Friday, July 1, 2011


My progress on the course was significantly slowed last weekend, when very much at the last minute Heidi and I were asked to shoot a neighbours wedding. A mutual friend introduced them to us.  Tina and Manuel had a civil service a year ago just before the birth of their son Lukas.  In Germany the father cannot be named on the birth certificate unless the couple are married, a rather cruel law, in my view.  However, a year later it was time to Christen Lukas and a date and church had been selected.  At the last minute Tina and Manuel decided to extend the event into a dual wedding and christening, but with limited funds and very little time could not afford to engage a professional photographer.

This is where we stepped in.  Between us, Heidi and I have shot 4 weddings, averaging 1 per year, so we know the basics, however, it is an ongoing learning experience each time we approach the event.  Although we only had a week to prepare we met with the couple twice, establishing their shot wish list and getting a feel for the locations.  Heidi established a plan for the day, starting at a church around noon and then progressing to a restaurant in the middle of parkland for the afternoon and evening.  Heidi set out a little early to shadow the bride and get the "dressing/makeup" shots, whilst I headed off in the grooms car to the church.

We shoot weddings for free, not out of generosity, but primarily because I do not want the hassle of engaging a tax lawyer to manage the additional income (pretty much essential here) or the need to obtain liability insurance that would protect me as a professional.  Additionally we are new to this and cannot guarantee the results, so we view the process as building a portfolio that would enable us in the future to earn additional income if needed.

Prior to all of this I need to make some decisions about equipment and what was practical to carry during the day.  We decided to travel to and from the venues with friends and family of the couple, so I would not be able to pile a bunch of kit into my own car, limiting what we could take.  I set Heidi up with a fairly simple system, a Canon 7D, 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom, and an external speedlite.  She did not want to carry much and is still getting to grips with an SLR.  In my case, however, the choice was not so simple.  The first decision, the camera, was easy, my 5D2 is a perfect tool for weddings, the high resolution providing scope for cropping and the good ISO handling meaning that I could shoot hand held in low light.  Lenses were another matter, I have quite a collection, sign of a mis-spent youth.  The simple approach, perhaps the easy way out, would have been to go with 3 fast zooms, 16-35, 24-70, and 70-200, all f/2.8, pretty much the standard set for a wedding photographer.  I tossed this back and forth, decided to leave the heavy 70-200 behind, but to replace it with a couple of fast primes, a 35 f/1.4 and 135 f/2. To this I added a 1.4x teleconverter, that would change the 135 into a 189 f/2.8.  I increasingly enjoy using primes and find that the results are just that much better than zooms to make it worth both the investment and hassle.  Into my bag went the usual mass of memory cards, spare batteries, cleaning kits, etc.  Hanging off the bag I added a monopod to steady my hand for the church shots.

As we have another wedding to shoot in August for a couple we know quite well, this was a good opportunity to try out a few ideas and in particular have a go with the prime rather than zooms I have used in the past.  My goal for the day was essentially to turn the bride into a beautiful model, try to add some magic and create a memory of the day for the couple and their families.  I planned to use shallow DoF to soften the photos and where possible use available light, supplemented with flash as needed.  The day was cloudy and overcast, but bright, so on the whole pretty good conditions for outdoor portraiture.  

After shooting from 12 until 8pm, we wearily headed home.  The following morning I downloaded the 2100 photos we took between us and did a very quick selection of 20 or so photos that typified the day to print and hand over to the couple in the afternoon.  These are the images I am presenting here, I still have around 300 keepers to work through and edit.  The couple wanted a classic Black & White look for most of the images, coupled with contemporary framing/posing.

My first shot was Manuel with Lukas, waiting nervously for Tina to arrive:

 24-70, 70mm, 1/90s, f/5.6, ISO 400

The next two shots were taken as Tina arrived and then as she stepped into the church.  I put a lot of effort into getting the second shot right, I knew that the strong light from outside the church would frame her and make the veil glow.  I added fill flash to avoid silhouetting her. I have to say I am very pleased with this shot, it captures the moment very well.  For these shots I used the zoom as I knew things would move very quickly and I really had no idea what to expect.

 24-70, 70mm, 1/180s, f/2.8, ISO 100

  24-70, 70mm, 1/180s, f/2.8, ISO 100

For the ceremony I switched lenses several times, I had 40 minutes and wanted to capture the scene, not the moment.  I was positioned at the back of the church, and so could not work with expression and movement.

  135, 1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 400
  24-70, 24mm, 1/45s, f/4, ISO 400
 24-70, 50mm, 1/90s, f/3.5, ISO 400
  135, 1/90s, f/2.8, ISO 400

Immediately after the service we created a very special photo, the couple had requested this, it meant a lot to them:
35mm, 1/180s, f/8, ISO 100

Next stop was the reception which started with a Sekt and Orange Juice on the terrace outside the restaurant.  This gave me the chance to garb a few candids of the bride with the 135 using its shallow Dof to make her stand out.  In both of these images I have deliberately overexposed by 1 stop to brighten the image and try and keep the dress white.

 135mm, 1/180s, f/2, ISO 200
 135mm, 1/350s, f/2, ISO 100

After this it was our time with the couple to do some romantic portraits.  For these I used the 135mm, aside from the 80mm f/1.2 the best portrait lens Canon make.  This lens is very long, though, and so needs plenty of space to make it work well.  We had a public park, so no problem there.  The first shot in this sequence was shot walking to the location and was originally massively overexposed, by at least two stops.  This is the danger of using the camera in Aperture priority in strong light when using a flash.  The camera defaults to a maximum of 1/180s the fastest sync speed of the flash, at f/2.8 the ambient light was far too much.  It was, however, a happy accident, work in Lightroom coupled with conversion to B&W has rendered a very atmospheric image - perhaps deliberate overexposure is a tool I can use in the future.

 135mm, 1/180s, f/2.8, ISO 100
 135mm, 1/180s, f/5.6, ISO 100
 135mm, 1/180s, f/5.6, ISO 100 
 135mm, 1/180s, f/5.6, ISO 100

In all of these shots I used fill flash to lift the shadows, hence the need to close the aperture to f/5.6,.  The long focal length ensured that I was still able to render the background out of focus.  This is a challenging aspect of wedding photography, managing strong ambient light, but also desiring shallow DoF.

I switched to the 35mm to do some wider angle work, this was the result, I really love this photo.  The couple are set to one side and clearly having fun.  The unconventional framing adds some energy to the shot.  I wish I could have avoided the sky in the background, need to think about that for the next wedding.

 35mm, 1/2000s, f/1.4, ISO 100

When we headed back to the reception area, I switched back to the 24-70 for some family groups and snatched the following two pictures that symbolized the combination of wedding and christening:

 24-70, 67mm, 1/45s, f/5.6, ISO 400
 24-70, 45mm, 1/180s, f/2.8, ISO 100

The last photo is my favorite, I was able to shoot down from some stairs and the background although not perfect, does not confuse the picture.  Interestingly this was using the zoom, a photographs quality can only be appreciated if it is captured, the zoom gave me that flexibility at certain times.

This was a great learning experience, the shots I got are much better than I have achieved in the past, something I largely attribute to having studied the People and Place course, an excellent groundwork for wedding photography.  I achieved what I set out to do and did better than I expected.  Much of the success was down to Heidi's careful planning of location and help in organizing the couple for the more formal shots.  technically I made some errors, particularly around using fill flash, but that was part of the planned learning experience.  The prime lenses worked out well, as did the zooms.  I did not need the 70-200, replacing it with primes was a good call.  Although I have not presented any shots here the 16-35 came in very handy during the day.  For the next wedding I will pack the 16-35 and the two primes.  My question is whether to take the 24-70 or replace it with a couple more primes, I have a 50 f/1.2 and an 85 f/1.8.  I would like to get the 1.2, but I think Heidi would kill me, so that would not be good for the wedding.  The zoom is very flexible, but also limited in what it can do in low light and in achieving very low DoF.  Food for thought.

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