My best advice for wedding photographers
An interesting conversation I had with another photographer a few years back, had a surprisingly energizing effect on him. At a get-together at one of the photo conventions we struck up a conversation, and he told me how as a newer photographer, he was completely intimidated by the magnificent images he sees on the best photographers’ websites and on their FB pages. He felt he would never be able to match those.
My comment was that he doesn’t have to match those at every wedding. What we are seeing are the cherry-picked “hero” shots. We won’t be trekking up the Himalayas with every couple we photograph. We won’t have grand vistas of mountain ranges as a backdrop at every wedding. We won’t have gorgeous destination wedding scenery for every wedding either. For the vast majority of the time we will be photographing people at more modest venues. Simpler ceremonies and parties. Backyard weddings.
So it is unfair to compare your work to those cherry-picked images that win awards at the international photography conventions.
My advice to him was simple – create solid work, and aim for those moments of brilliance.
That’s it. Be a good photographer and create good images. Consistently. Don’t mess it up. Just do work you can be proud of, and make your clients happy. Don’t compare yourself with the very pinnacle of the best wedding photographs you see.
Create solid work, and aim for those moments of brilliance. Aim for those images which you’d love to post on your blog and on your FB page. They are there!
In our follow-up conversation years later, he explained that this advice helped him calm down and focus. Just be solid. That’s a realistically attainable goal at every wedding.
Simple advice really. There’s no blindingly bright spark that will magically transform you. However, I do think that if you feel intimidated and anxious and less pleased with your own work – even if you are good at what you do – then this advice will help you realize you have a base platform to work from. Just create good work … and then keep an eye out for those moments and opportunities where you can shine. You can do this. Breathe.
Becoming a better photographer
This advice – to consistently create solid work – is of course dependent on you having to know your basic photography techniques. You have to know your gear. There are no short-cuts.
- Tips on improving your photography technique
You have to understand how shutter speed, aperture and ISO inter-relate. You need to know this so well that it is instinctive. You need to know your camera dials and operation without looking down.
- Improve your photo-shoot workflow
And then there are certain common sense things you should always do … or never do.
- Take control of the formal family photographs
- You have to understand the Direction and Quality of Light, whether you use available light, or off-camera flash, or on-camera flash.
You can’t “fast track” your way to this
Contrary to the feel-good advice you hear at conventions and seminars, you can’t “fast track’ your way to this. You also need much much more than just a passion for photography. You also need to get serious about what you do. You can’t follow vacuous advice such as one of the “rock star” photographers who had a “System” where he suggested you don’t even need your own camera – that you could borrow a camera from a friend. Yeah – I still don’t quite know how to reply to that.
This cartoon is full of some serious truth. All of you who have achieved some level of success will know this already. For those of you on your way up, this is it.
Your competition is better equipped than you are, and attend more workshops, and read more voraciously than you do. Your competition shoots more often, is more imaginative, and tries more things. So you’re up for some serious hard work to be successful.
Yet … you also know you can do it with diligent work. That goal of being able to deliver really good work, is attainable. You can do it.
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself by comparing your work with the hand-picked and carefully massaged photos by the top photographers. That’s just not realistic.
That’s it really, in its most simple form. Be solid, and then aim for those spectacular moments. Or if you want it in my real voice – Don’t fuck it up!
More photos from their wedding
More photos of DaWeon & Toban’s wedding can be seen on my wedding photography blog – Philadelphia wedding at Boathouse Row. Here’s the techie info for a few of the images.
1/640 @ f/3.5 @ 1600 ISO … available light only
70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm
With the soft evening light, there was no reason to use additional lighting. I allowed them space to interact with one another – aiming for a natural feel to these portraits, even though I did want a few images where either DaWeon or Toban is camera-aware. Here I used the lens at the maximum focal length to compress the perspective. I purposely zoom to 200mm, and then step back to get the composition I want.
1/250 @ f/4 @ 200 ISO …. off-camera flash with the Profoto B1 flash and 1×3 stripbox (affiliate)
70-200mm f/2.8 @ 100mm
To balance the exposure against the evening sky, I had to use off-camera flash. There’s no way around that. That’s the techie stuff, but the real magic comes in directing a couple – not posing, but directing them – in such a way that the photo has a near -spontaneous natural feel to it.
1/800 @ f/4 @ 100 ISO …. off-camera flash with the Profoto B1 flash and 1×3 stripbox (affiliate)
70-200mm f/2.8 @ 190mm
I zoomed close to the maximum focal length here so that I could really compress the perspective, and make the city appear larger behind them. Off-camera flash was necessary to balance the exposure for them with the background. It helped tremendously that I used the Profoto B1 flash (affiliate) – it allowed me to go to high-speed flash sync for shallow depth of field, while still using a softbox for softer light.
1/160 @ f/5.6 @ 100 ISO …. off-camera flash with the Profoto B1 flash and 1×3 stripbox (affiliate)
24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm
I really love this photo that was also shown at the top – a bridal portrait of DaWeon on the steps behind the Museum of Art. There’s intentionally a dash of sexiness to the photo – just as it should be.
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9 Comments, Add Your Own
Great post as usual Neil.
How do you decide which off camera light to use? Speedlight or ProPhoto.
Is that based on how much power you need, or how light you want to travel?
You have used various sized softboxes ranging from your 24×24 square softbox to an octagon shaped softbox or in this case a 1×3. Does the modifier come into play when deciding on a light?
2Neil vN says
Jay, at this point, when I shoot outside, or where I might need to use HSS, I go with the Profoto B1.
– Using the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding
During the bride’s prep or reception, I will revert to on-camera bounce flash.
– Photographing the wedding reception with one on-camera bounce flash
Always great advice!
Hi, Neil –
I enjoyed this very much. What would be helpful in articles such as these – to me, anyway – would be to have the flash-power settings if it’s possible. If it’s ETTL, then roughly how far away from the subject the off-camera light was placed.
4Neil vN says
The actual, discrete flash power settings have no real meaning here – it would just be a number, since you don’t know the distance, or the diffusion of the softbox.
Also, the thought-process in how to balance flash with ambient light, is MUCH more valuable than the numerical values.
With the Profoto B1, I most often start with TTL to get the flash exposure, and then switch the controller to manual, so that the flash exposure is now locked.
By the way, with TTL flash, the distance and ISO and aperture becomes “transparent” to how we use flash. So the distance is even less meaningful for us here in describing the flash power.
Great article Neil,
Solid advice there, as you say there is no shortcut just hard work. I think small incremental steps is the way to go, these add up over time.
Good advice Neil, I was on this journey a few years ago, my advice is don’t expect show piece images from the start, just try and improve at each wedding, those images will come
7Paul C Wynn says
Thanks Neil for the sound words and for maintaining Tangents, a truly unique and inspiring place. I remember when starting out as a ‘wedding’ photographer, I was also intimidated by the stunning images you see in the press from the established names. I quickly realised that my first priority is always to deliver the photographs my clients want to help them remember their day, after all it is a wedding not a staged photo shoot. It’s only as I’ve become more established and confident in my own abilities, that I try to fit one or two shots for me into the schedule. That way I can get some creative satisfaction from the day, but ultimately the needs of my clients come first.
8Theo Vermeulen says
Your photos all seem so three dimensional! That really brings them to life. Great work!