Preparing to shoot your first wedding

The wedding day itself is nothing short of crazy, events proceed at such a pace that you won't have enough time to solve all of your problems on the fly which makes preparation very important, here are a few tips that will help you get by. 

1. Listen to the Experts

There are some amazing wedding photographers out there and even more amazingly some not only share their experience but they share it for free.  The best free resource I've come across so far is the For Wedding Photographers podcast by New York based Louis Torres, not only is he a great photographer but his tips and enthusiasm work well in the typically 5-10 minute episodes.  Before doing my first wedding I downloaded the entire back catalogue of episodes and listened to the lot whilst driving or running.  Another great free resource for photography in general is the Fro Knows Photo podcast by Jared Polin, one specific episode of which it's dedicated to wedding photography and provides perspectives on many of the important issues.

If you're willing to part with a bit of money I can recommend the Scott Kelby training subscription, in a short while you'll be able to watch not only the wedding related videos but also some of the others related to portraiture and fashion which will help with lighting and posing. 

Additionally depending on where you live you may find that there are local seminars you can attend, you should be careful to make sure that the speakers are decent as some of these events can cost £100/$150 per day.  I've attended a few seminars at Calumet in London and they've all been good, the wedding workshop with Jayce Clark was especially good and involved both indoor and outdoor shoots with a professional model. 

One last tip is too look at photos taken by professional wedding photographers, this could be whole albums via family members or simply by browsing through photographers' websites and reviewing the sample shots.  I tend to save a copy of photos I like to an 'inspiration' folder on my PC and by using something like DropBox I can also see them on my smartphone. 

2. Talk to the Couple

You may already know the couple well but in order to successfully shoot their wedding you really need to understand their plan for the day, timings, personnel involved (bridesmaids, ushers, etc.) and details such as guest numbers, themes, special elements (e.g. releasing doves, arriving in horse & carriage).  There may also be special considerations regarding the venue and restrictions imposed by registrar or religious official that you should know about.  

You should also bear in mind that the couple's family may also have an important perspective on the day's events, especially the bride's mother,  so it is worth making sure that their needs are being met as well.  If you have the time I would recommend asking to attend the rehearsal since all of the important parties will be present and you will have a chance not only to speak with them but also the officials who will be conducting the ceremony. 

Whatever happens you should do your best to come away with a good understanding of the couple's expectations and enough information to cover off the next step...

3. Make a Shot List

Since both are vital for a successful day I like to combine the running order and a shot list to make a complete 'plan of attack', sectioned off into the major timed events.  These key moments will vary depending on the wedding and the couple but might look something like this:

  • 10:30 Bride's house for getting ready shots. 
  • 11:30 Groom arrives at church. 
  • 11:55 Bride arrives at church. 
  • 12:00 Ceremony begins. 
  • 12:45 Bride and groom walk out. 
  • 13:00 Opening of reception venue. 
  • 13:15 Bride and groom portraits
  • 13:30 Formal group shots. 
  • 13:45 Sit-down for wedding breakfast. 
  • 14:00 Speeches commence. 
  • 14:30 Food served. 
  • 16:30 Tables cleared, guests outside. 
  • 17:30 Cutting of the cake. 
  • 18:00 Evening reception begins. 
  • 19:00 Couple's first dance. 
  • 22:00 Reception ends. 

Most of these key moments will have a list of required/desired photos to go with them that you will have agreed in advance, you can see examples in my Sample Shot List.  Despite having a meticulously composed game plan you should be prepared for late running, early running, skipped steps and added steps so whilst the shot list should be adhered to you will need to be flexible but do check in advance with the couple to see if there are any "must have, or your head will end up on a platter" shots.  As an aside it's always worth checking in with the parents on both sides if there's any specific shots they'd like you to get - you may not be able to offer any promises but they'll appreciate you asking and even more so if you manage to fit them in.  

4. Check Out the Venue(s)

If at all practical you should aim to visit the the locations for the wedding and the reception ahead of time, preferably at the same time of day as the actual shoot so that the lighting conditions are similar.  I try to go at least once in advance and then again on the day before but if the couple have requested shots of the venue(s) decorated you may need to coordinate times and access with them. 

The greatest benefit you can get out of this is to assess the lighting conditions and get an idea of what settings you'll use on the day, if you can take someone else along with you that's even better since if you're considering using flash you'll need a subject to test with.  A valuable secondary benefit is the chance to scout locations for the formal bride & groom portraits and group shots, without the time pressures a wedding day brings you will have plenty of time to consider backgrounds, busy roads, parked cars, angle of the sun, etc.

5. Consider an Assistant / Second Shooter

I've shot weddings both with and without a second shooter and I'd say that they're invaluable, that's not to say that you can't manage on your own but any chance to lighten the load on you is good even if all you can get is a non-shooting assistant. 

The most obvious benefit is the ability to be in two places at once, whilst you are shooting the bride getting ready your second shooter can be at the venue getting the decoration and cake shots, whilst you are shooting the bride waking into the church your second can be getting the groom's first glimpse of the bride, etc.  Beyond omnipresence a second shooter will provide additional angles, candids whilst you're getting formals and also be able to assist with quick lens changes and corralling guests. 

It is important however to make sure that the assistant / second shooter is someone you can trust and have worked with before even if just on test shoots or events.  You need to know not only that they are as reliable as you are but also that they treat the task and the couple with as much respect as you do, if their behaviour and demeanour is not first class it will reflect not just on them but on you and it's your reputation on the line.  

6. Check Your Equipment

Whilst it may be fair to say that it's the photographer that makes the photo not the camera that's not a hypothesis you should be willing to test on the day of someone's wedding - you need to make sure that your equipment is 100% ready and working. Before getting into the pre-wedding checklist make sure you've read my "what you need to shoot a wedding" list in the introduction, if you're happy with that here's my run down of how being cautions can save you unnecessary stress and hassle on the day...

  • Format your memory cards - on the day everything moves a lot faster than you think and it would be easy to make small mistakes, include formatting the wrong card.  The best way to prevent what could be a disaster is to format all of your cards the night before meaning that you absolutely will never see the format menu on the day.  
  • Get the strap(s) ready - I rarely shoot with two bodies so usually when I need my two-body strap I find it in a tangled state so it's always worth strapping up the night before to make sure you've got everything adjusted and setup correctly.  
  • Charge your batteries - whilst it may be a good idea on the day to have somewhere to charge batteries you can't rely on it so you need to make sure that everything you've got is fully charged and that what you have will more than adequately last through the day.  

7. Final Preparations

On the day you won't just be relying on camera equipment, you will need to consider transport.  The last thing you'll want to happen at a critical time is to get lost or run out of fuel so make sure that you fuel up your car the night before, print off maps/directions and pre-program locations into your sat-nav.

Besides a working camera the most important piece of equipment on the day will be you and it's worth doing everything you can to make sure you're in top shape.  Some of these things might seem fairly straight forward but skipping any of them could have difficult consequences, the main things to watch out for are: 

  • Make sure you are relaxed - I actually take the entire previous day off of my full time work to handle preparation and do any last-minute location scouting (can be helpful as you're more likely to have closer lighting conditions. 
  • Get a good night's sleep - avoid staying out late or over-eating/drinking the night before as you'll need all of your wits about you on the day.  
  • Get a good breakfast - events on the day may mean that stopping for food is difficult and low blood sugar means a drop in concentration which is something you can't afford.
  • Take small snacks - you may have agreed with the couple that you will be fed either with or at the same time as the guests however if the schedule changes this may not prove possible.  Try not to take anything noisy to eat/open, flapjacks are ideal as they are small but high in energy. 
  • Take a bottle of water - whilst you should keep fluid intake to a minimum during the day to avoid the need for toilet breaks dehydration is equally if not more dangerous, especially on a hot day.  Fizzy drinks are a bad idea since they make noise on opening and could explode if jolted in your bag.  

I hope that helps, if you have any questions feel free to get in touch and also check out my post on wedding photography gear.  

What equipment do I need to shoot my first wedding?

It's tough shooting your first wedding so to help out others coming into the field I'm writing up my notes.  One of the first things to consider for shooting weddings is equipment, you only get one shot at the day and there are no do-overs so it's an important to have the right gear and I personally would not feel able to commit to a wedding without having the following:  

  • At least two camera bodies - part for redundancy in case of technical issues but more so that you can keep one with a wide lens and another with a telephoto to avoid the need for swapping lenses in the middle of the gig.  
  • A decent ranged lens - I like telephoto zooms for the convenience and depending on the size of the venue would recommend either or both of the 24-105 and 70-200 ranges or equivalent.   
  • A decent wide lens - most of the time you'd get good coverage going down to 24mm on a full frame camera or 17mm on a crop sensor however if you just can't get that low or you're dealing with cramped spaces a wide lens can be invaluable - either down to 17mm on a full frame or 10/12mm on a crop.  
  • A good strap that will handle the above, you don't have to spend the earth on one but a single strap (ideally) that will hold two bodies and be comfortable for 8+ hours is essential. 
  • A good bag - you may have to move all of your gear from spot to spot during the day whilst also shooting and the last thing you'll want to do is gather all sorts of unwieldy stuff in your arms.  
  • An external flash unit - if you live in a really bright sunny place you may have good enough light all of the time but I live in Great Britain where ideal conditions are rare and ceremonies are often conducted in tiny, poorly lit churches.  That said, I tend to avoid flash during the ceremony but it's incredibly useful for the reception and can be good for fill flash in awkward lighting conditions.  
  • Spare batteries - the last thing you want on the day is for your camera to conk out so not only should you have spare batteries you should also have a very good idea of how long they last and how many shots a battery will give you.  I would also recommend that if you're relying on batteries that they're genuine branded ones, either from your camera manufacturer or a big name (e.g. Duracell).  You should also make sure you have ample supply of disposable/rechargeable batteries for flashes, wireless triggers, etc. 

In addition to the above it may be useful to also have the following although they may or may not get used during the course of the day:  

  • Battery grip - it's down to personal preference whether you like shooting with a grip or not but either way it'll provide a safety net if you carry one along with a set of AA batteries for that 'just in case' moment.   
  • Stepladder - useful for getting a slight downward angle on group shots.  
  • Laptop - able to back up your shots on the day to give extra piece of mind. 
  • Tripod - some may consider this mandatory but I'm more of a 'run and gun' photographer, still - a tripod does come in handy for group and setup shots.  

I'll add more to this as time moves on but if you've got any questions check out my post on preparing to shoot a wedding or feel free to get in touch.  

Should I shoot a friend's / family member's wedding?

Most photographers that reach a certain level will at some point be approached to shoot a wedding, it is a serious and daunting undertaking and if you've made it this far you're either considering it or you've been mad enough to say yes already.  Well, that's exactly what happened to me when I shot my first so I'm writing this post to help other photographers in the same boat.  

I should state up front that that this guide will not be an introduction to photography - if you are not comfortable shooting with a digital SLR on full manual controls you are not be ready to shoot a wedding and trust me, it would be better to admit that now rather than closer to the date when the couple will struggle for alternatives or on the day itself when you could wind up missing important shots.  The reality is that quite frankly you're never ready and that's where preparation, time and hard work comes in, for more on that check out my article on preparing to shoot your first wedding.  

This guide will loosely follow the timeline of shooting a wedding from early preparation stages, discussing equipment, the morning of the wedding, the ceremony, group shots and formal portraits, the wedding breakfast / afternoon reception and the evening party phases. 

Hopefully the above posts will help you on your path, if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line using the 'Get in Touch' link at the top of the page.  

Should I go mirrorless? A photo-walk with the Fuji X-Pro1

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I’ve been considering a compact or mirrorless camera for a few months now as something to carry around with me more often, DSLRs are fairly chunk beasts and even my diminutive 6D is a bit of a burden to carry with the 24-105 on the front so I tend to miss out on the ‘random’ shots I used to enjoy taking.  Of the ever increasing selection of mirrorless cameras available I’ve read great things about the Fuji X-series and their new X-Trans sensors and at the recent SWPP convention Fuji were offering the chance to borrow either an X-Pro1 or an X-E2 and a range of lenses so I jumped at the chance. 

At the Fuji stand I tried both cameras and immediately ruled out the X-E2 since the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is still way too laggy for my tastes, if you’re coming up from point-and-shoot cameras you probably wouldn’t be too worried about that but going from an SLR to an EVF felt like a massive downgrade so I opted for the X-Pro1 since it has both optical and electronic options. 

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The camera itself felt solid and well-engineered, the ability to adjust aperture by twisting the lens ring felt good as did the shutter speed dial on top although I’d have liked an equivalent dial for ISO as well to complete the picture.  The electronic overlay on the optical viewfinder (OVF) was bright and easy to read although since the OVF is a fixed lens it takes some getting used to the changing boundaries as you change lenses, essentially the camera places a rectangle over the area of the viewfinder that your shot would include however it’s not 100% accurate and didn’t seem to work when zooming the 55-200 lens which is a shame. 

One feature many would find useful is that even when you’re using the OVF every shot you take is overlaid on the EVF screen so for about a second you get to ‘chimp’ without taking your eye away from the viewfinder, it’s a great idea but I found the quality of the image display to be a little on the low side so I’d probably disable that feature.  Aside from the low quality I found the parallax caused by viewfinder being off-centre somewhat distracting and despite aiming carefully often found that I took shots that weren't quite straight.  

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To some extent I expected a lot of strange characteristics from this rangefinder style camera and I'd be willing to put up with a steep adjustment curve if I could prove that it'd be worth making the leap but when I got the RAW files home I was a little disappointed.  I shot at a range of ISOs, a lot on 3200 and the odd one or two on 6400 and the files just don't push and pull as well as the files from the 6D, Canon's full frame sensor far outstrips the X-Trans and that's just not what I'm looking for in a camera.  Sure, the JPEGs came out alright but I want the maximum editability from my shots and having been used to that I'm not willing to give it up.  

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All told I think the Fuji X-series cameras are great products for the market they're in but they’re not for me, whils I managed to get a few good shots out of it (dotted around this post) I’m not willing to make compromises for the sake of portability.  So, what next?  If I really need something small and light I could pick up the tiny 100D from Canon and using my existing 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, it’d be the equivalent of 64mm but I know it would feel ‘right’. 

Thanks to the guys at Fuji for running the photo walks I’ll definitely recommend that people check out the X-series cameras if they’re not interested in going down the SLR route and perhaps in another year I’ll be back to check out the improvements but for now I'm sticking with the six.  

The Societies Convention 2014 Roundup

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I'm not one for new year's resolutions but one of my goals for the year is to attend more photography seminars/meetups in 2014 so what better way to start than by attending The Societies Convention?  If you've not come across it before it's the annual get together for the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers, you don't have to be a member to attend but it seemed like a good idea so I signed up and opted for the 'Masterclass' ticket which gave me access to five 90-minute seminars each day through Friday, Saturday and Sunday - all for £100 which given the content was excellent value.  

The trade show aspect was sizeable and free to pre-registered attendees which again was good value given that Adobe were offering free talks throughout the weekend, I attended an excellent session by Richard Curtis on video editing in Photoshop and another on new features in Photoshop CC.  The trade show didn't contain many surprises in terms of exhibitors a couple of camera shops, a good stand by Canon, a few on lighting and millions companies offering albums and photo books which did get a bit tiring.  I did pick up a few bits of gear which I'll review in time, a bracket to mount the flash to the side of the camera, a tripod mount clamp and a Rogue lighting kit.  

One of Friday's highlights was Doug Gordon's posing masterclass where he showed aspects of his Flow Posing technique with model Della Maylan, what intrigued me most was that Doug's stunning images are largely created using hand-held LED lights rather than speedlites so at the end I picked up one of his lights and a mounting bracket which I'll also review at some point in the future.  Another highlight was Frank Doorhof's masterclass which deviated from its "technical side of model photography" description but was informative, funny and inspiring - if you get the chance to hear Frank speak I'd recommend it.  

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I started Saturday on a different tack with Chiara Fersini's talk on surrealist photography which was a very personal walkthrough of her own background, motivations and personal style.  I found the talk to be highly inspirational, the overriding feeling I took away from the talk was to establish a vision for the images you want to produce and just keep at it until you get there, check out here portfolio on her site: Himitsuhana.  Lisa Beaney ran a talk with great tips on low light wedding photography again with Della Maylan modelling during a practical section showing how to achieve good results when confined to hotel/venue interiors.  Last off on Saturday was a masterclass by Lindsay Adler who packed so much content into 90 minutes that it honestly felt like more like 3hrs!  The talk was inspiring and encouraged photographers to add 'fashion flair' to wedding and portrait shots by breaking rules and being creative but Lindsay's overriding message was much more human - get to know your subject and use your creative skills to reflect their personality in the images.  

I'll definitely be attending next year and may add one of the full or half day sessions as well since it's well worth it, hope to see you there.