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Five Great Tips for Photographing Weddings

Today's post, which provides
a sampling of five artistic/technical tips for getting the best-possible shots on the wedding day, comes from the book 100 Techniques for Professional Wedding Photographers by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

Recognize What's Special
Greg Gibson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist turned wedding photographer says, “All weddings are alike on some level—there’s a couple in love, they’re going to have this big party, there’s the anticipation, the preparation, the ceremony, the party. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. The challenge is to find the nuances in each event.” Every wedding offers new experiences and new challenges, and this is what Gibson says keeps him fresh through fifty weddings per year. “It’s fun. When I go to a wedding, people are always glad to see me, I’m welcomed in. When I was a journalist, that wasn’t always the case; Monica [Lewinsky] wasn’t happy to see me when I showed up at the Mayflower Hotel.” This allows him to remain unobtrusive and not impose on moments that should remain natural and genuine, a primary means of preserving a wedding’s uniqueness.

There is no shot-list entry for this image by Joe Buissink, who shoots most of his weddings on film. Joe is a keen observer and knows a great shot in the making when he sees one.

Perhaps because of its romantic nature, photographers who are also born romantics often find it easier to capture the special relationship shared by each couple. As photographer Michael Schuhmann says, “I love to photograph people who are in love and are comfortable expressing it—if they are so in love that they can’t contain it, then it’s real.” Being a romantic is not completely necessar y, of course—after all, weddings are celebrations, which means they are also about having fun. The wedding photographer gets to be part of this joy.

The uniqueness of the event will also reveal itself more fully when the day is viewed as a story. By linking the spontaneous events of the day, sensitive portrayals that highlight the emotions elicited, you can build a visual narrative that sets each wedding apart from all others. This what the modern bride wants to see in her wedding coverage.

Shoot Peak Action
Sports photographers learn to react to an event by anticipating where and when the exposure must be made. A pole-vaulter, for example, is ascending at one moment and falling the next—and right in between there is an instant of peak action that the photographer strives to isolate. Even with high burst rates, however, it is not a question of blanketing a scene with high-speed exposures; it is knowing when to press the shutter release. With a good sense of timing and solid observation skills, you will drastically increase your chances for successful exposures in wedding situations. By being prepared for each event, being ever alert, and refining your reaction time you can also improve your odds.

No one has better reactions and storytelling skills than a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist. Here, Greg Gibson captured the full gamut of emotion as these two connected.

Be Prepared. Being prepared to capture each moment starts with doing your homework. The more you know about the scheduled events and their order, the better you can prepare to cover those events as effectively as possible. Discussing the wedding plans with the other vendors involved (the wedding planner, DJ, caterer, officiant, etc.) and visiting each venue is an excellent way to prepare. What you learn is critical to developing your game plan; it will allow you to choreograph your movements so that you are in the optimum position for each phase of the wedding day. The confidence that this kind of preparation provides is also immeasurable.

Observe and React Quickly. Within this framework of “planned” events, however, you should always be watching and monitoring each moment as it unfolds around you—and this usually means watching more than one event at a time. Keep your camera constantly at the ready. You may want to leave it in one of the AE modes so there are no exposure adjustments to be made. Simply raise the camera, compose, and shoot.

With quiet observation, many wonderful moments can be captured. Being able to do this effectively is a function of completely trusting yourself to translate input into instant reaction. Master wedding photojournalist Joe Buissink says, “Trust your intuition. Do not think. Just react or it will be too late.”

Clean Your Image Sensor
The image sensor in a digital camera must be kept clean in order to perform to its optimum level—otherwise, spots may appear on your images. Canon digital cameras have a built-in sensor-cleaning mode. This lifts the camera’s reflex mirror so that light air from an air syringe can be used to gently remove any foreign matter. Turning the camera off resets the mirror. The newest DSLRs feature a sonic vibration sensor-cleaning mode that is fully automatic and does not involve you having to touch the sensor all. (Note: The image sensor is an extremely delicate device. Do not use compressed air cans to clean it; these have airborne propellants that can coat the sensor in a fine mist, worsening the situation.)

Select the Optimal Color Space
Many DSLRs allow you to shoot in the Adobe RGB 1998 or sRGB color space. There is considerable confusion over which is the “right” choice. Adobe RGB 1998 is a wider gamut color space than sRGB, so many photographers reason that this is the best option. Professional digital-imaging labs, however, use sRGB for their digital printers. Therefore, photographers working in Adobe 1998 RGB may be somewhat disheartened when their files are reconfigured and output in the narrower sRGB color space. As a result, many photographers use the Adobe 1998 RGB color space right up to the point that files are sent to a printer or out to the lab for printing.

Is there ever a need for other color spaces? Yes. It depends on your particular workflow. For example, all the images you see in this book have been converted from their native sRGB or Adobe 1998 RGB color space to the CMYK color space for photomechanical printing. As a general preference, I prefer images from photographers be in the Adobe 1998 RGB color space, as they seem to convert more naturally to CMYK.

In Adobe Camera Raw and other RAW-file processing software there exists another color space, which has become quite popular, called ProPhoto RGB. It is a “sticky” color space, meaning that it adds color data to the file. The added data cannot be seen on monitors currently sold, but what can be seen is the increased resolution and size of the image file. A typical RAW file made with a Nikon D200, which uses a 10.2MP sensor, produces a file in the neighborhood of 22 or 23MB. A good size file, to be sure—but when ProPhoto RGB is used to process the image in the RAW file processor, the file opens at 72MB, a very healthy increase in file size and potential resolution. Many photographers who shoot RAW, and also make large prints, process the images in this color space to take advantage of the added color data and larger file sizes.

Speeding Up Your Group Portraits
The best man and ushers can usually be persuaded to help organize large group photos. Be sure to have everyone make it sound like fun—it should be. One solution is to make your formal groups at the church door as the couple and bridal party emerge. Everyone in the wedding party is present and the parents are nearby. If you don’t have a lot of time to make these groups, this is a great way to get them all at once—in under five minutes.

This is the “bouquet of flowers” treatment for groups. Shooting from directly above to capitalize on the symmetry of the composition, Dan Doke created a beautiful portrait of the bride and her maids. Using an 85mm lens, the perspective is good and normal. With a wide-angle lens, faces this close to the frame edges would have been distorted.

Designing Wedding Groups

Today's post, which offers some insights into designing effective group portraits, comes from the book Master Posing Guide for Wedding Photographers by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

There are a number of ways to look at designing groups. The first is a technical aspect. Design your group so that those posed in the back are as close as possible to those in the front. This ensures that your plane of focus will cover the front row as well as the back row. Ensuring such an arrangement is a good habit to get into if you want your groups to be sharply focused.

The second consideration in designing groups is aesthetic. Y
ou are building a design when creating a group portrait. Norman Phillips likens group design to a florist arranging flowers. He says, “Sometimes we might want a tight bouquet of faces. Other times we might want to arrange our subjects so that the group looks interesting apart from the dynamics of the people in the group.” In other words, sometimes the design itself can be what’s important.

This is a carefully designed and expertly executed group photo by Kevin Jairaj. You have three subgroups set inside three arches. Each group is carefully arranged to create a V shape. The strength of the group arises from its asymmetrical nature (three, three, and two). Notice that the bride is the only one in a formal pose. She has good posture, with her weight on the back foot and standing erect. This contrasts with the tilted poses of the bridesmaids.

A third consideration is proximity. How close do you
want the members of the group to be? Phillips relates proximity to warmth and distance to elegance. If you open the group up, you have a lot more freedom to introduce flowing lines and shapes within the composition. On the other hand, a tightly arranged group where members are touching implies warmth and closeness.

Composition Basics Still Apply
When working with groups, the rules of
composition (like the rule of thirds) remain the same, but several key members of the group become the primary area of interest. In a wedding group, the bride and groom are usually the main centers of in
terest and, as such, should occupy a prime location.

Creating Lines and Shapes
Implied and inferred lines and shapes are created by the placement of faces within the frame. These become all the more important in group portraits, as they are the primary tool used to produce pleasing patterns within the composition and guide the eye through the picture.

This means that no two heads should ever be on the same level when next to each other, or directly on top of each other. Not only should heads be on different levels, but the subjects should be as well. In a group of five people, you can have all five on a different level—for example: one seated, one standing to the left or right, one seated on the arm of a chair, one kneeling on the other side of a chair, one kneeling down in front with their weight on their calves. Always think in terms of multiple levels. This makes any group portrait more pleasing.

The bigger the group, the more you must depend on your basic elements
of group portrait design—circles, triangles, inverted triangles, diagonals, and diamond shapes. You must also really work to highlight and accentuate lines, real and implied, throughout the group. If you lined people up in a row, you would have a very uninteresting “tea
m photo,” a concept that is the antithesis of fine group portraiture.

Notice the different head heights in this group portrait. They’re like musical notes on a score. The photographer, Marcus Bell, arranged the group into five neatly organized subgroups to give the overall gathering some dynamics. It is very effective and an attractive means of photographing a big group, like the bridal party.

The best way to previsualize this effect is to form subgroups as you start grouping people. For example, how about three bridesmaids here (perhaps forming an inverted triangle), three sisters over on the right side (perhaps forming a flowing diagonal line), a brother, a sister and their two kids (perhaps in a diamond shape with the littlest one standing between her mom and dad). Then combine the subsets, linking the line of an arm with the line of a dress. Leave a little space between these subgroups so that the design shapes you’ve formed don’t become too compressed. Let the subgroups flow from one to the next and then analyze the group as a whole to see what you’ve created.

Dissect this attractive pyramid-shaped group by South African photographer Brett Florens and you will see three straight lines and three groups of three, using the center-most standing girl in two groups. Good groups are nothing more than a careful arrangement of subgroups linking shapes and lines.

Remember that arms and hands help complete the composition by creating motion and dynamic lines that can and should lead up into the subjects’ faces. Hands and arms can “finish” lines started by the basic shape of the group.

Just because you might form a triangle
or a diamo
nd shape with one subset in a group does not mean that one of the people in that group cannot be used as an integral part of another group. You might find, for example, that the person in the middle of a group of seven unites two diamond shapes. In a portrait like this, each subset could be turned slightly toward the center to unify the composition or turned away from the center to give a bookend effect.

This wonderful portrait is not only a good group portrait, but a storytelling image as well. The bridesmaids, intent and confident they can fix the flowergirls’ hair, are hard at work, while the younger girls look at one another incredulously. Notice, too, the interplay of cohesive lines within the composition, which keep your eye within the circle of girls and tie the individuals together in an integrated composition. Photograph by Kevin Jairaj.

Be aware of intersecting lines that flow through the design. Diagonal lines are by far the most compelling visual line and can be used repeatedly without fear of overuse. The curving diagonal is even more pleasing and can be mixed with sharper diagonals within the composition.

Also, keep an eye on equalizing subject proximity—don’t have two heads
close together and two far apart. There should be equal distance between each of the heads. If you have a situation where one person is seated, one standing, and a third seated on the arm of the chair (placing the two seated heads in close proximity), back up and make the portrait a full-length. This minimizes the effect of the standing subject’s head being far from the others.

Buy this book from Amazon

Tips for Selling

Today's post, which offers some insights into creating an effective sales experience, comes from the book Master's Guide to Wedding Photography by Marcus Bell. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

The mere thought of selling is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many photographers, but the process need not be negative or complicated if it is approached with the right attitude.

Providing top-notch service and stunning images will make clients comfortable with their investment.

Provide Honest, Professional Advice
I am not a
fan of the hard sell, an approach that has given more than a few photographers a bad reputation among consumers.
The right approach to selling your photography is to be honest, open, and provide professional advice. Your client has come to you for a product, and they need you to advise them on the best way to get it. You will be surprised how receptive they will be to your ideas if you have established a solid relationship and excellent rapport. If the client does not trust you completely, your advice will lack believability and they will not act on your suggestions. Provide advice on what you would love, what you would purchase for your own collection, or what you would hang in your house. Explain that this is what you personally believe. Your clients will pick up on the honesty of your recommendation. Remember that they have come to you as an expert in your field, and they want your professional opinion.

Make sure your studio is always spotless and comfortable, yet warm and inviting.

Sell Your Work as Art
If you approach your work
from an artistic standpoint, you are truly producing fine art—and that’s how you should sell your work to your clients. Build in them an appreciation for the skill, emotion, and years of training and practice that have gone into producing their images. Use artistic terminology when speaking about your work and show them your range of artistic products. Defining and presenting your photography as art will add value to your product.

Use artistic terms when speaking about your work to increase its perceived value.

Showing Clients the Value of Photography
a client is hesitant to book, money is not always the issue, it also has a lot to do with the experience, the service, and the product—in this order of priority. In many cases, your clients will not have had much previous experience with professional photographers. It should, therefore, be part of your service to educate them about the art that you produce, your prices, your product range, and the value they will receive for their money.

Offer Prepurchase Options
It will work to your
advantage to offer clients the opportunity to prepurchase some of your products. You know that the album you are going to produce for them will be a classic work of art and that they will want every image you created to appear inside it. So, offer them the opportunity to purchase framed prints, art books, and other products prior to the wedding for a special price. This will ensure that they have budgeted for the products they will eventually desire. This is the only time we reduce our prices, and it is only to educate our clients. This lets them know that the album can be as large as they like, and it’s possible to package a larger album prior to the wedding. When you are showing clients your additional products, be sure to make a note of what you have shown them so that you can introduce new products next time and avoid repeating the process.

Pricing products is one of the
toughest decisions for a professional photographer to make. It sometimes requires you to step outside your comfort zone to truly appreciate all that goes into your work. Time and time again, I have had to search deep inside and remind myself of everything I have achieved, the years I have spent becoming the photographer and businessman I am, and believing that this was not a fluke. Success may come to those who have not earned it, but they rarely keep it. Only those who have earned their position retain success in the long run. You need to believe in your own talents, abilities, and possibilities. Be your own best friend in this regard. If you believe your photography is worth X amount of dollars, you could actually double it; generally photographers undervalue themselves. With photography, you can achieve any price for your product—prints in galleries, for instance, can be purchased for anywhere from $50 to well over $100,000. Never forget that you are not pricing for a piece of paper with an image on it. You’re pricing for all the things it took to get that image on the paper—years of training and practice; overhead to run your business, pay staff, and advertise your studio; camera, lighting, and computer equipment; and much more.


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