My life as a wedding photographer

For those that got here via Google and those other people that don’t know me, I’ll start with a confession: I am not a wedding photographer. I am keen amateur photographer, mainly concentrating on travel and occasionally branching out into portraits. However having a reputation among friends as “the photographer” has resulted in a number of people asking me to take pictures at their wedding.

[photopress:CRW_2614.jpg,thumb,alignleft]It’s something I have generally resisted. It struck me as just too high risk. Wedding pictures will, hopefully, last a life-time and I didn’t want the pressure of needing to get everything right on the day. Even if you discount all the variables around the camera, computers and memory cards, there are so many other things that could go wrong. The weather; missing shots ((For the second I missed the bride signing the register.)); people blinking or looking on the wrong way; people inadvertently missing ((My mum hates having her picture taken and made efforts to appear in as few photographs from my wedding as possible!)); annoying things in the back-ground ((A lot of my wedding pictures have a homeless man and a litter bin as a backdrop.)). And then, since neither of these were commercial ventures, I would have to take all this into account as well as actually trying to enjoy the event as a guest, and, in one case, as a best man.

Perhaps that’s even more pressure than getting paid for it!

In the end I made sure that I wasn’t going to be the only person at each event with a camera, said I wasn’t promising anything but that I would try to get something good. While certainly not flawless I think I did okay.

[photopress:CRW_2501.jpg,thumb,alignleft]For the first wedding I borrowed a proper flash unit from one of the grooms. Initially I wasn’t terribly keen. As a matter of principle I was trying to steer clear of things that I didn’t know how to use properly or might fail at some inopertune moment. However I was assured that it was simple enough to use and I figured that, worse case, I could just take it off and revert to the built-in flash. Looking back this was a great decision and is the only real equipment change I’d make if I ever did a wedding again. My trusty Canon EOS 300D, EF-S 17-85mm IS lens and stack of 512Mb CF cards stood up nicely otherwise.

I had to use my camera’s built in flash for the second wedding. This turned out to be a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, it was no-where near as powerful as an external flash. This meant that virtually every picture came out too dark and required extensive work in Photoshop in order to bring out any detail. Shooting in RAW format, rather than JPEG as I normally do, helped here. The second was even more annoying as it couldn’t easily be corrected afterwards and, in hindsight, was trivially avoidable. The build-in flash unit didn’t raise up high enough to fire over the top of the lens hood, meaning that when I tried to go wide there was usually a large, dark circle at the bottom of the picture.

[photopress:CRW_2648.jpg,thumb,alignleft]Overall, none of the major issues were technical in nature. This make the biggest lesson: have a plan. Decide what pictures are needed, remember who you want to have in them all. The next biggest thing is: learn to improvise. With so many people around and only you focusing on the photography, you only really get the one chance at most shots. If you miss someone, say, signing the register you can’t rely on getting another chance. The fact is, at this point people are often too emotional to take suggestions on board and, besides, getting in the way is really a huge faux pas for a wedding photographer. A corollary of the need to improvise is that you need to be familiar with your camera. You don’t want technology problems just as a critical moment arrives.

Similarly it’s easy to forget to take pictures of someone who may not be at the centre of the event but who is, nevertheless, important. Just ask my wife, who I managed to take only a couple of pictures of for both events put together. And, of course, I was in none of the pictures either.

The other thing I learned is how long it takes to edit the pictures afterwards. I took over a hundred pictures for each event so getting down to the good few images is pretty time consuming. For the second wedding I also had to spend a lot of time in Photoshop playing with the RAW decoder, adjusting the levels and removing red-eye.

In the end I would have to say that it was a good experience. In both cases I was able to give a great, unique gift and had fun doing it.