I’ve been a full-time wedding photographer for something like five years now. It’s an incredibly rewarding profession which affords me time to be my own boss, have a creative outlet, spend the time I want with the family and effectively control my own destiny.
When I started out all those years ago, I spent a lot of time researching the industry, a style, equipment, lighting, bags, poses, Gary Fong domes – you name it, I researched it. I found plenty of websites that proffered to offer the “definitive list of what you need to be a wedding photographer”, but I found most of them misleading, if not certainly wide of the mark of what I really ended up needing.
And so, I thought it would be interesting to write about the aspects of a wedding that I think are key, starting from client acquisition and having the right equipment, right the way through shooting the wedding and editing the results.
For those people considering entering the industry it may be useful get an understanding of quite what is involved, and the potential outlays needed. For example, a core part of my marketing is my website. This has costs, of course, ranging from hosting and domain name registrations to image gallery implementations. The “business” of wedding photography is just that: business. I estimate 95% of my time is spent on the business, not actually shooting — and that’s worth bearing in mind.
In terms of essential equipment that I use on a daily basis I have:
- Two PCs (one high-end for editing)
- Two high-end monitors (I use two NEC Multisync IPS LED 23” displays)
- Calibration tools (I use a DataColor Spyder 4 Elite)
- An office printer (I use a Canon Pixma MG6250) which allows for wireless printing and printing direct to DVDs
- For my wall prints and show items in the studio that are A3+ or smaller I have a Canon Pixma Pro 10 printer. This machine produces absolutely amazing prints, especially when printing on to Hahnemühle fine art paper. Black and whites especially are simply gorgeous.
- I’m also a recent convert to the digital pen and tablet. I chose the Wacom Intuos5 Medium and I now find it invaluable when editing in Photoshop and Capture One.
- Of course, I also have a tablet PC, a smartphone and a landline phone to the studio.
So that’s just the office — what about the wedding? Well, I’m a documentary wedding photographer which means I don’t need too much in the way of equipment on the wedding day itself. I don’t use off camera flash, for example, so I can travel relatively light. My typical camera bag these days will include the following three cameras:
- A Fujifilm X-Pro1 armed with the three original prime lenses that were released with it (18mm f/2 R, 35mm f/1.4 R and 60mm f/2.4 R)
- A Fujifilm X100S which at the moment is probably my favourite camera to use at a wedding
- A Canon EOS 5D Mark III which I use for certain parts of the wedding day. When I do use it, it’s always with the EF 35mm f/1.4L lens.
I also have four reserve batteries for the Fuji cameras and a spare battery for the EOS 5D Mark III. In terms of lighting I now have a Fuji EF-42 flashgun which can be used on the X100S. I also keep a Canon Speedlite 580II EX flash in the car along with a couple of spare lenses, memory cards, lens wipes etc.
I don’t think I know any working professionals who haven’t had a camera or lens go down on them at some stage (it’s happened to me when the mirror fell out of my old EOS 5D Mark 1). Backup equipment is imperative in my opinion; as a reserve I carry my older Fuji X100 as well as my older Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Neither of these gets any use these days, but I know they are there if required.
I also carry spare lenses. I tend not to shoot anything longer than 85mm but I do keep a 135mm lens in the car in case I find myself at a very large church. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Fuji 60mm or 85mm lenses haven't been long enough but its important to be able to cater for every eventuality.
I tend to just carry the gear around when shooting the actual wedding but, like all wedding photographers, I’ve been through a plethora of bags: big, small, cool, trendy and rubbish. At the moment, I’m favouring the very first bag I ever bought which is a Domke F-1X. I've taken all the separators out and I can just throw everything in there. The bag stays in the car, or comes with me into the venue if it’s a long way from where the car needs to be parked.
The big day
Each and every wedding is very different, but by and large, they conform to the same template. Before each wedding I get quite nervous but I always run through a mental checklist in my head of photographs that I shouldn’t forget to take.
Now, I'm a documentary photographer, so there is no posing or staging of images, there is no hanging the dress up to get shots, or placing the shoes in window light (nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just my stylistic choice not to do it). However documentary you are, clients — brides especially — will still expect a certain amount of “key” images in the final pictorial collection. These images are never staged or contrived for me, but I’m always on my toes and aware of capturing them when the time comes.
In my mind before each wedding I’m conscious of:
- Either shooting the bride arriving at the church, or the groom at the front of the church waiting
- The walk down the aisle (either from the front or back)
- The “giving away” of the bride, if it happens
- The exchange of the rings
- The first kiss
- The register signing (naturally captured, and only if it’s allowed)
- The recessional
After that, I like to concentrate on the hugging and congratulations outside the ceremony room or church. Thereafter, I make a note to get some detail shots, especially of the cake – usually this is done with some context (such as the cake being decorated, or guests taking photographs of it). I also always make sure I get shots of each venue which, although not always photographed at the beginning, are usually used as scene setting images to start the story.
After the event
Once the wedding is over, I will initially back the cards up at home to a drive and upload a set of JPEGs to the cloud (I run a tight ship when it comes to backups and almost everything important is stored in the cloud these days). Raw files and archives are stored on a plethora of external hard drives. I tend to back up to a drive until it’s full, before I archive it. Drives are so cheap these days that it makes little sense in recycling them; I now purchase drives in 4TB capacity.
Once I'm back in the studio, I will edit the images using a combination of Camera Bits Photo Mechanic for image selection and rejection, and Adobe Lightroom 5 for exposure correction, white balance, tone curve adjustments etc. Any fine editing, or black and white conversions, are done in Capture One Pro 7. Albums, DVDs and other tangible products are all delivered at the end of the process. Then it's time to blog and archive the files.
Each wedding is a big old job, with a lot of investment in time and gear required. On top of the physical investments there is insurance, backup gear, dry cleaning, sat-nav traffic subscriptions, office rent and rates, and salary and tax too. For those considering entering the industry, or any amateur wedding photographers thinking of making the step into professionalism, it’s a great place to be — just make sure you are well prepared. From the office equipment, wedding day gear through to the “must have shots”, insurance and back up gear, it all adds up to experience.
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