Monday, May 27, 2013

It's a Nice Day For White Wedding - Part One

I had the pleasure to photograph my first wedding last weekend.  It was a great experience, equally challenging and exhilarating.  Here are a few images I took during the event, and my semi-technical notes about the process.

I used my trusty Nikon D90 with a 35mm, f/1.8 Nikkor lens, and I borrowed a D300s, which I paired with a rented Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8.  I mainly had portraits and group shots in mind when I was choosing my gear, and I am glad I had a sharp, relatively wide zoom glass to work with during the ceremony.  Your legs are your best vario by rule, yet you don't want to be in the way and ruin your customers' wedding by walking back and forth all the time.  These cameras and lenses served me well, and although I suffered through carrying them around on my neck all day (I guess I am not cut to be a paparazzo), it was worth it.  

One thing I found difficult to navigate was changing my settings on both in real time as I moved between the dim indoor location and the overly bright outdoors.  I definitely have a minor loss of shots due to improper ISO usage, but all things considered, I did well.  Another thing I will keep in mind for the next wedding - BRING YOUR MACRO LENS ALONG!!!!  I completely forgot that I will need to take a closeup of the wedding rings, and maybe some other details of the dress, accessories, etc.  Still, I managed with what I had, and some post-process sharpening will do the rest of the job.

Speaking of post processing, appropriate white balance settings beforehand would save you a lot of work, trying to take the blue tones out of all white surfaces, mainly the dress and people's eyes/skin.  The highlights and exposure were also quite tricky, as the ceremony began at 5 pm, and the sun at that time of year is still very bright then.  I am very happy with all the flares and contre jour's I was able to capture, so silver linings are sometimes the best thing you can hope for.  

I was very composed for the majority of the event, only during the ceremony I got a little shaky.  You see, all other shots you can set up, re-take, or compose if you need to, but you can't ask the bride and groom to repeat their vows because you didn't get a good angle the first time!  That's why I set my cameras at continuous shooting mode, and just fired away, with no regard to composing or reviewing on the spot.  What you can't achieve in quality, you make up with quantity, and it's a great relief to have 500 images to choose from later instead of only a 100.  Again, I did pretty well, despite the disadvantages in my position in relation to my subjects, namely:

I expected the bride and groom to be standing facing the marriage officiant with their backs to the guests, but initially they stood on both sides of her, facing the guests, and then side by side.  This didn't allow me to position myself behind the officiant so I could capture them face to face.  Another problem was the fact that one of the guests was videotaping the ceremony with a camera set up in the aisle between the guests' seats, and I was discreetly chased away from there (which was confusing and made me panic a little).  I compensated this by standing a bit to the side, and I moved to the left and right in order to catch all possible points of view.  The guests' heads were in the way in one case, and in the other - I had the bride facing me and the groom with his back towards me, but all in all I tried to think less about aesthetics and more about immortalizing the emotion during this amazing time for those two people.

Of course, there were many things working for me.  The bride, a Bulgarian beauty, was extremely easy and pleasant to photograph.  She felt natural in front of the camera, and she enjoyed being playful and flirty, absolutely radiant and elegant on her special day.  The groom was quite a treat too, with his stylish fedora and a silk tie.  It was a very laid-back wedding, located in the country chic of a North California winery, and it went smoothly though and through.  The guests (many of them also Bulgarian, which made me very comfortable) were fun, and I even took the liberty to ask some of them to do the jump for me :)

And lastly, the evening shots.  The sunset was gorgeous - there weren't clouds so the sky wasn't dramatic, but rather peaceful, and the light shone softly in splendid golden rays over the reception celebrations.  As soon as the sun went down, however, I was once again faced with a challenge.  You see, I am not a technical photographer.  I just go with the flow and trust my instincts and my experience.  I can't use flash to save my life, though now I'm thinking that I need to invest in a speedlight.  I prefer using natural light when I work (and surely I always chase the light in my personal art), but this wasn't an option during the party, and I struggled to capture the dancing people in the twilight using only my inbuilt flash.  Again, I quite like the results, but remember this - if the light is insufficient, the camera won't focus, and the shutter won't fire!  You can shoot manual, but good luck with nailing the focus while photographing a group of constantly moving dancing people :)  

It was a grueling exercise, both physically and emotionally - perhaps because I hold myself to a very high standard and I aim to deliver the photographs I would have wanted someone to take of me - and aside of the usual advice to charge your batteries fully, bring your extra memory cards, and JUST KEEP SHOOTING, I can give you this one too: get dressed, show up, and do your best!  And enjoy yourself!

Post Processing notes:  Due to the large number of images I took, I only chose to edit the most artistic ones by adding manually adjusted VSCO presets.  The rest are mostly sooc (straight out of the camera), with minor tweaks of crop, exposure, and sharpening.

Thank you, Theodora, for giving me this opportunity, and thanks to the lovely Bride Radostina and Groom David for believing in me, even though you knew I never shot a wedding before!  It was an honor to meet you and to photograph your special day!  And lastly, a huge thank you to Parisa, my friend, neighbor, and assistant that day, for being there and having my back by capturing everything I possibly missed from her unique point of view.

Stay tuned for Part Two!