I think it goes without saying that a professional photographer produces unique and creative images at a wedding that the ordinary guest can’t hope to duplicate. I’m saying it anyway because more and more I see people doing their best to do my job.
At a typical wedding there are 2,347 cameras. Everyone has a camera and everyone is taking snapshots. Then, all the snapshots go on Facebook for the world to see … right next to the shots that I have uploaded for my client. Also, the client sometimes uploads a ton of pictures from the CD I provide and they all mingle together in the giant Facebook stew of photography.
It’s easy to tell which pictures are mine. There aren’t many guests at a wedding using off-camera strobes for the formals or bouncing flash. However, there may be plenty of guests with decent, high-end camera’s taking snapshots. Many times these snapshots are good. So, what can I do to distinguish myself from these people?
Let’s leave the discussion about bounce flash, f1.8 primes and “artistic vision” for another time and talk about what I do to make sure that my “snapshots” don’t look like anyone else’s. I’m talking about quick shots, not artistic, creative lighting genius. I’m walking around and see a couple dancing and take a quick shot. Here’s how I guarantee that my snapshot looks different than everyone else’s.
(Let me point out that to the trained eye it’s often obvious because I’m bouncing my flash, but that’s not always so obvious to everyone else. I want my pictures to be obvious.)
Before the reception I set up a speedlight on a tripod. It’s wired with a radio remote and set to manual (usually about 1/8 to 1/4 power but it varies on the hall and ceiling height). I have a speedlight on my camera and the camera is wired to a radio trigger. I take a quick test shot or two to verify the exposure setting and I’m ready to go.
Now, whenever I take a snapshot I get much more backlight. Everyone else is taking pictures in a cave while I am taking pictures in a bright room. My pictures immediately stand out by this difference alone. Of course, I try to use all my talent to produce images that stand out for many other reasons, but now I am starting from a place that is already unique compared to every other picture taken at the reception. From there I can move into using the light in more creative ways.
I don’t do it all the time. If I move away from the dance floor I simply unplug my transmitter so the second flash doesn’t fire. Sometimes, near the end of the night I will turn the flash off on purpose so that my pictures go darker. This lends a sense of “time” to the pictures later when they are put in the album. (When you are shooting three hours of party pics it’s nice to be able to break them up a little into “early/late” categories.)
It’s a judgment call. There’s no doubt that you might be sacrificing some ambiance when you throw that second strobe into the mix, and there are times when I don’t want to make that trade off. However, I find that the second light opens up more new creative possibilities than it prevents and I often find myself looking for new ways to use it during long receptions. The most obvious effect of using the second light is that it puts the viewer into the action more. A packed dance-floor looks like a packed dance-floor when you light it up. Otherwise, it’s just two people in a dark room.
I think that it can sometimes be too easy to devote all your energy to the “creative” pictures we take at weddings and not think about ways to enhance the “mundane.” But it’s often the “mundane” that get the most attention from the clients (you just never know what people will single out).