Last month, I shot my first wedding.
I wanted to use this as an opportunity to write up a three-part series, starting with an instructional post about how to prepare for a big photo shoot. The second post was going to be a raw, stream-of-consciousness reflection written the day after the shoot. The final follow-up post explaining what I had learned was going to come a month later, when the job had settled in and behind me.
But, things didn’t quite work out that way. It’s a month later now and that first post was never written. Instead, you are stuck with one long, meandering, disorganized post covering everything.
Before I begin, I will give you some of the relevant details:
1. Some of my very close friends were getting married.
2. I’ve never shoot a wedding before, and I don’t have all the fancy gear.
Because of these two factors, I’m obviously going to cut them a deal.
A meeting between myself and the Bride is arranged.
I talk with several other wedding photographers about rates, work-flow, gear, expectations, etc. So I can walk into the meeting with honest industry rates in my area.
Weeks before the big day, The Bride and I work out the details: The shoot is going to be done for next-to-nothing, but the prints will be sold at the regular rate.
In addition to prints, I will design a wedding photobook, and make it available through a print-on-demand service. Information about the book will be given to all of the guests. Hopefully, all of them will buy 300 copies each and I can retire.
We have a deal we are both happy with.
As the wedding draws nearer, I realize that having some sort of plan is probably a good idea. Ignoring my own advice, I make plans going forwards, rather than backwards (meaning I started with ‘step 1’ and worked my way forward. Planning backwards, starting with the final step and asking “what do I need for that to happen?” always seems to give me far more reliable and realistic results).
Research “how do I shoot a wedding” (1 day)
Shoot wedding (1 day)
Sort photos. (1-2 days)
Edit photos (3 days)
Design book (1 day)
Estimated turnaround: one week
I’ve got my plan! I’m all set.
“This is going to be easy.”
I will take this opportunity to make a little digression: Whenever the phrase “this is going to be easy” is uttered, that person is just minutes away from being spectacularly wrong.
“This is going to be easy…”
Then, reality kicks in.
It’s just days before the shoot, and a nasty cold has popped up and really kicked my ass. Luckily, I am able to take it easy for several days. Hopefully I will be back to 100% in time for the shoot.
The day before the wedding:
I charged my camera batteries, formatted my memory cards, cleared some room on my hard drive, cleaned all my lenses, and checked just about everything multiple times. I wanted to get all the technical stuff out of the way first. I’ve been shooting with this camera for many years now. I know it very well. You know when photographers go on and on in those cheesy posts about a melding of man and machine into one? Yea, I hate to go there, but that’s kind of how it feels. I can operate the camera as easily as I can operate my fingers. Technical problems are like an injury: what is usually effortless and automatic now sticks out like a sore thumb. But when everything is working as it should, that’s when the magic happens.
While I was waiting for the batteries to charge, I downloaded several wedding shot lists, so I can get an idea for what kinds of shots I should take, and make sure I don’t forget anything. I compare the items listed across the four lists. Any item that appears across all of them must be very important. Those are the points that made it to my official shot list.
The night before the wedding:
I was still recovering from that nasty cold. I was on the mend; felling better, just worn out. I was given the opportunity to spend some time in the reception hall. I figured this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. The decorations were up and I had full control of the lighting in the venue for a few hours. I could shoot some b-roll. (I’m not sure if photographers call filler shots “b-roll”, or if that’s strictly a video thing, but that’s what I’m going to call it.)
I grabbed my camera and headed over. I got some great shots, then I went out with the guys (the wedding party guys).
After a few hours with the wedding crew, I headed out to see Brad, so we could plan out a little project for July. I also made a point of walking out with his camera. It’s a very good idea to have a backup camera, just in case something goes wrong. Plus, we both shoot Nikon, so our lenses are compatible. I put my lighting-fast 50mm prime on my body, and the much slower but very versatile 18mm-70mm zoom lens on his body. We chat, we make plans, we play some Wii, we make more plans, then I head home. I stumbled through the front door well past 3am, knowing full well that I had to be up for 9am. That’s only 6 hours of sleep time, and I’m still not quite recovered from that damn cold. I chose to sleep rather than blog that night. So, that’s what happened to the first part of this series.
The day of the wedding:
I got in my tux and made my way over to the Groom’s home. It’s less than an hour until the wedding, and the guys are still in their pyjamas playing PlayStation. I wasn’t able to shoot the Bride getting ready, but I imagine they were a little more concerned with getting ready than the guys. I shoot a bunch of ‘getting ready’ shots.
We head over to the church for the service. The first thing I do is discuss some details with the deacon, who turned out to be really helpful. I was given some very clear and simple do’s and don’ts. This really helped to ease the nagging feeling of, “should I be doing this? Is this ok?”
Other than a few moments where I found myself in the wrong position, stuck with awkward angles, the service shoot was great. This is not an old drafty brick cathedral, but a fresh modern church, with white walls, big windows, and minimal decoration. I had lots of flat, even, diffuse light, and the very plain backgrounds made it easy to keep the focus on the subjects. There weren’t too many distractions that needed to be eliminated or composed around.
I wasn’t able to get a picture of the limo pulling away from the church, dragging a “just married” sigh, since I was in that limo with the wedding party. We rode to the garden for the photoshoot. As we exit the limo, the bright and sunny sky clouds over. Everyone is concerned about the photos. I tell them not to worry; what looks bland to the eye looks bright and cheerful to the camera. I have no harsh direct light to fight with. This is going to be an easy shoot.
The maid of honour was a little on the bossy side; she had a clear idea of what kinds of shots she wanted. This suited me just fine; I didn’t have to be the bad guy yelling at everyone. I just stood there and the people arranged themselves into my shots. I just stood there and took pictures.
I was shooting away happily. 400 pictures? Yea! I’m bound to have some great ones in there. I continue shooting. Then I looked at the counter on my camera again. Now it’s at 60? What? I look around and fiddle with things for a bit. Those shots are gone. Damn. My very expensive name-brand premium-quality high-speed memory card picked now to crap out on me. Of all the random walks and hikes and concerts, the card chooses now to fail. Just wonderful… The presence of children near by prevented me from uttering several words that would have been appropriate in this situation. I swap out memory cards. “I have data-recovery software at home, those pictures might not be gone, just lost.” I tell myself in an attempt to quiet down the panic and frustration that has been boiling up the past few moments.
From this point onwards, I made the decision to give Brads D7000 priority over my own camera. I don’t really trust my D70 after that memory card issue. I’ve been getting the odd glitched image with that camera. Maybe something has gone wrong with my camera? It is rather old, as far as digital consumer goods are concerned. I’ll use this nice shiny high-tech brand new camera I borrowed from Brad instead.
So, I lift the D7000 up to my eye and begin shooting.
Remember back to that line where I talked about how well I know my camera? Well, Brad’s camera is not my camera. I don’t know this camera very well. It’s got a hell of a lot of new features and controls, I didn’t have the manual, and this was my first time ever holding that camera. Man and machine did not merge into one on that day. For some inexplicable reason, every single shot taken on that camera was overexposed by about 2 stops. I even had the exposure compensation down to -5, and it was still 2 stops over. Nothing I did made any difference. Of course, this was something I only noticed the day after the wedding, while reviewing my photos. So they were all screwed up. Perfect light, great venue, nice gear, and I screw something up. and over exposure is the one thing that you can’t fix. once it’s 100% white, it’s gone. This isn’t film; that data is lost.
The rest of the shoot just kind of happens. It’s a great wedding, one of the most fun weddings I’ve ever been to; great people, great food, great atmosphere, great music, great everything. But nothing photography-related popped up during this part, so I’ll skip though this part and move on to the day after the wedding.
I wake up. I’m exhausted from yet another night of not enough sleep, but at least that cold is finally gone. I’m back to 100% one day after I needed it. I pour a cup of coffee and pull out the laptop to review all of my photos from last night. “Oh look, half were lost to a memory card failure, the others are overexposed and unusable! Great! I suck, and I screwed up hugely. Good job, Kyle!”
I begin my planned “1 day” of sorting. Yea…that 1 day turned into a week.
One important lesson I learned while working on Illuminated Landscapes was the importance of sorting images. When faced with thousands of images, it can be a little disorienting and overwhelming. But if I sort the photos into categories, then I’m only finding the best photo out of 20, which is far easier, and I won’t end up with 30 photos from one location and only 1 from another.
When editing photos, I have a 3-step process.
The first step is a very simple “technical” pass. Is it blury? glitched? over/under-exposed? If so, then delete. No aesthetic judgements, no thinking, just looking for technique here. This step is rather fast (well, fast in the sense that I’m going through many pictures per minute, but sllow in the sense that there are A LOT of photos to go through)
The second step is a quick search for faces half out of the frame, or subjects who are blinking or making a stupid face. Again, this is rather fast, and there are a lot of bad shots that get tossed out in this stage.
The third step is where the process drags to a crawl. At this point, all of the shots are kind-of good. Here, I’m looking for photos that have that special magic; a hook, something that brings you in and makes you unable to look away. During this phase, I find that I can only make good decisions for about an hour, so I have to work in quick bursts, then take a break. I have to keep my eyes fresh. This also means that it takes me 16 hours to get 8 hours of productivity. I don’t get a whole lot done for a while.
When I have my photos ready to go, I adjust the curves and hue/saturation, so they will look they way I want them to on the page. Printed images always tend to look 30% darker than they do on a screen, and LCD’s do not let you see an accurate representation of a colours saturation. I get the images ready for print, I design the book, then I send it out for printing. Now it’s up to the guests to buy their copies.