like food.

Also in style these days is to have before wedding and ring photos.

Conclusion: It is not a walk in the park.

Photographing a wedding is a challenging job but not impossible. If you are already comfortable using a camera in a variety of (poor) lighting situations you will do fine. One more thing that will help ... repeat after me ... "Shoot in RAW". Yes, it going to add to your post wedding processing time but it will be worth it when tweaking white balance, exposure and sharpness.