Shooting Weddings Part 2 – Equipment
by Peter Zack
Shooting weddings can be a challenging and rewarding aspect of photography. I hope from these articles, you get some inspiration and tips that will help you develop your own style and business. The funny thing with a blog publishing setup, the articles are posted by date and you may be seeing the most recent first. If so, go to Shooting Weddings Part 1 and then you can follow each section in the series.
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Software: So to get started you must be prepared to do several things. Buy a good, powerful computer and get the proper software. Get a calibration tool for your screen. See our article here for some info on that. Editing work that is paid for, without a properly calibrated screen, is asking for trouble. You might see your red flowers as red but the printer sees them as pink. With software, the 2 programs you should have for editing are, Lightroom 2 and Adobe Photoshop CS2 and up. It’s expensive but these are important tools. You can do this with other software packages but Lightroom was designed for wedding photographers. You might have 1500+ images to catalogue and edit. Using the presets in LR can take what might have been days of editing and turn it to hours.
Cameras: You need good quality equipment to shoot with. The choices are very good these days and I won’t recommend a particular brand or model but to say that the entry level cameras are not suited for this work. You need the quality and features of the upper end camera models. I would strongly recommend that the cameras be weather-sealed. More than once, I’ve shot a wedding when the heavens opened up. The forecast was for showers and the guests all had umbrellas for that outdoor wedding. The best man and maid of honour had big golf umbrellas to protect the wedding party. You can’t just leave, and have you ever tried to shoot with one hand and hold an umbrella in the other? Not possible. You may also want to shoot at the beach or snow in the winter. The camera has to be able to take all of it. Bring a change of cloths unless you want to be wet the rest of the day.
Just don’t go so overloaded with gear that you can’t shoot! Image is not mine and commonly found on the web, author unknown.
There are two schools of thought when shooting a wedding: One camera or two? It’s a personal choice and depends on your comfort and skill. You might find it too cumbersome to be switching between bodies and always having the second camera on your back. Or you might like having one camera with a prime lens or wide zoom and the second with a longer tele to get those candid shots. Not changing lenses has its advantages. There is less concern about dust showing up on the sensor. You can react faster by switching bodies instead of changing lenses.
Regardless which method you go with, you need to have backups of everything. You should have 2 camera bodies and they should be the same model or very similar. The controls and quality need to match. You can’t fumble between two different setups when things are moving fast. You need to have backups for every lens and flash that is part of your kit. Equipment failures happen, count on it. Shooting a long, fast paced day is tough on gear. As much as you try, you just can’t baby the gear as much as you might like to if it were just shooting for fun.
Lenses: The lenses have to be top quality and fast. Consumer zooms will not cut it. Lenses can be a wide and varied choice. Everyone has favourites and I can’t really advise which is better. I’ll just describe my kit. I shoot with 2 cameras and carry 3 for the day. Each camera has a power grip for better portrait handling, the extra battery and memory storage. The primary camera has an 18-50mm ƒ/2.8 lens and the second camera has a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens. Around my waist is an equipment belt that contains a backup wide zoom, a 28-75mm ƒ/2.8 zoom and 2-3 prime lenses (28mm ƒ/1.8, 50mm ƒ/1.4 and 105mm), spare batteries and a portable hard drive. This might not suit your shooting style, maybe you want to shoot with primes only or a mix of lenses. But get the best lens in its respective length. Speed and quality matters.
Flashes and lights: This will be a brand specific choice to some degree. If you are shooting wireless, then you can use just about any flash* required to fill the area but on-camera may be different. I try to stay away from direct on-camera flashes. They just produce a flatter look. Add a flash bracket and get the flash off the camera. The added benefit is you can rest the flash bracket on your left shoulder and (if you can shoot comfortably with your left eye) use the bracket to steady hand held shots. Get a diffuser for your flash to soften the light where bouncing off a high ceiling might not work well. If your system allows an external battery pack, get one. Generally they speed up recycle times and you won’t have to be changing (or carrying) extra batteries at a critical time.
* Some older flashes put out a higher than safe trigger voltage for today’s digital cameras. Make sure you test the safety and compatibility of any flash/camera combination.
Video lights have a place here as well. They are often not considered a photography tool but with a battery pack you can have a constant light source that assists focus and helps give you creative control over the dance shots and reception. They can be held off camera with a bracket or on a light stand. This tool can offer a lot of flexibility and the plus is you can see the effect of the light on the scene before you shoot. Add a diffuser and you have a great indoor or low light tool.
Memory cards: Get the best quality memory cards and consider replacing them each year if you are doing a lot of paid work. Cards are relatively cheap and you don’t need a 4GB card failing just as the ceremony ends. Have enough memory to handle 2-3 times the number of shots you expect to take. Do not use 1 or 2 large cards (8GB plus). Use a bunch of 2-4GB cards to cover the day. If one fails, you haven’t lost the entire day, just a small part of it. I carry 14-16 top quality 4GB cards and usually only half fill them before switching to a fresh one. Have a good quality card case and develop a system to remember which are used and which are not.
Batteries: Use good batteries and battery chargers. The quick charger units are handy but hard on batteries. LaCrosse and Sanyo Eneloops are the best in my opinion. They take hours to charge (not minutes) but deliver high capacity power that will last. The quick chargers heat the cells too much and degrade the quality quickly. I keep one of each charger I need in the car with me. I’ve added a couple of DC>AC inverters to my portable kit and if I need to recharge a battery while away from the office, I can do it in the car.
Wireless flash triggers: There are a number of brands available. Skip the cheapo auction site versions. They don’t work reliably enough. You really can’t afford to miss even one shot and a failure rate of 5 or 10% is not acceptable. If your camera failed to fire the shutter that often, you’d throw it out. Wireless flash is a cornerstone setup for good wedding photography. The wedding dances, dark churches, fill flash outdoors. I use Flashwaves, and mine get heavy use. Sure, I’d like to be a natural light shooter, and try as often as possible to avoid the flash, but it has an important place. Raccoon eyes in bright sunlight just don’t look attractive on the bride.
Other items: Ah, you noticed I said portable hard drive earlier. There are a few quality drives available and they are small. I carry an 80GB model that can quickly transfer each card. I’ve never needed it, but I like the peace of mind of knowing that the entire wedding is backed up as each section is done. It offers another advantage: I have already downloaded the entire wedding to a hard drive that can be connected to my computer when the day is done. When I return from a wedding, all the images are loaded off the portable to a main backup hard drive for storage, editing and sorting. With everything already on the portable, I can just come home, connect the portable to the computer and begin the transfer and the file conversion. It takes 5 minutes and I’m off to bed. In the morning, everything is ready and waiting to get to work. No wasted time watching the computer transfer and convert files.
Tripods, light stands, scrims and reflectors: I carry my tripod at all times and it does get some use. But with today’s anti-shake systems and improved high ISO camera performance, it’s less than in the ‘old days’. It has a place though. When taking the group and family shots, people get self conscious with the photographer holding the camera to her/his eye, so setting up on a tripod can allow you to move away from the camera and use a remote. Talk to the people and take shots at the same time. You’ll get much more natural looking images. I would recommend you have enough quick release plates for each camera and lens that has a collar. You don’t need to be moving the QR plate from one part to another when there is little time to do it. That sort of makes the ‘quick’ in QR useless. Use the same head system on any tripods or monopods you carry with you.
Light stands are invaluable to me. Add a flash bracket/umbrella holder and I can now light up the dance floor much more evenly or in unique ways. It really helps avoid the harsh shadows and glare of a flash. They can be used outside in bright sun as well to balance a shot or create fill flash. With a battery operated flash and wireless trigger, the entire stand is portable and takes seconds to set up. Reflectors also have a useful place, particularly when shooting outside, and you need a little light fill but don’t want to use a flash. Get one that has a few different surfaces: mylar, solid white, shoot through and gold. Holding arms are available that can be added to a tripod center column or a light stand to put the reflector just where you need it. I don’t use the gold version very often and prefer the look of natural light in most shots. Software filters can add that tint later if needed. Scrims are the reverse of reflectors. Large panels that can be set up as a diffuser. If you want to avoid the harsh light of the sun in an otherwise beautiful outdoor setting a scrim can be used to diffuse the light from the sun by placing it between the subject and the sun’s light. These can really help reduce the harsh contrast and squinting eyes that follow.
Carry a step stool or short collapsing ladder. Shooting from an elevated position can produce more flattering portraits and give you unique angles. Climbing trees with a camera can be challenging at best.
On the day before you should have a checklist ready of everything you need. List everything you are carrying. It’s a handy way to stay organized and a good way to prevent loosing equipment. Clean your cameras and lenses and have everything prepared.
Make sure you have the backups you need: extra lenses, cables, flash, batteries and a backup camera. Generally you won’t need it but it’s better to be prepared than get caught with a busted camera in the middle of the ceremony. It seems expensive to be buying the best computers and camera gear for this, but it’s a business you want to grow. You could invest $20,000+ very easily to be properly set up. Your best source of clients is referrals from the past clients. So every job has to be done professionally and to the best of your ability. The new bride has plenty of choices, why would she want you to shoot her special day? Because you are skilled and prepared.
Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack
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