Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to photograph a wedding - Tips for professional photographers or anyone thinking about trying this!

This blog is written for anyone who photographs weddings professionally or is thinking about doing so, but it is also beneficial for future newlyweds to truly understand the planning, thought processes, coordination, work, skill and endurance that we go through to get the images. I decided to write this blog post not to showcase the photos from this weekend (which I love doing as well) but to explain to all of you the process of capturing this momentous day for people.

I am writing this blog post on Tuesday, after a really long weekend of photographing a wedding, and I am still feeling the exhaustion from the long days. Photographing a wedding is an all encompassing event and, if done correctly, will leave you drained mentally and physically.

Here are some of the challenges / processes we encountered this weekend:

* Constantly changing weather and light
* Covering different situations happening at the same time
* Determining a plan for two photographers to cover as much as possible
* Keeping calm even in stressful situations
* Finding good locations for portraits (on the fly and scouting ahead)
* Keeping a good balance of posed vs. candid shots
* Being aware of everything around us and reacting to unexpected moments
* Pushing ourselves to find creative shots
* Keeping batteries charged and cards backed up
* Working around other vendors
* Keeping it fun
* Time management / Pacing ourselves
* Editing
* Delivering images quickly

My goal for this blog post is to try and educate you photographers, photo enthusiasts and even potential wedding clients about what goes into capturing a wedding from morning until late night. Some people think that we walk around and just hit a button on our camera, but trust me, that is not the case. Oh, and having a good camera does not guarantee good images either! You have to know how to control the camera and flashes, and work in any environment, inside or out. I think I changed camera and flash settings about 900 times on Friday and Saturday.

Ok, let me take you though the process...

On Thursday evening I cleaned the sensors of each of my cameras and made sure that each of my lenses were cleaned as well. I charged all of my camera batteries (total of 8) and charged 8 sets of my Powerex AA batteries.

Here is what I brought with me to the wedding and used:

* Canon 1D X Mark II
* Canon 5D Mark IV
* Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II lens
* Canon 24-70mm II lens
* Canon 16-35mm III lens
* Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens
* Canon 600EX-RT flash units (5)
* Manfrotto light stand
* Thinktank Airport Security Rolling Bag
* Thinktank Streetwalker HardDrive backpack
* Powerex AA batteries (8 sets) and Powerex charger
* MacBook Pro 15"
* Lexar 1066x CF cards (4) and Lexar 3500x CFast cards (4)
* Lexar CFast and CF readers
* Blackrapid straps with Acratech Swift Clamps (2)

Friday morning, I packed everything into my car and drove to the Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay. My goal was to check in and get all my gear into the room, leaving me at least an hour to scout the area for good portrait shots. I walked the entire grounds and even introduced myself to the coordinators, florists and other staff. Do not under estimate this part of the process. The coordinators can make a HUGE difference to your outcome. I met one woman who was absolutely amazing and helped me get into shooting locations that others don't usually have access to. She is my new best friend!

The rehearsal was on Friday afternoon at 4pm, but I had talked to the bride and groom about capturing some portraits in advance of the rehearsal. Why did I suggest this? Two reasons: First, I wanted to get some nice photos of them before all the stress started, and secondly it gets them "warmed up" being in front of the camera. It gives us a chance to have some fun together and when they see the back of the camera, they know that I am making them look their best. Now they trust me and they relax a little more.

Haley looked so beautiful, and I was in photographer heaven taking her portraits. You will notice that we had overcast skies, which is not uncommon in the area. This allowed me to get nice even lighting on my subjects, with no harsh shadows on their faces.  I was hoping for similar weather the next day for the weather, and assumed that this would be the case. (I was wrong, and we will get to that in a little bit.)

Being there for the rehearsal is very important. It allows me to sum up the area and determine the best shooting locations. I shoot images of the rehearsal, partly for the client and partly for me to practice and determine camera settings. At this point, I am determining best ISO, aperture, shutter speeds and whether or not I need to use a flash.

I moved around a lot to determine good shooting locations and compositions. I also had fun joking around with all the wedding attendees. I am a total ham when I shoot, and try to become part of the party as much as I can (without standing out).

When scouting the property earlier in the day, I saw this brick bridge and remembered shooting here once before (during a Bat Mitzvah at the same location.) The light was perfect here and, knowing that we would all be walking over this bridge after the rehearsal, I made a mental note to shoot portraits here on our way to the rehearsal dinner. For these portraits, I used a Canon 600EX-RT flash on my Canon 1D X Mark II and had it turned down one stop. I want to add a little light to the subjects, to lighten any shadows under the eyes and also add some catch light in their eyes.

When I take photos are happy couples and in these amazing locations, I sometimes wonder how I get paid to do this.

Most times I shoot weddings, my wife Annette, is there to assist me. She is great at gathering and posing people. But in between those posed shots, you should be ready to capture photos, because you can get great unscripted moments like this.

While everyone was outside having cocktails, I went inside the Ritz Carlton Golf Club and took some detail shots of the beautiful set up.

I then went outside and photographed the cocktail hour. I stayed for part of the rehearsal dinner, but once people started eating I made my exit. From past experience, I find that there are not many good photos when people have their mouths full. It was also 8pm and I thought it would be nice to grab a quick bite with my wife on terrace overlooking the ocean. I did go back over to the reception at 9:30 to get a couple more fun photos of people interacting.

After all this, I went back to the hotel room and edited 10 of my favorite photos to send to the bride and groom. I love doing this to surprise them with the immediacy, and to show them how great they look in photos. Many times, they will post these to social media, which is awesome for them, but also good for me since it has my logo on every photo.

Then on Saturday, it was the big day.

My second photographer, Evan Chung, arrived at the hotel around 10:30am. He is always on time or a little early, which is a great thing! One less thing for me to worry about. And he is one of the nicest guys and I love working with him. Not only is he a very good photographer, but we have a fun time working together. When you spend an entire day working together, this helps a ton. The first thing we did was to synchronize the clocks on all of our cameras. Then the three of us made our way to meet up with all the girls as they started their prep. We both took photos of the girls getting their makeup and hair done.

Evan took this photo of me getting up high to get a shot of the bride through the mirror on the wall.

My wife collected the rings and bouquets and started preparing those items for detail shots.

We also got detail shots of the dress. As we were taking these photos, Haley told us that the guys were down at the beach playing Spikeball.

I sent Evan off to the beach to get some shots of them playing, while I stayed back with the bride and bridesmaids.  This is the advantage of having a competent second shooter. I knew that he would do a great job covering the guys at the beach, having lunch and getting dressed, while I stayed with the bride and her crew.

It is interesting to see all the images from the day. Since I always have the images in chronological order, I see exactly what Evan was shooting when I was in a different location. There might be 3 images of the girls having their makeup done and then two images of the guys playing at the beach, and then back to images of the girls and so on. And the images in the client gallery show this way too. So even the client sees that we are working in different locations as a team.

I was having fun getting shots of the bridesmaids as they passed the time.

And Evan did not disappoint, as he captured great shots of Neil and the guys getting ready.

As I was photographing the girls getting ready, my wife and I were watching the weather changing outside. All the fog was burning off and we had clear skies. Not knowing how long this would hold, we both agreed that I should head out and get a shot of the Ritz while the weather was clear. Since Annette designs all the albums, she likes having scenic shots like this for two page spreads. And yes, as photographers, we should all be thinking about how we are going to tell the story of the day in an album.

After getting my scenic shot, I high-tailed it back to the bridal suite where the bride was getting ready to put on her dress. Once the dress was on, we took photos of her mother and brides maids helping her with the finishing touches.

I saw Jessie (the video guy) and Evan in the background and told them to smile for this shot. Just having fun - but I like it.

And Evan took a shot of me photographing the bride. Then Evan took off to photograph the men getting ready.

I asked Haley to come over by one of the windows to get some window-light shots of her and her mother and her with each bridesmaid.

I took some portraits of her facing me and then asked her to look out the window for this profile shot. I just love the window light on her face. I was married 26 years ago, and our photographer was not very good. But she did get one excellent shot of my wife at the window (similar to this) and it is still one of my favorite photos of Annette! So I guess this photo has special meaning to me.

Just before her father came in for the "first look" I saw this old telescope by one of the windows and had Haley come over for another fun shot.

After dad and the bridesmaids had all seen Haley in her dress, a friend of theirs brought up a gift from Neil. There were three cards (which made them all cry) and an ice chest. Now...I had now idea what was in the ice chest, but when she opened it, they all bust out laughing. It was full of Diet Coke's with "Haley and Neil" on the labels. Gotta love that! I asked Haley to hold it out towards me, quickly changed the settings of the camera to an aperture of f/4.5 and shot this with the label in focus and them slightly softer. (Photographer's note: It is situations like this where you have to know the settings of your camera inside and out. There is no time to fumble with dials and buttons here.)

It was now closing in on 4pm and getting close to the 5pm wedding start time. I was really concerned because the sun was really bright and we could not go to any location with shade. So...we had to shoot this large group in full sun. Not an easy task! I found this spot along the edge of the cliff and had them face away from the sun. I then used two Canon 600 EX-RT flashes (my wife standing to my left and holding one pointing to the people on the right, and one on my camera angled towards the left.) The flashes were basically criss-crossing each other, and powered up to fill each of my subjects with light.

At one point, the girls were walking away and the video guy asked them to stop and raise their bouquets. I quickly grabbed this shot, but was bummed that, at that very moment, some golfers showed up and parked their cart right in the shot.

With the help of Adobe Photoshop, I took on the challenge of removing all the distractions. It took a while, but definitely makes the photo stronger!

Then everyone went back inside for tequila shots (the perfect way to relax before a wedding)! I saw the reflection in the table and asked all the girls to come forward for this photo. If you follow my photography and blog, you know that I strive to find creative and different photos with every shoot I am on. This is one of those shots.

It was 5pm, and after shooting for the last 6 1/2 hours, it was time for the wedding to start. I ran up to where the guys were positioned to enter, and took photos of each of them coming down the back hill into the main wedding area.

Each of them give me a thumbs up as they entered.

As soon as the guys were in position, I quickly ran to the center aisle to get photos of the girls coming in. Evan and I had already made a plan on who was going to stand where, and that was my spot. At this moment there are two key photos. One of the bride entering, and the other is the groom's reaction to the bride. I was tasked with this shot while Evan was keying in on Neil.

For the wedding service, I mostly stayed in the center aisle while Evan roamed. The lighting situation was crazy! Even though the service was only about 20 minutes, we had harsh sunlight, cloud cover, muted sun and everything in between. I decided to shoot with my flash on, so that Haley and Neil would not be silhouetted. For this shot, I was at ISO 100, f/9, 1/.250 sec and the flash was cranked up to +2.7 TTL.

As the newlyweds walked out, I was walking backwards at the same pace grabbing shots of them.

As is customary, once the wedding is over, the wedding party comes back for photos. I did not want to do the photos at the wedding site, because at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, you have this amazing background. Like before, I turned my subjects away from the sun and used the fully powered flash to light them.

This was one of the toughest shots, trying to keep all 24 people out of direct sunlight and light them with two Canon 600EX-RT flash units, but we did it!

And yeah, we had some more fun!

The Ritz Carlton had a golf cart ready for us, and as soon as we had taken our group shots, we were driven down to the beach.

Weeks before the wedding, Haley told me that she wanted a photo on the beach, and so this had been arranged.  The clear day made for a beautiful backdrop, but also meant that I would have to deal with harsh sunlight. We only had a couple of minutes to shoot in this location and I was on my own. Evan was back at the wedding site shooting the cocktail hour and the golf cart only had room for the bride, groom, the video guy, driver and me. So I was going solo here. I metered for the background and cranked up the power on the flash once again. To avoid direct sunlight on Haley's face, I had Neil lean in close to his new bride. I really liked the pose and he was acting as a very happy and good looking shade. Bam - I got the shot!

I saw that the sun was getting low on the horizon and decided to try and do a starburst shot between them. I moved down low and crouched to a position where the sun was just right and shot this. (Photographer's note: If you shoot directly into the sun, where the sun is just barely peaking out from behind your subject or an object, and lower your aperture to something like f/14 or smaller, you will get this starburst effect. It takes some practice but yields some cool results.)

As I mentioned, while I was shooting portraits of the newlyweds, Evan was capturing photos of the cocktail party. Once he felt that he had that covered, he was smart enough to go inside and get detail shots of the room before everyone came in. This was also planned by Evan and I well in advance.

You have to get a nice shot of the wedding cake, and Evan did!

Meanwhile, once we were done on the beach, my new friend at the Gold Club arranged for us to get some photos on the 18th hole.

As you probably guessed, I turned their backs to the sun, helped lay out Haley's dress, and took this shot. As you can see from the original un-retouched shot, I was not able to light them as much as I wanted.  I also had a little spill on sunlight on Neil's face.

Although I have not finished retouching this image yet, you can see the progress I am making. I have lightened them and the foreground significantly, removed the sunlight from Neil's face, added grass between Neil's legs (since the white dress looked funny there) and removed some small distractions.

This brings up another point, I don't deliver ANY images to a client without retouching them. I want my clients to have the best image possible, regardless of whether it needs a small amount of work, or a lot. If you are planning on photographing weddings professionally, you need to learn to retouch your photos or pay someone who can do it for you. In my opinion, even great photos still need a little bit of work to make them client ready.

I wanted to get a shot with the Ritz Carlton in the background, but this meant that I would have a whole lot of sun in the couple's faces. So I used the same pose form the beach to shade each other's faces.

And then I decided that I would take the shot even with the harsh sunlight. For this shot, I switched from the Canon 24-70mm to the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I shot this at an aperture of f/5.6 so that my subjects would be perfectly in focus and the building would be soft but still recognizable. Haley's father was one of the project leads in building the Ritz Carlton and so having the building in the background means more to their family than just a wedding venue.

Now it was close to 7pm and time for them (and me) to get to the party.

The couple was ready for their grand entrance. I told Evan that I would go in close and move backwards following them out into the room. I also notified the video guy to make sure this was ok with him as well. Hey - we all act as one big team at these events. And that includes the DJ, the band, the florist, the coordinator. Everyone! It is really important to be respectful of all the others, as they have a job to do as well.

The funny thing is...right as they were entering the room, one of the waiters went to walk in between me and the couple and I said loudly "No. No. No."  I don't know if he misunderstood what was happening, but he went to cross again and I had to yell "No!" again. The music was loud, so nobody else heard, but I was worried that I would miss the shot.  I was on the edge of being rude since I said it so forcefully, but he had no idea that the grand entrance was starting. It was his mistake, but I still went over to him later and apologized for the way I barked at him. He admitted that it was his mistake, but I still felt bad. So even me, as cool, calm and collected as I am when I shoot, can submit to the pressures of shooting a wedding.

After the grand entrance, the newlyweds came in and went straight to the champagne tower. I took many shots when they were there and want to show you two comparison images. The one above has no flash added (relying strictly on the venue lighting), and the one below is one that I took with my on-camera flash with a MagMod MagSphere diffuser.

I really preferred the images without flash and shot the remainder of these shots without using the Canon 600EX-RT. Why? If you look at the background, it does nothing to help the image. If anything, it detracts from my bride and groom. Better to have the high contrast and all attention on them.

Once I had numerous wide photos of them, I zoomed in with the Canon 70-200mm lens to get some different looks.

I wish I could tell you that I saw this cool reflection when taking this photo, but this was a happy accident. And they do happen!

 When retouching this photo, I noticed that Haley's reflection is perfect in the top glass. so I made two crops of this image - the original wide shot and a tighter crop to show more of the reflection.

When shooting events, there are certain photos that HAVE to be captured. During the wedding, there are moments like the ring exchange and the first kiss, and during the reception there are the speeches, the first dance, cake cutting and so forth. This photo shows the groom's brother (best man) giving his speech. I shot some photos straight on, but also moved to get other more interesting angles. I am usually careful to try and not block the view of the guests, but sometimes you have to block them for a couple of seconds.

To give a completely different perspective of the speech, I moved behind the head table and focused on Neal as he listened to his brother. It tells a totally different story than the previous image.

Oh, and I should mention my battery issue. Remember at the beginning of this blog post I told you how I charged 8 sets of Powerex AA batteries? Well that was not going to do the trick for this wedding. Due to the fact that I was pushing the flash units to maximum power during all of my outside shooting (before, during and after the ceremony), I was draining the batteries like never before. My wife was kind enough to be running the sets back and forth to the charger through the first part of the evening. Thanks Annette!

Earlier in the evening, and before the reception started, I told Evan my plan for the first dance. I asked him to shoot conservatively, while I would be taking the more risky approach. For the first dance, I used my Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art lens and shot all the images at f/1.4. This is a VERY narrow depth of field and risky for any dance where the people are moving at any speed faster than a slow dance. I might only get 20% of my images sharp, but when I do get it, it allows me to capture the couple in focus and have everything else soft in the background. And that is exactly what we did. The photo above was one of mine at f/1.4 and the one below is Evan's at f/5.6. It is comforting for me to know that if my risk did not work, Evan had my back. Good planning does pay off!

I wear a FitBit Blaze watch and keep track of steps every day. Suffice it to say that I like to move around a lot. And this is true when I am shooting too. I am never afraid to jump up on the stage to get photos. In this case, I decided to go behind the band to capture a photo of the dancers and the musicians. Again, something different but effective.

This is a shot I took from the front of the stage. I used back button focus to lock focus on the bride, and then lifted my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 16-35mm lens up high over my head for a Hail Mary shot.

Lighting. Did I mention how important lighting is to photography? Whenever I photograph indoor parties like this, I use multiple flash units. I mount one Canon 600EX-RT flash on a Manfrotto light stand and point that down towards the dance floor (bare - with no diffuser), and have the other flash units on the hot shoe of each camera. You can see my remote light in the background of this shot. Having the second light source makes for much more dramatic party photos!

For the bouquet toss, I stood dead center on the stage so that I could get both Haley and the girls behind her visible in the photo.

I love the reactions in this photo. They say that we capture photos to tell a story. Well...I think this one tells you how much fun they were having.

It was after 11pm and all the key shots were taken. I met up with Evan to get his cards and quickly downloaded them to my MacBook Pro. I thanked him for all his hard work and sent him home. I could take it from here.

I think that playing ice hockey helps my photography. At which point you are thinking I must be a little crazy. OK, guilty as charged. But in ice hockey they say that you have to keep your head on a swivel and know where everyone is on the ice. And the same is true for being an event photographer. You need to be seeing what is happening around you and aware of the surroundings. I was shooting somewhere in the room when I saw, from the corner of my eye, Haley up on stage. I immediately ran to the stage area to get this shot. These moments happen fast and it is our job to get them.

This was one of my last photos of the day. It was taken just before 1am on Sunday morning. I like to end my day with a "closing shot", in this case of my bride and groom. Since they were on different areas of the dance floor, I gathered them together. I did not tell them what to do, I just wanted one last closing shot of the two of them. They started dancing and playing around and I captured this photo. With that, I packed up my gear and called it one really long and amazing day.

Oh, but I was not done yet. I went straight upstairs and downloaded all of my images to my computer and then edited 5 of my favorites from the wedding and reception to email to the bride and groom. I think I went to bed around 2:30am. I know they were up late because Haley posted one of those photos to her Instagram account after I was asleep.

In total, I took 4223 images between Friday and Saturday and Evan took 3107 on Saturday for a total of 7330. Since I always post images to the client's gallery on the following day, I spent all day Sunday going through the 7330 images in Photo Mechanic to find the best ones and posted their gallery of 1700 images by 9:45 Sunday night. This is later than usual for me, but I don't usually have that many images to go through!

Well, there you have it. I hope that you learned something in this blog. I think this is one of the most thorough blog posts I have ever written. Heck, I literally spent the entire day today writing this, so I guess this wedding was a 4 day affair for me.

The most important thing is this: These people are trusting you to capture one of the biggest and most memorable days in their life. It is a huge responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. The following day, the decor is gone and the room is empty again, the cake has been eaten, the dress will be packed up. One of the only pieces that remains is the photos. We have to make them great!

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DanH84 said...

Excellent blog post, Jeff!

Greg B. said...


Thanks for posting this blog. You amaze me at the details you put in your blogs. I feel like I'm standing there next to you. I really appreciate you taking the time to post this (and your other blogs). This is great stuff for photographers and clients. This really helps me to understand how you get the great shots that you do. Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to post this.

Greg Brennfleck
Anchorage Alaska

Don said...

Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language. Walt Disney

Thank you Jeff to you and your team for capturing our magical day with grace and love. Your work will be a treasured memory for our family for generations. You are still bringing tears to the eyes of the father of the bride five days after the wedding. Cheers, my Friend. Don

Arnau said...

Really awesome Jeff. Really a great lesson that makes you realize how important is to be a professional and the work behind that

johanmeyner said...

Jeff, thank you for an awesome exposé over the complexity of a wedding. I really appreciate the time you put in to explain how you work. Thanks

Cynthia Brown said...

How great of you, Jeff, to re-run the entire wedding in your head & take time & effort to write out such a detailed & thoughtful account of every minute detail of your client's momentous days! The mental & physical work you put into this is astounding AND you have fun along the way! This is a must-read course for all aspiring & pro wedding photographers to study & learn from. said...

This is a fantastic website and I cannot recommend you guys enough Full of useful resource and great layout very easy on the eyes. Please do keep up this great work.

Gopro Waterproof Camera

UplayOnline said...

the father of the bride five days after the wedding. Cheers, my Friend. Don


Unknown said...

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Parker Edward said...

Incredible post.

Parties On Point said...

These are all really awesome tips, because I have never even THOUGHT about some of these!