Save the Date…
“How would you like to participate in the wedding?” This question was posed by the mother of the bride. Maybe because it was news to me that I was participating in the wedding and because I couldn’t think of anything else, I said, “I’ll be the photographer.” My proposal was instantly accepted. After all, I have a good camera and a few lenses. It all made sense. When you take good pictures, people compliment you with, “You must have a really good camera!”
Months went by. The “Save the Date” reminder arrived and was placed on our refrigerator door. I attended two weddings as an invited guest and keenly observed the professional wedding photographers. Then, after the passing of many more months, the formal invitation arrived. It was time to start getting ready for my participation. How hard could it be, just walking around taking pictures with a good camera?
YouTubing, Lenses and Discovering There’s An App for That…
After finding some YouTube videos on wedding photography I knew the answer. Wedding photography is very high-end because it combines several types of photography into one assignment: macro (extreme closeup shots of objects in sharp focus), portrait, candid, documentary and probably low light. There are no rain dates and timeframes are compressed. And in my case there was one other thing: This was for family and if I screwed it up there would be no sanctuary. Ever.
First thought: “This is great. I can justify buying a couple of new lenses and other stuff!” An online session with B&H Photo in New York City promptly followed.
Second thought: “Oh no! I will have to pose people!!” Macro photography wasn’t intimidating and I had plenty of experience with candid and documentary photography. But as a primarily sports, landscape and candid amateur photographer, posing people was anathema. I was actually resistant to posing people. For me, it was like breaking the rules.
I decided I would search online for good bride and groom poses and print them as thumbnail shots on a few pages that I could carry in my pocket. This would be time-consuming. But wait! I have an iPhone and there is an app for that! No kidding. It was $4.99 and I would be able to whip out my iPhone and show the bride and groom: “Okay, now we’re going to do this one.” Perfect. Also, I would be able to justify several outings to coffee shops to select and study bride and groom poses from the app in Ethiopian Yirgacheffe caffeinated coffee bliss. Really perfect.
The new lenses and other stuff arrived and I rehearsed how I would carry two cameras, additional lenses, spare batteries and miscellaneous other necessities around at the wedding. After nearly strangling myself with straps looped around my neck, it became clear that trade-offs would be necessary. If I used this, I would have to do without that. These were critical decisions. I made them.
Semi-Nude Females and A Bayonet Charge…
On the day of the wedding I arrived with the caterers and the florist at 2PM to take a few detail shots of the things that lots of people put a lot of work into, but that the bride and groom are too busy to notice on their special day.
The Art of the Wedding Table
I took macro shots of bottles of wine, goblets of colorful candies and rows of cupcakes. I took wide angle shots of artfully arranged food-laden tables.
At 3:45 I attempted and was denied entry to the bridal dressing room by a number of goodnatured but semi-nude females. Eventually I was allowed in and took the “getting ready”pictures.
The Bride Being Laced In
At this point I was actually dividing my time between the bride getting ready and the groom getting ready in another room. Knowing where to be at any given time required total attention, because “it” was happening simultaneously.
While I was taking the “getting ready” shots the ceremony location was changed. It would now be outdoors as planned, but under a pavilion. Rain was threatening. Luckily, the rain held off until well after the ceremony, but the beautiful filtered light from the overcast I thought I’d have for the ceremony was gone. The ceremony would be in the shade under the pavilion roof and the surrounding landscape background would be bright. If I didn’t do things correctly to compensate for this, all my photos of the ceremony would be underexposed.
The ceremony began on time at 5PM. The ceremony is candid and documentary photography like the “getting ready” shots, but now there is no cheating by asking anybody to “do that again.”
A major challenge here is finding the best places to stand to get the needed shots. There was no center aisle, so I was circling around the sides and rear of the guests. People and objects get in the way. Someone tilting their head just a little bit one way or another can block the shot. It all worked out.
At least I wasn’t forced to stand at the back of a large dark cathedral and use a telephoto lens.
Formal Portrait of Bride and Groom
When the ceremony ended at 5:20, right on schedule, the part of the day I was most worried about began. In the 40 minutes between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of dinner, I took all the group photographs of the wedding party and family members, then the formal bride and groom portraits. At most I had 20 minutes alone with the bride and groom, in which we had to move from backdrop to backdrop and take the photos. I can see why even professional wedding photographers think, “If only I had more time.” There are so many wonderful poses and so little time. You have to be satisfied with what you can get and they better be right. Again, it all worked out.
At 6PM the bride and groom were taken away from me and hustled off to dinner and cake cutting. I followed. The ceilings in the house were white, so I was able to bounce flash off of them and get some beautiful shots.
Bride and Groom Cut the Wedding Cake
At some point after the cake cutting, everybody started to drift out to the pavilion, which had been transformed into a dance floor. Toasts were made and the bride and groom danced together for the first time as a married couple. After the toasts the serious celebrating began. I stayed to the end and probably took many more photos of the happy, celebrating people than a professional photographer would have. At some point I ran out of batteries for flash, so I changed to a very wide aperture lens and continued taking pictures without flash using available light, which included the DJ’s green and red disco-style lights.
Dancing at the Reception
This is the photographic equivalent of making a bayonet charge when you run out of ammunition. Some of these natural light photography pictures have a unique artistic appearance. Too bad it was all an accident!
A Special Aspect…
I suppose I should tell you that there was a special aspect to my one and possibly only stint as a wedding photographer. The bride’s father was a personal friend.
My friend Bill (l.) standing with me and the canoe we used to explore the St. Croix River in Minnesota back in the 70s. One night the river rose and we had to chase the canoe downstream to retrieve it. Bill, an ex-Marine officer, knocked on a total stranger's door while it was still dark and asked if we could borrow his truck. He said yes! Bill died not long after this photo was taken.
He died seven years ago, but he was very much present at the wedding in the minds of those who knew him. As someone wrote to me later, “You knew the meaning behind every shot you took.” This is true and I think it guided my focus. It was the one advantage I had over a professional.
And it’s the main reason why I agreed to be the App Sustained Wedding Photographer.