Somebody mentioned they were going to photograph a wedding for a friend. Not formally, but all the same I’m sure they want to do a good job. So on the basis of having photographed two weddings, one in 1978 using a Zenit E and one this year on digital, I’ve set down my thoughts, not so much on how to do it, but more on the things to think about. I’m going to assume a white wedding here as that’s almost the hardest. And while I’m going to point out the pitfalls, if you’re doing this as a favour for someone, don’t worry I’m sure they’ll be delighted with the results and doubly delighted at not being ripped off by some of the comedians who are charging six hundred quid for a day’s shoddy work and not so much as a crop in post.
Why do people get married around midday – the light’s awful. Bright sun from above casts horrible shadows. And that’s not the worst of it – in such lighting the contrast between the detail in the bride’s dress and the groom’s suit is far more than the nominal eight stops that a jpg can record or a monitor or a print can display. OK, the following example was shot on contrasty slide film in 1978, but digital will struggle too.
If on the other hand you set the exposure to cope with the shadow side of the faces, the detail in the dress be burned out and it will look like a Bri-nylon short. The bride will not thank you.
What can you do about it? Obviously the best thing is to persuade people to get married at a more photogenic time of day – in high summer say 05:00 or 21:00. Failing that, you’re going to have to do battle with the light. The professional or well-heeled amateur will use fill-in flash to brighten the dark areas and bring the contrast under control. You can’t do this with a pop-up flashgun – it needs to be a big, separate job costing £100-£300 which I’m assuming you don’t have. So you need to be clever.
First, know you enemy. Case the joint at about the same time of day as the wedding. See where the light will be. Pick a spot for the formal photos that doesn’t have a distracting background and where the light will be a bit diffuse – perhaps through trees. Diffuse mind, not deep shade. If you can’t get to the venue then try a solar calculator like The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see where the sun is going to be (a bit geeky, should be fine for blokes under fifty). The Adobe Air version is free for Mac or PC, there’s a charge for the iOS or Android version.
You can diffuse the light yourself for portraits, or rather your lovely assistant can by holding a diffuser between the happy couple and the sun. That’s probably the limit for a simple hand-held diffuser. A similar bit of kit is the reflector which your lovely assistant can use to bounce back into the shadows. Look on eBay for ‘photo reflector’ or tap up one of your photographic mates.
And finally on exposure, keep an eye on the histograms. Set the camera display to ‘flash’ burned out highlights. Don’t lose highlight detail although if you shoot RAW+jpg there’s more that can be done to rescue you.
Straight out of the camera jpg will be better and will do for most of the shots. However if you get a priceless shot that isn’t quite exposed right or with wonky colour balance a TOGSQuad chum or other photographic friend will rescue you. Yes you will probably need a second memory card. There’s no benefit in using uncompressed RAW, use lossless compression (probably the default. If you have the choice 12-bit is fine, you don’t need 14-bit.
The Lovely Assistant
You are taking a lovely assistant, aren’t you? Not just to hold the diffuser / reflector, but also to carry a back-up camera. A compact will do fine and of course be bagging all the good candid shots while you sweat blood over the formal ones.
On that subject, the lovely assistant will also tick off the shots the bride asked for when you ran through it in advance. If she wants a picture of her with Aunt Dolly and Aunt Daisy DO IT. If Aunt Daisy and Aunt Edna must never appear in the same frame because of what Aunt Dolly’s cook told Aunt Edna’s parlourmaid find out. Family feuds matter.
The lovely assistant will also arrange people for the formal shots while you are tearing our hair out trying to work your new camera. And when you have the brilliant idea of posing the bride in a tree, the lovely assistant will bring the white towel or sheet to protect the dress from dirt.
List the shots in advance
Oh, I’ve already done that.
Don’t upset the Vicar
No, really. If they say ‘no photographs during the service’ they mean it. If the vicar stops the service to tell you off the bride will be unhappy. And it does happen.
You’re going to have a lot of photos. Pick the best plus the essentials from the list and sort them out from the ‘also rans’. People might want to see 50 photos; they don’t want to sit through the 200-2000 you might shoot. Put them in a separate folder.
You now have a workable number of photos if you are going to be doing any tweaking. On that subject establish the extent to which the bride wants her complexion softening. If she has a plook on her neb (a spot on her nose) she may want it airbrushing out. She may not. Don’t waste your time making a forty year old look fourteen if that’s not what she wants.
So the Just Do Its
- speak to the bride and get a list of must-have shots
- sus the light in advance
- sus where you’re going to do the posed shots
- watch the highlights and shoot RAW+jpg
- most importantly, take a lovely assistant and if you don’t have one it’s a jolly good chance to ask
- and remember, they will be delighted anyway!