Two weddings in two weekends: Five things I learned

Discussion in 'Other Genres' started by MAubrey, Jul 7, 2015.

  1. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    I just posted the following on my blog (link) and I thought I'd share it here:


    I had the great pleasure of shooting two weddings in June. I'm not a wedding photographer. I never envisioned myself as a wedding photographer. I came into both of these as someone who has centrally focused on landscape photography with a bit of dabbling in concert photography. These two weddings really stretched me in terms of my knowledge, experience, and abilities--especially the second one, where I was the primary photographer. Is it something I would consider doing again? Yeah. I think so--in fact, one of the bridesmaids and groomsmen from the second wedding asked if my wife and I would also do their wedding next year. I learned a whole lot and could go in with far more confidence than initially. My experience with event shooting is finally getting into something of substance now. Still, I would really love the opportunity of working under someone on an event. Lower pressure practice would only benefit.

    At the very least, I learned that I could do it, if I chose.

    The first one was a little more relaxing since I was a second shooter, focusing entirely on candid moments in a more photojournalism style.


    #1. Don't jump into shooting a wedding on your own without some experience a second shooter first.

    Honestly, I really wish that I could have been a second shooter at least a half a dozen times or more before ever doing an entire wedding on my own. There's a lot more to do than you could imagine from simply watching from the outside. Simply put: come out the other side of the second wedding: I had no idea that I knew so little. There is no other kind of shooting that can sufficiently prepare you for a wedding. Maybe war/battlefield photojournalism?

    #2. Lighting. Lighting. Lighting.

    If you don't understand how your flash works and don't have access to good natural light, you're going to have problems. My technically best formal shots were done with two 43' shoot through umbrellas. And I wasn't as prepared to use them consistently as I should have been. Even single collapsible umbrella ready in my bag would have been a good move. We went through four locations for the bridal party's formal/fashion-oriented shots. The light changed dramatically from one place to the other. Don't let your photos in the dark places be ruined by harsh shadows from a bare flash or by excessive noise from too high ISO or by too narrow DOF because you need an f/1.4 aperture in a group shot.
    For this photograph, the hard shadow behind the bride and groom wouldn't have been there if I had just taken the time to take three minutes my umbrellas out of the car and it would have improved the shot. The hard shadow behind each of the people (the bride & groom and then the piano player) wouldn't have been there if I had just taken the time to take my umbrella out of the car and it would have improved the shot. The image works, but it could have worked even better.

    #3. Practice every genre you plan on doing ahead of time

    If you've never shot formal portraiture, get some practice in. Get some friends together and have them dress up. Everyone likes dressing up every once in a while. Or if you've never shot anything in a photojournalism style (e.g. for the reception), go find a friend whose doing a concert and ask if you can shoot it. Find a birthday party and document it. Something. Styles of shooting that you've never done before will surprise you and you will make unnecessary mistakes. This is a big day and not just as a significant event. It's a big day where a lot happens and it happens fast. If you're not ready for something because you've never done it before, it's going to show in your images.

    #4. Choose your lenses ahead of time and do it with clear intent


    Yes, you have a dozen primes. You can't use them all. Keep it down to two lenses per body, if you can. This is especially true for the ceremony and reception where changing lenses too often can mean missing important moments. If you need a more specialized lens for the formal stuff, that's fine. But generally, the less you need to worry about having 'the right lens' the better. As for myself, I had a 35mm and 85mm for my A7 and a 25mm (=50mm-e) and 75mm (=150mm-e) for my E-M5. Generally I tried to make sure that the other body had the opposite (e.g. A7 with 35mm and E-M5 with 75mm). That way I was ready to switch if necessary. And I did have a second back with other lenses in it, but that was back up in case something failed or broke.

    #5. I wouldn't have survived without my wife working with me.

    Seriously. She saved me so many times. Of the two of us, she's the better one at directing large groups of people, for one. So making sure the right people were in front the camera at the right time in the right place was thanks to her much of the time. She was also able to dong the bridal party getting ready for me, which unexpectedly ended up being impossible for me to do myself--and that's probably okay. I'd say she created a more intimate environment for the women as they prepared. So maybe you have the personality to do it alone. I don't think I do and I wouldn't want to do this alone.

    time ended up being short before the wedding. Had my wife not already been with the bridal party as they prepared, we wouldn't have had any images of them bride and her bride's maids before the ceremony. You cannot always rely on the 'official schedule.' Things will fall behind and you need to be prepared to adapt and the photo above never would have happened.

    #6 Bonus thought: A tripod to maintain good framing for family shots isn't a bad idea

    I didn't bring my tripod. I wish I had. I ended up doing a lot more cropping and straightening adjustments in post on family shots because of it. The people were doing all the moving. I shouldn't have needed to. So that was a regret. I could have saved myself significant time in Photoshop if I had thought that through. I feel dumb about this, too, because I have an awesome compact, lightweight carbon tripod for backpacking that's nice and sturdy. Having it ready wouldn't have hindered me at all for those shots in the church.


    I'm pleased with how things went with both weddings all considering the various unexpected challenges. The images turned out excellent. You'll note that this list is partially things I'm really glad I did and partially things that I wish I had done. But that's how it should be. That's what learning is. Next time I shoot a wedding, I'll be a little more ready. And next time, there will likely be an entirely new list of things that I learned: things I'm glad I did and things I wish I could have done differently. That's what it should be like after every shoot, no matter what kind. Always pushing forward. Always learning. Always improving my craft.

    First Wedding:




    Second Wedding:





    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
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  2. WoodWorks

    WoodWorks Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 12, 2012
    Ashland, OR, USA
    Excellent and informative write-up, Mike. I would never, ever, ever want to try my hand at wedding photography, or any kind of "event" photography for that matter. But it's good to know that, should someone hold a loaded gun to my head, I could (in theory) get through it without completely embarrassing myself.

    Oh, swell pictures too! :D 
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  3. addieleman

    addieleman Passionate amateur Subscribing Member

    Nov 13, 2012
    Ad Dieleman
    Great story, Mike, and it looks like it turned out very well, especially when considering these are your first endeavours\. A year ago I was asked to do a wedding and I declined saying that I didn't have enough experience nor the right equipment for it; no regrets about that.
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  4. NickCyprus

    NickCyprus Super Moderator

    Oct 11, 2012
    Great series and nice write-up!

    #6 is my favorite of those you posted, but I'd probably crop out that hand (?) in the left :) 
    #12 and #13 are also very good IMO ;) 
  5. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Thanks! It really helps if, in addition to the gun, they also offer you money. ;) 
    Gear was one of the things that I was unsure about, having primarily manual focus lenses, as the day got closer, but it worked out. Retrospectively, the hardest part was the group shots in doors. I had never done that before and I found new quirks in my camera as a result--burst mode is great for making sure nobody is blinking, but it isn't good for preventing camera shake. Even though all those were people standing still, I lost probably 60% of them. Thankfully, we did enough family combinations that the bride and groom will still have some useable family pictures. That was the biggest learning experience for me.

    Ah! The hand. That's the primary photographer. I must have uploaded the wrong version. I have one with that cropped out.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
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  6. fractal

    fractal TalkEmount Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 17, 2014
    Southeastern PA
    Nice work and thanks for the write up. :thumbup: I don't think I'll ever do a wedding but your observations can apply to many things.

    I like the kiss on the forehead and coming out of the church with bubbles the best, but they are all great shots!
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  7. quezra

    quezra TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Aug 22, 2012
    These are excellent! I'm doing my second wedding (ever) this Friday so these tips are very timely! Lucky for me I am still working very small groups and have done a lot of event photography (of non-high stakes stuff like talks and seminars) and would turn down anything more than a couple dozen people. But I am getting more and more requests (in spite of telling them all my limitations)... it's like being dragged into it and it's irresistible fun because despite the pressure there's the curiosity of wondering whether you are up to it (which is guilt-free when you explain to people how limited you are and they are taking a big risk).

    The only thing I would note is some photos are quite noisy at times, and the white balance doesn't have a consistent feel. Is that the OMD in part? It is a problem I am thinking about in that I'd like to get an A6000 as my second camera (my venerable NEX-5N is just not up to this, and I know it) but to some extent I worry about the change in formats making the pictures look like they were clearly taken by two different cameras. I'm actually thinking the A7Rii will save my bacon where my A7 becomes the backup. But it's not out yet (and damn expensive)!

    My setup for Friday is going to be A7 + 16-35/4 + 55/1.8 + 90/2.8 + Nissin i40 and my 5N will have the 35/1.8 on it so when I have 16-35/4 on the A7 I still have a normal lens always ready in a pinch. The other problem is consistently remembering I have a second camera. The last wedding I had it around my neck the entire time and the only time I actually used it was to grab the SD card from it when my first got filled up...
  8. southy

    southy TalkEmount Veteran Subscribing Member

    Feb 5, 2014
    Nice work and interesting read. I'm another who would not be confident enough to do a wedding. Mostly because when I'm out shooting I tend to get in my own world and forget whats happening around me. I'd be like, "Oh, did the bride and groom just kiss, whoops".
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  9. WNG

    WNG TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 12, 2014
    Arrid Zone-A, USA
    Very nice results! Some memorable moments captured in both ceremonies.
    And a nice write-up and re-accounting of each experience.

    I also would not grant any requests to shoot a wedding either. Too stressful and too many things happening at once. Knowing how to take a great photo isn't enough. There isn't the luxury of time. I guess a seasoned street photographer may be better suited to transition to orchestrating a wedding shoot.

    Last Winter and this Spring, I took advantage of being a guest at weddings to try out my luck at photographing the events for myself. No pressure, but I found it's hard to socialize as a guest and still try to focus on getting the shots. Mostly candids, and some were fortunately keepers.

    On the equipment side, the a6000 is quite adequate, it were fast primes, or a very fast wide-to-mid zoom lens to capture the action indoors that was sorely needed.
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  10. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    YES! That's exactly it. When I was asked, I just had to know if I could do it. Thankfully, in both cases, I knew the couples really well already and they placed very, very few expectations on me.
    The only OM-D ones here are black and white. It's probably a lighting issue--which was frustratingly inconsistent across the three or four locations per wedding.

    I had both cameras on my shoulders most of the time, one slung in each direction. I wish I could have had the 16-35/4. That would have been incredibly useful...
  11. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    Were the wide shots with the Voigtlander?
    And sorry to get Off Topic in a way but any wide open images with your 85mm 1.2L by any chance?
  12. davect01

    davect01 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 20, 2011
    Fountain Hills, AZ
    Agreed, well done.

    I don't see myself taking event shots. Toooo much pressure. I enjoy just going out and taking the shots I like.

    Kudos to you for taking this.
  13. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    The 35? Or the 12? The first image and the one of the matron of honor kissing the bride's forehead are with the 85L (both heavily cropped).
  14. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    I want to reply to everyone here...but I'm also currently packing for a week in England. I'll be back around in about 24 hours...
  15. jeffmurray

    jeffmurray TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 18, 2014
    Hobart, Australia
    Great shots - you did very well. And thanks for the learnings - they're most helpful.
  16. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    I am guessing the group photo with the ocean background was with the 12 right?
  17. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Great job Mike, you did a great job!
    "Wouldn't have survived without my wife" ~ man if this isn't so true for so many of us on so many levels!

    Your comment on lighting is so true. For the sort of photo journalism style that you went with, did you bother with on camera flash and modifiers such as snoot etc.... I know some people play with this for dance floor wedding party shots.
    I'm also interested to know how you handled the less controlled situations - something I've found is that cell phone flash from wedding guests can be a pain in the ass when you are trying to get shots.
  18. SRHEdD

    SRHEdD TalkEmount Veteran

    Nov 25, 2012
    Viera, Florida, USA
    In the past 30+ years, I've shot over 400 weddings. Mostly with medium-format and film. Only shot a dozen or so in digital before I retired from it, and it was MUCH easier on the brain than film. I can SEE if I have a workable file instantly, rather than packing all the film into an overnight box to the pro-lab for processing. I remember being the only shooter in my little town to shoot weddings with a digital camera... an Oly E-10 (then E-20). Had a great little niche of inexpensive weddings back then. Delivered prints and a CD. I'd do a friend's wedding now, but that's it. Too much stress.
  19. dmward

    dmward TalkEmount Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 21, 2015
    Metro Chicago
    I shoot weddings.
    ( )

    The suggestions made by the OP are interesting based on his experience shooting two weddings.
    The images shared are creditable coverage. Well done.

    My observations related to the OP's comments, in order;
    1) Doing any kind of photography assignment without prior experience is a HUGH risk.
    I've talked with other wedding photographers as well as commercial photographers and we all agree that when approaching an unknown, the only approach is to practice, then practice some more. With wedding photography the only way to practice is shadow shoot. That's not being the second photographer which is a speciality all its own. That's getting a professional wedding photographer to let you shadow them through out the day. Shoot over their shoulder. If they are using off camera lighting, see if its possible to have a trigger on your camera to get the same lighting as well.
    Once you've done that 4 or 5 times, go through all the weddings and see if you can assemble a creditable portfolio that an independent reviewer will judge as at least mid-range for the professional wedding photographers in your area. If its not, then do more shadowing. Look at your images and those shot by the pro you've been shadowing and see if you can determine why their images are better. If you can't your not ready.

    2) Lighting is what it is for each location during the day.
    As a professional, the photographer has two options; A) Use the available ambient light and make the best pictures possible; B) Find a way to augment the ambient light by adding light sources they can control.
    During the wedding day there are likely to be situations where one option is possible and the other is not. As a professional, the objective is to be able to make images that capture the mode, emotion and people in either situation in a way that will deliver a collection that has reasonable technical consistency.
    My approach at receptions is to use speedlites as auxiliary lighting. Here, many venues offer mood lighting for an additional charge. I don't want my lighting at the reception to overpower the mood light for which the couple has paid.

    3) Practice is essential to success.
    Make sure to have at least two options available for every shooting situation that is likely to arise during the day. Sometimes situations that seem most mundane require the most technical creativity. i.e. Taking the alter formals with the couple after the ceremony. Horrors, the best place to position the couple for the shot is right under a spotlight. The settings required to control the ambient light places the background into deep shadow. The church coordinator is pulling on your arm because they want the sanctuary cleared in 5 minutes. Now is not the time to start unpacking strobes, soft boxes and light stands. It is the time to have a couple of options up your sleeve that you've practiced.

    4) Make sure you have immediately at hand a kit that ensures getting the shots you need to satisfy the client.
    Every photographer wants to be recognized for their style. Some want to shoot everything with wide lenses. Others want to only use primes. Realistically, the client has no idea. They may have been attracted to a particular photographer because they like the images in their portfolio. That's great. Realistically, a portfolio is about 100 images selected from more than 20,000 shot during the year. (At least for me that's true.) What I've learned over the years is that zooms are great wedding photography lenses. I've also learned that I can get just about 90% of any wedding with one zoom; the 24-70mm, or crop sensor equivalent. The bottomline is that a competent professional will have a kit at hand that covers all the contingencies. Then select the specific lens required for the circumstance.

    5) Having an assistant is a luxury. Reality is not luxury.
    I shoot between 30 and 40 weddings a year. I have for a long time. I have never had an assistant. I have often had a second photographer working with me. One, critical, consideration is to assemble a kit of cameras, lenses, lights and etc. that you can get to the right place at the right time by yourself. If an assistant is required, then make sure they know how to be an assistant rather than an impediment.

    6) A tripod for formals is essential
    Unless something absolutely forecloses using it, I use a tripod for all the group shots following the ceremony.
    I also always have a strobe shooting through an umbrella near the lens axis and shooting down on the groups at about 30 - 45* angle. Group shots, by their nature are fraught with risk. If there are 8 people the likelihood of having all 8 with a pleasant expression at the same time is low unless you can do something to make them react with pleasant expressions. The tripod makes it much easier to swap heads if required.
    The tripod, more importantly, means that once you've framed the group you can quit looking through the view finder and pay attention to facial expressions. Or, as I've found useful, become a clown to get everyone reacting to your antics rather than pasting fake smiles on for the camera.
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  20. Saladin

    Saladin TalkEmount Rookie

    Jun 25, 2015
    Great thread ! Well done Mike, the pics look excellent. And thanks for those who followed up with really informative info /opinions.
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