Depth of field and light at a Wedding or Bar Mitzvah

Many wedding and Bar Mitzvah photographers find themselves in a bit of a pickle when they are first starting out.  You’ve looked at hundreds of websites and seen all these incredible, artistic wedding pictures and decided “I want to do that.”   So, you buy all the equipment, flashes and fast lenses that you can afford and set out to create beautiful, moving images.   You spend all this time and energy in pursuit of the artistic and then suddenly discover that you can’t shoot the mundane … and let me tell you, there is a lot of mundane to shoot at a 7-hour wedding.  

It’s not our fault that we don’t always learn how to take these shots.   They aren’t the sort of shots that get featured on the web or in the pages of a magazine.  It’s great to see those beautiful shots of an outdoor wedding and the incredible formals but  what about  the other 500 pictures  the photographer  took? You know, the ones in the dark hall with the dancing people? You don’t see many of those on the ol’ website because they aren’t quite as dynamic.  Still, being able to take a good table shot or dancing shot is every bit as important as the perfectly lit formal.  For some clients it may be more important, depending on who is sitting at the table or dancing on the floor.  

My first rule of photography is this: Get the shot. First, learn how to get the shot, any shot, in any situation.  Then, learn how to get it in an artistic and creative way (if needed). Don’t spend so much time learning the “hard” shots that you neglect to learn the “easy” ones.  You may find that the “easy” ones aren’t so easy after all.

Let’s take a look at  some pictures from a recent Bat Mitzvah that I photographed in Tampa.  I’ll start with a “hard” one:

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Taking pictures of the cake, the dress and the rings at a wedding

One of the things that makes Wedding Photography such a challenge is that you have to be able to wear so many hats.   When I shoot a portrait session I have to be able to light and shoot a portrait session with a model (following directions) and retouch the images.

When I shoot a wedding, I have to be able to do the same thing as a portrait shoot …  as well as shoot in low-light in the church and at the reception, shoot action in low-light, shoot as a photojournalist and capture events that tell a story, shoot products, retouch everything and design an album that showcases the day. It’s a lot of hats.

What’s funny to me is how much of a kick I get out of “product” shots at a wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I love every element and get giddy as a schoolgirl when  I pull off an amazing shot, but I never thought I would enjoy the “product” shots as much as I do. “Product” shots are what I call the static shots of rings, flowers, tables, rooms, cakes, etc. that you have to take in order to capture everything about the day … the little details that people will be glad they have a picture of in years to come.

I can say with all sincerity that I would never want to be a catalog photographer. It would bore me to tears, I think. But I also think that I might understand the fellow photogs who do that work after seeing how excited I can get over a picture of a cake.

The trick is to approach the shot like it’s the most important one of the day. That way you really get a kick out of nailing it.

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This particular cake was in a hall that was completely white. White ceiling, white walls, white, white, white. However, there was one spot in the whole place with color and it happened to be right behind the cake. There were also some fake trees back there.

I shot this handheld with on-camera flash pointed off to my left. It really didn’t take much work at all but I just love it. I moved the trees a few times to see how I liked it but eventually ended up using the very first shot. Cake shots are probably the easiest of the “product” shots at a wedding.

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Wedding Photography and Bounce Flash

I’ve been trying to write about bounce flash at weddings for about an hour now. The problem with explaining bounce flash is that it seems simple at first (just point the flash over your shoulder!) but then there’s a snag … a situation where that doesn’t quite work. So, you talk about the snag, which leads you down another path (diffusers and bounce cards!) … which veers off into some other tangent (shadows and background!) and the next thing you know you’re typing the words “raccoon” and “inverse square law” in the same sentence and you just have to stop.

So, here’s what I’m going to do:   I’m going to post some pictures from a recent wedding and talk about the lighting in each one. Hopefully I will be able to stay on topic. (By the way, I am a wedding photographer in Tampa, FL and no raccoons were harmed in the writing of this article.)

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This particular wedding reception was in a small room with low ceilings that were white (mana from heaven for a bounce flash photographer). I was able to shoot with my flash pointed back over my left shoulder most of the night. I think a lot of people tend to believe that you either bounce off a wall or you bounce off the ceiling in front of you. It’s important to realize that you can bounce off the ceiling behind you as well (especially if it’s low). You will typically lose some light, since most of it will bounce to the back of the room but you’ll still get some back from the ceiling, tablecloths, walls, etc.   I had my flash dialed up to +1 most of the night. Could I have taken this shot with a diffuser or direct flash? Sure, but I would have lost contrast in the subject. The reason the dancing man stands out is because the light falls off across his body (notice the shadow on his face).

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What equipment do I need to be a wedding photographer?

 

I was thinking today about what I would have liked to known when I was first starting out as a wedding photographer in Tampa and realized that, despite the wealth of information available to the newby, I don’t recall ever seeing a detailed breakdown of the equipment a typical wedding photographer carries to a shoot. So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the equipment in my bag with comments about how I use it. This is, by no means, a definitive list. It’s just what I am carrying right now and could change at any time.

(2) Canon 40D – The Canon 40D may not be the best that Canon has to offer but it will certainly get the job done. Don’t get too caught up in the rush to buy the newest and most advanced camera available. The cheapest DSLR on the market is still light-years more advanced than every camera that came before it. Personally, I prefer two identical camera bodies. It’s a comfort to me that I can grab either camera and get the same results.

(4) Camera Batteries – One battery in each camera body and two backups. I don’t use a battery grip with my camera. I’ll admit I envy the convenience of the added controls so that you can hold the camera in portrait mode the same way you do in landscape but I’m put off by the extra bulk and weight. If I found myself frequently changing batteries during a shoot I would probably get a grip, but I rarely have to use my backup batteries.

(1) Black Rapid Strap (1) standard strapI’ve written about this before. When I feel it necessary to carry both cameras, I have a second strap around my neck. Both my camera’s have Manfrotto tripod mounts on the bottom and I attach the straps there with speed clips. Typically, I will wear both straps during the ceremony and sometimes during the reception. I just attach the camera’s as needed.

Lenses:

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Sigma 18-50, f2.8 – This is my main lens and is on my camera 90% 0f the time.

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Wedding Photography and Using Your Surroundings

One of the things that quickly distinguishes a professional photographer from an amateur is the ability to select a good location for a portrait (also, professional photographers have an air of mystery and suave intrigue about them, like James Bond).   I see this every weekend when I’m shooting weddings (I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa, FL). People have a  preconceived idea about how a photograph should look. They’ve seen wedding photographs before and they’ve seen tons of pictures taken at the portrait studio in the mall (or at school) and so, subconsciously,   they believe that’s what a good picture looks like. (Not that they aren’t good. Don’t write me a nasty email, Mr. School Photographer. I shoot them too…) A good example of this at a wedding is that most people expect me to take a group  and family portraits on the altar–and many times I don’t.

If you look at any good portrait photographer who works primarily on location you’ll see a common thread. They have a knack for looking at the surroundings and figuring out the best way to place their subjects. Being able to manipulate your surroundings  to your advantage  will help you in every type of photography that you do. In wedding photography,  it can be the difference between a good picture and a great one.

With that in mind, I thought I might post some pictures from a recent wedding and talk about how I manipulated  my surroundings to create, what I think, are better pictures. I’m just going to concentrate on posed shots this time around and maybe later I’ll do a post on candids.

This first picture was taken just before the bride  left the dressing room to go and start the ceremony. We were already running 10 minutes late  and the wedding planner was dragging her out the door when I stopped her.

“Can I just have 30 seconds?” I quickly closed the door and opened the blinds.   Then I said, “somebody turn out the lights.”   This shot is nothing but window light and a gray wall.

Window light and a gray wall
Window light and a gray wall

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Wedding Photography and “Uncle Bob”

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This picture has nothing to do with "Uncle Bob." I just feel bad when I write a long post and don't have any pictures..

There are so many issues that wedding photographers can argue about:   light, composition, equipment, price, style and so on. I think it’s a hoot that the one issue that always seems to get the most varied and heated opinions has nothing to do with the actual art of wedding photography (I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa, FL).

I’m talking about “Uncle Bob.”

If you’re a wedding photographer  then you know exactly who I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t know, “Uncle Bob” is the guest at the wedding with an expensive camera who has decided to become an un-official wedding photographer for the day. Every time you pose someone for a shot, Uncle Bob is right there snapping away. If someone steps in front of you at an important moment during the reception, it’s Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob means well, but he’s oblivious to the fact that you’re doing a job and he’s interfering (I once had Uncle Bob get mad at me because I wouldn’t “wait my turn” to take a picture of the Bride and Groom during an emotional moment at the reception.)

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Developing your own style as a photographer

When you first decide that you want to be a professional photographer, there are so many things that you have to learn. You’ve got to learn the equipment, the software, and the business side of being a professional photographer. Then there’s the unbelievable amount of knowledge that you have to absorb in order to develop an eye and a talent for the entire operation. So much information, in fact, that any good photographer will tell you that they are still learning all the time. The one thing that can often fall by the wayside while you are trying to dig yourself out of of the mountain of education that has landed on your head is that you also have to develop your own style.

This can be very hard to do. When you take into consideration the fact that Photoshop provides a virtually unlimited palette from which you can paint (not to mention the hundreds of ways in which you can shoot) it’s easy to wind up all over the map. Occasionally I’ll come across that photographer who seems to have a clear idea of what they like and how they want to present themselves, right from the very beginning. I hate those guys. Nobody likes someone who seems to have it all together while the rest of us are flailing about with our water wings in the shallow end of the pool. Don’t even think about sitting at my table during lunch. Seriously.

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Rules for Good Photography

I think now, more than ever, it’s hard to tell what makes a “good picture.”

Photography, like all art, is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc, etc. And with Photoshop becoming such an integral part of the work process, it’s getting to the point where the old “rules” for good photography are being tossed out the window. I think that’s just fine, and I’ll tell you why. (more…)

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