My First Wedding as Primary Shooter - A Story in Sore Frustration

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by astrostu, Sep 21, 2009.

  1. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    I've been posting a few threads throughout the last few months about doing my first solo wedding in Sept., and Saturday was the day. I thought I'd talk a bit about it so people who've been kind enough to reply to my query threads can know how it went, and also so that hopefully people can learn from my experience.

    First off, the wedding was done for free. Both the bride and groom are friends from college and so this was my wedding present to them. I'll also mention that I told each of them at the reception, separately, that I'm not doing their next wedding for free. ;)

    Seeing as I'm in Colorado and they are in Boston (MA) and the wedding was in Pittsburgh (PA), we couldn't meet before the wedding except when the bride came out to visit family in Colorado over the summer. But very little was finalized then, so we didn't get to discuss much.

    Before the wedding, I was given two sets of "key shots" the bride wanted. I also reviewed some online galleries of Hindu wedding ceremonies and read up on them to try to figure out the most important parts. I had a pseudo-schedule of the wedding, knowing only that the rehearsal dinner was on Friday night, the bride would start to get ready at noon on Sunday, her father was doing an "honor of ancestors" thing at 2, the ceremony would start at 3 and go for 90 minutes, a happy hour at 5, and reception at 7.

    On Friday morning, I met the groom for breakfast and we went over the contract. Since he helped write it, he signed it there. He also went over the schedule with me and told me a few different times for things, but he guaranteed me that I would have at least an hour after the ceremony for formals. When the bride joined us after a "mani and pedi" with the maid of honor (who was a groomsman because the mother of the bride would only let family members be bridesmaids), the bride also told me that I would have an hour for the formals, and she also told me that some of the times were different from what the groom had just told me, which were also different from the original schedule.

    Come Saturday, I was in the wedding hall at 11 because I was told that's when the bride's uncle would be setting up the lighting and mandap (the "pavilion" where they'd get married). I was able to get them to turn down the hotel lights, esp. the "chandelier" ones that were filtered through a yellow glass, in order to try to get one color since they had set up 6 sets of 2x500W halogen lights. So I had 3 colors of lights that I had to deal with (other overhead ones, side wall yellower ones, and the halogen main ones).

    The bride didn't arrive at the hotel until 12:30 (remember, she told me she would be getting ready at 12). The groom, who told me he would be getting ready from 12:30-1 didn't start until 1:30. The honor of ancestors ceremony was re-scheduled to 1 (groom, Friday morning) to 1:15 (bride, Friday afternoon), but he didn't show up until 1:35. So I shot the beginning of that, and then I rushed off to the groom's room to have him undress, take shots of his clothes and him partially dressed, then him fully dressed. Knocked on the bride's door at 2 and was told she was naked and to come back in 20 minutes.

    Finally got her towards the end, but only after she was fully dressed and had all the makeup on. So much for the pre- shots.

    B was ready at 3:15. Groom didn't get to the hotel again until 3:30. (Remember, ceremony supposed to start at 3.) While waiting outside the hall, I was told by the hotel's wedding coordinator that I had to be out of the room by 5 so they could set up the reception. So, I went from having "one hour after the ceremony, guaranteed" for formals, to having "until 5" which would be a half hour if we ended on time. And we started a half hour late.

    During the ceremony, people were walking all over the place, there were 5 people with video cameras, and about a dozen (not exaggerating) others walking around with cameras (mostly SLRs) photographing it. It was almost all in Sanskrit so I had little clue what was going on, but I was helped a bit by the maid of honor who was following the English program, an aunt of the bride, and the grandmother of the bride, though the grandmother spoke very little English (native Bengali speaker). Some shots I simply could not get because of the other cameras in the way. And during the ceremony, some things were changed at the last minute. Because I really didn't know what was going on, it really was just a constant photographing session for me, hoping that something I shot would be important and well-executed when I had a clear view.

    The last part, a more Western ceremony, with the exchange of vows and rings, was horribly lit with the bride's back facing a spotlight and the groom's front facing it. The bride's Indian, groom's a pale pink white boy ... he was brightly lit, she in shadow. Both on a stage with no way for me to get at the same level they were.

    We ended at 5:15. I told the bride to go bridezilla on the wedding coordinator and tell her that I'm taking formals now, there, and that she could set up around us. It worked. But I only had ~20 minutes for formals, and members of the bride's family did not stick around, going in and out. I skipped around my list of formals to do because of that, trying to get the most important ones because I didn't know how much time I'd actually have.

    I tried to work with the lights they had set up (the halogens), pointing them up to get a more diffuse light, but having to use my flash, so while I can get a proper white balance for the people, the background of the mandap comes out yellow and I'll need to do a two-part color correction on it. Also, because I was incredibly rushed, and people were uncooperative (such as the bride's father who didn't think he had to do formals but wanted to go and make sure people were having a good time at the happy hour), I wasn't able to double-check things like eyes open in shots, everyone smiling, nor practice some of the finer rules of good portraiture. It was very much an assembly line of, "Bride, Mother of Bride, Grandmother of Bride, up now. Okay, quick posing [go do that], alright, smile, 1, 2, 3. NEXT!" I was really frustrated with the time constraint and not being able to get the lights right or compose the shots very well. I really hope I can make them half-way decent in post-processing.

    I had enough time to get some decent shots of the reception hall before people came in. They were supposed to enter at 6:30, but the hotel staff was still setting up and I told them to lock the doors so I could get the shots I needed. They were cooperative and did so. My first break for the day. :er:

    Photographing the reception went alright, though I went through 5 sets of 4 AA batteries in my flashes throughout the entire day. The weirdest part was the bride's mother wanting photos of people eating. I was told by the bride it was a cultural thing, so I should get the shots of the Indian people doing it, outside of the white corner (there was a set of 5 tables for the "white people" and all the rest of the 24 were Indian ... and it was the groom who drew the diagram for me and circled the tables and labeled it "white corner"). I was in the white corner. I also did some "formal"-type shots of the groom's family. The hotel was pretty crappy in terms of decor so the best place for it was against a puke-yellow/green wall. Again, they were antsy and I wasn't able to really compose it well. Sigh.

    At the end of it, it was 1AM. 14 hours of shooting. I had shot about 2100 photos since Friday night (100 of the rehearsal dinner), about 22 GB. Throughout the day I was transferring photos to a portable 1TB hard drive. I had kept my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on the rented 5D body along with my 580EXII flash, and my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on my Rebel body along with my 430EX flash. I'm a bit mad at myself for not thinking of switching out for my 35mm f/1.4 lens during the reception.

    Some lessons learned:

    (1) Definitely set limits on the shooting time. 14 hours was way too long, and 2 days later my thighs are still sore and I can't walk up/down stairs easily after all the lunging and crouching to try to get something decent.

    (2) Sit down with parents as well as B&G to ensure they know to stick around for formals. The bride had to basically plead with her father to stay once he got back so they could do some family shots.

    (3) Talk with people other than B&G about the schedule, since the MOB kept changing it, the FOB obviously thought some times were different, and the Wedding Coordinator had other ideas.

    (4) Be less stressed about getting all the requested shots. Friday night, after the schedule had changed again, I basically threw up my hands and said I would get what I could get. Saturday around 1PM, after walking around with my clipboard with my checklist of key requested shots, I just left it on my chair in the reception hall and deciding that I'd get what I could get but when they keep messing with the schedule and compressing 3 hrs of shooting into less than 90 minutes, there was no way I'd be able to get everything.

    (5) My focus during the ceremony was on specific people, like sometimes just the bride or groom. This meant centering them, which meant sometimes having half the groom's face in the frame when the bride was the important one. In the future, I need to think about shooting wider and just cropping later if I want, but in PP I may decide I wanted that wider shot.

    (6) Remember to use the faster glass for the worse-lit reception. Granted, I was still zooming in and out, but I'd rather have a faster shot with no motion blur than a wider shot or a narrower one that I could've just cropped a wider shot to.

    In the end, I have a lot of PP work to do. LOTS of color correction, LOTS of shadows to remove, and some smiles to try to graft onto some family members during the formals.

    Here's a quick pre-proof one of the bride getting ready, with her mother and aunt, with an inverse vignette and a light application of the Orton effect. I also need to work a bit on my watermark:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2009
  2. rub

    rub TPF Noob!

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    Welcome to the world of weddings! This has been my first year shooting weddings, and let me tell you, expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst.

    I really feel for you, because I know that I would be lost as well with a cultural wedding like that.

    One thing that I found out right away, don't be concerned about the other "photographers". Walk in front, say a quiet "excuse me" and get your shot. You are the one hired to be there, you are the one responsible for getting the shot. I find that most times the people slide over and feel bad for being in MY way. Just make sure you do it nicely (dont push granny over ;o) )

    As for lesson 3 - you must talk to others. My first bad wedding experience came from a bride who told me that the ceremony was going to last 20 mins, and then they would do the signing. I was up on a balcony taking a wide angle shot of the entire group when I heard the minister, getting ready to do the rings. I had to RUN back down. From the moment the bride started down the aisle to the time they kissed was 4min 27 seconds. No lie.

    Some weddings wont be this bad. Some may be great, others may be worse.

    Look forward to seeing some more shots. I think the effects might be a bit too bright on this one, but thats just personal taste.
     
  3. smn_xps

    smn_xps TPF Noob!

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    That up there is why i will never do wedding photography, i can work at mc donalds stress free!

    I hope they end up happy with you work,
    cheers
    jerry
     
  4. misol

    misol TPF Noob!

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    wow! Its crazy...and a great reminder to me that I do not want to get into weddings!
     
  5. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    My very first wedding was a hispanic one booked through a wedding shop for very little pay. I had never attended a hispanic wedding and didn't know enough to ask questions. All I was told was to be at a certain hotel in room so and so.

    The room turned out to be a bedroom and what I tried to photograph was the reception...

    There were so many people in this room that I did 99% of the shots from atop the bed :lol:

    The only decent shots were the ones of the B&G when I got them to join me on the bed and of course they didn't show the dress or whatever. I basically got a couple nice portraits of the couple.

    Live and learn.
     
  6. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Nice write up about a wedding characterized by serial tardiness. Sounds like a total mess. And to think, your legs are killing you--after only 14 hours of shooting. Didn't the coaching staff whip you into shape during the August two-a-day drills?:lol:
     
  7. Big

    Big TPF Noob!

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    This is why I stick to shooting wildlife and other random things haha
     
  8. Joves

    Joves No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Now all you need is some great seeing and, some calm time shooting through the scope. I personally have refused to do any wedding shots, even for family, which got me the evil eye but, Id rather that than the stress.
     
  9. craig

    craig TPF Noob!

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    There is a reason I refuse to do weddings...

    Sounds like par for the course. If you expect things to be on time and go your way you are in the wrong business. Seems like things went well none the less. More importantly you handled it well. Next time charge 2 grand and you will be good to go.

    Question is will there be a next time?

    Love & Bass
     
  10. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    There were actually two reasons why I didn't do this. First, most of them were Indian and I had a very strong suspicion that at least half of them didn't speak English. Second, the videographers at least were making a video to send back to India for the extended family, so, I knew that was important. Third, the mother of the bride had her "own" photographer. In other words, the bride told her I was the photographer, but the mother effectively said, "I want my own photographer for the wedding. You can have your own for your wedding." (I'm not making this up.) So I wanted to p--- off the MOB as little as possible, but I didn't know which guy was "her" photographer.

    But yeah, definitely next time I will have that made very clear. Which leads to ...

    I would like there to be. It's definitely not my day job (that's astronomy). But, I think it could be fun, and I like challenges that I feel as though I actually have a chance of overcoming. Live and learn.

    I didn't entirely expect things to go my way. I also knew that things would run late. I just didn't expect to have less than 50% of the time I expected for some stuff, and negative time for other stuff (formals). Next time I will try to persuade them to do formals before the ceremony when I think people will be more attentive (I wanted to do it this time, but the MOB insisted no contact between the B&G the day of ... even to the extent of initially insisting on different hotels for each side until the groom quietly got his parents to book the rooms at the same hotel and then claim ignorance).

    I'm also thinking of coming up with a pricing structure tonight for next time. I'll have to really see how these come out, though, before I decide whether next time will also be for a friend for free to get more experience or if I'll be charging. Charging opens up a whole new can of worms due to taxes.
     
  11. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    Also, I forgot to mention:

    (1) After this, I know what equipment I need before next time. (a) A much better tripod (yes, I shot the wedding with $10,000 worth of equipment but on a $35 tripod). (b) A second 580EXII speedlight. To go with it, (c) two umbrella reflectors to use during the formals. I really thought I could've done a better job with the lighting if I had these so I could've had it more diffuse and shut off other lights so I only had one light color, despite responses to this thread from July.

    (2) Remember to try my C-Pol filter when shooting folks who are wearing glasses. Thankfully, this was not an issue except for the MOB and the Best Man, and I think I can get rid of some of those reflections in PP.

    (3) Have a single place to put my lens caps! I kept losing them. I found one underneath a DJ's light stand after thinking I lost it for 3 hours during the reception. :p

    (4) I need more experience with portraiture and model work. If only I had a good location, I would consider advertising for senior portraits. Perhaps I could do so but limit locations to outdoors shooting. I say I need more experience with this because I found myself running through both a physical and mental checklist when trying to pose people for more formal shots, but I would rather it just have been instinct so that I could've been both faster and more confident with placement of both people and body parts.

    Oh, and for those of you who remember this thread about the bride asking me to bring cookies, the 8 lbs of fudge I made was the FIRST dessert to go during the reception. And everyone I asked (before telling them I made it) said that it was really good. Which was very gratifying considering I lugged it on my back in a then-30-lb backpack through the airport and TSA security in addition to my 25-lb backpack of camera gear.
     
  12. IgsEMT

    IgsEMT No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Dear Friend,
    Welcome to the world of wedding photography. On the negative note - one shouldn't get into it w/o knowing what to do, hence enthusiast or a hobbyist, even for free shouldn't do it since shooting a wedding isn't always about great cameras and great fast lenses, much more is involved. On The Positive Note - it is over and done with - congratulations and enjoy it. Now have a fan time post processing and enjoy it.

     

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