Weddings and the hardcore photographer

There are two wedding-related curses for photographers.

First, we get asked by acquaintances to photograph their wedding (presumably at a discount) regardless of whether we actually possess the correct style and equipment to do weddings.

Katherine in the tower

Second, when we are at weddings, we don't actually enjoy them nearly as much as we would otherwise, because we're scared on their behalf for how good their photographer is. I was chatting with a friend about this and realized that it wasn't just me experiencing this.

See, a lot of us recognize the actual difficulty of a wedding. Weddings are supposed to be this shining moment that you'll remember for the rest of your life... which isn't even much of a new thing (Although paying so much money for one is....) Photographically, a wedding is a series of moments that pass in the blink of an eye that all must appear in the album. And the problem is that, even if you have somebody working for free, if they don't capture all of these moments, you will find yourself unhappy with them.

And it ends up that you can't just have Canon or Nikon's latest digital SLR to shoot a wedding. You need two, because you can't reschedule a wedding for after you get your only camera fixed. And you need extra gear that purely recreational folks don't need to have so that you are guaranteed to get the shot. Things like faster lenses for low light and flashes and monopods and stuff. And you need a bunch of spare batteries, so there's no possible way you'll use them all up.

You also need impeccable technique. You could be grabbing some much needed food but when the father/daughter dance starts, you need to be there. You could be pissed at the world, but you have to be professional. You could think that the bride is hideous, but you'd better make her look hot.

Wedding photographers are generally a testy bunch. They have to spend a bunch of time developing their technique. They spend a bunch of money on gear. And they make their living in chunks. They need to make the time to sit and chat with you about what you want for a long time where it's very likely that you won't go with them after all. This breeds attitude.

The main fear they've got right now is that everybody has a digital SLR and a printer. So, unlike in the film days, one of the guests COULD show up, shoot the wedding, and present the couple with their own album. Likewise, the couple want to get a disk with pictures on it, which means that the photographer will not make nearly as much money on prints as they used to. And they see other wedding photographers out there who are doing a fairly crappy job with no backup hardware, marginal technique, and good marketing and worry that they'll be squeezed out.

Katherine and the flowers

I sympathize with the wedding photographer's position. So if I bring a camera to a wedding, I'm primarily there to take safety shots of some of the important moments (in case the photographer takes the money and runs... which happens sometimes) and shots that the photographer isn't likely to get anyway and to overall be visibly non-threatening, so they won't have an upset photographer. And sometimes, I also tend to bring enough gear that I could photograph the wedding in an emergency, just in case the photographer doesn't show up or something.

This brings us to my friends Mike and Angela's wedding. I've known Mike since college. He stood at my wedding, so I was standing at his (which meant that I left my digital in the pew for my wife to use). They hired a woman with a good portfolio and she came with appropriate amounts of backup gear.

Of course, the funny part is that when they got the shots, it's clear that she blew the exposure on a lot of the outdoor shots because there were clouds intermittently blocking the sun. It also turns out that her second photographer, who was her son, not a professional, had a better hit rate because he just left the camera in auto and was shooting. I was mostly surprised that she'd have a bunch of flashes and not try to use them off-camera for the formal shots, given how stunningly beautiful good strobist lighting can be.

The other problem is that she seems to have missed one or two of the standard shots. There's an unwritten list of the most important shots that one must acquire at any formal wedding shoot. It's unwritten because there are a lot of subtle rules like what to take when there's divorce, black sheep in the family, more generations than usual, etc. A good wedding photographer will be able to rearrange the list to get everybody through as quickly as possible and get all of the correct shots. So she got the bride's-side-of-the-family shot and the groom's-side-of-the-family shot, but she didn't get the bride-and-groom-with-groom's-family and bride-and-groom-with-bride's-family shots.

The problem there is that she realized they had time for formal shots, so they dashed out and took some at a nearby photogenic spot for them. Were she to have proceeded as planned, this wouldn't have come up.

I'm mostly happy that I got a few magical shots out of the deal. Mike and Angela met while swing dancing, so they had some memorable bits in their first dance:

Mike and Angela dancing

And, while everybody in the family was shutterbugging, I was helping with little details. I noticed that there was a perfect moment of lighting, so I moved Angela into it and grabbed basically one shot before the wedding:

The blushing bride

I'm just not the sort of person who likes doing weddings. I know this. On one hand, that's kind of too bad, because at wedding photographer rates, it's a good way to make gear pay for itself. But, on the other hand, it does spare me the trouble of trying to find clientele and develop technique and buy special-purpose equipment to do something that I realize much later I really hate doing.

My personal wedding curse? Well, I have an eye for making women look attractive. I'm not nearly as good as making men attractive. So it's pretty much guaranteed that I will get one really good picture of the bride. It's also pretty much guarantee that, at least to my eyes, I will like my picture of the groom far less.

Posted by Katherine :
If I had it to do again, I would hire a professional photographer. The shots that our photographer took were great, but in my opinion, so many of the classic ones are missing and I feel their absence. There are no photos of my mother and I getting ready. There are no photos of my sister and I alone. A lot of the "staged" pictures aren't there and I miss them. And there are no pictures of my husband, myself, and both our families or a giant one of all the guests. A lot of the "classic" photos are absent.

Some of the best pictures and the most terrific photographed memories came from our friends, yourself included.

The other problem with wedding photographers is that folks have moved from wanting a posed-formal style to a photojournalistic style. The problem is, to be a photojournalist, you need to be prepared to shove your way into whatever spot you can to get new and innovative angles, which can only go so far before you get kicked out of a church for shoving the minister aside. This requires ability to apologize and defuse angry people.

I've been told that a Quinceañera is even harder to photograph than a wedding, generally because they are longer than weddings but with the same need to get everything right.

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