A wedding lesson in the Real World School of Photography

The weddingOn Saturday Dorian and I shot our first solo wedding. Yes you heard that correctly, and no, I'm not heading down this path. It was for some good friends, Steve and Lisa, and believe me Steve twisted my arm pretty hard for me to accept this project. I think "fear of weddings" ranks up there with public speaking, cold calling, and interviews with the IRS, at least for photographers. I must say that after I got over my general incompetence and equipment failures, time passed rather quickly and I had a good time. The service was wonderful and I never saw a happier bride and groom. To know that I contributed to the memories of a lovely day made it all worthwhile. So, how was the experience? Overall the feelings of being rushed were overwhelming. Weddings go according to a schedule and things just happen whether you're ready or not. And people don't wait for the photographer to fiddle and fuss with things, they want you to just do your thing while they do theirs. We arrived late (not going to get into that) about 1.5 hours before the service. The wedding was being held at a reception hall, which was more like a dark cave, with heavy drapes closing out 70% of the natural light and a "stage" about 4 ft high that the ceremony was to take place. We had scoped out the site a few weeks ago so we knew what we were dealing with. I set up 2 bounce umbrellas with speedlights at both ends of the stage and I had my on-camera speedlight. This I knew was going to be my biggest challenge, getting enough light to the stage and shooting up at a 30 degree angle.

The dressI wanted to get some initial shots of the bride getting dressed so I was able to set up quickly, test the lights, and get over to the dressing room. There always seems to be an element of chance when using my Pocket Wizards and the speedlights. Things just happen...or don't. But my strategy was to take enough images in RAW so that I could come up with30-50 decent shots. That's all I needed. The other thing to realize is that a camera setup for indoor flash is very different from natural light shooting. With 2 bodies it's a bit mind-boggling for me to reset everything correctly when you go between the two.

For indoors I was able to toggle between a single on-camera flash and the umbrellas using the 2 Pocket Wizard channels.  Another thing to remember, and you know where my memory is going these days. It looked like everything was set up ok in the main hall, so we took some shots in the dressing area. People were arriving, so I knew this was it. The clock had started. As we finished the dressing shots the bridal party was ready to walk. I entered first to position myself for the walk in shots...ok mount the PW and speedlight, switch to C2 on the PW, turn on speedlight, switch ISO, switch to Manual, set f5.6, set 1/60, oh and don't forget the white balance, test fire PW, and here they come! First shot was dark, no firing of my on camera flash, second shot dark, so what the f* was going on? As they approached the stage I switched over to C1 to activate the umbrellas, fired the test shot, second shot...yes I had light! So I was happy until about the 4th shot things started to go dark again. It seemed like my on-camera flash was highly intermittent. All I could do was to keep shooting and hope that things fired.

The ceremony  The kiss  Steve_Lisa_2010-0206_096

During a slow spot in the ceremony I switched over to my body with my 70-200. I moved the PW and speedlight over and started shooting again, with about 50% of the images getting any light. The end of the ceremony was coming and I knew there were 4 money shots I had to get, the ring exchange, the kissing of the bride, the introduction of Mr. and Mrs., and the descent into the crowd. I was sweating now. The place was so dark that any attempt to do this w/o a flash was out of the question. Time to say some prayers. I switched back over to my wider lens and hoped for the best. I lucked out until the end, when the bride and groom descended down the steps, followed by the best man and the bridesmaids. Nice silhouette shots. I was upset. There is NO excuse for equipment failure or user error during an event. You must be prepared and your stuff has got to work. Shame, shame!

I wanted to do the formals inside where I knew I had control of the lighting. We reset the umbrellas near the stair and the speedlight on #1 decided not to fire. Was it the flash, the PW on the flash, the transmitter, wrong channel, interference, one or more of the above, who knows? In frustration we headed outside. It was windy, cold, and bright sun. Ok, so I had to reset the camera for outdoor, get out the diffusers and reflectors. We did a few poses with the family and then people started getting cold, so we headed back inside. I think I could have been much better prepared to shoot outdoors if this was part of the plan.

First toast  First dance

Back inside people were getting ready for dinner. Ah, a break for the first time. My brain was fried. And it doesn't help when your assistant (who happens to be your wife) keeps asking you why your stuff doesn't work..."well dear if I knew I would just fix it." In some stoke of genius I decided to change the batteries out of the speedlights. I had the smarts to grab a box of AAs on the way out. Residing in the speedlights were rechargeable Radio Shack AAs, you know those green batteries that take 4 hours to charge. Some of them were probably 3-4 years old. Hummm, things started to work again after the battery change.  Now why didn't I think of that before? I really worked these flash units. I mean hundreds of times in 1-2 hours. So with fresh batteries we proceeded to do the table shots with the bride andThe culprits (I hope!) groom. Dorian held the small softbox with a speedlight, I had another speedlight on camera. 8 tables, flawless. Then we did the bride and groom doing a toast...perfect. Then time for the first dance, and the family dance. So far so good. Then the garter, the bouquet, and cake cutting. No more failures. My guess it was the batteries....arrgh! I was cheap, I didn't want to get some decent batteries or a high capacity power pack. I spend all this money on equipment and workshops and I was brought down by $10 worth of batteries. Now I know better. It will never happen again. Hard lessons in the Real World School of Photography!


 The cake  The garter  The bouquet

Steve_Lisa_2010-0206_341  A happy camper

I took 619 images and discarded 255. I tagged 108 as images I will provide to the bride and groom as selections. Thank goodness for RAW and the Lighroom Brightness and Fill sliders. These enabled me to literally rescue 50% of my keepers. It was a lot of work, and one day I will be able to minimize the use of these corrections but for now, I'm so happy they exist.

My best goes out to Steve and Lisa. Thanks for having faith in me to document your special day.