My friend has asked me to take the photographs at his upcoming wedding as he “Knows I’m into that photography stuff”.
What I’m actually into is shooting large format landscapes in utter peace and solitude, and I have no experience of photographing people, let alone weddings. Despite my protestations, he insists it’ll be fine and besides, they can’t afford to pay for an actual wedding photographer.
I’d like to be able to say that it’s an honour to be asked to perform these duties for a friend, to be given the chance to record the most precious moments as two people are joined in matrimonial unity and begin a life of supportive harmony together, but we all know that’s horse shit. Your “friend” is a cheapskate who values your work only slightly less than the long-term happiness of his bride-to-be, for whom he’s quite happy to gamble any chance of getting reliably good photographs of this once in a lifetime event, just so him and his pals can go to Prague, get drunk, shove Euro’s down knickers and come home with chlamydia, just in time for the big day.
Agreeing to shoot a friend’s wedding is a lot like getting married yourself – committing to a relationship which you have very real doubts about, a bucketload of stress and pre-big-day-panic, being forced to compromise on your ideals just to keep someone else happy, and the terror of dealing with the in-laws. On the upside, going to weddings is almost always an utter bore, so at least you aren’t having a good time spoilt by taking on photography duties. Just a crap time made worse.
Preparation is key, just as when you shoot your landscapes. First and foremost is the gear you need to take with you. You’ve already expressed your love and experience with large format cameras, which is, unfortunately, worse than useless, and you’ll need to unlearn most of what you know. To shoot a wedding you need to be fast, discreet, nimble and quiet. Hiding under a black sheet for 5 minutes telling everyone to “Stand very still” just isn’t going to work, especially once Auntie Nora starts knocking back the sherry.
Going digital is the smart first time choice, but who has a digital camera these days? And anyway, why should you give in to the dark side, just because it’s easier, safer, and the recipients of your work don’t care in the slightest about film? No, you stick to your guns and just dig out something a little more convenient than a field camera – a nice SLR will do. Actually, better make it two so you can have a wide angle lens on one and a normal on another. And you’re going to need colour and black and white shots throughout, so perhaps 4 might be best. Also, the Church isn’t very well lit, so a camera with some fast film would be a good plan too.
Once you’ve picked out your five cameras, and a nice big bag to carry them all in it’s time to organise your film supplies. These days a wedding photographer can easily shoot 4000 images over the course of the day, but the slower pace of shooting film will obviously reduce that drastically – let’s say down to around 25%. You could probably get away with doing this favour for a friend with as few as 30 rolls! If that sounds a little expensive, how about 10 rolls? Or maybe just a pro-pack – that should do it, right? Over the course of a 6-hour wedding and reception that’ll mean you can take a shot every 2 minutes! You’re almost back to the point where you could get out the 4×5 now…nope, best just empty every roll of film in the fridge into your bag, just to be on the safe side.
As well as the cameras, lenses, films, and of course a tripod, you’ll ideally want to take other essentials with you in the bag. I say ideally, because it’s already got 5 cameras and a lot of film in there and it’s probably already too heavy to lift. Still if you can get another bag on the other shoulder (or own a donkey), sling in a water bottle for essential hydration and emergency bladder evacuation (in that order), food (because although this is a “friend’s” wedding, you’ll be expected to shoot during the meal, so no food for you), painkillers for your shoulder, back, head, feet and any other body parts that can’t take it anymore, and finally a hip flask full of whisky.
Making a list of the shots you need to get is essential. Things used to be much simpler in the days of the big formal group shots, but nowadays the documentary approach is much more in vogue. The key difference is that previously it was important that everyone in attendance was included in at least one photo, which is why you had those massive group pictures. Now it’s essential that everyone gets captured in at least one image, but instead of getting a nice orderly group you have to hunt people down one by one or in small groups and capture them being spontaneously charming, amusing, or delightful in a completely natural way.
And above all else, DO NOT FORGET TO SHOOT THE BRIDE AND GROOM’S PARENTS. They’ve probably paid for most of this shindig, even if they were too tight to fork out for your services, and you’ll never hear the end of it if you miss them.
Despite the vital necessity of getting all these shots, they’re actually utterly unimportant, because the only thing which really matters is taking pictures that make the bride look radiantly beautiful, specifically (and this is the important bit), more beautiful than everyone else in attendance. Honestly, you pull that off and quite frankly you can toss the rest of the shots in the sea because nobody cares.
Now, this kind of pressure may be causing a severe anxiety attack right now, but it’s important to remember that the majority of people can’t actually tell a good photograph from a horse’s arse, and if they could they wouldn’t be cheaping out this. If you’ve got a beautiful bride then most of your work is already done for you, just do your best to focus on her eyes and not her nose…otherwise grab a Holga, some black and white film and a red filter and upsell the living daylights out of how cool Lomography is right now.
Polaroid Originals is also your friend in this respect, and has the added bonus that the images will likely only last a few years ago and so won’t haunt you forever.
Wedding photography is a highly skilled profession, and it’s both right and natural for you to feel out of your depth and unsuited for the task, but take solace in the fact that there are plenty of people even more unsuited and out of their depth than you charging for this service every week, and no matter how can handed your efforts are, at least no one’s paying for them.
Incidentally, regarding developing and presenting the pictures, just give the groom a bag of shot film and the number for a film lab you’re not that fond of. That way, if the shots come back garbage you can just blame them for everything.
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