30 Jun 2014

Preparing for the wedding shooting session - how I have dealt with uncertain situations

This is the second post about my big photo assignment I have taken couple of weeks ago. As usual, when doing unusual photography assignments I always prepare as much as I can. For the wedding I had couple of special reasons:
- for a number of scenes I had only one chance to take a photo (the bride and groom say 'yes' only once),
- wedding photography was (and still is) quite a new territory for me,
- I was not so familiar with the ceremony and the rituals celebrated in the church,
The most important reason was to deliver the best possible photos I could make. And good preparation would help to minimize the need of improvisation.
Sure, I know that it is impossible to plan everything. There would always be surprises and unplanned situations. And that is fine. But by preparation I'd like to create a room for improvisation (if needed) to get an excellent picture. And not to improvise to get the picture at all.
So here comes my list of preparations I took. All of them helped. There are also some things I could have prepare better. Something to remember and apply for next time.

  1. Get to know the program of the day. The easiest but the most crucial part of the preparation. Talk to the couple, make a list of events during the day, but don't forget to note the times. For me it was kind a frame where I could put my photographic activities. Having that I could see for myself how much room I had for shooting. In case of this wedding it became clear that there will be no room at all for a real shooting session with the couple alone. After some consultation we agreed not to push for it and accept if such photos couldn't be made.
  2. Scout the locations. I did it twice. First, by studying the church and the wedding room based on the pictures available on Internet. Then, a day before wedding I have been on both locations with my camera to see the places in 'the real'. It gave me answers on a lot of questions. For example: how the light is distributed along the aisle and where to take the position for the 'walk-in' photo. How the altar is lit, is there enough light for shooting without a strobe? 
    The same held for the place of reception. Short inspection of the surroundings gave me new inspirations for a shots of the couple. I discovered a nice pier that almost always opens nice possibilities of a good, moody shot.


  3. Learn how the ceremony would look like. In this case it was double important: first of all I was quite unfamiliar with the order of events during the ceremony. Second, this specific wedding was extended with a lot of elements that are not normally present. Again, talk with the bride and groom helped a lot. Next to that I studied the Internet and the official prescriptions of the Catholic Church. And I visited the real ceremony short before the wedding to get a better feeling on how it looks. This gave me eventually a lot of confidence and also a little extra time that I could use to take some less conventional shots, like this one:


  4. Check local laws and customs. It does not have to be an issue, but I was aware that the Catholic Church in Poland officially requires a kind of certificate from the photographers who want to take photos during the devotion. And formally a priest can even refuse admittance of a photographer who doesn't have such document. For me it was not possible to arrange such document in a short time. Again, the couple solved it for me, by talking to the master of ceremony. But in general case it could be a 'show stopper'. How did I know that it might have been an issue? Well, simply by thinking ahead about things that might go wrong. 
  5. Make an overview of photos that are compulsory. For an occasional wedding photographer as I am it is really a 'must have'. Since just a list is rather boring and uninspiring, I have created a 'mood board': quite large sheet of paper with the characteristic wedding pictures that I found on Internet. I put it on the wall in my living room for a couple of weeks and each day I studied it a little bit. Next to that I also drew a lighting setup for the specific photo and discussed it with my assistant.
  6. Get to know people involved in the preparations. This is something I need to organize better next time. The biggest mistake was not to talk in advance to the master of reception. As a result the program of the reception was to me totally unknown and I had to follow the flow of events quite blindly. In the course of reception we have aligned 'the agenda' several times so it was corrected somehow, but in the beginning I was rather walking behind the facts. That was the part when I had to improvise to get decent photos. I think I delivered the results, but it was not fun and not very professional. 
  7. Talk with someone about the plans. Here I used great help of my lovely wife (who was also my shooting assistant during the day). We have discussed different aspects of the day, pointed the possible risks and limitations of the different ideas.
  8. Study, study, study. I cannot stress it enough. I have watched and read quite some amount of materials available on Internet or in the books. There are dozens of places where I could find the information, so it is impossible to mention all of them. Let me just mention Kelby One, who hosts video courses of great wedding photographers, like Cliff Mautner, David Ziser, Jerry Ghionis. Photography Life is another source I visit regularly (btw, their scope is much broader than wedding photography only).
  9. Practice, practice, practice. Here I mean not only photography skills (it is obvious - I have to learn the craft to deliver (at least) decent shots and deliver them repeatedly). But shooting a  wedding involves a lot of communication with, well, mostly strangers. During this communication I had to guide them, to pose them, simply to become a 'director' of the scene. Since I am rather an introvert person, this kind of interaction is not the easiest thing for me. And it is not something that one can learn overnight. To me it took some time to learn at least the basics and I had different occasions to exercise it in the past. But is it enough? To check it I had to be creative and opportunistic. Couple of weeks before the wedding our friends came to visit us. One of them is a trainer specialized in interpersonal communication and development of communication skills. So I simply asked her for help. I offered her and her partner to make couple of nice photos of them but asked her to observe me during the session and point out the things that I could do different or better with respect to communication and guidance. It was simple, but very efficient. I got some very good tips, they got nice photos. And I felt much more comfortable during the wedding.
  10. Prepare the gear properly. This will be the topic of one of the next posts, so I let it here.