Why is wedding photography seen as some kind of torture, or avoided like the plague? Deputy Editor Geoff Harris believes it’s a great way to improve your portrait skills, people skills and camera skills generally
As well as my day job here on AP, I shoot a few weddings a year, something I’ve kept on as a sideline since my days of being self-employed. The money’s useful to fund my motorbike, art and travel addictions, but more importantly, it makes me a better photographer.
Often, when I mention to other photographers that I do weddings or marriage-related ceremonies, they pull a face, as if I’ve just divulged that I clean sewers at the weekend for fun.
‘Oh I’d never do that, you must be mad to keep doing it,’ is a common response, along with ‘God, I shot one once – never again.’
I can understand that wedding photography is not for everyone, but I believe that a lot of my peers could benefit from at least giving it a go (as well as showing a bit more respect to photographers who do it for a living). Here’s why.
1. It makes you a better photographer technically
A lot of people are put off wedding photography because of the responsibility – you are, after all, recording a once in a lifetime event (even with the west’s high divorce rate). So you need to be on top of your game technically. If you foul up the exposure or focus, you can’t get everybody back to do the exchanging of rings again.
You have to swim or sink, and as a result, anyone who survives their first wedding naturally gets more adept at mastering and applying the exposure triangle, and working in challenging lighting conditions.
I remember doing a ceremony at Bristol registry office where the walls where a deep shade of crimson, like Castle Dracula. So you also get good at mastering manual white balance, or at the very least, fixing it quickly in software.
And then there’s the wedding dress. Not every bride wears white, but if they do, you better not blow out the highlights on their expensive outfit. You learn to watch the histogram like a hawk!
2. You get into good habits
Do you sometimes forget to back up memory cards or lose pictures altogether? Do this with wedding photography and you’re toast. The prospect of having to tell a bride/couple that you’ve mislaid half the pictures is terrifying and could even end up in legal action, so you soon get into the habit of promptly downloading images from the memory cards and backing them up. This good practice transfers into other areas of your photography too.
3. Your portrait photography skills improve
Many couples will want lots of shots of them together, both before and after the ceremony, and you soon learn ways to get them to relax and pose more naturally (getting them to hold something is a great tip as often they don’t know what to do with their hands).
This also benefits other types of portrait photography, including street portraits or working with models. You also learn that even with a technically imperfect shot – a slightly soft or noisy one, for example – the customer usually doesn’t care if it captures a very emotional moment or helps tell the story of the day.
I am not saying you should slack-off on good technique, but you do start to see the bigger picture and become less of a pixel peeper. This can help when editing your personal work.
4. Your composition skills get better
As you are (usually) selling the images you take at a wedding, you want them to be as good as possible to save any awkward conversations about refunds. So again, you quickly learn the art of framing, quickly scanning all four corners of the frame before pressing the shutter button.
Said bride (or groom, or couple, or whatever) won’t be very happy if there’s a tree sticking of their head on most of the shots. You also need to work out the best way to include large groups in your shots; spotting ugly distractions in the background, such as bins and vans, soon becomes second nature.
5. Your black and white skills sharpen
Many of my couples ask for a mixture of black and white and colour shots, so deciding which images to convert to black and white gets you thinking more carefully about tone, texture, contrast etc. Not every image works so well in black and white, after all. It also gets you ‘thinking’ in black and white when you are out there taking the pictures.
6. You get more enlightened about lighting
A lot of wedding photographers only use natural light, which is fine, but I prefer to use a bit of fill flash, both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors it can help to smooth-out shadows on a very sunny day, and indoors it can help keep shots sharp and punchy. Necessity is the mother of invention, so you soon learn to get to grips with your flashgun, including manual settings.
7. You develop people skills
A big part of wedding photography is the organisational side, particularly when it comes to the group shots of family and friends. After the ceremony, everyone is as high as a kite, so any seasoned wedding shooter will have already got a list of the groups and somebody in the know to help them get said groups together (unless it’s your family, you won’t know what Aunt Petunia looks like, remember).
Even when very organised, you have to learn how to politely but firmly corral excited – and sometimes slightly tipsy – people into groups and pose them correctly, so it’s a good lesson in assertiveness.
Yes it can sometimes feel like herding cats, but get a lot of group shots under your belt and you soon lose your shyness about asking people for pictures in your street or travel work, for example. Furthermore you learn to handle clergy and registry office officials in a polite and mutually productive way.
8. Your editing skills improve
Having to whittle 500 wedding shots down to 150 or so will soon hone your photo-editing skills, through intense practice and repetition. You also learn to be a better picture editor, developing a keener sense of which images work and which don’t.
The discipline you develop pays off. When there is no deadline or money at stake, images can sit on your memory cards for ages before you get round to looking at them (if ever).
9. It offsets imposter syndrome
Like most artists, a lot of photographers tend to be insecure. Getting good feedback from a couple and their families really boosts your confidence. Heck, you are out there taking photos which people are willing to pay good money for. That is quite an achievement these days, and something that a lot of so-called experts on social media or in camera clubs can’t lay claim to.
Also shooting weddings in a professional capacity helps you to take a more professional approach to your own work, rather than being very thin-skinned and precious about it.
Even the best wedding photographer in the world sometimes encounters a difficult couple who take issue with some of the pictures, though in my experience this is often because they spent too much money and want some back. Stand your ground, unless they have a valid point, in which case learn from it for next time.
10. Shooting a wedding is rewarding
Yes, weddings can sometimes be stressful but the adrenaline usually gets you through, and you can take satisfaction from a job well done. I’ve worked so hard on some days, my shutter finger aches, not to mention my feet and shoulders.
Suck it up and book a massage – you will be delivering images that generations of people will hopefully look back on and enjoy, which again, is not something that a lot of photographers can claim in our image-saturated age.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography related subject, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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