So second entry on our brand new website’s blog – Mark Stone a huge club thank you for all the work you have put into this – and it’s Dan Thomas (dannyt.co.uk) on the profession of wedding photographer. If I were to sum up Dan’s advice on the subject then I would use Winston Churchill’s maxim, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”. Well that and the observation that your wedding video should always be played backwards so as to guarantee a happy ending.
In essence Dan made the point that there are a number of moments of truth that can be prepared for in the day because they are in the programme and as a supplier to the event it is your job to find out the who, the what, the why, the where, the when and the how it feels and record those memories – and when he says day he means a 12-14 hour shift shooting, three times that in post processing plus time consulting with the bride and groom, and the venues. That doesn’t include time spent in sales and marketing in what is a very competitive market. Yell has 141 listings of wedding photographers within a ten mile radius of Bristol. Even allowing for some multiple listings that is still a lot of competition.
It is the Bride and Grooms day, well, culturally it is the Bride’s day and the Groom does well to turn up at the right venue and look suitably grateful a lot of the time. Surprise weddings are not a large feature of the UK market, those that occur are usually small, attended by the father of the bride and his trusty 12 bore as best man. A lot of, sometimes a life time’s, planning goes into this event. On that basis the wedding photographer does not just turn up at the church take a few snaps and wonder off to the next event as already outlined. This planning forms the key points of the photographer’s and increasingly the videographer’s schedule. Dan stressed that these are unique moments that need careful planning and deft handling. Primarily this is about people, two in particular for sure, but also about everyone else. There will be a certain cohort of the families, possibly once close, who only get to meet at weddings and funerals. The day is important for them too for different reasons and sometimes with grandparents it might be the last time the whole family is together. It is not just a record of bits and pieces but a significant life event. For most people it involves being the centre of attention with an intensity that is not experienced elsewhere. Unless that 12 bore “accidently” discharges. Then there will be lots of photographers and lots of flash photography outside the Crown Court.
The basis of execution, then, is in its preparation. The wedding photographer is a supplier not an organiser, s/he does not run the day as a photo-shoot of wedding dresses might be run, s/he is not the point of the day but they are the key to unlocking the memories of it. It is a story and the photographer is the story teller. It is NOT a small job. A wedding, even a relatively simple one, has a timetable for everything. The photographer knows that timetable and those venues inside out because they dictate what s/he is going to be doing the whole day.
The question of gear was addressed. Dan expressed the reasons behind his kit list: D800; back up body; 24-70 f2.8; 70-210 f2.8; 85mm f1.8; 2 x SB 900 TTL flashguns; Coolpix compact; USB lead; Lap Top; external drive; i-Pad; batteries; battery charger; light meter; flash filters; lots and lots of 16gb flash drives; all kept in a photo-rucksack and shoots in RAW. That is RAW, not JPEG. RAW. The camera backs up to JPEG simultaneously on a separate card but Dan shoots in RAW. This gives the maximum image rescue capacity in case of the unexpected. For one offs such as these where there is not time to go back and shoot again getting the maximum amount of information recorded by the sensor onto the card makes sense. That is shoot in RAW, in case you missed the point. The rest of the kit list is optional and set by individual preferences and experience. The kit is not cheap because it has to work and still carry a back up where ever opportune. Dan shoots all his wedding events in RAW. Dan doesn’t feel the need for anything below a 24mm (16mm equivalent on a 1.5x crop), it is superfluous to the way he shoots and details are only really isolated at wider angles by getting really close – too close for the comfort of the subjects which is the point and beyond that is really very specialist and quite divides opinion. You want results you have to engage with your clients and right in their faces is not going to be very productive.
Details, details, details. Everything is in the detail. It is the small things that matter, because everything is designed around the small details and when the couple view these pictures over time those details enrich the memory and value of the day. Details can be where the cost of a wedding really begins to ramp up. Pay them the respect of an individual frame or two each because they all add up to something much bigger. As Napoleon Bonaparte, who built and lost and Empire on details and detailed planning, said, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted” (only he said it in French). Reconnoitre the venues, get to know the key people, find out what is and what is not permissible BEFORE it gets to be a problem. Dan pointed out that trading and collaborating with the other suppliers can lead to other business. You really want to avoid extreme angles where you can unless a particular shot calls for it, but that needs to be a pre-planned event. Context is the key to all these details. The context will tell their part in the story so keep the context in mind.
The day usually starts with the bride getting ready. This is going to take some time and she is going to look the best she ever will hereafter. As Dan pointed out, if a male you are likely the only male in the room and have been privileged specifically for the end of making everything exciting and memorable. Take some time and make time to take the moment seriously – gravitas! The people around and her own reactions are the key things to capture, the context of the details you are framing and shooting. It is important to be relaxed, to interact and not to overshoot. Get the angles and vary your lenses and do not be afraid to wait for the moment – it will take longer to arrive than you think! And of course do not forget the dress. This should be done as an item by itself in as sympathetic a background as you can make and make sure you do not clutter your background with irrelevant detail. You may be fond of the colour yellow but a finely and painstakingly wrought garment like a wedding dress is not enhanced against the background of a skip. Pay great attention to the background and de-clutter! Dan’s pithy advice is to treat the details as exercises in real life. These can be and should be practiced because when you are being paid for it you are being paid to have it sorted before you turn up. The same logic applies to us amateurs. Why waste time missing shots when you can practise using your equipment to get it right when you want it?
On the grooms side the grooms men and the best man in particular – DO get the picture of the ring before it is on the brides finger – generally have a lot less pressure and detail to attend to. I am told, with authority, that this is because they are male and the day itself does not need to be complicated by such things for us as thinking. That is why there is so much planning to do to minimise the amount of thinking the groom has to do and the reason there is a best man is that between them they are likely to turn up at the right place at the more or less appointed time (which is way before the bride appears – a wide safety margin is the norm). Make sure you are there to be able to document that side too. The path of two committed individuals coming together to make one path ahead. In order for that story to be told the story lines have to converge at the ceremony, the place where two paths become one.
At the ceremony itself, which of course holds no surprises because you have seen the schedule, visited the venues and interviewed the participants like the person conducting the service, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before its commencement. Flash photography is likely banned, you are not going to be given access to places where you are going to get in the way – determine, and if necessary negotiate these in advance – and that can be as much a perception as anything else. This is the point where you are likely to get the closest friends and relatives and a good time for group shots. These are the people that are going to be obvious by their absence from the album so take some extra effort. Groups should be ranked from shortest to the tallest and everyone should be visible (as per the group shot at the end of the session!).
After the ceremony, the traditional confetti shots, get guests to throw the confetti upwards so that it falls from the top of the frame. Dan also mentioned that this is a good time to use manual focus as autofocus can get confused by the paper in the air. The reception can be some distance from the ceremony and this is where timings are important. It is a good time to get the couple on their own for intimate shots whilst the guests make their way to the reception, so a small detour, to a local landmark for instance, might be in order. At the reception Dan follows the bride as a back up to any other plans having been made. It is always prudent, he reckons, to make sure that the elder generation are well represented as there is a chance that this might be their last big family occasion and of course do not forget the cake.
Private moments are important, there will be intimate moments of connection and they will yield excellent photo opportunities. If there is a receiving line then allow 30 seconds per guest – make time! It is also prudent to have wet and dry weather scenarios. The wedding breakfast is the ideal time to get your shots backed up. A laptop/external drive or other device should always be on hand. Dan also uses an i-Pad to upload several of the best shots of the ceremony as a taster and places it where it will be seen by circulating guests – the bar is a good place!
The practical thing about the first dance is that it is going to be darker than a lot of the other parts of the ceremony. Push the ISO (noise reduction is available through Photoshop or programmes like Neat Image which has a very effective demo version), use flash as necessary – reflected not direct. Direct flash is harsh and unflattering. Think wide medium and close shots. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. The details let you control as much as you can without getting in the way by using your knowledge to anticipate and prepare. If you fail to prepare then you are preparing to fail and that has large implications and not just for the photographer. The other key is to be able to relate to your subjects, to engage with them in such a way that they respond to what needs to be done to get the shot. In return you should make it a chore for them, but, either way, every wedding is a one off event – there are no second chances!
Our thanks to Dan for a very interesting and informative evening and to Mark O’Grady for the video which Dan will make available to club members through his website.