Let’ face it. Wedding photography isn’t a sort of pursuit that is for the weak heart. Wedding photography requires a whole lot more than just the knowledge of how to operate a camera or how to make a decent exposure. It requires exemplary interpersonal skills, excellent time management abilities, planning and above all the ability to adapt to all situations and deliver. For many professional wedding photographers, the first wedding is always the biggest challenge of their professional life. A baptism by fire if I might say it. This discussion is aimed at many budding photographers out there sitting on the fence and pondering whether to dive in to the lucrative world of wedding photography.
Planning for the first meeting
The first meeting with the bride and the groom is a momentous event. You are getting to know the main protagonists of the event and they are getting to know the person who will make photos of the most important day of their lives. You will be responsible for capturing those memorable moments for all eternity. It is a big responsibility that they are going to entrust on you. So look sharp and appear as if you have done your homework.
Plan in advance as to what you are going to ask. If your prospective clients are through a common reference then they are probably aware of your reputation whether or not they are familiar with your work. If they have booked you online after going through your portfolio, they have a very good idea of your work. They probably have approached you because they loved your style.
In either cases, you will not have to ‘sell’ yourself too hard. The discussion will be centered on their expectations. Based on the outcomes of that first meeting you will have to set the parameters within which you are going to work on the day of the wedding.
A good way to approach the meeting is by preparing a list of shots that is usual for a wedding. If you have the experience of shooting a couple of weddings this is going to be easy. If you are unfamiliar with the customs and traditions of the families, ask the bride and the groom. You will have to do some research in order to familiarize yourself before the big day.
Wedding Photography Shot List
A shot list is the most important document that you have to adhere to. This has to be broken down into sections. Each section will adhere to one part of the day or an important event of the day. The bride and groom will have their say in the final shot-list.
Regardless of what the bride and the groom might shortlist I have a personal list of myself which I tend to refer to whenever I am shooting a wedding. This list is special because it helps to put my ‘mark’ on a wedding album. I introduce my own photography style by using certain camera angles, innovative use of the depth of field as well as exposure adjustments. Overall the images have to meet a certain style that is mine.
Style of shoot
Establish the expectations of the bride and the groom during the very first meeting. Do they want a very formal church wedding with all the bells and whistles? Or do they want a fun beach wedding ending with a long evening party on the beach? Is it a formal black tie event or a casual fun wedding? Establishing this early will make this clear the style they want for their wedding images.
Equipment – Cameras
Essentially, you need two camera bodies. There is not much time to make all the shots on your shot-list. Forget about changing lenses in between shots. You need two cameras, period. Now, the lenses on these two cameras should be complimentary. In order to keep the same visual perspective, I would recommend using two similar bodies. So, if your primary body is a full-frame, your secondary body should also be a full-frame. Ideally they should be the same make and model so that you do less time adjusting to each camera during the wedding.
There are a wide variety of lenses used by professional wedding photographers. The one that you use will depend on your style of shooting. There is no right or wrong. But there are some obvious limitations. You don’t want to use a fish-eye, or a super-telephoto or even an ultra-wide angle lens. Such lenses generally don’t go well with the requirements of wedding photography.
The most used lenses are the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. These two lenses cover the essential focal length right from 24mm all the way to the medium telephoto range of 200mm. I mentioned earlier that all your lenses should give the same perspective. Take care so that the widest aperture on both the lenses be the same.
You will need at least two flash units. You could also pick a strobe for those outdoor group shots and especially for those events that happen indoors. With the flash units you need a standard light stand and a pair of transceivers. The flash unit can be fired on camera but you will need to fire the strobe off-camera.
Another equipment that I would recommend is a gold / silver reflector. This is a real life saver in a lot of situations. The gold / silver reflector has twin sides. Ideally when shooting indoors you should use the silver side. The light is white and neutral and creates the perfect fill-light for those tricky indoor situations. The golden side is, well, golden. Which is why the light produced mimics the golden hour light. This side is ideal when you ae shooting during the golden hour for those portraitures.
While on the same topic of light shaping tools, another inexpensive tool that I recommend taking with you is a warming gel. These are known as CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels. They assist in imparting a bright orange color tone to the light emanating from a strobe / flash. These come in handy when you want to transform the white color of an artificial light and make it warmer.
Bring along some extra full charged batteries. This is extremely important. You don’t want a situation where you find out that your camera battery has run out of juice with another couple of hours to go for the shoot. The same goes for memory cards. If you are like me who shoot weddings on continuous low (CL), you will need at least two memory cards per camera.
Scout the Location
This is important from the point of view of preparing the shot-list. When you scout the wedding venue, look for natural light sources. Large windows in the rooms the bride and the groom will get ready is ideal for those beautiful getting ready shots. Find locations you can use for some bride and groom portraits. Look for open space for photographing the wedding party.
If the wedding is to happen in a church this could pose problems because the interiors are usually not that well-lit and secondly because there are restrictions to the use of lights inside the premises. But these things are not in your control. There is rarely anything that you can do except work with whatever is at hand. Scouting will at least prevent nasty surprises on the day of the wedding.
Plan the logistics
The logistics for the wedding day are important only if it is a location wedding. Location weddings, especially when the wedding party along with everyone involved is flown in and out of some exotic location are fun to shoot. Also, everything is arranged for by the client so that leaves a lot of free time in your hand. Even then, as the wedding photographer you need to confirm a few details. Would you be staying at the same hotel as the rest of the group? If not, then has the client arranged any transportation for you, your assistant and your hardware?
If you are traveling with an assistant then you need to ensure that arrangements are made for him / her as well and that s/he stays at the same premises as you.
If the wedding is going to be managed, get the number of the wedding planner. This is vital. On the day of the wedding things will move ahead with or without you. You will have to keep pace. If you are not happy with something or need something to be addressed to immediately, you have to be in touch with the person in charge of things.
The bride and the groom will be too busy on the day of the wedding, and therefore there is no point in picking their brains or increasing their tension levels. If the wedding is not going to be managed by a professional, but someone in the family is going to manage things, then get his / her number.