How-to: Shoot a wedding on film… dos, don’ts and the beauty of film
First things first, I am not a full time professional (or really even a part-time) wedding photographer. I did often have aspirations of becoming one, one day, but as I have got older and wiser, and as my passion for photography has grown, I have come to realise that shooting for the expectation of financial reward takes the passion out of it and adds a lot of headaches.
A few years ago I went digital for a while and I signed up to several stock photo services. All I found myself doing was photographing anything merely in the hope that it might generate a stock income via an advertiser or something…which it never did except for one occasion when a butterfly photograph I took got published by the World Wildlife Fund in their 2010 calendar.
I decided back then that commercial photography was not really for me because it ruined my fun for photography.
However, I am reasonable with a camera and naturally, family and friends often ask me to help them out when they need a good photo. So, I was delighted and frankly humbled when my wife’s cousin Aiden, who I have known since he was a small* boy, asked me to photograph the wedding of him and his fiancé, Becca. This article is a write up of that event; my preparation for it, what I did and how, what I worried about, and what the outcome was. It may helpful to other film photographers shooting a wedding as well but take it with a pinch of salt. If any of it is helpful then great, and just ignore the parts that are not of use to you.
* he is a big fella and always has been relative to his age!
The wedding was to be held in the family side of the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, in Es Canar at a resort called ‘Ses Savines’ in August. I am based in the UK, so I immediately had airport security to think about for my film. Followed by which camera to use, and which lenses to use with them, and what film stock to use, and how to quickly reload films, and, well…many other thoughts. I hoped to find an article, like this one, to guide me.
The short version is that I didn’t find one particularly; at least not in one article. I had to piece all sorts of information from various sources and then learn as I went. So I write this in the hope that it might help other film photographers tasked with photographing a wedding. This is a long article, with lots of information brought from direct experience planning, shooting and delivering the finished article to Aiden and Becca. Here’s what I cover:
Table of contents
- 1 Some background
- 2 Pre-wedding Considerations
- 2.1 Setting expectations: film vs digital
- 2.2 Setting expectations: style
- 2.3 Considering film volume and pricing the job
- 2.4 Development and delivery to the client
- 2.5 People skills
- 2.6 Consider your cameras
- 2.7 Considering lenses
- 2.8 Considering film stocks
- 2.9 Choosing a lab
- 2.10 Dreaded airport x-ray scanners
- 3 Before the shoot
- 4 The Wedding Day
- 5 Post wedding
- 6 Lessons Learned
- 7 Final Thoughts
As a film photographer, and anyone thinking of using film to shoot a wedding, you have to manage the expectations of the bride and groom in this time of digital shooting. In this day and age, couples expect several things by default.
It is not their fault but the fault of the current industry; they will typically expect lots of photos for one thing, and lots of digital files that they can subsequently share on social media and produce their own prints from, if they have any prints at all. And they typically expect (because they have read about it the bridal magazines) that the photographer must be a Canon or Nikon shooter otherwise discount them! Amazing but true, I hear. My couple did not have these expectations, actually, or if they did, they did not make it apparent to me. But it’s something that is necessary in every case in this day and age.
Setting expectations: film vs digital
So when you shoot film and you are asked to photograph a wedding of someone who does have these expectations, you are losing the battle immediately because your reality is not in line with their expectations, or it is not likely to be. So how did I explain my situation with this lovely couple?
The first thing is early engagement with them. I invited them for a chat several months before the wedding to ensure they were happy with what I told them. In short, they still had time to make other arrangements if my approach wasn’t acceptable.
When we sat down, I explained first that I am not a professional wedding photographer. I wanted to get that out of the way immediately. They knew that already actually because the groom to be is a family relative, but I wanted to make it as clear as Carl Zeiss glass nevertheless. It is risky to put your trust in a photographer who is not seasoned at the task and it is verging on irresponsible to take on the task if you are not at least moderately proficient!
I have taken on four weddings in 10 years. So am by no means “accomplished” but I am confident enough to know that I could do a reasonable attempt for them. I consider myself moderately proficient but nowhere near the league of mainstream wedding photographers. They were happy to trust me with their day because they knew me well, I guess, and they knew I would not take the task lightly, which I did not.
- State your limitations and don’t be tempted to agree to anything you can’t (or do not want to) deliver
- Be truthful about your level of experience
- Don’t make out you are something you are not.
Setting expectations: style
Having dealt with that hurdle I explained secondly that I am a traditional photographer. Photojournalism, or “fly on the wall photography”, is another common expectation for young couples. It has its place for many, and it is very popular but it is not really my thing. In 30 years time, will your couple care that they have a photo of their former friend called ‘Pete’ sipping a glass of bubbly in the corner when 5 years after the marriage Pete decided he was going to live abroad and they never heard from him again? Yet there he is, still taking pride of place in their wedding album 30 years later.
Some will say it should be there as it was special at the time, but what matters to me is, of course, the people that the bride and groom tell me that matter, and the bride and groom themselves, along with the immediate family members and their closest friends (bridesmaids and groomsman typically). They are where I dedicate my attention, and the film stock, to.
These photographs are typically the ones people want for a lifetime and so, they are where I focus most of my attention. When you shoot film, you can’t go wasting shots on people who, for all you know, were only invited out of a courtesy or some lifelong obligation of some sort; at least that is my view. Others will differ.
- Be honest and true to yourself, and your style of photography. It’s your style that makes you unique, and probably why you’ve been asked in the first place.
- If the bride and groom want a style of photography that you can not do (either technically or due to equipment shortcomings), or you do not want to do, then simply explain that you are not the photographer for them. Agreeing to do what you can’t deliver on will just make you and them unhappy with the result.
- Start early, to allow them plenty of time to find an alternative, if necessary
Considering film volume and pricing the job
In addition, to fund those 300 or so photos would require about £260 of film and about £350 of development and scanning fees, give or take, at current prices. Once a couple know that is what they are going to get for that amount of money, they can then scale up or down depending on their specific needs and decide if they want to carry on. So they know 600 photos might cost about £1,000, 1,200 photos, £2,000, etc.
Obviously, a commercial photographer will add his fee on top of that and may never disclose the film cost, but in my case, I was doing this as a favor to family so I only asked for my immediate costs to be covered and I tried to keep them down as much as I could.
Having received all of that information the couple were still happy to proceed. It is information I think us film photographers (especially those who are doing it as a favor or as pocket money business instead of a high-end business) benefit from mentioning as it avoids any disappointment down the line. Unless, of course, you are well established and can command £5,000 upwards for photographing a wedding, in which case a few hundred quid on film and development is absorbed into that. But I wanted to give them the chance to bail out and switch to a full-time wedding shooter if they wanted to.
For me, my guys were committed to me. I don’t think they would have cared what I said; they wanted me to photograph their wedding and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Development and delivery to the client
‘The Darkroom’, in Cheltenham, UK) processed all my film in two days as it turned out! Remarkable. So, the timeline my bride and groom found was this:
- We flew back on Thursday.
- I posted the film (special delivery and signed-for) on Friday.
- The lab got my film on Monday.
- I had the results by Wednesday morning.
- It took me four evenings into the early hours to organise the photos and create a slideshow gallery. *
- The couple had the finished product in their hands that Sunday as an M4V movie file slideshow, and a series of JPEGs on CD.
So: one week and one day is all it took for them to get their official photos, despite being captured using “slow and old-fashioned film” and a 25 year-old camera.
Most importantly, the couple were delighted with the results. They are now deciding which 30 pictures to have printed in a traditional album.
* There are further posts about the process on my blog here: http://tedsmithphotography.co.uk/blog
You need to be a good people person to ensure you get the bride and groom and their special others to do what you need them to do.
I am quite a shy person actually, but my passion in photography makes me be assertive when I need to be, so I seem to get a confidence boost that I otherwise lack. The fact is my photography means so much to me that if I fail I will punish myself for weeks after, as I have done before.
Consider your cameras
I was torn for months between the choice of using my medium format Hasselblad 501CM or my 35mm Nikon F5 as my primary camera for the shoot. I was always going to take both in case one broke (never do a wedding with just one camera!) but I wanted to use one for the majority of the work. Your stock of lenses may make this choice easier for you than it was for me, because I had more lenses for one camera than the other. So how do you decide which? How did I decide which to use?
The first answer is of course to use the one you are most comfortable with, but I was comfortable with them both. I’ve had them both for years. So aside from that, my first battle was whether to go for ‘manual everything’ versus electronics and auto-focus. Ask yourself, do you have the confidence to control your subjects sufficiently for using a Hasselblad? You either have to work out the exposure in your head using the Sunny 16 rule, or you use a light meter. These days people might laugh at you for using ‘a funny thingy’ as you run around with a light meter in your hand, and if you do the math in your head under pressure, you might go wrong.
Do you have the confidence in your work to be OK with constantly taking light readings and are you confident enough to be slow and composed enough for that, and stage your subjects suitably for the purposes of a Hasselblad shot?
A Nikon F5 makes life a bit easier if you have the lens choices, but despite being one of the best 35mm film cameras in the world, for every good shot you take with it you will always be thinking “but how much better could that have looked with the Hasselblad?”
…then there are the lens options. I have a minimal but good stock of lenses for the Hasselblad. I have the Carl Zeiss Planar CB 80mm f/2.8, the Makro-Planar CF 120mm f/4, and the Sonnar CF 150mm f/4. Outstanding optical devices.
For the Nikon, I have only the 50mm 1.8 and that’s all. A great all-round performer but I hardly had a great choice of lenses for it because they were all stolen in 2011 – £3,000 worth of lenses – an issue of massive frustration for me I might add!
But that’s it. They were my choices. But believe it or not, I didn’t even take all of those lenses with me, either. Surprised? Well, it’s not the lens stock choice of most photographers I grant you and yes, it means I can’t do photojournalism with them all that well. After I lost my Nikon lenses I vowed to just keep things simple from then on and I never had enough money to buy them all back anyway, so I had no choice. But I have done OK working with fewer options since and in fact I think it makes life easier. Keeping it simple often works best.
Anyway, for a wedding, I had to decide whether to dominate the work with steady and controlled Hasselblad, or rapid and less controlled Nikon F5 with just a 50mm standard lens. And so if I were to use the Nikon, it really meant buying at least one lens for better portraiture such as the 105mm or 85mm prime. So now I was faced with the dilemma of either buying more lenses for the Nikon for a wedding event I was not being paid for and which seemed unnecessary seeing as I use my Hasselblad for portraiture anyway, and I could not actually afford new lenses anyway. Or, was I to go for broke and just do all of it mostly with the Hasselblad? And if I did, would I need all those heavy lenses?
I decided that I had some of the best lenses in the world for the Hasselblad, and one of the best cameras in the world and I was just going to have to make sure I used it well. So I decided I would go with the Hasselblad as my main camera, using the “kit” 80mm f/2.8 lens for wider and standard shots and the 150mm f/4 for wonderful head and shoulder portraiture. I looked for articles like this one, but found next to none.
I took my Nikon as my backup and quick shooter option with its single 50mm lens. That was it – 3 lenses, two cameras, and a load of film. Well, that was almost it….I also took an Olympus OM10 just for some flower close-ups and for my son to use (he is only 6 but I figured it would be a good learning opportunity for him!). I’ve had the camera for over 30 years and I love it. It always just works and it takes nice shots! So that was a “backup for the backup” but I didn’t use it much. Having made those choices, it was back to film stock choices (see “Considering Film Stocks” below)
Quick tip one: film bags
The other crucial thing I took, and this is my first top tip….in fact, of all the things you have ever read this is likely to be the best….I wondered for ages how to ensure I could get easy and quick access to fresh film with one hand in high-pressure, fast-paced situations like a wedding, and also easily be able to put away exposed film with the other hand and store it safely during the day. I wanted something that was light in weight, fairly light-proof (or at least light reducing), and that I could drop film in and out of easily without the need to rummage. And it needed to be affordable. What did I come up with? Mountain climbers chalk bags from an outdoor adventure store.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
Chalk bags; the bags mountain climbers tie round their waists and use to put chalk on their hands. The brand I used were ‘La Sportiva Chalk Bags’ and they were about £12 each. They are perfect for film photographers at special events. I bought two – one to clip to my right side of my waist for new unexposed film (because I am right handed) and one to clip to my left side of my waist for exposed film.
They worked perfectly. They avoid you wasting time rummaging through your camera bag looking for fresh film, especially when under pressure. You know which bag has new film in it so you are not trying to load exposed film into your camera. And you know which bag has the exposed rolls in it which needs to be protected and kept safe at all costs. And they have little pully ties at the top to prevent chalk falling out but that has the advantage here of them stopping film falling out, so they are nice and tight but easy to loosen.
If you buy nothing else this year, buy two of those bags and you will forever thank me. You heard it here first – chalk bags for film photographers.
Quick tip two: film security
Ever heard of “loom bands”? Kids use them to make bracelets. You get thousands in a single tray for just a few pounds (I am talking £2 or £3 for about 600!). Why am I talking about these? I took about 40 with me because they are perfect for wrapping around 120 film just to make sure the sticky seal doesn’t come undone and the film unwind. Invaluable tip for you right there, because the last thing you want at a wedding event is the sticky end coming unstuck from an exposed roll or being ripped by accident and the film unwinding itself in your chalk bag without you realising.
So wrap two bands around each roll. One 1/3 up and the other 1/3 down. Takes all of 2 seconds and works perfectly until the film arrives at the lab.
Considering film stocks
Now came film selection. Some quick advice: never take a risk with a wedding. There are two main film stock players for a wedding: Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H. Both are fast enough films for most daylight weddings and still very fine-grained. Choose one and go with it – don’t mix the two because there will be a shift in look from one set of shots to another.
For me, it was Kodak Portra 400. It’s well known and respected as perhaps the best portraiture film on Earth. It always delivers and has the flexibility of dealing with a stop or two of under or over exposure which transparency film is less forgiving of. In fact, you can typically over expose it by several stops with negligible difference. Fuji Pro 400H is also an excellent choice, used by Jose Villa by way of example, but Kodak Portra 400 just gives the wedding photos a look that I don’t think can be beaten.
At the time of writing, Kodak Ektachrome has just been re-released, and there is an enormous buzz around it due to it being reintroduced after having being discontinued a few years ago. This surely suggests good things about the film industry. It is probably not a preferred wedding photography film choice but, depending on the lighting situation and your capability, it might be one to consider soon. It’s also only available in 35mm, not medium format. I have not used it yet, but Kodak Portra or Fuji Pro 400H would be my suggestion anyway.
So after deciding on what film you want to use, you need to think about what format of it you will need, and that depends on the camera you intend to use, of course.
For this shoot, I bought 20 rolls of medium format Kodak Portra 400 for the Hasselblad and 5 rolls of 35mm for the Nikon. I figured that was enough to give me 240 on the Hasselblad and 170 on the Nikon. A little over 300 shots in total. I bought one roll of Rollei RPX 100 to capture a few black and white intimate shots, and, just to be on the safe side, I also took along another 5 rolls of medium format Fuji Pro 400H that I had in the freezer, just in case (so yes, ignoring my advice about mixing films but better to have some than none, if you need it, even if it is different to the main film choice).
It was a good job I did.
I got through all of the Kodak Portra 400 in 3 hours and needed the rest for the next couple of hours! So now you have an idea of how much film a wedding may require during a 4 or 5-hour period, even when being careful and considered. So double it if you are there all day! This was information I did not have before the wedding but now I do, and so too, do you.
If you can afford it, or if your clients can afford it, buy more than you think you will need. You can always bring any unused film back to use later of course.
Choosing a lab
You also need to get an idea of how long your lab may take to process your films, post-wedding beforehand. Why? Because in all likelihood the couple and/or their family members will ask how long until they get to see them, both during the wedding and immediately after. That is quite to be expected, so it is best to have an idea to answer the inevitable questions.
We all know how it is after a wedding and everyone gets back to normal life! We can’t wait to re-live it all again, and by looking at all the photos, often in a get-together scenario, we get to do so. These days with social media and iPhone photos, that sensation of excitement and anticipation has been ruined, but that is why us film shooters have a special role (or edge) in today’s mobile and digital world. We hold back the anticipation, meaning everyone still has the ‘official photos’ to look forward to. We hold the key to anticipation!
So which lab do I use? In my case, I use The Darkroom in Cheltenham, UK. I’ve used them for ten years and they are fantastic. Alastair, who has run it for the last few years is so helpful; I cannot recommend them enough. Please consider using them. I called them to ask for rough timescales before the wedding, and also when I got back, and on both occasions they said they would be able to process and scan that volume of film at that particular time of year in less than a week. It’s also wise to call them just before posting the film so they know to expect it, and always send that using special delivery and signed for/registered post! You do not want it lost! Pay Royal Mail or your carrier whatever figure you need to pay to guarantee delivery at the lab. Or better still, drive it there yourself if you can.
Dreaded airport x-ray scanners
Some of you may be worrying, as I was, about the airport and the x-rays. Firstly, most airports in Europe, and, as far as I know the USA is the same, if the film is ISO 800 or lower you will be OK. If it’s any higher, like Delta 3200, the x-rays may be an issue. Despite reading that on a website somewhere, I was still worried about taking the Portra and Fuji Pro 400 and some Rollei RPX 100. So how did I approach the matter?
Firstly, DO NOT put the film in the checked-bag that goes beneath the plane because they get x-rayed with higher strength than hand luggage gets scanned. Secondly, when preparing your hand luggage, put all of your film in one bag – a plastic bag is fine. If it is see-through and clear, all the better, so they can easily see what it is in the bag.
My next top tip is this: put it in a tray on its own. Use two trays – one for your main hand luggage and laptop and phones etc, and then another tray that has nothing in it except your plastic bag of film canisters or rolls of film. You want to ensure that security have no reason to re-scan your film after it has gone through. If you have something else in the tray that makes them re-scan the whole tray, you don’t want your film going through it again and worse still, you don’t want it going through with a higher level of x-ray being applied because something has caught their attention and they have increased the x-ray power. I applied this approach flying out and flying back, and other than a quick swab for drugs, I had no issue.
Some people say that you should ask the guards to hand inspect it. I’ve never even broached that idea. I think you’re asking for bother by frustrating them and possibly giving the impression you have something to hide that they might miss but which the x-ray might identify. So I just show it to them but let them x-ray it. If they offer to hand inspect, then great, but it has never happened to me so far.
Before the shoot
The next few sections walk you through the other preparation I did before leaving the country, and before the big day. They seem like a lot of work but it actually came quite naturally to me, and it will you if you have agreed to shoot someones big day for them. They include geographic considerations, lighting considerations, people skills and staging certain min-shoots that you plan to capture.
If you’re outside as I was, you will need to think about the sun. Where will it be in the sky at the time of the wedding at the given location? Ask the bride and groom for the venue details well in advance and do your research. Use Google Maps to work out if the venue is facing the North, East, South or West and compare that to the time of the wedding.
In my case, Es Canar was on the east of Ibiza (where the sun rises but does not set), and the wedding was at 18:00 (meaning the setting sun was on the other side of the island). So I had to make sure we were not concealed by a huge mountain as the sun was getting lower in the sky, maybe only an hour or so after the wedding. Google Earth and Google Maps will help you here, and a good understanding of sunrise and sunset times in the given location.
Use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to scope out your venue, and photos of it, beforehand.
I also had to work out how bright the natural light would be at the location. Was the wedding to take place indoors or outdoors? If it was indoors, in what building would it be and what are the windows like? All things to think about; remember you have the ISO rating of your film to work to, so you may need to order faster film than you thought. For me, it was outdoors, near the beach, with some light tree coverage nearby at 18:00 in August, so I was confident light would be enough for at least two hours in that part of the world. The perfect setting for ISO 400 film. So after scoping my venue, I got myself busy with study
Brush up on skills – it’s not enough to be “just a good photographer”
To refresh my memory on manual exposure techniques, backlighting and so on, I read several books that I had actually already had read before. Jose Villa writes a great book about wedding photography called ‘Fine Art Wedding Photography’. Worth a buy.
I also studied – for countless hours – the work of other wedding photographers on YouTube. Just do a YouTube search for “wedding photography” and there are thousands of different professionals shooting weddings in different places and different ways. Film or digital does not matter really for most of this – it’s about style, manner, strategy. I learned a lot from watching those. I just tried to pick up some tips on how they set and positioned their subjects. Of course, being an assistant to a pro or going on a course is the best way to learn but I didn’t have that luxury. I am self-taught.
If you have got this far, well done! These have been the considerations that I thought of back then before I had even left the UK for Ibiza.
The Wedding Day
I’m not joking when I tell you I spent all day, from 8:00am until 3:00pm simply standing around, looking at my equipment, re-arranging it, and pre-visualising the day. I could not relax at all. I was nervous in case it went wrong, and I did not want to disappoint my bride and groom.
My wife referred to me as “very focused” which I thought was a very sweet way of covering up the fact I was anxious. Shooting a wedding, in Ibiza, with a Hasselblad and bags of film, no assistant and no “preview” button…was I insane? “Crazier men than me have done safer things than this”, I thought.
Time and tide wait for no man
I spent all day thinking about the time ahead. I was memorizing where I needed to be, calculating how many rolls of film I had and how I needed to spread them out. I had to make sure I didn’t use all the medium format on the girls and boys and have none left for the ceremony itself. I needed to make sure I didn’t leave a film back on shot 10 or 11 just before a critical moment. I had to make sure both magazines (I had two) were loaded and ready to go at any time, along with my Nikon F5 which couldn’t be beyond 30 or 31 exposures at any given moment in time in case I needed a flurry of exposures. I was thinking about where and when I needed to be: what time, what camera, what person.
I really was focused.
I knew I had to be at the hotel with the bride and bridesmaids at 17:00, but I wanted to be there early, so I was aiming for 15:30. Avoid panic at all costs.
After about 7 hours of moderate anxiety pacing the halls, I headed for the hotel, ensuring I had my cameras, films, flashgun, film, reflector (which I didn’t use actually), Hasselblad unjamming tool, two A12 film backs, batteries for my Nikon F5, my Metz 45 flash, and my Sekonic light meter.
Photographing the ladies
So as mentioned previously, and is the case most often, I started with the ladies and the bride in the hotel room that overlooks Ses Savines. I was greeted not only by an excited and smiling bunch of ladies but a lovely sea view and balcony and two sliding patio doors with white cotton sheet blinds. Perfect for the diffusion of light, but the time of day meant that much of the direct light was off to the right, meaning the room itself was not as bright as I had hoped. Still enough though for 1/30th to 1/60th second exposure times, so I just got away with it handheld.
I shot the wedding dress in a variety of spots and I attempted – with the help of one bridesmaid – to get a flowing dress shot of it blowing in the gentle breeze. But the gentle breeze nearly blew the dress away entirely! It did not quite go as planned but I got a few nice shots anyway.
I took a few frames of the ladies getting ready, and the bride before she got into her dress. In fact, it was during this period that I got a some of the best shots of her in her relaxed state. She made for a wonderful subject.
Following that it was some group shots on the balcony. Some people don’t like this style of gathered shots but I really like them, and so did the bride and groom.
They have a timeless quality about them. The shots where the ladies are in a line, stretched out by about 7 feet, worried me; would I get sufficient depth of field for the shot? I could only walk back so many feet before otherwise cascading over the balcony to an untimely and unfortunate mortal demise. So, I stopped down to about f/16 I think and shot at 1/15th of a second handheld!
I have no idea how I kept the camera still enough to get these shots with no obvious blurring before the farthest bridesmaid fell into a blur but my risk paid off and they were all sufficiently sharp.
Photographing the men
After the ladies, it was quick dart down to Ses Savines itself and photograph the awaiting men. I was already wet through with sweat in the 34 degrees C heat but I soldiered on, as I had barely gotten started. I’d got through about 5 rolls of medium format already, just on the ladies.
So, I shot a few group shots of the boys for about ten minutes using another roll or two of the same. I particularly like the one of the young boy walking forward with the groom’s hand on his shoulder; boy in focus and the men slightly not. It’s quite an emotive photograph I think, especially when you know the family.
Photographing the ceremony
Pressure time. Surrounded by members of the public in swimsuits, stark contrasts between shade and no shade, and some trees, I knew I only had 20 minutes or so to get the ceremony.
As I have said, I am quite traditional about wedding photography because fundamentally, I am great believer in marriage itself. One thing I dislike about the modern age is that wedding photographers very often seem to take more of the attention than the bride and groom do. They’re like rock stars, always taking pride of pride of place right in the thick of it.
I prefer to try and stay unnoticed, largely on the perimeter. Yes, I sometimes miss a few opportunities for a photograph, but the ceremony and the bride and groom are the most important thing. So I took most of the shots sneakily, mostly on the edge of the ceremony, and I used objects or people to try and block the occasional man in his speedos or lady in her bikini!!
I always made sure I had at least 5-6 shots on the Nikon and 3-4 on the Hasselblad at any time when I had 30 seconds to spare. If it was that figure remaining, or less, I’d rewind the roll and re-load. This is important when photographing a wedding on film when you don’t have an assistant reloading film backs and camera bodies for you.
You have to use every available moment of free time and if it means wasting two or three exposures per roll, do it. Better to have a roll of 12 or 36 at your disposal at that critical impromptu moment rather than two shots and then missing the shots that often come after a staged moment due to reloading.
After the ceremony, the pressure was largely off, as I was confident I’d got a good selection. I shot more freely and tried to capture some of the post-ceremony emotion. I’d say this was a mix of Nikon and Hasselblad shooting – sometimes the manual focus of the Hasselblad is just not quick enough to capture a lady wiping a tear away, which can start and go in less than a second or two.
I then had the chance to whisk the bride and groom off on their own for about 20 minutes. Something I had insisted on this time, as in previous times I had not managed to do this and the photo deck suffered a little as a result. I shot about 4 rolls of colour and the one roll of Rollei RPX 100 during a little trip up the cliff side to where I’d spotted an unusually single tree in a small opening.
Those 20 minutes were perhaps the most enjoyable time for me, as I could relax and so could the bride and groom. It gave them a few moments to take in the surroundings by themselves, and it allowed me to shoot with less stress and pressure.
If a wedding couple tell you there will not be any time for that kind of shoot, try harder to persuade them of the benefits. It’s beneficial to both them and their photographic set if there is time for even a handful of calm, non-cluttered shots.
After that, it was the evening event and this is where my lack of telephoto lenses wounded me a bit. I did my best to capture the fun of the evening but I don’t feel they are photographically outstanding, but I hope they are a nice keepsake for the couple at least as a memory of their evening reception.
One thing I did forget – and this sounds crazy but weddings are a handful on your own and when you’re not extremely experienced – I didn’t get a staged shot of the wedding rings.
This was made harder by the fact that the Hasselblad macro lens is not like the Nikon 60mm or 105mm Macro – your minimum focus point is still about 2 feet! And I didn’t have an extension ring with me. Fortunately, I was able to secure an early morning sunrise shoot with them a day or two later, where I tried to get a picture of them holding rings in front of the sunrise. I think we did OK.
I kept the film in the freezer for the remainder of the trip and then it came back with me on the plane using the same technique as mentioned at the start of the article. I then bundled it all off using Royal Mail Special Delivery Signed For the next day.
I asked The Darkroom for development and ‘standard’ scanning, meaning a resolution of about 1200 pixels. That’s enough for a proof set and for creating a digital slideshow. It can be worthwhile having full resolution scans done, but the volume of film meant the development and scanning was to be expensive anyway, and given that I didn’t actually know what the results where, or whether I’d entirely messed up the entire event, I didn’t want to have to cover the cost of what would have been about £500 of scanning if the shots were rubbish or sub-standard.
Fortunately, they weren’t, and now the couple have a digital set and are choosing a final set for reproduction into a traditional album. So I’ll send the negatives of those 30 or so shots when they decide, and pay only for those to be printed.
For details about my digital workflow, I have other blog posts that cover that so I’ll not cover it here.
Night time photography using Flash – I use a Metz 45 flash gun. It works in the preset auto mode with the V-System Hasselblad 501CM if you have the cable with it that connects to the lens. So, if I need an f-stop of say 5.6, I set the flashgun to f/4 for fill flash. That said, some of the shots did not come out right because I’d messed the light reading up. Its easier to use it with the Nikon in TTL mode, but even then, I ended up with quite ‘contrasty’ shots. I need to brush up on use of flash in this kind of setting.
Film roll numbering – one of the problems I had creating an ordered gallery after the event was the fact that all the films were developed randomly because I didn’t have a system of keeping the exposed rolls numbered. Ideally, have someone to hand to just write ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ etc on each exposed roll. That way, the lab can develop and scan in that order and so when you get your scans, each folder contains pictures taken in sequence order.
Keep it simple – I had already learned this lesson and this shoot compounded that belief. Essentially I had three lenses. That suited almost all of the day. A longer lens would have helped with the reception, but I didn’t have one with me, and I no longer have one anyway because it was stolen back in 2011. Still, I was able to get a few nice shots anyway by careful placement of myself and anticipating situations.
Film Choice – it is important, and I was right to use Kodak Portra 400. It’s fantastic.
Being asked to photograph the wedding of a loved one is both the proudest and scariest thing you might ever be asked to do. It is an enormous task to embark upon.
If it goes right, you will always remember it as a special day, and journey, in your photographic life. And the fruits it bears, both in terms of re-energising your enthusiasm for portraiture (as it has for me), and the skills you quickly learn will pay off into the future.
My photos are not the best wedding photos in the world. I know that. But they are the best I have ever done (of portraiture) and that makes me proud. Knowing what I have learned from this wedding, I will do better next time (if I ever do another). And so it continues. In my case, this single event has even got my 6 year-old son involved in photography with me. He spent a couple of weeks with my Olympus OM10 without any film loaded and I taught him the basics of focus and shutter speeds. He is probably one of only a few 6 year-olds in the UK who can operate an Olympus OM10 film camera and who understands not to press the shutter if the light reading is less than 1/30th of a second or higher than 1/1000th.
That in itself is worth its weight in gold, to me.
If the shoot goes wrong, and I mean seriously wrong, you will feel awful about it for a long time. So even if it’s a family member, and especially if it’s a family member, do not treat it just as a bit of fun. You are capturing their wedding for their lifetime, which will likely go beyond your own. Work as hard as you can to learn everything you can possibly do, so that if it does go wrong, at least you know you did your best.
Be professional, even if it is family. But if you agree to shoot a wedding, only do so if you can invest the time to learn what you need to learn. Even accomplished photographers can still learn more. And then invest the time you need to, to make sure you get it right.
“The fruit of your own hard work is the sweetest” ~ Deepika Padukone
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