17 April 2000
This is a brief guide on being the wedding photographer for friends that are too cheap or too poor to hire a 'real' pro ;) If you find yourself suddenly being asked to be the wedding photographer, these tips may just save your life and make everyone's day really special and memorable.
A good point and shoot camera is all that is needed unless you already have a good SLR camera. This means it takes clear, crisp pictures, focuses well without problems, takes nice flash pictures indoors, and you know how to operate it in your sleep!
If you find that you've been picked and you don't even have a P&S or SLR camera, go rent/buy one and start reading the manual today! (No, a pocket camera, unfortunately, is not good enough for those enlargements and indoor shots -- not unless they expect their photos to be on 3x5" prints only.)
A few cameras that can be suggested include the $89 Olympus Stylus Epic and the $149 Yashica T4, both yielding SLR sharp photos with the T4 being slightly sharper and more colorful. The two will beat just about most cheaper P&S cameras in sharpness by far. These are fixed lens cameras and do not have any zoom capabilities. Some zoom cameras include the usual Olympus Stylus Zoom series, the Pentax 115, 120, 140 series, and the Canon Sure Shot Z115, Z135, and 120 series, Rollei Prego 90, and the Minolta EX series of P&S cameras for ~$150-250. Something 35mm to 120mm will do fine. The Canon Sure Shot and Rollei models mentioned have exceptionally sharp lenses.
For SLRs, I've found the 28-200 Super Tamron lens to be exceptionally well-balanced with its wide range coverage for weddings and such. The wider 28mm end can be used for wide group and scene shots; the longer 200mm end can be used to catch closeups of the actual wedding ceremony itself (you may find yourself at the back of the room taking pictures so you'll thank yourself for that zoom). It is not the very sharpest lens on the planet, but it will yield very good, colorfully saturated prints that will enlarge well. (Remember, they're cheap and they should have hired a real pro with his $$$$ equipment if they wanted pin-tack sharp ;) A very good investment for $300 and in my opinion, the only lens you'll ever need to buy for 99% of the photographic needs you'll encounter with any SLR camera -- in fact, if you're only buying one lens, this is it. (Yes, it's heavier than a 35-80ish lens, but well worth the flexibility.)
Just about any modern SLR can be used today with good success. I would expect any Canon, Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, etc. modern SLR to produce mostly well-exposed shots with ease. (Based on my own, limited personal experience, I suggest any Minolta with 14-segment metering -- I've found that in my Minolta 600si is exceptionally dependable for producing accurately exposed images on prints and slides under all sorts of conditions with its 14-segment exposure metering. Similar models include the Minolta XTSi and the Minolta 9, both of which add the grip-activated autofocus autostart feature for even more rapid start of focusing.)
Use 400 speed film. Fuji NPH pro-film, Superia, or Kodak Portra VC. (VC for vibrant colors - we don't want the bride and groom to look like dead ghosts, and their faces will certainly be drained after all that worry and hard work getting to the altar!) You'll need the extra speed indoors and it's a solid choice vs. grainier 800 speed (avoid), and dog-slow 100 speed film (avoid unless your flash is amazing indoors). =but= if you are outdoors in bright sunlight, 100 speed film is a better, sharper choice -- just remember to use it up and switch to 400 speed film before you head for indoor shots. (If you must use faster film due to very low or poor lighting conditions, try the latest Fuji NPZ Professional 800 speed film.)
If you want to be nice, you'll show up with no intention of doing anything but take pictures for the entire wedding - before, during, and after. Expect to stay at least four hours, maybe six or eight. Yes, weddings do last forever, so you'd better plan ahead as to when potty breaks are appropriate and when you can take quick bites of food. Expect to take pictures while all the fun stuff is going on if you're really into it; when everyone's dancing, when everyone's doing activities, etc. They'll want to see that in their wedding photos, and unfortunately, you can't dance while taking good photos.
Dress comfy for the long haul. Just a nice shirt and pants will do -- avoid the black tie and suit unless you want to expire on a hot day; but if it's cold, go ahead. Comfy shoes are very important and you should pick something black sneakers rather than black ouchy dress shoes if you're doing the long haul. No one will care once they know you're the 'photographer' because you get lots of slack in telling everyone else 'smile'!
Feed lots of film. Trust me. It is far easier to go through 15-30 rolls of film for a wedding, =then= toss out ugly ones than to take only 3-7 rolls and have missed some. Yes, it will be expensive - I easily spent $300+ on the weddings I've done, but unanimously, the couples prefered having more than less. If you're not firing at least once per minute, you're missing something fun -- the kids running about, the babies, the tablepieces, the wedding cake, the rings and hands, the wedding dresses, the poses of the entire bride/groom/maids, the guests, the food, the couple shots, all that.
Also, if you lose a roll or two out of a set of 5, you'll shoot yourself. If you lose a roll out of 30, well, not much to worry about unless it's the wedding itself. Find a good developer that won't lose film nor print badly -- wedding pics can look horrible if sent to the wrong developer.
Bring extra batteries - at least two sets. Nothing like running a battery dry during shooting to end the day.
Have a backup camera. Even a cheap P/S camera will do. Never assume your setup won't break and you'll be glad you had a backup just in case. Also, you may need to suddenly take photos while changing film/batteries/etc. on your main camera during the wedding when a 'suprise' pops up (eg. I was changing film when one groom fell faint and nearly collapsed during one wedding I was taking; luckily, the backup camera was ready to go and I could catch all of this on film --- let the couple decide if they want to keep these memories, you're just there to capture the moments).
A backup camera is very handy during the wedding itself as well. You should start the wedding with both cameras fully loaded (or just the single one fully loaded), and plan on taking shots so you don't run out of film during an important moment during their wedding (ie. when they're exchanging rings!). If you must, rewind and reload earlier just before these important scenes so you can take them. They'll want the important moments like the first kiss and exchange of rings vs. the less important vows beforehand. If you can't get a backup, just make sure you ask someone else going to the wedding that if you're camera breaks, you'll be taking over their's.
Talk to the preacher, church, and bride and groom first so you know where you can and can't go during the wedding. Some places have off-limits you must adhere to, and you should know where they'll be standing so you can have a good shot at them. Make sure you know which way they'll face and go out! - nothing like being on the wrong side of the couple; you'll catch nothing but their backs.
Visit the place before the day of the wedding and take photos on SLIDE film with direct and bounce flash!!! You need to do this to see if your flash can fire far enough to hit the high ceiling and bounce back -- if not, try a soft diffuser on the flash head for direct lighting. Use SLIDE film so you can judge exactly how the flash is performing; and when you're not using flash, to see how accurate your camrea's exposure system is. Let's hope you won't need extra lighting setup as that's a pain in the butt -- if you do need it, get pro equipment rented, tape down all the cords! (don't want a tripping bride), and try not to turn it into a studio.
A good way to get shots but avoid all this is to take everyone outside just after the wedding (they have to walk out anyways, right?) and have everyone's picture taken (eg. bride, bride&groom, groom, groom & maids, bride & maids, dad & groom, dad & bride, etc. etc.) It's best to tell everyone well before the wedding starts so they don't walk away, and so everyone knows to be relaxed after the wedding for the sets of poses and pictures. Hopefully, it won't be raining.... Expect 1/2 hour to an hour of this for a medium sized wedding gathering.
Ask/tell the bride & groom you will follow them around all day -- they'll wish they had those shots when they're getting made up and dressed just before the wedding, and you'll need to be in that stuffy room with them to get all that -- It's much easier once they know you'll be tag-along-dog before hand so they won't even think for a moment as you're taking pictures of them, or asking them to briefly pose and smile.
(Oh, and DON'T use slide film on the day of the wedding unless you can be sure you will be taking daylit shots outdoors and will be spending the $$$$ to have them Type R or dye-sub printed later on; much cheaper to use negative film unless you want the extra details captured by 100 speed slide film for special purposes.)
Put everything and carry it in a nice bag.
Keep it with you at all times, esp. the exposed film!!! -- ie. only in the camera you are carrying or in your pockets and/or on your body somewhere in a carry bag.
Never, repeat, -=never=- let go of the exposed film no matter what! (This means they stay with you for trips to the bathroom, if you get run over, dogs get you, etc.!) Letting go of exposed film is akin to losing the wedding ring!!!! (and your life if your buddy isn't too happy hearing they won't have any wedding pics... ;) )
If you have to, buy a fanny pack to put all that film into to carry seperate of the equipment bag. There is nothing worse than having exposed film disappear or thrown away by accident. From beginning to end, your life will revole around keeping that film safe after you've taken good shots.
Learn to double-check the settings every now and then on your camera. You may accidentally dial in some adjustment that will make the photos come out yucky, so make sure you always know the camera is operating in the mode and settings you want.
...and don't be sick! avoid all causes and sources of colds, flus, etc. the day or so beforehand. If necessary, simply tell everyone you WILL NOT be seeing anyone at all the day or two before -- keep yourself isolated so you can't catch anything that'll konk you out.
Stay hydrated during the wedding - preferably just water unless you need a bit of sugar from a sports drink or cola to keep you awake. Try to avoid caffine in colas, teas and coffees - it makes your hands shake more easily when holding the camera. Avoid any wierd, unknown foods you have never tried - you don't want to barf at their wedding. On the same vein, avoid any food that appears to have been left out too long - you don't want to get food poisoning during the day, either. Thinking about it, maybe better just to bring a light snack bar or two as well, just in case you can't get to the crowded food bars.
They didn't ask you because you had a disposable camera -- they asked you because you have a good P&S or SLR camera and secretly, they want some awesome wedding shots but can't afford a pro. You can do a very good job as long as you prepare and are willing to go the extra mile on their special day -- they'll love you for it later, and there's nothing like having lots of special wedding photos after to cherish and enjoy.
...and remember, ALWAYS, take two or more shots of anything that's really special -- ie. first kiss, rings, group shots (someone will always close their eyes on the first shot), etc....
film is Cheap, weddings aren't and can't be repeated (unless you're Mrs. Liz Taylor)
After the wedding, take the film to a =reputable, professional photo lab= to have the prints properly developed and manually adjusted and printed for the best results. Taking prints to have them printed anywhere will usually force you to have them reprinted once again at additional cost. Having prints manually color corrected and adjusted before each print will cost you more than having them developed at a local 1 hour photo lab, so do ask the couple if they want to go with high quality prints at a higher cost, or cheaper 1 hour prints.
(But if you do know and have a really good, cheap local lab, then by all means consider using them to save money.)
But before sending them in for development!! - Find out approximately how many copies the couple want and are willing to pay you for AND can afford (remember, they were too cheap to get a professional photographer, so they many not have enough money after the wedding to pay for professional print processing) - remember! you're being a very nice friend by taking their pictures, not a bank by processing the dozens of rolls of film on your own funds (which will cost a couple hundred dollars, just to let you know).
Most good SLR cameras today are so accurate in their exposure that you'll be hard pressed to find a really poorly exposed shot - even point and shoot cameras fare rather well in this regard, too. You will find that the difference between crummy looking prints and good-to-great looking prints in most cases today are simply due to improper printing. A poor photo print will look dull, with off colors that'll make the gouls cry, whereas a good or great photo print will make do with the exisiting image, printing colors as accurate, bright, saturated, and colorful as possible.