I am not a wedding photographer. I do not photograph weddings. I don’t want to photograph weddings.
That’s what I told myself and that’s what I told anyone that asked.
But what happens when your oldest friend of nearly 50 years asks you to photograph their wedding? Your oldest friend who would do anything for you? Well obviously, you say no.
Then you feel bad so feeling a bit sick you say yes, but with a cluster of caveats – e.g., it won’t be formal, no typical group shots, no shots of rings and froufrou and God forbid no, what the Americans term, ‘first look’ shots! If I am going to do this it will be my style, mine, not something from bridal magazines, oh and fyi - I can’t guarantee any of the images will be any better than phone pics taken by guests and, with the phone technology today, possibly worse!
So, I said yes but then I realise … this is a disaster! Why? Because the wedding is in December - in England and so it’s dark, so dark and darker still: I’m one of those natural light photographers but in December, in England, there is a very good chance that there won’t be very much light at all!
I’m not a flash photographer. I don’t shoot flash. I don’t want to shoot flash.
That’s what I told myself and that’s what I told anyone that asked.
So now I’m shooting a wedding…with on-camera flash.
To be fair, I was given over a year’s notice, and I needed it, not just to learn all things flash but all things ‘weddingy’! But as the event got closer, I got increasingly anxious. Why did I say yes, why?
I practiced flash photography – a lot! My main test subjects, who I almost blinded for life, were my wife, our cat and a finely chiselled teddy bear called Sparky.
I bought some new camera gear (any excuse) and organised my intended kit in its various forms - over and over again and once more for luck!
For those interested this was my final set up
· Fujifilm X-T3 with 56mm f1.2, 18mm f1.4 & 35mm f2 lenses.
· Godox speedlight V860ii
· Rogue Flashbender modifier
· A bag of batteries & a mountain of memory cards.
· Peak Design 6L sling.
In reserve (just in case of malfunction, theft, loss, insecurity etc.)
· Fujifilm X-T30ii & the 50-140mm f2.8 lens
· Billingham Hadley Pro 20 bag, for storing spare gear under the table
Nearly all the YouTube vlogs on wedding photography (and yes I'm pretty sure I have watched them all) recommend using two cameras, each attached to a twin holster that you wear over your shoulders so you are ready for action at any time – all very James Bond, if I were a spy...at a wedding...in Somerset.
I figured I would have enough problems with one camera so decided to go for the less used method of lens swapping and chucking (with a grimace) the unused lenses in my sling!
YouTube wedding photographers also recommend (wait for it….) having a second photographer (so that’s four cameras!) to cover other angles and/or locations, together with remote off-camera flash sets ups around the reception/dance floor. Well, that wasn’t going to happen – it’s just me - and my one on-camera speedlight simply bouncing the flash off the ceiling. (I intended to use the Flashbender for outside shots, so it bounces light on the subject).
If the venue is appropriate, my top tip for all non-wedding photographers, with friends they can’t refuse, is to stay both the night before the wedding so you can get familiar with the place and lighting, and the night of the wedding so you can hide and/or flake out on the bed as soon as the opportunity arises.
Oh, my goodness I now understand why wedding photography is so expensive. Obviously, you have to have the kit, pay for travel costs, perhaps accommodation, editing software (and associated hardware) and presentation costs, but the time oh wow – the time involved is mammoth! I started shooting the wedding at 8.30am and finished at 1am. My feet were killing me and despite my camera being super light, my left arm and shoulder were basically broken! But it’s not over then oh no …. you spend hours/days in front of the computer editing.
So, what does photographing the wedding day comprise of that makes it so exhausting? Well, here is a rundown of my day…….
And we’re off … starting with photographing the bridal party getting ready (upstairs in bright light) → then downstairs to the (dark) bar to shoot the arrival of the groom and the guys → back upstairs as make-up, hair and dressing evolves → back downstairs to shoot the guests arriving → back upstairs again to shoot the bride and best men → then downstairs for the ceremony and all that that entails (yellow fluorescent light on very low ceiling). Next, straight on to post-ceremony drinks and nibbles in the (dark) bar → then the reception, which included singing waiters ('Volare’ and napkins aloft!), speeches, and wedding breakfast. Suitably fed it was the disco and I know it's obvious but disco = darkness, bright lights, flashing and colour which is fab for dancing - interesting for photographing! Finally, we're outside (very dark) for sparklers (bright!) and a very impressive firework display - oh well that's a new subject matter to me completely!
Apparently, there is terminology for most of these different stages of a wedding that wedding photographers use, but I’m not a wedding photographer, ok!
Of course let us not forget - in amongst all the to-ing and fro-ing you are also changing settings, batteries and cards. You are constantly on the look for magic moments, dealing with requests, chasing the camera shy, meeting people old and new and … smiling – lots of smiling.
Having experienced the madness/frenzy/stress of photographing one wedding, I have to give kudos to all the solo wedding photographers out there. You are both awesome and brave, people!
It was my aim to be discreet throughout, like a well-dressed Ninja and mostly I think I got away with it. However, I did notice that whilst people are sober, when they do see me they don’t like me very much and shy away. But then the alcohol kicks in and....everyone is a movie star .... work that floor daaaahling!
Interestingly I did notice a huge sense of relief wash over me once the ceremony was finished. I think that was the most stressful situation – why? Well, there are of course the images that really need to be caught – like the kiss for example, but there are also so many constraints – the room, the light, the formality, the people, and the celebrant's requirements. I was also extremely aware of my presence and worried that I was getting in everyone's way. After the ceremony everything else seemed that little bit easier and as the event progressed it was a case of … get out of my way people, I need this shot!
I wasn’t just the wedding photographer - because I am not - I was also a welcomed guest and the lovely family made that clear to me, but the obligation and pressure to keep shooting is always there – I don’t, as Aerosmith put it (don't know why I said that - I'm not a big fan!!), want to miss a thing. I did get to eat (fuel!) and even dance, but the camera wasn’t far away.
As soon as I got home, I had 1800 photos to upload, fillet and process! Oh, and when you do that for too long your eyes and mind play tricks on you as to what looks good – too contrasty, too pastel, too many photos of a friend’s 'plus-one' and hardly any of the happy couple! Choosing the right photos can be so hard.
Then you have to back everything up a million times because of the fear of cyber terrorism that is of course in my mind, imminent!
One tip from YouTube that I did adhere to was about image back-up on the night – as my camera has two memory card slots I used the same type of cards (shooting raw and JPEG) and used one card to back up the other just in case one becomes corrupted.
So now here I am, at the time of writing, waiting nervously for the photobooks from the publisher………the computer screen never really truly shows how good an image is until you see it in print. The books are expected any day now. I’ve created two books, of one of some colour photos and one of black and white. No-one has seen the photos, except my wife, who has been a non-wedding photographer’s widow and had to put up with my vocalised rants of self-doubt. I am meeting with the bride at the end of the month to give her the books, together with a USB of all the photographs. I will have to remind her about all of my caveats and our many years of long-standing friendship and then I will probably ………………. run!
No, that’s not fair: my friend is too kind to ever tell me if she doesn’t like them, but I think I will know if she really, really does - so watch this space and I’ll let you know (possibly!). I might even showcase some images on my website or post them in a blog titled ‘Photography - mistakes and pitfalls”!
But now as I wait, I have had time to reflect about the event and don’t tell anyone but…. I really enjoyed the experience! I know! I wasn’t expecting that! So, if you are an incredibly nice person and you want very, very informal documentary photos of your wedding you can ask me and I might just say yes, but remember…I am not a wedding photographer!
I am very happy and extremely relieved to announce that the photos have been received with great applause and the newlyweds, their families and friends have been very generous with their compliments. When my friend opened the photobooks I watched her as she slowly turned the pages and she was grinning from ear to ear, the images evoked fabulous memories which made her laugh and cry happy tears. Hurrah! My work as here as a wedding photographer (what?!) is done!
The newlyweds have kindly let me showcase all the photographs, which you can find by clicking here Thank you to the fabulous Mr & Mrs Dicken and congratulations!