Friday, July 25, 2014

Wedding Photography Tips - Part 2, Preparing for the Occasion

This second part of the Wedding Photography series gives you the first concrete things you need to know (click HERE if you want to read the first part again). And these are things you must plan and execute before you even arrive  at the wedding occasion. The preparation for the assignment can be divided into two parts, a technical part and a research part. The former refers to considerations regarding your equipment (for instance, answering to the question "which is the best Nikkor lens for wedding photography", or "what camera do I need for a wedding"?). The latter is related to communicating with the wedding couple or wedding planner (assuming they have asked you to take photos for the occasion) and scouting the location to know what to expect.

Technical Considerations
a) equipment

So, which is the best Nikkor lens for wedding photography? Or, which is the best Nikon DSLR camera for wedding photography?

The ones that will let you take the best possible photos your expertise allows you with the least possible cost.

For lenses, that could be an expensive midrange fast zoom, like the Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 which would probably be what I'd pick if I was working alone (which I don't, thank goodness). A more budget-friendly solution would be something like the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
DX users can of course opt for something like the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8

But if you're not working alone and/or you are not actually on assignment (as probably is the case, right?) then you would have far more fun and you would take far better photos if you opted for a single prime lens. Yes, that would mean you can't take all kinds of photos (say, no wide-angle or not long tele ones), but those you would take would be pretty great (all else being equal that is). If you think you'd rather take wider group shots or document the ceremony, opt for something like the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8
For tighter shots (i.e. portraits of individual people) the obvious selection would be the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8
DX users can replace the wider lens with its DX counterpart but the 85mm Nikkor would still be a great option for a short tele.

As for camera, it really doesn't matter. The answer is: what you have. Sure, higher-end models have better performance in terms of (very) high ISO image quality, but we're splitting hairs here. Oh, and an external flash is something I very seriously recommend.

Wanna know what I got with me for my recent wedding assignment? This:

It's easy to pack light when there's an other photographer backing you up
What's in the bag?
- Nikon D700
- Nikkor AF-D 50mm f/1.8
- SB-800
- extra batteries (for camera and flash)
- 2nd memory card.

There was even space for my sunglasses and wallet!
I admit that this is not a typical setup (thanks to my business partner and best friend working with me), but it still emphasizes the need to travel light. I was in location between 13:30 and 21:30 (my business partner stayed much longer, until the early morning hours). Try making it that long with a 70-200 f/2.8 hanging around your neck and you'll see what I mean. The less weight you drag, the better. Always.

b) settings
First of all: SHOOT RAW (great advice for all occasions, not just wedding photography). Apart from that, the only other things you need to worry beforehand are related to autofocus modes and metering. The details depend on your camera (with the D700 there's plenty of autofocus-related things to consider; with the D3200 far less so), but basically you need to have a clear vision of what you try to achieve. Generally speaking, I suggest AF-S (rather than AF-C) with your entry- or mid-level camera, so that the priority will be placed onto focus rather than release - with upper-level cameras you can fine-tune this aspect. Keep it as simple and predictable as possible - I wouldn't use Dynamic Area, let alone Auto Area. Single point and Single area is your best bet.

As for metering, Matrix is generally reliable with most things you throw at it, especially if you use an external flash for fill-in during harsh lighting conditions (or, alternatively, as a bounce indoors). It really depends on the context, which brings us to something more important than technicalities:

Communication and Location
This is very important, particularly if the couple (or the parents; or the wedding planner) have actively assigned the wedding photography task to you (and hey, remember to read the big fat warning at the end of Part 1).
You must:
i) know what is expected of you
ii) know the location where everything will take place
iii) have at least a general idea of how things will proceed

If someone has asked you to take pictures at the wedding, it must be made absolutely clear what that entails. Besides the warnings mentioned in Part 1, you must specify what kind of photos you are expected to take. Only during the ceremony? During the ceremony and the reception? Of the couple? Of the couple and the guests? Only the guests? Formal portraits? Goofy, candid photos of people having fun? All of the above? It is essential that you know that.

If nobody has asked you to do anything, and you simply do that for your own enjoyment (or because you want to offer some nice photos to the couple), you can still ask and answer that question for yourself. It will help you have photographic goals.

In regard to the location and how things will proceed at the wedding, the level of your involvement determines how much you can find out beforehand. In other words, if you are assigned the task, it is easy (and indeed, necessary) to be proactive and ask for details: What's the plan for the day, what will happen? Where is the wedding gonna be? What about the reception? How many people will there be there? Is there gonna be some surprise you should know about (e.g. balloons released at some specific moment)? Etc. Etc.

If you are not assigned to take photos, finding out about these things depends on how well you know the people involved. If they are close friends or relatives it will be easier to find out. Otherwise, you will be in the dark - in that case, go just a bit earlier and familiarize yourself with the surroundings.

Next time we'll be cutting to the chase - the main event! So make sure you subscribe to the Amateur Nikon newsletter, to get the update :)

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