I’m never going to claim to be any sort of “expert” in any genre of photography. Hell, I’m still figuring out where I want to go with all of this, aside from outdoors, with my camera in hand, chasing some particularly fetching bit of light.
But, if you’d told me a few years ago, or even this time last year, for that matter, that I’d be shooting an entire wedding, a paid gig, on my own, (in manual mode no less!) I probably would have been frozen with fear. Or at least laughed at the notion.
But that is precisely what I did a couple of weeks ago. And I didn’t die. Or ruin their entire wedding. Or, you know, spontaneously combust, or something. But I was terrified. It’s a big responsibility, capturing these once in a lifetime moments of the biggest day in a couple’s life.
Let me explain how this came about. A close friend of mine announced her upcoming nuptials, and, shortly afterward sent me a wonderful message asking me if I would shoot their wedding. My first instinct was to say no. It’s almost always my first instinct when someone asks me to do a shoot for them. After all, I spend the majority of my time with my camera, alone, roaming through old-growth forests or urban decay, and drinking in the pure solitude I so rarely get to experience.
I thanked her for the extreme compliment and explained that I didn’t feel that I was ready for such a thing. I had no assistant, I didn’t have the gear, I didn’t have the experience, blah blah blah…..anything to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone. She was disappointed, but understood my reasons.
I mentioned it to my husband a couple of days later. He listened to all of my excuses and just said simply: “you ARE ready. You’re good enough to do this.” I spouted some more bullshit at him and he just raised his eyebrows and gave me that look that told me what he thought of my excuses.
I sighed and picked up the phone to call my friend. We had a lengthy chat in which I discussed my concerns with her. This was her big day and I wanted her to go in with eyes wide open if I was to do this for her. She heard me out, and simply said she loved my work, my style, and she wanted me to do the shoot. It didn’t hurt that she and her fiancé told me that they had, literally, “zero expectations”. Whew. Pressure off. Right there. For now. We discussed price, and chatted back and forth about my need for a second shooter. She offered up a friend of the groom’s who’d volunteered for the task, and I adjusted my cost accordingly.
So, I began madly brushing up on my “wedding photography skills”, such as they were. Which basically meant watching hour after hour of tutorials on technique, lighting, posing, style, post-processing and then forcing my friends and family to sit through shoot after shoot in which I brushed up on all of the above. But I found I was getting the exact same results I’d always gotten. I didn’t magically become an entirely different photographer simply from watching hours of tutorials and studying my ass off. I’m sure I learned a thing or two in there, but the biggest thing I learned is that I was stressing myself out like crazy. I reminded myself that my friend had said she liked MY style, and MY work. And here I was breaking my neck trying to achieve a way to emulate someone else’s work for their wedding. How ridiculous.
So I made the decision to stop reading every “Top 10 Wedding Photography Must Do’s” that popped up on my newsfeed. I was just going to wing it, per se.
I did google a checklist of Wedding Photographer’s Must Have Gear for the day of, and was somewhat comforted by the fact that I had nearly everything on the list, and the things I didn’t have, I either didn’t want, or wouldn’t know how to use. Fine. I was ready, then.
The day of (which happened to coincide with a huge family reunion I was attending, which amped up my already frayed nerves like, times a billion. Oh and did I also mention that I had several images in two separate exhibits, in two separate cities, showing that very same day? Yeah, June was a nutty month for me), I woke up early, anxious and in desperate need of some deep breathing exercises. I double, triple checked all my gear (which I’d already done twice the night before – camera sensor cleaned, battery charged, backup battery charged, plenty of extra flash batteries stocked, compact flash cards cleared, formatted, packed, lenses clean and sparkly, and on and on and on.
I drove over to her house to shoot the girls getting ready. I figured this would be a good way to set the tone for the day while getting some fun, girly shots. I arrived to a houseful of chatty, excited ladies, doing what ladies do on their wedding day. It was the perfect atmosphere to step into. They made me feel right at home, absolutely comfortable, and like one of the guests (who’d maybe arrived WAY too early).
Then I noticed I’d missed a call – I checked my voicemail and was rather alarmed to hear a voice I didn’t recognize telling me something that freaked me out more than a teensy bit. It was something to the effect of the groom being “super stressed” and I caught the phrase “not able to make it.” WHAT? Who was this?? Why were they calling ME to tell me the groom had flown the coop? To put it bluntly; WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK WAS HAPPENING?
I calmly placed the phone down on the table and looked at Candace (the bride). “Ummm. Have you talked to Jason today?”
She sipped her mimosa casually, one half of her head in curls, the other half flung rather hilariously in a sort of combover, “yeah, we’ve been texting back and forth all morning, why?”
“Oh, maybe you should listen to this message then, I don’t know what to make of it.”
It was from a blocked number and they didn’t identify themselves. But, upon listening to it again, it dawned on me – it was my second shooter. Jason wasn’t bailing on the day of the wedding (THANK GOD). But my backup shooter was!
I could see a tiny bit of panic creeping into Candace’s eyes. I felt oddly calm (I’ll panic later, I told myself – and don’t worry, I spent the whole drive to the church hyperventilating and panicking like mad).
“Don’t worry. I got this. We’ll miss a few shots, but it’s all good. I can do this.” I could see her visibly relax.
Then, her lovely hairdresser, who is also a close friend of hers, asked if she could help at all. Her Dad had a DSLR. “YES!” I pounced on her. (Thank you thank you thank you Sarah, you are a LIFESAVAH). I requested that whatever I was shooting (i.e.: the bride) could she turn around and shoot the opposite (the groom, the guests, etc)?
The day went off without a hitch. That isn’t to say that I didn’t miss a few shots that I wished I’d gotten; focus slightly off, settings not quite so, etc. But it was a beautiful ceremony, with the most laid back, easygoing, friendly, loving and warm people I could possibly have had the pleasure of dealing with. I will forever be grateful that Candace and Jason took a huge chance on me (I know it) and allowed me the honour of photographing their wedding day.
It was hard work. It was a long day. But it was a GOOD day.
For anyone who’s on the brink of venturing into the world of wedding photography themselves, here are the only tips I have to offer:
1. Get the location/s from the bride and groom ahead of time. Take the time to drive out to them and scout them out ahead of time. Take a long walk around with your camera, look at the lighting you’ll be working with, different backgrounds, ideas for shots, etc. You’ll be glad you did on the day of.
2. Have a definitive list of bridal party shot ideas. You may not get these particular shots, because they may have their own ideas, but “winging it” at this point is not a great idea. I was disappointed with my bridal party shots because we were in a bit of a time crunch and I felt that I rushed them through this.
3. Pick one location for family shots and set up tripod in front of it. If there’s any sort of time constraints, this is where you want to be efficient. It may seem like a bit of an assembly line, but you’re shooting group portraits of loads of people and this is not the time to get all crazy and creative. They want nice family portraits, and you can be sure to get this with consistent lighting, camera settings, and reliable backdrop. You’ll feel a bit like a drill sergeant ordering people to the spot and standing just so, and posing just so, but it’s the only way to get through a group of chatty, happy, teary people that are ready to get the party started at the reception.
4. DO take quick breaks to chimp your shots often. It’s easy to get into a zone and forget to check your settings, only to discover afterwards that they were horribly wrong.
5. Be positive, friendly, approachable and have a sense of humour. But above all, be professional. You’re there to do a job, not make business contacts or socialize.
6. For the love of God, wear comfortable shoes. It’s a long freaking day.
7. Give the bride and groom loads of encouragement as you’re directing them. They’re not models, but your job is to make them look like they are. When you get shots you’re particularly happy with, take a second to show them how great they look. It will put them at ease that they look fabulous in front of the camera.
8. One of the things we did was to stop at a local pub for a “first drink” shot between the wedding and the reception. This was a wonderful idea. It gave them a chance to slow down, spend a bit of time together chatting and laughing quietly about their day so far, and take a bit of the edge off. I just let them do their thing and snapped away. I captured both some hilarious and some very intimate moments where their love for each other really shone through.
That’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Anything beyond this is probably common sense and if you’re at the point where you’re shooting weddings, you probably already know it.
In closing, I just want to wish Candace and Jason a long and happy marriage and tell them how much I enjoyed spending the day with your families. Also, I get first dibs on baby portraits 😉