A friend and former coworker got in touch with me recently, wondering if I'd be willing to shoot her wedding. Taking a deep breath, I replied "I am honored you'd even ask and would be delighted to!"
Then reality set in.
And the reality was this: I'd never shot a wedding. In fact, weddings terrified me. It's one thing to shoot with a model where you can set the pace and control the environment and conditions. But weddings ... weddings are monolithic steam engines of events. They have a life of their own, their own momentum, their own inertia. Weddings have moments that, if missed, will never be repeated. Weddings are a few short hours of memories packed as tightly together as sardines in a can. Miss the magic, photographer, and woe be unto you. Also, weddings have tons of witnesses with huge emotional ties to the event so, you know, no pressure.
If you've read my other blog posts, however, you will know I've committed to doing things that turn my insides into quivering jelly. In the name of progress. In the name of continuing my photographic evolution regardless of knocking knees, regardless of the voice in the back of your head chortling "Oh ho! Now you've done it!"
Thus we came to an agreement. A couple months from now, I'd be photographing their wedding and reception. I'm enough of a procrastinator to be able to shove things like this out of my mind. After all, it's months from now, right? I do like to think I've matured a little since my college days, so I did scour other photographers' websites for inspiration and to gain a better understanding of the shots that would be expected. My nerves were hibernating under a thick blanket of days.
Before I knew it, the two months had flown by and we were headed to San Pedro. My wife, Stephanie, had since agreed to coordinate the event, so we were headed down together. As we neared our destination, I felt vaguely like throwing up. My nerves had decided their procrastinating was over! What if I missed those perfect moments? What if I missed someone so central to their lives they couldn't bear not having a photo of them? What if I got in the way? What if I didn't have the guts to make decisions? Doubts clustered thickly in the truck. Now was not the time to panic, however. In fact, there's never a time to panic. I'd been here before. In a previous classical choral performance life, I'd learned that lesson. If you lose your composure when things aren't going right, it's game over. Wa-ter-mel-on, people! Fake the words until your recover. Keep that smile on your face! So I stifled my self doubt as we pulled up to Kristin and Jeanne's house.
The arrangement was that I'd drive to the wedding venue with the brides while Stephanie remained at the house to oversee all the reception plans. On the way to the church, I said, "So you're okay with me going anywhere I like during the ceremony as long as I'm not like ridiculously intrusive?" They assured me that was indeed totally fine. With expectations set, I breathed a bit easier.
They also said there were some lovely bushes and flowers in front of the church that seemed like a good place to do the formal shots of wedding party and family members. That sounded awesome, but I was a little concerned about direct sunlight. It was late in the afternoon and I was shooting alone, so there was no question of using diffusion panels. For the large group shots, they would have been impractical anyway.
We arrived and walked en masse to the front of the church. I tried a couple pictures by the flowers and greenery and my suspicions proved correct. The light was harsh and everyone was squinting. Plus, shooting white clothes in direct sunlight runs the risk of blowing out highlights due to overexposure. After a few frames, I said I think we would get better shots in some of the open shade I had seen behind the church. Kristin and Jeanne were amazing and flexible and trusted my judgment. So as Kristin gathered the crowd, I returned to rear of the building and got set up. More comfortable, I began working through the shot list. These are just some of the many images we created.
We laughed, bantered, had a great time. I was happy I could draw on my experience and make a call on what conditions we needed for awesome shots. Now it was time for the ceremony though. I've shot plenty of events and some red carpet and my style tends toward the journalistic but this - as stated above - was another beast entirely.
My initial plan was to switch between my 24-70 f/2.8 for wider shots and 70-200 f/2.8 for closer, more intimate compositions. I only have one camera body (which, yes, is walking the razor's edge if something malfunctions) so I didn't have the luxury of switching between cameras - I'd need to switch lenses. It quickly became apparent this strategy was not going to work. I'd miss shots while changing out. No bueno.
I opted for the 70-200. The sanctuary was big enough that I could get physically far enough away to get wider shots while still maintaining all that lovely zoom for the closer ones. At that point, the shoot became all about aesthetics. Where was the best light? Through the left bank of windows. How can I make these shots more interesting? By shooting just over the shoulders of the wedding party. It settled into the normal rhythm of shooting an event - waiting for lovely expressions (I don't subscribe to the spray-and-pray philosophy), catching moments and settling into the ever vigilant state all photographers have experienced: know where you are and what's happening at all times, but never lose focus on your subjects.
And you know what I didn't do? I didn't miss the kiss. ;)
Or this one, for that matter!
Or the toasts!
And certainly didn't miss the joy and love that suffused the entire day in its own perfect radiance.