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Monday, January 25, 2010

Weddings for "soon to be 'ex' " friends

"My cousin was impressed with my pictures of mountains and the cat , now he wants me to photograph his wedding ! I have a professional camera so the results should be good  .... should I buy a flash ? "
That's how many questions start on the forums and they often end with " look , I never asked for a lecture on life . Why are you people so unfriendly , I'm going elsewhere for advice ! ".

Wedding photography is a very serious occupation and there are many professionals out there who are very passionate about couples getting the best memories of their wedding possible - because you only have one go at it .
They have also all experienced or heard of horror stories with regard to messed up or lost wedding photos , broken friendships with the person that made the mess , people being sued to pay for another wedding to get the pictures right this time ..... need I continue ?

So if you ask a question like that you will quite understandably be upset by the pro's going into 'attack mode' telling you not to do it , when that wasn't the question you asked , but they are actually trying to protect you and the couple involved .
Wedding photography is a whole different ball-game in photography and whether you like it or not you will get a lecture in life if you ask 'that question' . If you can't handle the replies you get that probably means you can't handle the stress of wedding photography either .
Many pros work with a lot of rich people and can't comprehend the other 90% of the population [ in various countries ] that can't afford $2500 for wedding photos , so they will tell you not to do it under any circumstances .

Ok , now we've got that out of the way and you are still determined to do it ... you followed the well meant advice on the forums and insisted that they get a professional photographer , they told you they can't afford one and if you don't do it they won't have any pictures . You went back to the forums and were told to force them to borrow money for a pro - so they asked you to lend them the money :(  ........... ok , now you can photograph their wedding but you must be totally sure there is no other way !

1.) My first bit of advice would be to find a second , and even third , photographer who also wants to gain experience [ there are plenty of people out there wanting to have a go at weddings for free just for the experience ] . This will be your insurance - two other people taking pictures at the wedding .

2.) Next , how far away is the wedding ? if it is a few months then learn all you can about your camera and get a flash if you don't have one , ask questions on the forums , post pictures , get advice on how to improve ....... BUT :  Only photograph the wedding in the modes you are used to shooting in !
If you are used to driving an automatic car and want to enter a race in a week don't let anyone talk you into driving a manual because it is 10% faster than an automatic - you can make bigger mistakes in manual if you are not used to it , even though someone who is used to it can get better pictures .
If the wedding is one week away rather shoot the entire wedding in program mode , " P " for "panic" [ But you tell the customers it is "P" for "professional" ! ] , and get 500 average pictures than shoot in manual , get 5 really good pictures - and forget it at those settings and then get 495 really bad pictures because the lighting has changed . 

3.) Never try anything new at a wedding ! You don't do a major hike in the mountains with new boots - you'll get bad blisters , you don't hire two professional cameras you have never used the day of the wedding either .

Don't let someone talk you into hiring professional cameras you don't know how to use - rather shoot the wedding with two entry level cameras you know how to use than mess up with pro cameras just because someone thinks that a solid body will give better results - seriously the Nikon D90 has better image quality than the semi pro D300 and I have seen people suggesting to someone they hire D300's rather than using their D90 .... because they are semi-pro bodies ???? The couple will never know the difference in the pictures [ actually the D90 pictures will be slightly better ] but they will notice if you mess up horribly with a camera that you don't know how to use ! 
Will the stronger body give extra protection or make you over-confident in its ability to withstand knocks ?
Maybe you should also hire a rally car with a roll cage to drive there - even though it uses twice as much fuel and you don't know how to drive it ? It can handle the knocks better than your reliable Toyota .... then again they can still both only do the speed limit and you know how to drive your Toyota so are less likely to crash ! 

I heard a horror story of someone who heard that manual focus can get better pictures - so he tried it at a wedding ....... I was told that 15 of the 900 pictures were actually in focus .

4.) If possible have two of everything , two camera bodies , two lenses , two flashes  , plenty of  backup memory cards - It's like mountaineering, if you expect everything to go wrong  and plan for it you will be pleasantly surprised but if you expect everything to go perfect you will only be disappointed .
Oh yes , take spare clothing as well [ and don't wear bright red undies :( ] Two weddings ago I split my pants and luckily[?] managed to borrow some bulky plastic rain pants from the gardener .

5.) Your primary objective is to capture memories - not to try and impress other photographers ! If a picture doesn't look like it will win a competition then simply don't show it on the forums - but it may well turn out to be the couple's favourite memory of the day .

6 .) Don't obsess about image quality and staying at iso 200 , if the light is bad then a sharp picture at iso 3200 is better than a blurred picture at iso 200 , they'll probably think the noise is artistic anyway . " You can fix noise but you can't fix motion blur " .

7.) Don't feel you need to buy new gear for the wedding . It's a natural reaction when you start to doubt your abilities and think that buying a new lens or camera will fix that . There's nothing wrong with buying gear you have needed for a while but don't let anyone talk you into buying a flash bracket or other item you have never used before - only to find it's not what you expected on the day .
If it's a few months from the wedding fair enough - if you have time to practice with it , but you don't want a second hand lens arriving two days before only to find after-wards that it had a focusing problem which is why it was sold ..... only use what has proven itself in the past !

8.) Added from the comments section below , quote from "Adam" :
As a suggestion I would also consider a contract. Not so much for liability purposes, but to hammer home that "I could stuff this up".
Many people think that you're just been humble when you say you're not a professional and may not get good photo's. When they see a piece of paper - most then then get a revelation that you are serious.
Also - another good reason to have 2 or 3 photographers is that there is no '1' person at fault, when they don't get the same sort of images that "their friends with the pro" got, and you're not the 'bad man' all out on your own.

9.) Organize the group shots to start with the biggest group [everyone together] and whittle it down from there otherwise you will waste a lot of time gathering people together , suggest that right after the ceremony [ depending how it goes ] they all sit/stand still for one group shot before everyone gets carried away hugging and kissing and congratulating the couple .
Try to arrange for the couple to have someone with the list setting the groups up for you .

10.) Take a few shots , at least three , of each group - using a tripod if possible - in case you need to do a head swap if someone blinks a lot , or simply filter through the images and select the one good one. It's much easier to delete a few images later than try to do something with only one group shot where someone's eyes are closed. 
Take more shots for bigger groups where more than one person may be a 'blinking blinker'.

11.) This one is important : Have a plan !
Scout out the location of the ceremony and ''gardens''[?] for the formal pictures . Find at least 4 nice spots where you can plan what you want to do . Write some poses down on a piece of paper .
You can always get some casual shots in between locations but it's very hard to 'make things up ' on the day .
Have a look at my "wedding poses for inspiration" and feel  free to add suggestions there . I keep it mainly to refresh my memory .

12.) When you go hiking in the mountains it's easy to forget that at the end you will have a pile of rubbish that will need to be put somewhere to carry it back .
Well , as you progress through the day you will start to accumulate memory cards that will need to be stored somewhere VERY SAFE . Have an empty pocket or case of some sort where you will put the full memory cards knowing that they are separate from the empty ones .
These memory cards are worth a lot more than a new one in the shop - they could be worth the cost of paying for another wedding if they get lost !

13.) Arrange for rest time during the formals . Once you have the group shots done and take the wedding party off for some formals and fun shots set aside 'rest time ' , tell them that there will be 10 minutes here and there where you will all sit down and recover , check camera settings , look at your notes for inspiration from the poses you have written down and ... rest .
Everyone will be pretty tired by now and will appreciate it.

14.) Don't think of arranging shots after the speeches or reception .... once the couple sit down and start talking with friends and family [ two separate categories ?] they don't want to do anything more - they are tired . Perhaps though , you can talk them into one ''mock cutting of the cake" to get that out of the way before you take a few shots of the dancing and slink off into the shadows ..... 

14. Flash : [ I mean use a flash on your camera !] .
The main concept of good flash is : " Less is more " meaning that you should rather dial down the flash power to make it harder to see flash was used then blow their eyeballs out of their sockets with flash that is too strong . Even in an emergency the built in flash dialed down to "-3" can make an image better by adding catch-lights to their eyes while still making it hard to tell that flash was used .
If you have an external flash then bounce the flash whenever possible , off walls , off the ceiling - anything rather than direct flash . If you are outdoors and there is nothing to bounce off then direct flash is the only way , just dial it back .
Something like "TTL/BL-1" [ ETTLII -1 if you shoot Canon ] in bright sunlight and "-3" in overcast weather ... and everything in between .   

15. So how many images do you hand over ?
many pros will tell you not to hand over more than the best 300 so that other photographers will not be able to pick out mistakes you have made , they also say that more than that is too many for them to look through .
My thoughts are that they have the rest of their lives to go through the images and I don't care what other photographers think about technical issues the couple won't notice , so I hand over as many as there are , deleting only blurs and duplicates and the occasional bad facial expression or blink .
I want to impress the couple not other photographers , and why should I delete their memories ?
At the last wedding I handed over 1500 images and they were delighted especially with a the few that I had thought of deleting because of a persistent 'problem' with the groom's tongue sticking out like a cat .... the bride loved those shots .... if she didn't they could just delete them :)  

16. Details : Don't get 900 pictures of the bride and groom only . When things are moving slowly look around for details that will be a reminder of the day . Get shots of the rings , her shoes , the dress , the table decorations - make them different from normal snapshots .
[ Think you need a fancy camera ? This was taken with the 'old' 6 meg Nikon D50 - the 85mm 1.8 lens was the secret weapon ]

17. Want something 'different' ? Occasionally I do a slide-show so they can see the pictures of the day right at their reception ! Most pros would recoil in horror at the thought of people seeing their un-edited images but nobody notices the mistakes , the screen quality is normally not good enough to show the mistakes anyway and the "Ooooh"s and "Aaaah"s give a good indication of what pictures the people like .

18. Once a bride told me beforehand that she was very self-conscious and doesn't like too much attention directed toward her . I told her that I would have a talk with the groom and if I noticed she was feeling uncomfortable I would joke around with him to direct attention away from her .
I discussed this with him so he knew why I was making jokes with him and he played along quite happily .
Now I do this with every couple - I tell each of them that we will make jokes amongst each other to ease the situation , that way neither gets offended by my weird sense of humour and they feel that I'm doing them a favour when I joke around .

19. Know how to use your camera , don't rely on auto settings that you do not understand . Use only one focus point . At one wedding my second shooter had a fancy new camera with 45 focus points . She left the focus mode on 'multi focus mode' which uses all of the focus points .
There were some pictures of the bridal party in the back of a limo and the one girl closest to the camera was in focus - the rest were out of focus including the bride in the centre of the frame .
The 'multi' focus mode with all 45 focus points active chose the closest focus point and messed up a series of images with an out of focus bride - the main subject supposedly .
Some cameras offer the possibility of using all of the focus points while being able to select which one is 'active' - just be sure you know which focus point the camera will use !

My thoughts on the friendship part is that if my friends can't handle the situation if it goes wrong after being told the risks then I thank them for showing me that they aren't real friends and move on with my life - many others will not feel this way though so it's up to you whether you go ahead with it now or not.

That's all I can think of for now - I'll update this as I think of other advice I can add :)


  1. Very good advise, and well said.

    As a suggestion I would also consider a contract. Not so much for liability purposes, but to hammer home that "I could stuff this up".

    Many people think that you're just been humble when you say you're not a professional and may not get good photo's. When they see a piece of paper - most then then get a revelation that you are serious.

    Also - another good reason to have 2 or 3 photographers is that there is no '1' person at fault, when they don't get the same sort of images that "their friends with the pro" got, and you're not the 'bad man' all out on your own.

    Just my 2c worth to add.

    Nice blog - and very good advise. Well done Desmond.

  2. Thanks for the input Adam .
    With regard to a contract I suppose there are many ways of looking at it .
    Since I've never worked with a contract my only view on it so far has been " If there is no contract and they pay cash without a receipt what can they prove ! " .
    But I never mentioned this in the blog because I have never had to put this to the test and as you have pointed out there may be more reasons for having a contract than against it .

  3. If you're taking money for the photography then you have already entered into an arrangement to provide services/products, you need a contract, no question.

    If you are doing it as a favour to a friend (read and re-read above why this might not be a wise idea) then it's more ad-hoc and a contract likely is not needed (just a guest with a camera).

    Make it really really clear that you are going to take some pictures but that you may not deliver any, they might all be blurred etc (*everything you can do to lower their expectations will help you later whatever happens*)

  4. Cracking post this Desmond. Enjoyed the read.