Wedding Photography – James Allan

Wedding SilhouettesRecently I was asked by a friend to photograph their wedding.  The request filled me with a mixture of emotions.  “It’s our second Marriage, and we don’t want the Wedding album thing, we just want you to do it your way. “

“Thank you, it is really nice to be picked.   What an honour, this is a great opportunity for me to develop my photography.”

Then after saying “Yes” I felt apprehensive and I started thinking—”I hope I don’t let them down.”  “They may sound relaxed, but they actually think I know what I’m doing.  I’m sure that they won’t be happy if I make a mess of it”  I’m reminded of the old adage about shooting a friends wedding—”say no and give them $100 towards hiring a professional photographer.”    You’ll probably save yourself a lot of bother and come out ahead financially.

In the end I had decided to give it a go.  First I spoke to my friend Helen Whitford.  Helen (if you don’t know) does a very professional job with her wedding photography.  She has a contract.  She negotiates what photographs she will take and writes a shot list.  She uses 2 cameras and starts at the wedding rehersal.  She goes to the brides before the ceremony.  She plans a few set shots on location.  She prints out the photos on quality pearl paper and produces a CD with a music sound track.  She produces over 300 images including a number in monochrome.  At the end of our meeting I felt overwhelmed.  I wasn’t sure if I could achieve all that.

I had this feeling that  there were two different styles of photos to be taken.  In the past when I was just a guest I had taken lots of candid shots.  It was like photojournalism, recording what took place.  There is a joy in capturing people unaware and absorbed in their own little world.  Now that I was appointed Wedding photographer I had agreed to take a series of set shots that marked the event.  For these shots I had to be far more directive and in control.  This was more like portrait photography.  I realized that I would have to adopt a different style in order to make it all work.

Wedding Picture1Frances and I went to Balyana, the location for both wedding and reception, and were a little disappointed by the lack of scenic qualities.  A 1980’s red brick building overlooked an oval with residences festooned around the perimeter.  The harsh midday lighting meant that I had to be clever to avoid harsh shadows.  I experimented and decided to use remote flash set to one side on a tripod.

A few days later at the wedding rehearsal (after dark) I  took the bride and groom around the various spots I had chosen for portraits.  I asked if on the day I could have someone to direct family members to the various locations.   We experimented with a few different portrait ideas.  I tried some silhouette shots.  I had them embrace a bird bath with interlinked arms.   Julie, the brides sister took note of what I was doing.  She later arranged for the birdbath to be filled with floating Camellia blossoms.  This proved very helpful on the day.

Wedding Picture6The night before the wedding I re-programmed the custom menus.  I made one setting for when I was shooting in natural light and another for when I was using flash.  I purchased fresh batteries for the flash.  All was set.  I was as prepared as I was going to be.

On the actual day  I started badly, running a little later than I had planned.  Not good for the anxiety levels.  I set up my tripod in a garden bed so that I would get some nice fill flash onto the faces of the wedding party.  I started taking some candid shots as the bride and groom prepared for the ceremony.  Melanie was adjusting flowers in The Grooms lapels, perfect.  Gradually I became aware that people were arriving and the pace was picking up.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control any more.  People weren’t listening to my directions, they were doing their own thing.  I switched mode and became the photojournalist, capturing what was happening—hoping not to miss a thing.

The ceremony began and to my horror realized that the wedding party were facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction.  Not only was my flash pointed at their backs and not helpful, you could also see the tripod in every shot.  Despite my best efforts, the backgrounds were all cluttered and people were stepping in front of the camera the whole time.  I told myself to “just relax and let it happen”

Wedding Picture7At times during the reception the motion was blurred and I realized that the shutter speed was getting slow.  I took the flash off the tripod and put it back on the camera, bouncing the light of the ceiling to soften it.  There were moments of sheer joy when things would just come together beautifully.  This was interspersed with moments of terror where nothing would work out.

So how did I go?  I think I would have liked more dedicated photographer time to work on the portrait shots.  I wanted clean backgrounds, sharply focused natural smiles with beautiful light.  Perhaps I got 4 or 5.  As things unfolded it was just not going to happen.  Some of the unexpected photos however were fantastic, perhaps unconventional, but for the same reason also fresh and original.

I printed 120 photos at 4×6 and mounted them in a leather bound album.  I arranged to print any enlargements that they wanted.  In the end Jill and Parry were pleased with the photos that I presented to them.

Looking back I realize that it wasn’t about my  journey, or my expectations.  It was about the couple.  When Jill looked through the photos, tears came to her eyes.  “It all happened so quickly”  I felt it was all out of control.  I’m glad that you’ve captured all of these things.  It’s like you’ve frozen time and taken me back to see what really happened.”


Wedding Photography Tips

  1. Create a ‘Shot List’
  2. Appoint a Family Photo Coordinator to round people up
  3. Scout the Location
  4. In Wedding Photography Preparation is Key
  5. Set expectations with the Couple
  6. Turn off the sound on your Camera
  7. Shoot the small details
  8. Use Two Cameras
  9. Consider a Second Wedding Photographer
  10. Be Bold but Not Obtrusive
  11. Learn how to Diffuse the Light from the flash
  12. Shoot in RAW
  13. Display Your Shots at the Reception
  14. Choose Your Backgrounds
  15. Don’t Discard Your ‘Mistakes’
  16. Change Your Perspective—high / Low
  17. Wedding Group Shots—take control
  18. Fill Flash—on sunny days
  19. Continuous Shooting Mode
  20. Expect the Unexpected
  21. Have Fun



Helen’s “Shot list” (Abbreviated)

  1. The Groom
    • Portrait—the clothes *
    • With best man
    • The rings
    • With mum
    • Dons Jacket / Tie
    • Mum adjusts tie
    • Kiss on Cheek
  2. The Bride
    • Full length *
    • Accessories (shoes, flowers)
    • Hair / Makeup
    • With Mum *
    • With Bridesmaids (together, individual) *
    • In Window
    • In Mirror
  3. Pre Ceremony
    • Groom and Best men waiting
    • The Church / Setting
    • Gathering guests
    • The Cars arrive
  4. The Ceremony
    • Bridesmaids entrance
    • Bride’s entrance (with Father)
    • Giving away
    • Vows *
    • Music / Readings *
    • Exchange Rings *
    • Kiss *
    • Signing *
    • Recessional (greeting guests in the aisle) *
    • Petals / Bubbles / confetti
    • Bride and Groom
  5. Selected Location shots *
    • Artistic—depends on location / couple
    • Lean on wall / Water reflection / path
    • Group Photos
    • Wedding Party *
    • Bride’s family *
    • Grooms Family *
    • ?Jump
  6. The Reception
    • Table settings *
    • Entrance
    • Speeches *
    • Cut Cake
    • Dance
    • Bouquet Throwing
    • Guests—as they talk to newly weds *
    • Candid Photos *

(Asterisks—The shots that I achieved )

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