This post has been in the back of my head ever since my best friend asked me if I could be the wedding photographer for his sister-in-law. Now that I’ve completed my first wedding I can share my experiences from the preparation stage to the point where I can proudly hand over the finished wedding book.
I’ve posted all this over a couple of weeks and now I’ve grouped it up for you pleasure.
I. The decision to be a (wedding) photographer
II. Preparations, building up to one perfect day: schedule, shot list & gear.
III. The wedding day
IV. Post processing & the wedding album
I. The decision to be a (wedding) photographer
It’s no secret that I’m a relative newbie when it comes to photography, I purchased my first dSLR in the summer of 2007. When Tinne & Jan asked me for their wedding in 2008 I’d only been taking pictures for as little as a year, I hesitated. The toughest decision was whether to accept or decline the invitation. I asked myself lots of questions and set myself a couple of goals.
There is only one chance of getting it all right. There is no room for screw ups on the couples most important day of their life. The advice I heard: stay away from it, especially for friends. (This could have been a shorter blog post if I declined)
Direction & Passion
Back then I was still undecided over what direction to take with my photography. I have a big admiration for wedding photography, but can I master it and will I like doing it? The best and safest test probably would have been going along on some weddings as a second shooter or assistant *waving to Pieter*.
Will this new direction mean I’m going to try and make my hobby a semi-professional thing?
I didn’t want to be another “uncle bob” taking pictures at the wedding.
I set myself a couple of goals, I aimed high. If I was to accept this, I was gonna do it properly, I expected my pictures to be of a certain quality, not just snapshots. For me, I set my goals higher, maybe just out of reach, I notice I try harder and I’m less fast content with myself. I’m my worst critic, even if other people love every picture but my gut feeling tells me I could have done better, I’m not a happy camper!
Doing it right meant I wanted to do the Full Monty: from the bride & groom preparing, the pickup, city hall, the official shoot, reception, dinner and the opening dance.
Oh yes, I was gonna do it all with style. (f*ck uncle bob)
This was an important (financial) factor in the decision, I don’t downtalk any camera or lens. The photographer makes the picture, not the gear. I still believe this even after upgrading my lenses and body (twice). With responsibility came reliability, on a day like that I needed to be able to handle all situations, I needed reliable gear. Having a backup camera is a must, a 2nd body equipped with a different lens is handy so I don’t have to swap lenses and risk missing a magical moment. But most important, and heaven forbid, a camera can break down. If I wanted to deliver on my own expectations I was going to need faster lenses to be able to handle low light situations, lenses that help me focus faster.(I’ll be covering my eventual gear in a later chapter) Lime episode 3 covers a chapter about sharing gear or renting gear, you don’t necessarily have to buy everything (but I guess I wanted to give our economy a boost). Yes I’ve always wanted the ‘better’ gear if I’m honest, but I would never have purchased it if I was only going to use for it nothing more creative. By the time you start investing make sure you have the ‘Direction & Passion’ part figured out properly…
Theory means shit in the field but do read some books about the subject. Since I’ve only attended a handful of weddings as a guest myself, these books helped me visualize what “one perfect day” really means.
Two of my recommended books.
– The Complete Guide to Professional Wedding photography
– Contemporary Wedding Photography
Perhaps, my biggest source of inspiration was the internet, thanks to guys like Pieter (damn this is starting to look like a shrine) you can learn a lot from watching and analyzing some of the most amazing wedding pictures.
Another very helpful item was watching ‘Masters of wedding photography‘, it helped me get insight into the minds of some of the greatest wedding photographers (although I didn’t like all their work and I certainly didn’t agree with them all). It also made me feel all tingly inside, I knew I wanted to be a part of this.
I had enough time to prepare myself, maybe do some 2nd shooter jobs, get some experience in. The wedding I’m preparing for is coming May 2009. Funny enough, a couple of weeks later this was my first encounter with a newly wed couple.
In September 2008, 4 days before their wedding day. I got a call from 2 other friends, Roosje & Jelle …. they needed a photographer. I think they WERE expecting an uncle-Tom to bail them out.
By then, it was too late to get religious
II. Preparations, building up to D-Day
Let me tell you, I got really nervous after that call from Roosje & Jelle. Sleepless nights kind of nervous. I had 3 days to finish my training, and yoda wasn’t around.
For me a good preparation is being (over)prepared. Know the couple’s schedule, I have to be able to mentally step trough the day.
In normal situations I’d plan a meeting with the couple, preferably at the couple’s house, it helps you build up a more personal relationship with the couple. I will be part of their day but I want them to consider me as the friendly crazy guy with a camera … not Mr.Photographer. Because that is who I am, I’m Tom. Meeting at the couples house lets you scout the location as well as chances are this will be the home where the groom picks up the bride. For Roosje & Jelle the rundown was done over the phone.
– What is the schedule of the bride (hair stylist, make up artist). Who will be with her ?
– Where is the groom preparing?
– Where will the rings be? Once the couple says “I do” I don’t want to ask the couple to take them off for a while because I didn’t take the shots yet. The best time for rings & other details is when the bride is preparing and you got those shots done. There is no need in spending a full hour with her during make-up.
– Will there be a “classic” pickup?
– Is there time for some more-official family shots. Personally, I know this is not one of my strengths, I need ways to make them different and give them a personal touch.
City Hall and/or Church
– Schedule, Addresses
– Bridal suite?
– What kind of transport is arranged: A horse-carriage will give me more time leaving behind and arriving before the couple at city hall than a Ferrari Enzo. With a limo you have room to take some extra pictures from the inside, with a BMW Isetta , well … not so much…
Some extra guidelines can be given here, if the transport has windows I’ll ask to have them rolled down before they arrive or leave at the venue. This way I can exclude myself from the reflections in the window and I can capture the real emotions, I don’t have to interfere. Practical: Are you driving yourself? Can you hitch a ride with one of the family members or with your second shooter for the day?
The advantage is you can have your camera at the ready and hop out ‘anywhere’ before they arrive.
Official wedding shoot on location
– How much time is there and do they have a location in mind? Personally I love an out-of-the-ordinary location but also feel there should be a connection to the couple or the wedding day. There is no point in doing the official shoot on a boat in full sea if they don’t have any affinity with water and their wedding venue is located in the forests of the Ardennes. However it would make perfect sense if the couple loves sailing.
– Give the couple some homework, let them work on some ideas for the location. Is there a backup location in case of rain ?
– Maybe they like some extra pictures with close friends or kids. When the bridal suite boys & girls are coming along for the shoot make sure they have an adult joining them. I love working with children but you don’t want the bride & groom to be distracted.
– Can the special transport be used for the official shoot (how long is it available)
Reception & dinner.
– Schedule, Addresses
– Most venues have a website with pictures, and if they suck, you can try and sell them better ones 😉
It also helps to google and see if there are any potential locations for shoots in the vicinity.
– How long do they want you as a photographer to stay (reception vs opening dance) or make clear how long you are willing to stay.
Family situation & friends
– Divorces or deaths? I don’t want to remind the couple of any bad memories. The bride should only cry of happiness. (give me lots of tears please)
– Some families have issues, I don’t want to be the one having verbally started the fight by asking two uncles to hug each other for a picture.
– Write down the names, a small family tree. Friends that deserve special attention ?
Be sure to talk over what the couple expects of you as a photographer, make clear what you can & will deliver. If I’m being me, I have a style, I can’t go super traditional. Let them understand how you work: Posing is bad, directing is good (more about that later). To make the pictures they expect, sometimes you need some extra cooperation.
So know I know the “one perfect day” routine, I planned my routes to & from the venues and I had the time schedule (this can & will change).
All this information already gave me some inspiration (house, transport, location) but I had to create some more routine, I didn’t want to risk forgetting any important (expected) shots.
B. Building a shot list
In this part I’ll cover how I further prepared for my first wedding.
Certain images are a must have in any wedding book, I’m thinking a detail shot of the rings. This is an obvious one but there are plenty of other shots that you might not think about on that day. When you do your first wedding you haven’t created a routine yet and are thinking about a lot of different things, it is easy to forget. Mind you that the expected shot doesn’t necessarily have to be classic or cliche. Yet it is more important to get the shot any way you can than not having it at all.
“You always have to go into the field with an idea. Hopefully, a good idea. But a good idea becomes a bad idea when you don’t see anything else” Joe McNally
To create some more routine (even before doing my first wedding) I used a method similar to something I picked up from Bert Stephani’s Creative process , keywords post. I watched a lot of images online and even asked some people I know who got married if I could have a look at their wedding album.
“Must have” shots become apparent rather quickly so I noted these down. I carried my little book everywhere I went, jotting down random words or little phrases. End the end of the week I would categorize them so I could make a shot list that could act as a quick reminder.
– makeup, mirrors
– dress & shoes
– putting on dress
– sexy thing on leg …
– mom & daughter moment
– dress & shoes
– specifics in the dress
– details around the house (invitations, schedules, …)
– putting on / closing shirt
– tying tie
– clothing details, socks, tie, Machete buttons,
– details around the house (invitations, schedules, …)
– bride anxiously waiting
– groom arriving in car
– doorbell moment
– staircase shot; I took a shot when the bride came down the stairs when the groom wasn’t there just in case yet but nothing compares seeing the tinker in her eyes on this shot. Yes there are parts in the picture that are burned out (for the BD‘er out there), but sometimes the right moment trumps the “right” camera settings.
People pay a lot of money for the days special transport. Better have some nice souvenirs.
– details of headlights
– play with mirror and or reflections
– use it during the official shoot?
– why restrict yourself from taking pictures from the outside only
– hands being held
– kids crawling around
– crying family/friends
– major , back/front/side shots
– signing of documents, close up of wedding book
– best man of groom & bride
– the ringshot; before the wedding I ask the couple to put the ring on gently, and not cover it with the whole of their hand
– kissing part
– couple coming outside
– rice, confetti, pigeons, ….
Everything depends on the location for the official shoot. Making a shot list here is rather impossible, but I did have some scribbles.
– play with DOF, couples don’t have to be on the same focal plane every time
– mix wide with tele, I didn’t want to get home noticing I only took tele shots or that I forgot tele shots.
– special attention to the bride, don’t forget the solo shots
– capture romance , it doesn’t always have to be kissing.
– leave the couple alone, give them some space, do the paparazzi thing with your telezoom.
– get low or climb a tree if you have too, change your perspective
– behind the scenes
– guests arriving
– welcoming guests
– welcoming party (official mom , dad line)
– details, presents, flowers, ….
– behind the scenes (get into the kitchen)
– a shot of the tables before it is a mess
– food details, make it look tasty
– overall picture
Depending on the client wishes I stay just till after the opening dance. One good shot is all you need and maybe some more general party pics just so you capture the atmosphere. After that I call it a day, but don’t pack up all your gear or you could miss a shot like this.
This list would not be my definite guide for the day, and it never should be. But it helped me a lot learning me what to look out for, it learned me to see things differently.
And on the day itself … I forgot my list at home.
I’ll quickly go through the gear part because this can be a personal preference and it is not always about the best and most expensive gear. Gear also defines a style, I’ve seen photographers, pro or amateur with old holga camera’s (a great Russian camera that’s makes you wonder why you ever needed that L glass) making awesome pictures.
As mentioned in part I of this series I wanted to have 2 bodies with me. (a Canon 400D and a Canon 40D)
For backup reasons in case one breaks down and because I could have one body with a wide angle & another body with a zoom lens and didn’t have to bother switching lenses. The 400D isn’t really a top of the line camera and uncle bob may be attending with the same as you, just stay calm and think …
“It’s not the size, it’s how you use it”
Then why did I upgrade to that 5D? The 400D feels a little small in my hand, the 5D is more robust, it’s a full frame and has a better high ISO performance.
Speaking about uncle bob, stay friendly. This is where you started .. heck that was me last year. Just let them know your presence on decisive moments so he is not in ALL your shots on the background. (inevitably he will be in some shots, see bottom) Same goes for all aunties with a point-and-shoot. When the couple came out of church I made sure they wouldn’t all come standing in front of me.
Sigma 24-70 2.8
This was my first real ‘fast’ lens I bought. Your kit lens becomes useless pretty fast when being in dimly lit areas. For me the 24-70 is a good all round lens to use. For some reason I like tight(er) shots more than wide shots. My photography is changing (evolving) and I want to get something wider. I recently upgraded to the Canon 24-70 2.8 L not because I was unhappy with the sigma but I wanted a faster and more accurate focusing in difficult condition.
Canon 70-200 2.8 L IS USM
Okay, this is a serious investment. I felt that if I wanted the shots I was after I was going to need a fast zoom lens. I chose the heavier IS version to help me even more in dimly lit churches & venues (I was terrible at the time at doing handheld shots even at 1/50th). Why a zoom? For one, you can’t be in the middle of the altar with them and secondly I don’t want to be up close and personal with the couple all the time.
I want to be able to step away let them be romantic and go paparazzi-mode on them.
Having this big guy on your body and nobody mistakes you for uncle bob.
The plastic fantastic, this little lens gives nice colors and for that price it should be in everyone’s camera bag. This is the only prime lens I own for now and I feel this makes me work more and see things differently. Actually I would like to do a full day with just one lens. But my first wedding was not the time for experimenting.
One of the lenses that came with my 400D starter pack. It was in my bag for one reason only, the macro function. I used it for one shot, the ring details.
Nikon D60 with a 10.5mm fisheye
Because the 24-70 (x 1.6 for the crop bodies) was the widest lens I had in my bag I also wanted a different series of pictures. A friend let me use his and it made for some very funky & nice looking pictures.
Tripod / Monopod
Some situations simply require a tripod or monopod. Or when you are going solo you can cover two angles at once. Imagine setting up a camera mounted on a tripod in the back of the church and being able to remotely trigger it with a pocket wizard while you are at the front. Gotta love technology.
Batteries, Spare Batteries and if you run out of those, chargers !
Memory cards, more memory cards and if you run out (we shot close to 20GB on our first wedding) a laptop or imagethank to copy/backup everything.
Trying any strobist stuff in church would be stupid so my lighting bag (except the 580EX flash) stayed in the car during that day but my strobist roots came into play during the official wedding shoot (more about that later). Inside the bag, the usual: lightstands, umbrellas, gels, flashes, batteries, triggers & receivers (V2’s), gaffer tape, …
I tried to think of every possible emergency, still doubt & nerves came creeping in on me.
What if I don’t perform. What if I mess up on those must have shots. What if I forget things. I want different angles on each scene and there is only one me …
One quick call and I put all the presume on him. Neah just kidding, Tom is one of my best friends and I feel he actually takes better pictures, I tend to over complicate things, he just shoots from a gut feeling. And boy did he perform! (he did all the shots over at the groom’s house)
Having an assistant/2nd shooter at a day like is really great. Especially at your first wedding.
Simple issues become major problems fast …
I wanted a picture of the bride/groom leaving to city hall and have pictures of the couple arriving at city hall. That means, you take the shots while they leave, sprint to your car (find the keys), (literally) throw everything on your back seat, race the couple to city hall, hope you don’t have to break too fast (gear on the back seat), find a place to park, grab your gear &bag, lock the car, sprint …..
But when you have a Tom … you take the pictures, he picks you up (and still races the couple), you hop out, he parks and brings over the rest of the gear. And in our situation, he finds the 50mm lens I dropped somewhere along the way.
Tom was also a lifesaver during the official shoot .. he was my driver & mule!
A wedding day is a long day and often the only people you have met are the couple, when there are two of you, you can share a joke, act silly, get french fries, grab a beer, … it’s good to have a friend.
So if I haven’t said it yet .. THANKS!
Having a 2nd shooter is great to cover two angles.
III. The wedding day
“The following takes place between 7.00 AM and 22 PM.”
(always wanted to do that)
I think my wedding day actually started the night before, I had a very restless night yet had no trouble getting out of bed before the alarm clock *psyched*. Loaded the car with all the gear (that I double checked & cleaned the night before) and drove off to pick up Tom² at this house.
Tom was gonna drop me off at Roosje’s place but since we were way too early we decided to go and check out the party tent. When we saw the mist still hovering over the fields we had our first successful shot of the day.
Near Mishap #1 : I also reframed this shot because I didn’t like the house on tbe background, turned out to be Jelle’s parental house :p On that note, don’t delete pictures on your camera during that day.
Once at Roosjes place, (she was still @ the hairdresser) I first took the time scout the location, shoot some details and get a shot of the rings.
Near Mishap #2 : After I took a couple of shots of the rings (Tamron 70-300 mounted tripod) just as I was picking up the rings I noticed that Roosje’s ring actually had stones in them and I had just taken 10 pictures of the back of the rings (right). I made-up for that mistake (left) but it was time for a cup of coffee!
The make-up artist arrives, she knows her stuff and places the stool next to a big kick ass window making my life easier. I grab all necessary make-up detail shots and sneak inside the house and take some pictures of the dress.
The bride gets on her dress helped by her mom. I got a couple of shots but I should have been less timid here, if they want the good shots the couple has to play along with your game plan. We take time to make some extra pictures out on the balcony but the hard sunlight isn’t making my job easy. We also do a rehearsal(backup)-coming-down-the-stairs shot.
Meanwhile at the grooms house things are a bit more relaxed, there is still time for breakfast and Tom² nails down every single shots from the shot list and more!
I get a call from Tom, Jelle is making his final approach. I head out onto the street snapping pictures from the approaching car. By the time Jelle gets out of that little BMW Isetta, Tom already parked the car and we both take different angles when the groom rings the doorbell. This was one of the “moments” where I felt more comfortable having a second-shooter, but both our shots are spot on. Before we leave there is some time left for some more official/family pictures.
This is where the pace picks up, the wedding party leaves for city hall, as soon as they leave the driveway I hop in and Tom² drives us to city hall where I can hop out again.
11.07 AM The couple arrives at city hall
11.10 AM Already everybody is seated
11.23 AM Yes I do , Yes I do, kiss kiss, rings rings
When I was a guest I always thought those ceremonies were way too long. Those 15 minutes were the fastest of my life.
My favorite picture of the day, technically imperfect but it holds all the elements that define what that day was to me.
Time to breathe. We all head back to the party tent for some sandwiches and beverages.
We backup all pictures and sit down for a second, a minute, an hour, and a half. Life is good.
Back to action, there is a nature reserve at 500m from the party tent, we use 2 cars and I shoot from the back of the trunk, for a moment I feel like Murdock from The-A-Team. The official shoot lasted little under an hour. I mostly used available light because there were nice areas of shade/sunlight. On a couple of occasions Tom held up a 580EXII with a 1/4 CTO gel (sometimes with a shoot trough umbrella).
To light the interior of the car and the couple I equipped the Flash/CTO combo with an omnibounce, hand held by the couple.
First guests arrive, for the reception. Before they arrive you should have some detail shots of the room / tables looking crisp. I’m not the official kind of wedding shooter, I didn’t take pictures of everybody arriving but I made sure I had some of those moments on film .. euhm … CF-Card.
Dinner, walking around taking more pictures and at around 8PM we both remembered to eat something our self. We took place at at table next to some fun elderly people.
The next part is impossible to translate and went like this :
“Gruut gelijk joeng, en drink maar e pintje oek, op één bien kunde nie stoan”
Every now and then a surprise act required our attention.
Dessert equals yummy shots 😉
The lights during the opening dance were well .. less than ideal. Fuchsia spots even freak out your RAW files. I converted the opening dance to sepia to hide & recover from the fuchsia lights.
Mixing with flash wasn’t really a good idea either so everything was shot wide open at F1.8 at higher ISO’s. The 40D barely managed the situation, glad to have that 5D now.
And with that shot our first wedding day came to an end.
IV. Post processing & the wedding album
After a long day filled with emotion I came home as a happy photographer. Normally the first thing I do is transfer all images to my computer and check the picture, a way to be at “ease of mind” (are the pictures good enough?) before I go to bed. That evening I had a final drink while sitting in the couch rambling my story to my always listening lovely spouse, I didn’t check the pictures, I knew I did a good enough job and I was worn, I was exhausted, what a roller coaster day it has been, it was time to hit the sac.
In the next days I nearly went through all (3000+) pictures flagging the good ones and rejecting the bad ones (never delete pictures on a first viewing). The next week I presented the couple with this slideshow.
I kept processing to a minimum, no heavy photoshop, I used lightroom to tweak levels, contrasts, vignettes and I tried out and tweaked a couple of new presets. I’m not a believer of trendy looks in wedding pictures/albums, things that are IN now won’t be in a couple of years. (remember red roses on black & white pictures, I rest my case). A good black&white or sepia will last a lifetime.
Roosje & Jelle also asked me if I could make a wedding-album. I agreed on my terms: I don’t like books with ALL images, a wedding album should tell the story of that day and shouldn’t necessarily contain images of every guest etc…. Personally, I approached it at as a good photo book, a more elaborate slideshow if you wish…. as fast as I could select images for the slideshow, so painstakingly slow was the progress on designing the album, I think I even made up a new word for it :
“Wedding album designer”-block
“I want everything to be perfect, a fixed set of margins to create white space so my pictures can breathe in the album. No mixture of layout styles on my pages, but an idea throughout the album. I want to stick to that. But after a couple of pages, doubt creeps in…
Will clients even notice my tidy margins? They will probably just flip the pages. Will they appreciate the clean layout or does it become boring after a while? Do I go for white or black background, do I mix? Do I call and show the couple 2 ideas, let them decide (and ruin the surprise) or do I blow them away on presentation day.”
How I finally approached the layout
– Formats with fotobuch.de were A4 and A3. Rather horizontal, so I did the layout accordingly.
– Lots of whitespace around images makes the image speak.
– No collages & different styles on a page, but clean pages.
– Not bringing too much images on one page, brings rest.
– A double truck connects pages and tells a story. (Watch those bleed areas in the folds of the book)
– Couldn’t have each page look the same so sometimes full bleed pictures where inserted.
(I spent 40+ *cough* hours on it *cough*)
A couple of page excerpts from the book
The finished product
I used fotobuch.de (+ their software) to design the book. I really prefer the fotobuch.de software over blurb. I’m a total idiot if it concerns printing so no in depth review, here is my two-cent: image quality was very good, I chose the professional A4 format thinking that non-professional formats would have inferior quality. (anyone with experience?), no weird color casts, blacks were black, no funny patterns, the binding looks decent, the paper thickness feels just right and Pricing was okay.
Only one negative point, the ability to design your own cover , or better .. the lack of it. Now you are stuck with these.
(sorry about the non-calibrated book “snapshots” I made, but to get an idea I did include them)
A simple little marketing trick
Around the time that I ordered the book I also ordered some sample business cards from MOO.com. I added a couple of images from Roosje & Jelle’s wedding to my order and inserted them in the album. Future clients won’t forget where they got the card from.
Why it pays of to read the full article
For everyone brave enough to have fought through 6 articles of my own ramblings. Here is a a little treat, the couple was so kind to allow me to share the online version of the wedding album. (silverlight required) Being a developer has its perks, I didn’t like the fotobuch preview so I exported as a PDF, then to JPEG and adjusted Microsoft’s Silverlight PageTurn example to fit my needs. A much better “book-preview” experience.
Presenting the couple with their book , hearing the “ooohs and aaahs” made it all worth it. (not to mention the relief falling from my shoulders).
I’m well aware that every single thing I jotted down could have backfired in my face. Their wedding day was amazing: from the house they were preparing in, the bright city hall, to the great location and super party tent. And I would almost forget the couple, personality, looks and clothing, oh yes, the sun shined bright that day! It was a privilege to be their wedding photographer.
I also want to thank the readers of my modest little blog, I’ve noticed quite an increase in hits since I started doing this series. Thanks for hitting the comments and I hope I was able to share something of interest.
And for me? I’m as nervous, anxious and excited for my next wedding as I was for this one. But that keeps me on edge. Sleepless nights here I come !