Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Harder Than You'd Think: Wedding Photography

So the other day, someone wrote to me. They said:

"In comparison to your personal work on flickr, wedding photography seems so plain. Are you worried people will expect the crazy photos and effects they see on your photostream, and be disappointed when they aren't there?"

I was going to write a reply straight on formspring, but after thinking a little while, I thought it deserved a blog post.

Until about a year ago, I was a "I won't ever do weddings, I'm above that" kind of photographer. And I'm utterly ashamed of myself for being like that. I thought weddings were ungrateful, repetitive, nothing special - too easy. I thought, the pictures you see online are just the same things over and over, just with different people. I thought, "there are only so many pictures you can take of a guy in a suit and a girl in a big white dress that people will want to look at." I thought any wedding work I did would be bypassed, as soon as they see the attire, someone would think "wedding" and skip right pass it.

I was narrow minded, ignorant and just plain wrong.
But where I was most wrong? I thought weddings would be easy.

So for anyone who is thinking about taking up wedding photography, or for anyone who has ever scoffed at the photographers who do weddings (like I did) - here's why it's hard. And here's why you NEED to be mentally and physically prepared for the day.

1) You're going to try and deliver hundreds and hundreds of awesome pictures that day, not just one.
On my flickr stream, each picture posted on there took at LEAST a few hours worth of planning, some took days, some even took weeks. After the planning, location, angle, lighting and composition were all taken into meticulous account, every detail was planned. After taking hundreds of photos, until I am exceptionally satisfied, I will then cull those hundreds down to 3 or 4 images. I'll then pick my favourite, and edit it for hours until I am totally utterly happy. For ONE picture.
At a wedding, you're hoping to give them HUNDREDS.
My last wedding, I gave them 880 final edited shots.

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2) You have hardly any say on lighting, angle or position.
When a "moment" happens, it's happening regardless of where you are, regardless of what lens you're using, regardless of what the lighting is like, regardless of your camera settings.
In my experience, these adorable little moments last a few seconds (if you're lucky) before tears get wiped away, people stop making that awesome face, and everything goes back to normal. And it sucks if the lighting isn't great, and it won't always be great, but you have to work with it afterwards in post.
But as a wedding photographer, people are not paying you for lucky shots - they need to KNOW you can deliver. Which means darting about EVERYWHERE, KNOWING your camera settings you need off the top of your head, KNOWING if your lighting is going to make people look awful from a certain position, PREPARING for your surroundings and what you'll be working with.

Case and point: The last church I shot at, there were railings at the front preventing me from getting anything else but this shot of the bride and groom:

and even this shot depended on whether Sue was smiling or not - this service was very very quick (around 30mins) and whether people smile and laugh or not depends on the service. Some are just more serious than others. Sue got a case of the giggles here! :P

One picture like this is fine - but all of their pictures like this, from this angle, would have been awful.

However, there was a door at the back I spotted when I came to look around, with an iron railing locking it through the wall. I got to the church early, whipped it off, and during a hymn I ran around the back of the church, and shot them through holes in the wall.

If I hadn't of pre-planned that, the only shots they would have got of their faces would have been IF they'd turned around at some point during their vows, which they didn't. And then IF i'd been in the right place to capture it. Too many IF's for my liking! ;)

3) People don't smile, and moments don't happen often
Yah I know - it's someone's wedding day! You'd think people wouldn't be able to wipe the smiles off their faces! But surprisingly, at least in the UK, smiles are few and far between until the alcohol gets involved. Think about it next time you are with friends - are you smiling? I've tried doing it with myself, and I'm a majorly smiley person, but even when I'm chatting with people, I noticed I spend a minute or so concentrating on what they're saying and if they happen to be saying something funny I'll smile, if not, I might not smile for minutes! And that's a long time to be pointing a lens at someone waiting for them to smile. Especially if it's during a serious service, or a stressful morning, or trying to deal with guests running lose.

On top of that, finding a "moment" - a man with the biggest laugh plastered on his face, the groom looking adoringly at his bride when she isn't looking, tears before they get wiped away, a fantastic expression - they're few and far between, and they only last a few seconds! And on top of that,

I always take three or four shots in a row,
1) because one might be blurry
2) because another SOMEONE will have their eyes shut
3) just in case
4) hopefully one will come out nice!

^ example of a pesky hand ^

A couple EXPECT to see their wedding album FULL of these moments. There's only so many "man watching your service" pictures they will want to see. And whose to know if they even know the dude?! My sister got loads of pictures of my +1 on her wedding, and she didn't even know the poor guy! :P

Let's recap -

A) I should hope people are not expecting 800 pictures like that on my flickr stream at my wedding because:

- wedding photography is documentary photography, unstaged, unposed, unlit. My flickr photos are all of those things.

- the shots I try to get are few and far between. I exhaust myself to get those shots, and the couple will never know (unless they read this blog! :D) so the shots I deliver, I am ecstatic with if they have people enjoying themselves and are full of "moments", because then I know I have done a great job.

4) People have to look good in the pics you give them.
You're lucky if you get a bride who doesn't care about double chins. Or a bridesmaid. Or every single guest at that wedding. If you get that wedding, the wedding where no one cares how they look - count yourself damn lucky because they are RARE. And make everything alot easier. In the real world, however, we care how we look. That picture might be awesome, she might be laughing so hard - but if she's conscious about her body and it ain't lookin' so hot, or it's more of a grimace than a smile - you have two options

fix it
throw it

this is where it gets tricky. so many people don't believe in retouching people without their permission, understandably. However, I have a couple of rules:
1) ask the couple (most will not mind)
2) do it to the guests anyway (as long as you are not changing their key features - which means no nose jobs, no eye colour changes or boob jobs) to me it's perfectly okay to clear up a spot or smooth out a double chin. If it looks natural, I say it's okay. I'll give the couple a heads up on this prior to shooting a wedding, but most people will not have a problem with this.

Okay, so how are we doing?
Lighting is to be desired, you've taken hundreds of pictures, alot of people have their eyes closed, some are blurry, some are over/under exposed (after all, every direction you turn in will require different settings), you've got a few smilers and a few moments ... now what? get more. I take at the very very least 3000 pics at a wedding, you need to have variation and you need to satisfy your client. Capturing the emotion and atmosphere of the day is hard when you've only focused on one couple from one angle for 30mins. You need to constantly stay on your feet, dart around, do whatever it takes to get THAT shot without intruding on the ceremony/proceedings.

The wedding day is drawing to a close.
You've filled up your memory cards, your battery is blinking, you are SHATTERED.
But you DO NOT complain, you bask in your shatteredness and use up every drop of energy you have to be NICE to people and make them feel at ease. Compliment people on their outfits, mingle and chat whilst still taking shots.

As Jasmine Star said - "People are 50% inclined to like or dislike their wedding photos before they even see them". If you are stressed, grumpy or rude, people will automatically dislike you. I walk around with a CONSTANT smile on my face at weddings. CONSTANT! Funnily enough a guest snapped this pic of me without my knowledge - even I don't realize I'm smiling anymore, it's second nature! :P

Not only that, but I'm grateful to do all of the above with good, varied equipment with money I have earned and bought. My advice to anyone who does not have a variation of equipment, would be to rent some. Not because your lenses/eye isn't good enough, but because I know the stress you will be under, and it makes things a whole lot easier.

(to see what lenses I use, go here)

...And then comes the editing.

Reason #4824793420 why my wedding photos do not receive as much post processing as my flickr work.

Each flickr pic I upload, I spend between 1-5hrs editing it.

Sure, I could edit butterflies fluttering round the church, I could give the bride four arms and put different wallpaper on the walls of the church, I could change the colour of someone's eyes or skin, or give the priest a halo.
However, this is not their wedding day. This is not what they will remember, because this would not have been real. On someone's wedding day, I want them to remember it how their day WAS. I'll make the colours pretty, I'll nip and tuck the occasional double chin, take out the fire exit sign, clear up skin and make the lighting as nice as possible, but that's as far as I will go unless requested (or for the bride and groom portraiture).

Also, imagine editing 800 wedding pics like that. I'd have to charge £200k a wedding and it'd take me two years to get it done.

So here you go anonymous asker, I hope this answers your question. And I hope this blog post distills fear into the hearts of any hopeful wedding photographer. Not really, but it serves as a nice warning :P

And I do solemnly swear, that I will never EVER EVER underestimate another wedding photographer, till death do we part.

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  1. I loved everything about this post...so true. and I have to say...I admire your instant smile ;)

  2. Really great post, Rosie. I've been making these arguments for years, and trying to defend wedding photography as one of the most difficult types of photography to do well. There's so much animosity and condescension towards wedding photography, it's nice to see some understanding and respect for a change!

  3. I am getting married next June, and I can't stop thinking how much I wished you live in the US (Ohio in particular, lol) so I could hire you to photograph my wedding. The wedding photos you take are SO awesome. They are unique and beautiful, and I have not come across a wedding photographer whose pictures compare. Yours are just different and totally stand out. Plus, it seems like you'd be a lot of fun to work with. So, I just wanted you to know that I think your wedding (as well as your Flickr) photos are spectacular :)

  4. I'm photographing my FIRST wedding next year. Thanks for the tips!:3

  5. Wedding photography is HARD, and personally I love your wedding pictures. You're doing a great job! But I have to ask: isn't 880 pictures a little over the top? :)

  6. Wonderful and true post! I have to say, sometimes weddings end up inspiring my personal work, which is a personal perk to being a "wedding" photographer. :)

  7. You are a genius Rosie! I totally admire you!

  8. I am so inspired by your work and philosophy! I truly appreciate your willingness to openly share your thoughts/advice/tips on what you do and how you do it! I will be shooting my first wedding (okay, technically my second loL) this November and I am taking in all the advice I can! Thank you so much Rosie =)


  9. Although I am currently studying Business Economics, my real passion is photography (too bad I realized it when I was already enrolled. Sigh). And I used to think the same about wedding photos: they are all the same, too boring, too uncretive. Artistic, cretive selfportraits are much better! Thank you for showing me that it doesn't have to be necessarily this way. As people have already said, even your wedding photos stand out. Usually wedding photos look posed and repetitive; yours are dinamic, spontanious, interesting.

    I am thinking about studying photography in the UK (and don't know if after finishing Business). I admire your work, so if you're still giving workshops by that time I hope I'll be able to go to one :)

  10. This was a lovely, helpful read - thank you!

  11. Thank you so much for this post!

    I've been shooting weddings for almost ten years now, and it never gets easier. Ok, some of the equipment I've bought has made it easier. Thank heavens for my bounce flash and white ceilings!

    I put a LOT of work into my wedding photography, and I'm glad someone else understands it.

    Also, if Steph from above comes back: I'm a wedding photographer who lives in Ohio: www.short-girl.com . Just sayin'.

  12. Very nice post. And amazing photos too!!!
    I am considering asking you to be my friend's wedding photographer - but I need to find out how much it will cost hehe...

  13. im shooting my first proper wedding tomorrow and im glad i read this before hand! not sure if im more prepared or scared than i was before haha great advice though :)

  14. hello rosie I had been admiring your work at flickr for a long time, now im reading your blog and you have some mix feelings in here, sad sometimes, happy another, but i guess is part of life and the experience we get from life, but im sorry that is not the reasons of my comment, i write because finally I'd found somebody that explained wedding photography as it is, everything that you said is true , I always said I will not take pictures of weddings and Im writing to you before delivering some pictures from a wedding i took two weeks ago... but nobody knows what you go thru at weddings, i dont post my wedding pictures in my flickr account but I think i will because the more I take pictures of weddins the more I practice even though is stressful. god bless you and I hope everything you do be bless. Hanspix (flickr) Hanssel

  15. Wedding photographs are very beautiful and If some romantic mood will then photos will fantastic.


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