My first wedding photoshoot: One always remembers his first time

Prologue

As an enthusiast photographer, you want to shoot every kind of subject at least once. It had been a while since I wanted to shoot a wedding. I think that our own wedding last summer has fueled this desire.

Last year, I had posted an offer for free wedding photography on a local Montreal photography forum. I should have known that it was not the right place for such an offer as only other photographers would see it.

What I did not expect was all the rage that it unleashed with comments like “who would hire a wedding photographer with no experience” (justifyingly) or other comments like “by offering free service, you are killing the business” (if you are worried that an amateur like me steals your job, then you must be a bad photographer).

So, this year, I posted my offer on Facebook and got a customer. Fast. Kind of lucky I would say, because who would prepare a wedding without a photographer?

The answer to that question lies with the couple itself. They wanted a super simple wedding, with only a few friends.

The “selection interview” was at their place and I made it clear to them that although I was new at weddings I did have quite a bit of experience with portraits, events and parties.

Essentially, what I wanted to do was to capture the moment, seize the emotion and tell their story.

Preparation

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like taking pictures (duh!), writing about it (here on my blog) and that I like reading books.

Once my engagement was confirmed, that’s the first thing I did: read books, blogs and look at YouTube’s videos.

Of the books I read, this cheap eBook was well worth the few bucks asked. “How To Photograph Your Friend’s Wedding Like A PRO” by William Cory is highly recommended.

I also very much liked this other one for its simple approach: few words and lots of pictures and comments about them. “Wedding Photography from the Heart” by Skip Cohen also deserves high praises.

I bought this third book, considered by many as the “Bible” (Koran or Torah) of wedding photography. With all due respect to a photographer with way more experience than I in the field, I did not like this book. Maybe it was more about the photographic style that did not match my tastes. “Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography” by David Ziser does not get my vote.

I did however learn something from Ziser: to use the “blinkies” as he calls it. On my Nikon, it is the highlights review mode. Very useful, actually essential, to ensure that you never overexposure your pictures.

As for videos on YouTube, I would recommend that you take a look at these series by Matt Granger and C Anthony Photography.

Scouting

About a month before the wedding, I went to scout the location, the Montreal Botanical Garden. All the literature I had read pointed to this very important preparation step.

I can now say that location scouting was ABSOLUTELY essential. It allowed me to check for available light, find great spots for group shots and for the wedded couple portraits.

I shared the pictures of my location scouting with my clients and they quickly agreed that the spots I had chosen were great. When it came to shooting the group shot and, especially, the bride and groom, my location scouting investment did pay off a thousand times.

Of the spots I had identified, the four pictures below represent a good sample. I did not intend these pictures to be beautiful, more of snapshots depicting the space, the size and the light. To show the space, I made sure to take pictures with people so that it would be easier to imagine the wedded couple.

Extérieur du pavillon Fuji1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400

Plage du jardin japonais1/800, f/6.3, ISO 200Petit pont japonais1/250, f/2.8, ISO 200Petit pont japonais1/250, f/8.0, ISO 200

D-Day

Then, D-Day came. The ceremony was scheduled at 11h30 am. My wife and I were at the bride and groom’s house at 8h30. Way too early for me, but oh so much fun and such a beautiful morning light.

I took a number of beauty shots of their rings, the dress and the groom’s preparation.

He is Briton, from Brittany in France. Being somewhat nationalistic, his Mom had brought a flag and I took this shot of the rings, on their balcony. The added maple leaf taken from the tree hovering over their balcony was a way to express the location of their wedding.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-35.jpg1/1250, f/1.8, ISO 100

On the more traditional side, I also took this picture of the bride’s dress… although the dress is far from a traditional one! I like how the morning light from the balcony peers through.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-18.jpg1/800, f/3.2, ISO 100

The couple lives in a famous quarter of Montreal called Le Plateau Mont-Royal. The apartments there all have outdoor staircases, a particularity of the sector. I wanted to mark that by taking this shot of the groom and the best man although patchy shadows through tree leaves make for difficult exposure conditions.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-176.jpg1/200, f/5.6, ISO 400

The day’s schedule allowed me to shoot the groom’s preparation and then move to the hairdresser where the bride was getting ready.

I figure that when taking wedding photography shots, one has to tell a story. This is clearly the intention behind this shot of her looking at herself to check the makeup and the hair.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-272.jpg1/100, f/5.0, ISO 800

Ceremony

I was to drive the bride to the Botanical Garden. This solved an issue I had with capturing the moment that the bride and the groom were to see each other for the first time.

I figured that as a wedding photographer, you want to strike a fine balance between controlling the events as they unfold yet being as unobtrusive as possible and letting the couple live every seconds of their day.

With the exception of the wedded couple portraits scheduled after the ceremony and the group shots, I wanted nothing to be scripted and I was to simply seize the moments and capture the emotions.

It turned out that the shot of them meeting up prior to the ceremony (Some would call it a sacrilege!) is not my best.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-443.jpg1/1250, f/6.3, ISO 400

I much prefer this shot as they prepare to enter the tent just seconds before the ceremony begins.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-601.jpg1/1000, f/7.1, ISO 800

Speaking of the tent under which the ceremony was held, it made for difficult conditions as subjects moved in and out of shadows. Thankfully I shoot RAW, which is more forgiving than JPG.

I shoot in aperture priority and I keep my ISO completely manual. This way, I ensure that I am the one making decisions about the exposure.

I may however need to explore how to restore its default configuration of auto ISO and see how this can assist me in getting better exposures on the go. Some shots were taken too slow at 1/100” and movement shadows crept in as I forgot or did not have the time to adjust the ISO to compensate for exposure differences.

I figure that this is why I wanted to be given the opportunity to shoot a wedding so that I can learn by experience.

The ceremony offered me many opportunities at capturing great moments.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-643.jpg1/160, f/9.0, ISO 800

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-647.jpg1/320, f/5.6, ISO 800

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-637.jpg1/320, f/5.0, ISO 800

I also had fun doing a little retouching in Lightroom.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-4-2.jpg1/160, f/5.6, ISO 400

But things happen way too fast. I was not able to catch the ring bearer girl as she walked up the isle. Then again, when telling this story to the newly wed couple when I went to their place a few days later to show them the pics, they also pointed to the fact that she was not supposed to run up the isle :).

I was however able to later catch her drinking from a large wine glass – sans the wine of course!

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-261-2.jpg1/1600, f/5.3, ISO 400

A wedding is never complete without a group photo.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-296-2.jpg1/500, f/8.0, ISO 200

Photoshoot

My favorite part of the day and the one that I personally had been waiting for was the portraits photoshoot of the couple in the location I had scouted.

If you are in Montreal, the Botanical Garden is a must place to photograph as well as being very popular with wedding photographers.

As we were walking from the ceremony location to the Japanese gardens, I took this shot of them walking together.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-405-2.jpg1/800, f/6.3, ISO 400

As we were preparing for the formal shots, I took this picture while she was preparing her husband. Sometimes, these are the best shots.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-412-2.jpg1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 100

This next shot is totally staged and planned for. I had asked the couple to distantly look away, I had scouted the location and, noticing his wedding ring on a previous shot, I asked her to bring her hand up so that we could see her ring as well.

A classic shot, yet it still works as they had chosen the Japanese garden as their location.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-427-2.jpg1/1250, f/2.8, ISO 100

I wanted to show the wedded couple but I also wanted to show where they were. This is why I also took this wider frame.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-465-2.jpg1/640, f/4.5, ISO 100

If you recall from the scouting pictures, I had spotted a bridge. In the background we could also see the mast of the 1976 Montreal Olympic stadium. I had not chosen the location for the background, yet the clients liked it for it. Call this a win-win scenario.

Of the many skills that I need to perfect, one of them is guiding my models. This is where once again my wife came to the rescue. She asked the wedded couple to look at the pond, pointing fingers at the Japanese fishes swimming in it. It gives this very natural looking pose. The sepia treatment adds to the setting.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-502-2.jpg1/640, f/4.5, ISO 100

Of the many books and blogs I read prior to the event, most pointed to the fact that one needs to know his gears before shooting a wedding. I felt confident on that front. I had however introduced a new variable: my newly acquired battery grip.

I very much love my new battery grip… but when switching orientations between portrait and landscape, I would sometimes hit the mode dial and inadvertently switch to manual mode causing me to over expose.

This is what happened for the next shots on the docks. And the whole series is over exposed by at least two stops – beyond what a RAW file will allow for forgiveness. I was however saved by the fact that I wanted these shots to be ‘artsy’ in composition with a strong diagonal. This prompted me this post processing effect, somewhat of a comic strip effect.

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-510-2.jpg1/100, f/4.5, ISO 100

Epilogue

I wanted this first wedding shoot to be experience gathering for me. I used to have a boss would tell me that experience is the sum of our errors. Well, I can only conclude that I sure have gained a lot of experience ;).

I took about 1400 pictures and had to use a second 16GB SD card – which I had readily available.

I should have turned off my online back-up Back Blaze before importing all these pics in Lightroom. Uploading all these pics in the cloud busted my monthly bitcap (I know that my American readers do not have this bitcap limitation – yet).

Having my wife as second shooter and assistant, even if she only had my Canon G9, was very useful and so much fun for me to share my passion with her. Merci mon amour.

I forgot however to sync my two cameras’ clocks and set my Canon G9 to RAW. I should have remembered about the clock thing as I had quite a bit of trouble syncing our own wedding pics from nine different cameras.

I like to take pictures. In doing so, I aim to capture emotions, to seize the moment and to tell a story.

In the end, I was the one caught by the emotion of this beautiful wedding with such a beautiful couple. I will always remember this first time.

The final word belongs to them and the nice note they wrote, which I will translate for my English readers.

“Maxime has produced magnificent pictures of our wedding! Thanks to his attentive and discreet presence, he was able to seize the moments of emotion and the details that have marked this memorable day. We really appreciated his professionalism and his good humor.” Anna and Cedric, July 14, 2012.

“Maxime a réalisé de magnifiques photos de notre mariage ! Grâce à sa présence attentive et discrète, il a su saisir les moments d’émotion et les détails qui ont marqué cette journée inoubliable. Nous avons vraiment apprécié son professionnalisme et sa bonne humeur”. Anna & Cédric (mariage 14 juillet 2012)

Mariage Anna et Cedric 14 Juillet 2012-210-2.jpg1/100, f/5.0, ISO 400

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8 Responses to My first wedding photoshoot: One always remembers his first time

  1. Rémi says:

    Waaaah Max ! Très impressionnant ! Ça donne le goût de se marier ! … Me reste à trouver l’équipement de base …

  2. maximegousse says:

    Remi, do not despair, she is just around the corner 🙂

  3. Paul says:

    Max – can you tell me something about how you exposed for these pictures?

  4. Paul says:

    Thanks Max. What about metering? As a beginner this is a problem area for me? Do you use evalautive, spot, manual – or a combination?

  5. Pingback: Looking at changing batteries | MaxPhotoBlog.net

  6. Pingback: How I use Evernote as a photographer and as a blogger | MaxPhotoBlog.net

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