July 17, 2008

I’ve written a fair bit about the technical side of photography, but there’s so much more to it than that. What’s it really like to be a wedding photographer? Here’s an outline of the whole enchilada, start to finish–in English, with very few technical details.

Contract: Usually I’ll get an email or phone call from a couple who has either found my site on Google, or who has seen my ad on Craig’s List. At that first contact, I make an appointment to discuss details in person. At that meeting I show them prints and photo books. I reiterate everything my web site says. I prominently display my camera, as even non-pros can tell it’s a serious bit of kit. I don’t pressure them to sign a contract. Instead I go over the agreement with them and send them home with a copy and some Moo cards. More often than not, I’ll get a signed contract back in the mail within a week, accompanied by a deposit check. It’s on. I put their wedding date in my calendar and cash their check.

Check in: Months have now passed with no communication between us. So a few days before the wedding I call up the bride and double check that everything’s cool. My main goal in this conversation is to a) make sure she knows that I’m still on board, and b) to make sure I know the time and address to meet her on the morning of her wedding day. I Google map this location and plan to get there early.

Gear up: Then, the day before the shoot I collect my gear. I make sure I have plenty of empty memory cards. I make sure my lenses are looking clean. I make sure my cameras are bagged. Above all else, I run 23 batteries through their respective chargers. My primary camera, the Nikon D300, holds 9 batteries alone. Then there’s the alternate camera, and three sets of AAs for my external flash. Everything has to be fully charged and packed. I also make sure I have something nice to wear. (More on gear here.)

Shooting part 1, the salon: Almost all brides will be going somewhere to get their hair and/or makeup done. Most times they will drag along their bridesmaids and mothers, too. This is a perfect time to get some candids. I try to keep things light. Catch them laughing, catch them with curlers in their hair. I always try to get at least one picture of the bride examining herself in the mirror. (18-50 f/2.8 lens at ~ISO 800, Lightsphere diffused flash)

Shooting part 2, the church: After the salon, there’s usually no time to visit the groom and shoot him puzzling over his bow tie. If there is, there is. If not, I head out to the church and speak to the officiator. Where do you not want me to go? What do other photographers do? Are these all the lights that will be on during the ceremony? I take the opportunity to shoot the building inside and out, maybe pick up some decoration details while I’m at it. Most importantly, I try to choose the lenses and camera settings that the venue requires. (18-50 f/2.8 lens at whatever ISO will let me shoot in available light.)

Shooting part 3, pre-ceremony: A lot of times the bride and her entourage will show up early to get her zipped up in the back room. This is a critical time, and another great opportunity for candid shots. The dress hanging on a hanger. The M. O. H. zipping up the bride. Everyone fussing over her train/veil/etc. More shots of her looking at herself in the mirror. Bonus if you can get a shot of a bridesmaid taking a picture of the bride. (18-50 f/2.8 lens at ~ISO 800, Lightsphere diffused flash)

Shooting part 4, the ceremony: I kneel in front of the first pew and step out into the aisle to shoot each couple as they walk toward me. I try to get 3-5 shots of each couple, then I get out of their way and let them pass. Rinse repeat. Until the bride herself comes down. At that point, I use the camera’s continuous shooting mode and fire away like an action hero with an M16. Once everyone has their place at the altar, I try not to move around a lot. I have already staked out a spot on the side where I can get the bride’s face. (Nobody cares about the groom. That’s just how it is.) If they exchange rings, I shoot it. If they light a candle together, I shoot that. When they kiss I hope to god I don’t miss it. Of course if there are readers and other things going on, those get shot also. (For processional/recessional: 18-50 f/2.8 lens, f/2.8, ISO for existing light; for altar: 50-150 f/2.8 lens, f/2.8, 1/200th shutter, whatever ISO I need to get a bell-shaped histogram using only existing light.)

Shooting part 4, posed shots: After the ceremony is a good time to preemptively change batteries and memory cards. By then the dust has settled enough to start rounding up the newlyweds, their wedding party and their moms and dads for the posed shots. Usually we take a batch inside the church: bride and groom, bride and groom with wedding party, bride and groom with each set of parents, just the bride and the bridesmaids, just the groom and the groomsmen. Then we usually find a place outdoors to repeat the whole process. If I’m lucky the parents won’t hit me with a big list of family portraiture they want done at this time. if I’m unlucky, I smile and do everything that time allows before moving on. (18-50 f/2.8 lens, f/4-f/11 depending on how many people are in the shot, Lightsphere diffused flash)

Shooting part 5, reception: There’s a lot going on here, but most of it is taking candid shots of fairly scripted events, so there’s few surprises. The real challenges are a) knowing the order in which things will happen and b) getting the people in charge of the room to turn on some goddamned lights. Befriending the DJ usually helps a lot with issue A. Issue B is usually a lost cause. I often have to resort to ISO values north of 2000 and direct flash. In any case, the list of events usually goes like this: people stand around having drinks, the wedding party makes a grand march in, people sit down to have dinner, toasts are made by various people, cake is cut, the bouquet and the garter are tossed, formal dances are danced. It is now probably about 10pm. I have been shooting for about 12 hours. (If people are not too tipsy, they usually remember to give me my check. If not, I collect it prior to delivering any photos.)

Editing: The first order of business is to copy all photos from the memory cards to the computer. I do not erase the memory cards at this time. Then I can begin editing. From the 800+ pictures I took, I’ll select around 200 for cropping, color and exposure adjustments, and spot touchups. I do 95% of this work in Adobe’s Lightroom program. The other 5% is done in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Backups: I burn all the original shots onto a DVD, and all the edited shots onto another DVD. Then I can erase the memory cards for re-use.

Upload, order prints: I take the edited shots and upload them to my Zenfolio web store. I password the album and email that password to the bride and groom, advising them that they can order any prints from that site. (I get zero dollars from these orders.) Then I order a set of 4×6″ prints for them, as its a part of my standard wedding package. Cost: around $50.

Book: Of the 200 or so edited shots, I’ll pull around 50 for the hard cover book. This I make in iPhoto. Seriously. I simply remove the Apple logos from the template, and run the photos in automatically. I re-arrange 3 or 4 pictures, then send it off to be printed. Including shipping, it costs me about $50.

Delivery: When the book and prints have arrived, I make an appointment to deliver them to the happy couple. I bring the burned DVDs, the prints, the book, and a statement of copyright release allowing them to make prints anywhere they like.

And there you have it. That’s basically how I run my part-time wedding photography business.


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