Wedding Photo Tips Refresher: A Practical Field Guide by Robbie Gantt. As professional photographers we are all lured by the siren’s song on the latest and greatest equipment. It is very easy to get caught up in all the new gear and incredible products that are available in our ever-evolving industry. I’m just as guilty as the next shooter who drools over the latest DLSRs, but the truth is, I can take just as BAD a picture with the top-of-the-line DSLR as I can with a compact camera. The most expensive, shiniest, newest, fastest piece of equipment will always be a poor substitute for talent and technique.
On the topic of success, Michael Jordan once said, “The fundamentals will never change.” With that in mind, my wife and business partner, Lauren, and I made a promise to ourselves at the beginning of this wedding season that, unless something breaks, we were not going to buy any new equipment. Instead, we decided to maximize the gear we have and become as efficient as possible with our resources.
In a sense, we aimed to reinvent ourselves by utilizing just the knowledge and experience we’ve gained along the way.
As a husband and wife team, we often have advantages over photographers who insist on shooting solo. One of those advantages being that we can exhibit our true personalities from the very first interaction with our clients. In our face to face client meetings, our bride and groom get to see how Lauren and I interact and most importantly, how we like to have fun. Having a sense of humor is key in disarming our subjects and letting them know we are approachable and personable. Whenever possible, we practically insist on having an engagement session, too! It’s a very practical way of getting to know our clients and establishing a rapport. Once you can build confidence and familiarize your clients with the creative process, things will go much smoother later on. It’s that degree of intimacy that allows us to be involved and document a couple’s wedding day while simultaneously not being perceived as an intruder on a wedding day. Brides and grooms are nervous enough without having to worry about being stuck with a “stranger” for the duration of the day.
By the time the wedding arrives, we want things to be as organic as possible. Part of what facilitates that is having a routine leading up to each event. For example, if a wedding is on a Saturday then we begin charging batteries, formatting cards, cleaning lenses, etc. on the Wednesday before the event. In doing so, we are not panicked and rushing around on Friday night. As an aside, it’s important to note Lauren and I both have a full set of gear and do not rely on each other for equipment. Each of us shoots with two camera bodies and redundant lenses to further eliminate the stress of needing to wait for a lens or borrow a flash.
Equipment, or lack thereof, should be the furthest thing from your mind when it comes to time to photograph. Once your equipment is checked and ready to go, here are some helpful tips that will insure great images and an even better experience for your clients:
1. Keep Your Distance
One of the best ways to tell a story is to set the stage. To do this, you need to show supporting elements and the interaction of people in their environment. Photographically, that means shooting wide angle or from afar. I like to find a corner of a room and study how people are participating in the day. Sometimes that involves shooting into windows for silhouettes, and sometimes that involves exploring unusual angles to create more dynamic framing.
2. Know Your Light
Speaking of windows, it is critical to always be conscious of your light sources. Just because you can shoot at 12,000 ISO doesn’t mean you should not be aware of where light is coming from and what it’s doing to your scene. In low light scenarios such as the hotel suites where the bride and groom often get ready, I will do my best to open drapes or blinds whenever it’s possible, or turn on as many lamps as I can ahead of time. Those directional sources help to create shape and texture, as well as put light in the eyes. On the other hand, I will often times turn off the overheard lights. We all know how awful direct overhead light can be, so it is best to eliminate that variable if at all possible. When we find ourselves in an environment that does not have a suitable light source, we create our own with the use of external flashes and diffusers. I like to place my flash with the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible light diffuser on top of a dresser or on a small stand in the corner of a room and use a Pocket Wizard TT5 to trigger the flash remotely. I make sure the placement of the flash is consistent with where a lamp or window could be to yield the most realistic results. By using my external flash and the very forgiving Gary Fong LSC, I can achieve consistent results and properly exposed images without having to shoot at slow shutter speeds.
3. Anticipate Mechanical Failure
The best way to know what your gear is capable of, is to shoot anything but the event you’re being paid for as practice. You should never get a new piece of equipment or rely on a â€œdifferentâ€ lighting system that hasn’t been thoroughly tested well before an event. It’s the practice of shooting in unfamiliar environments that enables you to understand how your exposure system works, how a particular lens focuses in low light, or what kind of results you can expect from shooting a medium sized jpeg. For example, to test the forward tracking focusing capabilities of my Mark III, I shot a local high school basketball game (for fun). This not only gave me a sense of how well the camera focuses in low light, but it also provided white balancing feedback for how the camera renders artificial lights sources. The more comfortable you are the better when photographing a wedding processional or perhaps using the vapor light from a parking garage to illuminate an impromptu portrait.
4. Snap Groups
The easiest way to derail the rhythm and genuine excitement of a wedding day is to put all the festivities on hold for two hours to do group shots. It can literally be painful for a bride and groom to stand there and force a smile while you photograph dozens of group shots. We’ve found the best ways to speed up that process is by 1) having a preâ€approved shot list, 2) giving clear and concise instructions before photographing, 3) working as a team, and 4) dialing in your exposure ahead of time. Two weeks prior to an event, we send our couples a form that helps us to understand the timeline of the day, suggests group shots, and allows for additional image requests. The bride and groom simply denote which images are important to them, so we have a schedule (so to speak) of the groups that need photographed. As a team, I will generally photograph the posed group, while Lauren gathers the next set of people just out of view from the camera. As soon as one group is done then the next group can practically step right into the frame. But before we even begin, one of us will stand on a chair and explain exactly how we’re going to do the group shots and where people will need to stand when it is their turn. Additionally, that is perfect time to remind the bridal party that sunglasses, purses, and bottles of beer need to be set aside for just a few short minutes!
Finally, assuming all formal “posed” shots are being done at one location, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be shooting in full Manual mode both on the camera and on the flash with a custom white balance. Shooting in full Manual with a dialed in exposure will eliminate the fluctuations in exposures you’ll get from varying tones of clothing and background factors. If you’re in a church, make note of where you’re standing by counting the pews or place something on the floor to mark from where you need to shoot. Likewise when you’re outdoors, simply place a lens cap or even a stick in the exact spot you intend to shoot from every time. In doing so, you’ll save a ton of time in post processing and editing. Editing with software like Adobe Lightroom, we can “sync” our corrections and be done editing the group shots in two minutes. Whereas, if you shoot in TTL, you’re group shots will be inconsistent both in exposure and color. The images may not look too bad standing alone, but will be extremely noticeable when it comes time to design an album where the groups are right next to each other.
5. Begin When You Are Finished
To capture the most genuine moments, you have to be prepared to photograph the instances in between the “posed” shots. Most people become more reserved when they are being orchestrated into having their picture taken. After you make it known you are “finished” with a group shot, your subjects will often decompress and show a more authentic side. This is when you need to be ready to photograph even more expressive moments. It helps to have a second camera ready, preferably with a longer lens. Sometimes just saying the phrase “Thanks everybody; that’s a wrap!” will lead to big hugs, the holding of hands, or cheers and celebration! Those are the moments you want to capture and the emotions your client wants to preserve forever.
6. Ask For Forgiveness; Not Permission
Lastly, unless you’re endangering the couple (or yourself), don’t be afraid to put your own signature on the images. If you have an idea you want to try, don’t be afraid to go for it! Bride and grooms are desperate for images that are unique to them and are more often than not excited to go along with your vision. That can be something as simple as bringing along props like giant balloons, or getting permission to shoot on the rooftop of the reception venue. This does involve a little visualizing and pre-planning. You’d be surprised how accommodating bystanders or security guards are to a newly married couple. You can literally stop traffic, or get on a merry-go-round if you just try. If, on the other hand, you are stressed and completely out of ideas, a good tool to have is an iPod with several “inspiration” images. The act of just looking at sample images will usually trigger new ideas for your environment and inspire you to try something you’ve not shot before. Be prepared so you can have fun and capture the unique images your clients deserve. They will thank you a million times over.
About the Author:
Robbie Gantt and Lauren Chapman the owners of openField photography, a wedding and lifestyle portrait studio based in Indianapolis, Indiana.