Chapter 3: Photographing The Wedding
In my camera bag:
I have never been a gear enthusiast. It doesn't really interest me to own the most expensive or newest model of anything, especially if it does not translate directly into a considerably better service or end result for my clients or increases my income.
What is actually in my gear bag may shock you. But all of my work you have seen online has been produced with this combination, and I think it is so important to emphasise that after a certain point of quality it is no longer the equipment that makes the photographer, but his or her eye and approach:
Canon 5D Markiii - My main camera body
Canon 5D Markii - My back-up camera body (I haven't touched it in about 4 years. But I make sure it's battery is fully charged and it's in my bag at every wedding, just in case...)
50mm 1.4 Sigma for Canon lens - This is the lens I use for about 90% of all my work. And I could confidently shoot a whole wedding day with it if I had to. Images captured with the 50mm is the closest you get to what they eye sees. So it just feels natural and fits the overall style of my work.
100mm macro 2.8 Canon lens - I only pull out this lens to photograph the rings and in rare cases tiny details on a dress, earrings etc.
70-200mm 4.0 Canon lens - I bought this back in 2010 when I also bought the Markii thus stepping it up a notch from the cheap Olympus camera I had ben shooting up until that point. It has served me SO well over the years. I mostly use it during the ceremony to get close without being in anyone's face, and sometimes during the first few hours of the dinner if it's bright enough. The 4.0 does have its disadvantages in terms of grain in low light situations compared to the beautiful 2.8 version. But I rented that a few times and it was SO heavy it made my neck and arm hurt after a few hours. So I decided to stick to the lightweight 4.0 version.
24-105mm 4.0 Canon lens - I bought this lens in 2012 simply because I needed that wider angle. But to be honest, I really don't like the images that I get from it, so I only ever pull it out if the bride is getting ready in a super small room (and sometimes even then I will still make it work with my 50mm instead), if the church is really big and I want glorious shot of the tiny couple at the alter during the ceremony, or sometimes to capture the reception venue from the outside if there isn't enough space for me to walk away far enough to use my 50mm. So all in all don't buy this lens! :-D Get the 35mm or 24-70mm instead.
1 extra fully charged battery + charger - Depending on how active and eventful and big the wedding day is, I usually need to change the battery in my camera around the time dinner starts. I immediately put the spent battery in the charger again, just to be on the safe side, but I have never experienced having to change battery a second time on one wedding day.
Videolight + batteries - Sony HVL-20DW2 Video Light. It isn't on the market anymore. I have never liked the look of flash photography, so a continuous light source gave me what I needed in very dark situations but with a softer more even light than a flash.
Flash + batteries - Canon speedlite 430EXII
Memorycards - When I started out I only had lots and lots of 4GB's which sounds kind of ludacris know :-D 4GB! Then came 8, then 16, and 32. Now I have only four cards in total. Two 64GB and two 128GB. For a long time I preferred shooting on several smaller cards because if, God forbid, one card corrupted, I wouldn't have lost ALL of my clients' image, only some of them.
Lens cleaning kit from Zeiss
So all in all I have a very simple and humble collection of gear with me on a wedding day. But it works just fine for me. Don't ever let anyone convince you that you are not a proper photographer unless you have a full range of the most expensive lenses, or that the difference between a 1.4 and a 1.2 will make your business more profitable. My clients don't give a rat's ass what I use to create their images, all they care about is that I treat them well and create beautiful images.
For portrait sessions and elopements I do bring my full bag, but I always leave it in the car and shoot the full session with my main body and 50mm lens. I like to keep it simple. Everything else is only backup. I find that the mobility of moving around during the shoot without my backpack weighing me down or bringing me out of balance (and ruining my neck and back) is far more valuable to me than the ability to switch lenses every other minute.
If you are interested in a really expensive lens, I recommend you rent it first for a weekend or two and bring it to an actual wedding. Some years ago, every photographer online went nuts about the new Canon 85mm. And I started to feel like I was missing out. I started considering whether I should buy it even though I really didn't have the money for it. On a whim I rented it and brought it to a wedding. I never bought it! While the images I created with it were buttery-softness-angel-dust, it was sooooo slow to focus. I wasted valuable time, and couldn't capture the spontaneous moments I am so fond of.
Always rent before you buy.
A quick overview of the many things to keep in mind as you photograph the wedding day:
Light is the Alfa/Omega of photography.
Take Control early on by letting the couple know that portraits at noon on a bright summer's day is not the optimal time for great photos. The thing that will make your photos stand out the most from all the guest photos your couple will be bombarded with as soon as the wedding is over, are:
Buttery bokeh. A shallow depth of field (at around 1.4-1.8)
Shooting backlit. Shooting into the sun and exposing for the shade.
If you can manage both of those and on top of it all at a time of day where the sun is low in the sky, you have the best possible foundation for beautiful photos, and for continuing to develop your voice as a photographer.
Shoot For Everyone:
As you document the wedding day there are some different factors you should keep in mind, to make the most of your word-of-mouth marketing which we'll get into detail with in a later Module.
You main priority is and should be your client! Next, what you need to develop your portfolio. But as soon as you have enough experience to juggle those two perspectives effortlessly, I highly recommend you also shoot with the following in mind - which will help you grow your business and create free marketing:
Shoot for a potential wedding album/book. Not all couples order a book upfront, but many will return a year or two later and want to have one made because, surprise surprise, they never got around to making one themselves after all.
Shoot for the venue, designer, planner, caterer, florist, band or DJ, and everyone else involved in creating this beautiful day. This is such a great free marketing tool and source for word-of-mouth referrals, and I am always surprised to learn how few photographers make the most of it.
Shoot for publication on blogs.
An Average 16 hour Scandinavian Wedding Day Timeline:
8am: I start the day with the bride, shooting details and getting ready candids
11.30: The bride is dressed and done and I head off to whereever the groom is getting ready with his friends
12.15: I tag along with the guys as they head to the church/ceremony location
12.30: At the ceremony site. Capturing candids of guests arriving, groom greeting etc, as well as ceremony setup/decor in its untouched state
13.30: Ceremony done. Candids of congratulations, hugs, and confetti
14.00: Everyone hits the road to reception venue
14.30: Candids during standing champagne and cake reception
16.00: I sweep the couple away for portraits while the guests carry on
(16.45: If the couple requests family or group shots this is the time)
17.15: Candids during cocktail hour
17.45: Candles lit on tables, I start shooting dinner space, tablesetting details etc
18.00: Everyone sits down for dinner. I capture speeches, food,
(21.30: Mini portrait session. If it is a sunny/clear or semi-cloudy evening, I will take the couple outside about 15 minutes before sunset. During the planning process)
Anywhere from 10pm to 12.30am: Dinner is over and the couple hits the dancefloor with their guests
No later than 1am I pack up and head back to my hotel or room
Aside from capturing all the obvious events that most couples naturally expect and all the prettiness I'm surrounded by, I really like capturing the beautiful imperfections too. The flaws, the mess. I encourage you to look out for that because unless you prefer working with super perfectionist couples, most will really enjoy those small inbetween very real moments or curprising perspective of their wedding day.
Below are four examples of such images, all from the same wedding day, about 4 years ago:
Sit down and really consider what the ideal wedding day timeline looks like in order for you to create your best work.
Now, you don't have the final say on this, the couple does. It's their day. But you can make sure to inform them, from the very beginning of the planing process, in the most helpful and positive way, what you need to produce your best work. After that it is up to them to determine at which points of the day photography is the priority, and at which times other considerations take precedence.
Prepare mentally for the fact that wedding days rarely go completely as planned. Make a plan ahead of the day, but don't consider it fixed, consider it a draft. Who knows if the weather will behave, or if something happens to push the whole event 45 minutes, and you may need to create the best portraits you can in just 15 minutes instead of 60!
All of this will get much easier with time. The more experienced you become, the better you will be at adjusting on the day off without panicking.