This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be the second shooter for a wedding. For those not up on current wedding trends, many weddings now have two photographers, to make sure that every possible detail is captured and that not a moment is missed. My friend Tony reached out to me a couple of weeks ago and wanted to know if I would be his second shooter. He’s a part-time photographer like me (i.e. we have day jobs that pay for food and mortgages) and has done a few weddings solo. I don’t know for sure if the couple specifically wanted two photogs or if they were willing to pay enough that Tony felt like he could share the love. Tony also has a ‘big’ wedding later this summer that he wants my help with, so this was a ‘shake-down’ of sorts. He knows a bit about what I’ve done (or maybe more than I know), knows that I’m technically competent, and have had only a passing interest in wedding photography. I say ‘passing’ because I’m not really interested in getting into the ultra-competitive full-time wedding business. About a year ago I lost the opportunity to shoot a wedding because I asked for $400 (to shoot for 4-6 hours in a city 2 hours away) and a friend of a friend of the groom was willing to do it “for practically nothing”. I didn’t bother to counter offer because I wasn’t willing to do the shoot as a portfolio builder.
Anyway, back to this wedding. After checking my schedule and agreeing, Tony and I met a couple of times to plan out the events. It was to be a very small wedding (bride, groom, no party), and we would only need to be around for about 3 hours. We didn’t need to shoot bridal preparations, nor reception.
We arrived at the church an hour before the ceremony to find the interior temperature at 82 degrees. I assumed that the old church didn’t have air-conditioning, but the priest later told the couple and the guests that the maintenance man was on a mission trip and hadn’t turned on the AC before he left. For real? Is turning on the AC really that complicated? And this was a Catholic church for pity’s sake–couldn’t a maintenance dude from some other church help out? Color me skeptical.
The groom arrived and Tony started working through his list of shots, while I captured some candids, and made use of my macro lens to get a slightly different perspective.
As it turns out, the groom recognized me: a couple of years ago we’d worked in the same area of the corporate headquarters for the very large corporation where I currently work. Small world, eh? Anyway, my job prior to the presentation of the bride was to hang out with the groom, and capture his reaction upon seeing the bride.
The priest literally said “Its time to get hitched…”
No, this isn’t the crispest photo I took that day (it was dark as heck in the whatever-the-priestly-preparation-room-is-called: ISO1600, 1/40s, f/3.5, boosted in post to ISO 3200 equivalent) but I love how the groom is being coaxed by the priest toward the open door. I barely knew the groom, but since there was no best man, I felt like I was his best friend for the 5 minutes we were waiting there, making idle chit chat.
Yes, that is the MOMENT when he saw his bride. The bride was Tony’s responsibility right up to the moment when they joined. I think Tony was on the opposite side of the chancel at this moment, so I could capture this threesome of expressions:
Bride, groom and glowering father of the bride. Actually, given the father’s demeanor during the rest of the time, I think I just happened to catch a fleeting expression. He was not unhappy to be sending his daughter off to this man.
After this moment, Tony and I worked the ceremony and the crowd with impunity. The priest had said to me earlier “you go wherever you need to go” when I had asked if I could join the groom backstage, so I was pretty sure that short of defiling the eucharist, we could work any angle we wanted. I think the image that leads this post (repeated below) was taken from the chancel steps.
After the ceremony, I continued to watch for and attempt to capture moments between the couple and their guests and family. Here’s a shot of the bride with her dad, and the groom with her brother.
This was the hardest part of the ceremony. People were moving to and fro so quickly, it was hard to lock focus before hugger and huggee had moved on. Until this point, I’d been happy with my lens choices: a 10-24mm wide zoom for contextual shots, and 60mm f/2 for focused ‘here’s what you want to see’ shots. When I was far enough back for the 60mm to capture more than a face, people were in the way. When I was close enough for 10-24 to work, I was in the middle of the crowd. For this time period, I think my Jive 35 would have been best.
While all the hugs and congratulations were going on, the bride (wearing the most sensible outfit for the temperature of the church) looked at me and told me I could take my jacket off. The thermostat at that moment read 84, and my shirt was soaked through and the lining of my jacket was clinging to my arms. Ewww.
After the the hugs had completed, we started the more formal portraits, and this is where the difference between my style and Tony’s style became more obvious to me. He posed them very formally, and started every shot with “One, two, and…[click]” I duplicated most every one of his shots primarily so that we would have redundancy in case of card failure or eyes blinking. On the shot above, of the entire crowd, I felt like I needed to engage them a little more dynamically, asking them to cheer if they were happy that the couple was married. Great smiles all around. My biggest regret is that the photo is a bit soft, shot at f/4.5, 1/60s, ISO 450. I should have pushed it to higher ISO and f stop. Perhaps it won’t suck as part of a photo album.
After the guests were all sitting in their air conditioned cars, and Tony and I were packing up our gear, I noticed the couple sitting at the front of the church, talking. That was a moment that I felt was perfect for the wide-angle lens.
This is the kind of documentary moment for which I take a great deal of inspiration from Roger Overall, an Irish photographer, whom, I’m pretty sure, wouldn’t even have done the formal posed portraits above, because his documentary ethic is so strong. These two were just talking–decompressing, if you will–about the ceremony, and just happy to be together. They knew I was there (I’m hard to miss) but were accustomed enough to my presence that they just kept on talking. I dearly hope they love this image, because I do.
Next we went to a local park where Tony had several more portrait ideas for the couple. I helped out by reflecting some sunlight into the shadows, and taking pictures of their friends doing a little revelry before heading off to the restaurant for the reception.
Part of me really wanted to engage in the fun that they were having–I wanted to be part of their celebration. I felt like I had been just a bit of their celebration. I hung out with them, for just a bit, but also took pictures. They knew that was my role, and they obliged me. Above, the father of the groom, who barely spoke English, gave me a peace sign. Another moment, captured, for the couple.
Tony continued to work with the couple on some portrait concepts. He had a list of poses on his iPad that he was determined to work through. I rejoined him and helped with a bit of fill light, and tried to shoot the off-angle–while he was shooting the groom’s perspective, I shot the bride, and vice versa. One thing I learned from Zach Arias was to have a subject look down, then look up to the camera, and the moment they look up is a genuine moment–when their eyes are focusing on the camera, you’ll get a great expression. Tony was working a posed portrait, and was focused on the groom. The bride’s face was away from the camera, and she was vacantly looking at the sidewalk. I locked focus, then called her name.
As a first wedding experience, that totally didn’t suck. I’ve posted a lot of these images, and more to Flickr. I would love additional feedback, especially any critical notes to help me improve.