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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Photography for Dummies, By Dummies: Episode 05 (Part I)

Ever had a question about photography you wanted to ask, but felt it was too stupid? Now you can feel stupid in private instead!

You want to shoot weddings, do you now?

Have you ever owned a DSLR and have relatives or friends, coerce or guilt trip you in bringing your camera to shoot their related wedding events? I'm sure you have. For one, the requester probably knows nothing about photography and is just impressed by your size of your camera, which is certainly larger than that what they have at hand. Of course in many circles, the size of your camera is relative to your ability behind the viewfinder.

Worse still, the said requester seeks your assistance to shoot the actual wedding, as the Official Photographer of sorts, without any reference to your experience of ability to shoot the darn thing. I understand in weddings, costs often run through the roof, so we all try to save money by getting friends and relative to handle the photography. In my honest opinion, hire a professional. Seriously. Weddings are often a once-in-a-lifetime thing and you really need to get those prime shots in, do or die.


In reality, we're still going to ask a friend or relative to do it in order to save money. Don't say I didn't warn you. Since you're going to be asked to shoot weddings anyway, the least you could do is prepare yourself for the task at hand. In my short time behind the viewfinder, I've shot a fair number of before and after actual wedding-day shots. I tell you solemnly, after every event I find myself learning something new. Unless you've shot enough events such as this, you've got a mountain to climb. So let me try to make this easier for you.

Pre-Wedding Preparations

Were you requested to be the Official Photographer (OP), or have you been asked to run around to catch family photos, and if you get anything good, let them know? Obviously the difference here is like salt and pepper. The OP must be present for all the key moments (as hereafter described) and the focus must be on the wedded couple and the event as a whole. Supporting 3rd, 4th, or 5th photographers can shoot whatever the hell they want.

OK then, moving on to your pre-wedding preparations.

Wedding photograph checklist
First thing, (totally under-rated, but you’ll be thankful that you did) create a ‘Moments Checklist’. This is literally a list of all the shots you have to take in order to ‘complete’ the day. For example:-

- Shot of the Bride having her make-up done
- Shot of Bride and Groom pouring champagne on champagne glass tower
- Shot of Bride laughing with her friends
- Shot of the Groom toasting with his friends
- Shot of the wedding cake
- And more!

Wedding Day Itinery
You’ll be surprised how easy you forget things in the heat of the moment. Next, get your hands on the itinery of the day. You’ll need to know what is happening, and when it happens, BEFORE it happens. Don’t chase the event, get there first and wait for it.

Scout ahead
If you are not familiar with the location, try to pay a little visit to the place before the Big Day. If you can’t drop by a day before, try dropping by an hour or 2 earlier. While most do not do this, I personally find that by having a look around before the event and before the pressure builds up, you can scout around for the best angles and lighting with a clear mind. You should absolutely have test shots.

Be aware of the requirements of the wedded couple
Of course, do not forget to check with the wedded couple as to what kind of shots they want. I actually do that way before everything else. Some couples put emphasis on certain images, so you don’t want to miss out on those. If you’re the OP for the day, be pro-active! Don’t be afraid to ask! They might forget to tell you what they want.

Charge those batteries
In wedding photography, planning and preparation is the key element for a successful shoot. A million things can go wrong on that day itself, and most likely at least about 250,000 things will. Do I have to tell you guys – recharge your camera batteries, your AA batteries, back-up and format your memory cards, read the itinery and re-read the damned thing. Try to attend the rehearsal of the ceremony so you know exactly how things are going to happen, as well as to check out the lighting and angles. Also, don't forget to get plenty of rest before the day itself, because it us going to be a really long day for you.

Wedding Day

Quiet on the set
Are you able to turn off the sound of your camera? If you can, you might want to do it. In fact, turn off your mobile phone while you’re at it. Try not to disrupt the proceedings. Your 3-minute call from your momma can wait for the wedded couple’s happily ever after. Plus, many ceremonies take place in religious institutions such as churches and mosques, so please observe the regulations and be respectful.

Bring a back-up
You might want to carry more than one camera. Personally, I don’t. I only carry one although many photographers in the past have benefited from carrying back-ups. Remember, anything can, and will, happen. A more practical reason for carrying at least 2 cameras is that you save yourself the hassle of constantly changing lens. Many photographers carry 2 camera bodies with 2 different lens attached. That way they can inter-change lens hassle-free. As a general rule you may want to have one wide-angle lens and one super-telephoto lens.

Bring a friend
By the way, have you considered having a second photographer to assist you? Although some of us may think that we’re good enough to handle the whole event, I can assure you, its impossible to cover everything. In fact, even with 2 photographers you can’t cover everything. Plus it also takes off some pressure of your shoulders as the ‘main’ photographer. This is an effective strategy of many photographers which you might want to consider.

Light my fire
Use your flash. If you don’t have one, buy one. If you don’t have one and won’t buy one, don’t shoot weddings. Period. There are many Pros out there who shoot daytime weddings without flash. I often do. But do any of these guys leave their speedlights at home? NO. With experience and technical knowledge about your camera’s capabilities, you can better decide if and when you want to use your speedlight. If you have neither experience nor technical knowledge, well, it’s better to have one just in case. Seriously.

Diffuse the situation
Even during the day, your speedlight comes in handy. Although this is slightly more advanced flash technique, you can use your flash to ‘fill-in’ the shadows caused by harsh sunlight. Hence the term, Fill-In Flash. Be sure to test this out before you go about shooting your speedlight in the eyes of the guests. Try manually reducing the power of the flash. I can tell you how much exactly, but you’ll need to try this out for yourself before going live. I might put out another article soon on fill-in flash, if there is a demand for it.

Put a lid on it.
As in virtually all events, your ability to manipulate the available light is paramount. Available light in this context means ALL available light (quoted from the legendary Joe McNally). From churches to mosques to registry offices, you should expect light to be dim or low. Flash is required here. But how do you use it? Bounce it if you have to, to create a soft light on your subject. But for high ceilings and such, bouncing may not be the answer. You may want to look for a different approach. You may want to diffuse the light. Diffusing reduces the harshness of the bare light by shining it through a filter.

If your event does not allow you to use a flash, then I’m sorry. You’re plumb out of luck. Better try fast, wide aperture lenses and higher ISO settings.

Continuous Shot Mode
Oh, and another thing inexperienced wedding/event photographers tend to forget? Continuous Shooting Mode. Granted for some, it is a permanent fixture (like myself!) however many photographers also leave it in Single Shot Mode ever since they took their camera out of the box. For fast moving events such as weddings, always shoot in Continuous Shot Mode to ensure that you don’t miss those special moments!

Continued in Part II.........

For those of you who are interested in viewing the other articles in the Photography for Dummies Series, please click on the links below!

Episode 1: You want to buy a DSLR?

Episode 2: Lighting the way

Episode 3: The Rule of the matter

Episode 4: To RAW or not to RAW

For those of you who like statistics:
Vital Stats for June: 6 post 151 pics
Vital Stats So Far: 83 posts 3,235 pics

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