Shooting your first wedding…part 2

About a year and a half ago I wrote down my tips on shooting your first wedding, fortunately they all hold up pretty well. But taking photography advice from someone who has just shot their first wedding is a bit like asking a learner driver for advice on how to drift simply because they have returned from their first drive around the block without crashing the car. But I’ve now shot 5 weddings…so you know…I’m now like a learner driver who has done a stint of driving home from a family holiday, you’d have to be an idiot to not listen to me!
To be honest, I know that I am not a wedding photographer…but I know that I am a photographer who can do weddings. It sounds like semantics, but a true wedding photographer can; work with a nightmare client, or get incredible poses from their subjects, or tell two people to kiss and then take a photo…without feeling like a pervert. They most likely have camera gear worth over $20K and an assistant with them on the day. Most of all, when someone asks them ‘Can you shoot my wedding?’ their first reaction is most likely ‘Yes, because that’s what I do.’ rather than ‘Oh shit! What if I stuff it up?!’
But if you have semi-decent people skills and you know you’re way around the basics of photography, then there’s no reason why you can’t shoot a wedding.
So without further ado, here is what a few additional weddings and 18 months of experience has taught me about wedding photography.

Don’t fear ‘auto’

Ok, I know that the photographers amongst you just spat your collective cornflakes onto the screen and yelled ‘Imposter. IMPOSTER!!’ But fear not, I’m not saying shoot the whole thing on auto, or that you shouldn’t learn how to use your manual settings. I’m just stating a simple truth; that your job on the day is to capture moments, and if stuffing around with your settings means that you miss one of those moments, then you’re not doing your job. I can assure you that no bride is going to be looking at the photos 5 years later and saying ‘…and this photo is my Dad, six seconds after he saw me walking down the aisle. The photographer didn’t capture the actual moment he saw me…but look at the way he nailed the exposure in the aftermath!”
In time you will be able to shoot everything on full manual and never miss a beat. But for now, just nail the composition and capture the moment.

These are the little moments you want to capture


If this is your first wedding, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re either family or friends of the bride and groom. Which can make working out what  you are going to charge a bit tricky. You will be tempted to quote low, or ‘just make sure you cover your costs and then anything else is a bonus’, or think ‘I really like taking photos anyway’ or ‘I’ll just do it for the experience and to work on my Flickr gallery’.
If you’ve got an hourly rate, then work out how many hours you will be shooting on the day, and how many hours you think you will be editing for. Bear in mind that you will be working longer hours than you have before on a photo job, you will most likely have to hire a second camera (and possibly some lenses) you take at least 700 photos, it will at least an hour just to load these photos from you camera onto your computer, it will take hours to work out which photos to keep and which to toss, you will need to have a second hard-drive that you can keep all of the files on for safety. In short, this is not like when you took some photos at Christmas and sent them around to everybody. This is a big undertaking. You need to take it seriously, and the bride and groom need to take you seriously, and a really good way to do this is to charge like someone who deserves to be there. That way there’s no confusion as to who is doing who a favour.
You’re a photographer, you’re good at what you do, and you’re charging accordingly.
Now just make sure you back it up with some great photos.

Give them what they want….not what you want

For the last two wedding I’ve shot I’ve taken about 750 photos. From this I’ve culled them down to about 150 – 170 photos, worked on these photos until they are about 90% done (straightening any crooked shots, doing basic colour grading our black and white conversions, trying to work out what the $*%& I thought I was trying to achieve with that shot) and then sending these through to bride and groom for them to select 60 – 70 that I will do the final editing on.

For all of the weddings that I’ve done there have been at least 5 photos that I thought were crackers that didn’t make the Bride and Groom’s top 70…and at least three that I didn’t think were particularly strong, that they have loved! What they see in the photo can be totally different to what you see in a photo. So even if you’re only 50/50 on a photo, make sure you at least give them the option to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And if they happen to say ‘no’ to something you thought was genius…then just suck it up…or show the photo to your photographer friends who will no doubt see how brilliantly you were channelling Cartier Bresson.

Don’t get 10 versions of the same shot

This is one area that I have had to really work on. It was depressing to sit down to edit the photos to see how many times I would take multiple of versions of what was essentially the same shot. So I now work really hard on making sure when I’ve got a shot that I like, I also try to shoot from high and low, or wide, or maybe with something in the foreground to frame the shot, believe me you’ll be thankful when you come to send the photos through to the bride and groom and you can see a real range of shots.
It will come as no surprise that my current obsession is using reflections.

The gear

‘Oh thank God’ I hear you say ‘Finally a photography blog that talks about gear! There just isn’t enough of that on the internet!’
Well I don’t really care for your tone….but I will endeavour to keep this as short as possible anyway.
Unless you have some sort of magical lens that can do wide-angle all the way through to telephoto in low light…You will need two camera bodies.  I’ve shot the last two weddings on two Fuji bodies, I’ve paired one with a wide-angle (10-24mm) and then put a 50-140mm on the other one for the ceremony, and then put a 56mm portrait lens for the photos of the bridal party. That way I always have the wide option available without having to go through the palaver of changing lenses.
If you’re going to have the two camera bodies, it’s really worth buying some sort of sling so that you can carry both of them and still have your hands free. I picked up one for $10 on Gumtree, so don’t feel you have to drop cash on a new one.
I’ve brought a tripod along to each wedding…and I’m yet to use it. This may be because there is only one of me and so I have to get all of the shots, which leaves less time for setting up tripods and locking off shots. I’m still too scared to forget about it altogether…but I’m also getting pretty sick of carting it around for no apparent reason.
One of my more self-absorbed purchases was my 56mm f1.2 lens. It seemed like a such a luxury when I bought it as 56mm was already covered on my 50-140mm and that was a f2.8 lens…so did I really need a f1.2 lens? The short answer is ‘YES!’ I have shot some of my favourite shots on this lens because of the low f-stop (and the way Fuji handles high ISO) I’ve been able to get some really good candid shots by shooting from a bit of distance and not needing a flash.

Sure it verges on stalking…but you often capture great moments.
Fuji X-t1 and X-t2, a winning combo

Not the gear

I 100% realise that this falls into the ‘no shit Sherlock’ category…but it’s also really easy to overlook the fact that how you are as a person on the day can be even more important than all the gear in the world.
If you can look like you belong there, and you can make the bride and groom feel that you are enjoying the day as much as they are…then it will show in the photos you take. If you look stressed or look like you’re out of your depth…you are unlikely to get people to relax in front of the camera. If you stuffed up the exposure on a shot, or if someone moved, it’s not the end of the world and no one else needs to know, so just take the shot again.
Learn a couple of poses that you can ask people to do. Just the simple act of telling people how to stand can be enough to let them know that you know what you’re doing.
The bride and groom have enough to worry about on the day…don’t add to that.

But most of all, remember that someone liked your work so much that they were willing to trust you with capturing one of the most important days of their like…and that’s pretty awesome!

The photographic waiting room

It can be very easy to think that the  modern photographer’s life is one of instant gratification. After all, Ansell Adams often had to wait weeks before he knew if that shot of a rock had worked as he wanted it to…nowadays we can take a photo of the rock, add a few filters and send it to an uninterested world in a matter of seconds. But much like a young tradie being sent to the shop to get a ‘long weight’, there are still a few times that photographers find themselves waiting, and then realising that they are too embarressed to tell anyone about it.

The time between taking the photo and getting to work with it in Lightroom

Pretty much every photographer has had the experience of looking at a shot on the screen on the back of the camera and thinking ‘Nailed it!’, only to get the photo onto a larger screen and realise that in fact it’s soft (slightly out of focus), or noisy (ISO too high) or shit (shit). So there is always a degree of paranoia about your shots until you can load them into your computer and see what you’re really dealing with. After all softness can be sharpened, noise can be reduced and shitness can have 100% clarity added to it and passed off as ‘HDR’. But you just don’t know what you’re working with until it’s loaded onto your computer…and so the wait between clicking the shutter and clicking on the mouse can seem like an eternity.

Last year I shot my first ever wedding. By the time I got home that night and loaded the photos onto my computer it was late and I was too shattered to do any work on them. But then the next day was chock-a-block with family activities, and the day following that involved a 5 hour bike ride. So I spent over 48hrs freaking out that I had no idea if I actually had any decent shots…it was torture.

So if you live with a photographer and want to be nice to them, give them an hour off other duties and let them load in their photos and have a look at them  on a big screen with access to some software that can hide their mistakes…it will make them a lot more pleasant to be around.

Waiting for feedback

I think that people who don’t take photos can underestimate just how much a photographer invests in a shot. As the photographer  you’ve chosen to take a photo, you’ve composed it, you’ve chosen your settings, you’ve forged a brief alliance with your subject, you’ve taken the shot, you’ve spent time doing post-production on the shot, sent through the final product, and then…well then you’re in the hands of the recipient, and the longer you wait for a response, the more you become convinced they hate it. It can be soul crushing. It’s a bit like finally plucking up the courage to call someone you have a crush on, but getting their voicemail and having to leave a message and then having to wait them to call you back. Or maybe you should call them…to make sure they got the message…or maybe I should I see if they’re available on Facebook…wait, it says they’re logged in on their mobile…why didn’t they answer my call then?… Oh God they must be trying to think of a nice way to say ‘No’…Oh God I feel like such an idiot!…but why don’t they just let me know? Why do they just leave me hanging? What sort of psycho are they?! Screw this, I’m going to send them a really nasty text message telling them that I can’t believe I ever I had feelings for them, but not to worry, I can take the hint, and I’ll never bother them again!
Meanwhile, in the time it took to go to the bathroom, the subject of your desires has received one voicemail message followed a few minutes later by a bafflingly angry text message.
In short, you are a tad vulnerable when you put a part of yourself into a shot for someone else’s judgment, and paranoia + time = teenage boy.

So if you have the misfortune of living with someone who fancies themselves as a photographer, or someone has taken some photos for you, here are a few things you can do to assuage our fears:

  • Let us know you got the photos. Even if you haven’t had a chance to look at them yet, just let us know they’ve arrived. Sometimes, due to the vagueries of the internet, photos don’t make it from sender to reciever, and there is nothing worse than waiting for feedback  on photos when the other person is still waiting for them to arrive.
  • Give feedback. Look, I know we’re all time poor, but I’ve had photos that I’ve taken hours working on, uploading to a gallery on Flickr and sending through,  only to recieve  ‘Great, thanks’  as the feedback. What was great?! Which ones did you like? Why?
    When I did the recent photoshoot with Luke from the Cobblers  Last  he actually went through and listed the photos he liked and why. It was awesome because going into a shoot you have no idea what people are hoping for, so it’s great to know how close you came to what they were after.
    Oh, and if I’ve seen you write ‘Cute pic’ or ‘That’s so great’ to someone’s clearly out of focus photo of their child on Facebook, your feedback has no weight with me.
  • Tell it like it is We are precious flowers…but sometimes we need to hear what you don’t like. Yeah, it hurts and we will probably spend the next couple of hours in a huff, but we need to know why you didn’t like a photo. I can pretty much guarantee that if there’s a photo you don’t like it’s either a photo the photographer had doubts about themselves, or there is a specific reason why they included it. As a photographer you take a lot of photos…the real skill is culling them down to the ‘good ones’. The more informed we are about what constitutes ‘good’ the better we’ll become as photographers.
  • Be our muse Yep, standing a spot while the photographer stares blankly at the display on the back of their camera and then adjusts the the off-camera flash for the umpteenth time can be boring as batshit. But consider it an investment in the ultimate prize; a photo of yourself that you actually like!

So there you go. We photographers are in fact incredibly misunderstood and under-appreciated geniuses who thoroughly deserve your respect and admiration.  Just please tell us we’re good…please!