What I shoot weddings with and how I use it to create + capture mood
What camera equipment do wedding photographers need? Like with most other professions, finding out which tools you need for your work is largely dependent on your preferences and what you like to create. I don’t know about you, but I’m always fascinated to learn about the creative process of a fellow photographer or artist. It’s also good to understand a bit about how your photographer likes to work if you are planning on working with one in the near future. I’m not going to get too deep into the technical aspects, but if you’d like more of that in future posts let me know because I’ll talk about it forever!
Gear + why it’s not that important (but still kind of is)
Aside from what is actually being captured in an image, how it is captured can have a great impact on the mood it conveys. The type of lens used, the depth of field, what is being focused on, the lighting, and the composition can all affect what you feel when you look at that photo. Often the photographs that aren’t “perfect” but rather that tell a story or capture a mood are my couple’s favorites.
It’s my belief that the gear you use to create images should really just be a way to get to where you want to go. As far as my equipment goes, I love to keep it simple. When I arrive on a shoot I often hear the remark “you travel light!” and it’s true. Pretty much everything I bring to a shoot fits in my backpack. I like to keep my kit pared down as much as possible to only my favorites and essentials so that I can focus on what is most important. There are photographers who like to use a lot of lighting gear and gadgets and that’s cool too. Another thing I love about not having too much gear is that guests tend to notice you less, meaning I’m more likely to be able to catch them with their guard down. People are VERY aware of a camera even if it’s a pretty discreet one, so I try to blend in as much as possible and not have too much stuff hanging off of me.
Flexibility is the main reason why professional wedding photographers need more expensive/high-end equipment. The lighting variables at a wedding change constantly. Wedding photographers in particular need equipment that can handle low-light reception situations.
If your reception is dark I’ll usually be bouncing my flash to create more natural lighting. But I sometimes like shooting without a speed light, for a different sort of effect. With the image below, I quickly turned off my flash so that the tears on Liz’s face would stand out and I could better capture the feeling of the moment. In order to be able to do this I needed a camera with a sensor that is capable an image in low-light so that I could keep my shutter speed high enough to freeze motion (that’s why if you try to take a photo in dim lighting with your phone it’s usually either completely dark, or blurry). I also need a lens that is fast enough, which means that it has a large aperture capable of letting in a lot of light.
It’s also important to me to be able to shoot with a camera that has a full frame sensor. Why does this matter? Because a crop sensor will create an image that is cropped or zoomed in (you can see an approximation below). So with a cropped sensor camera, an image shot with a 28mm lens will look like it was shot with a 35mm lens, roughly. I tend to get close to my subjects, so using a full frame DSLR lets me do this while still capturing a good amount of background. If want to fill the frame with just your faces/hands/other body parts (?) I’ll probably reach for my 50mm.
Overall, my equipment matters only up to a certain point, and that is the point where it allows me capture what I want to in the way that I want to. You can create a terrible photo with the most expensive camera in the world, and you can create an amazing photo with a disposable camera bought at CVS. The gear doesn’t matter very much in comparison to the photographer’s knowledge, ideas, and time spent behind the camera.
I love using prime lenses because I find that I just like how I shoot better with them, plain and simple. They force me to “zoom with my feet” as the expression goes, and I find that keeping active like this also keeps me more creative and willing to step into weirder positions instead of relying on a zoom. I am constantly moving around and lying on the ground while shooting and my primes encourage/force me to to this. Some photographers shoot only with zoom lenses and think primes are a hassle. Again, all just preference.
I use my 50mm and my 28mm 99% of the time, only carrying my 85-200mm zoom for situations where I can’t possibly get close (certain wedding ceremonies, for example). I love using my 28mm to get slightly distorted dancing and reception shots. I also love my 28mm for creative portraits and in-home sessions. It helps create images that are really dynamic and a bit exaggerated, like the samples below. I used to use my 50mm almost exclusively and now I’d say I use my 28mm slightly more. The 28mm I use is the Nikon f/1.8 G and I have no complaints. I find myself loving it more and more.
Images shot with 28mm
My 50mm is great for portraits and ceremonies where I want to be able to capture facial expressions and crop out your officiant (sorry JPs). A 50mm lens is really versatile and lets me get in closer without the distortion that my 28mm will cause. I love using it, especially for shoulder-up and waist-up portraits.
Images shot with 50mm
The downside to primes? If you want to change focal lengths you either have to have multiple cameras or be willing to take your lenses on and off. Because I’d rather be capturing all the exciting stuff going on instead of messing around with changing lenses, I opt to shoot with two cameras.
I shoot with my lenses pretty wide open, meaning I’m usually close to the lowest aperture number the lens has to offer. This combined with being closer to my subjects allows for a more shallow depth of field, which means a bit more blur and bokeh in the background. How wide open a photographer shoots can actually greatly affect how their images look, and some photographers like having their backgrounds more in focus. I think softer images also look more like my film work, which is a plus for me.
I learned photography on film and will never stop shooting it. Most of my personal work is shot on film, and I often shoot a roll or two at weddings and portrait sessions as well. Primarily though, I shoot digitally for weddings, because film doesn’t play very well with the dim lighting situations that are common at weddings. I find that shooting on film is mostly valuable to me because of the hands-on aspect, and the way it influences the way that I shoot.
It’s a little hard to explain, but for me the benefit of shooting film is the frame of mind it gets me into. Even when shooting digitally I tend to be more thoughtful in my shots because with film you only have a certain number of frames, so I’m used to that way of thinking. From a technical standpoint, film retains highlights better, which is something I carry over into my digital work by shooting a little bit underexposed. Some photographers love to blow out their highlights but I prefer a slightly moodier, more film-like look. Again, infinite ways to create.
Experimenting, bits n’ things
It’s no secret that I love trying out new techniques while shooting, whether that’s playing with lighting, focus, or shutter speed.
I don’t shoot this way just for the sake of being different; I really believe that more abstract images can often convey a mood with more accuracy than an image that is more straightforward. I think that mood and emotion are the most important things that should be captured on your wedding day or during your portrait session.
In more experimental shots I might bounce my flash in interesting ways, lower my shutter speed to capture motion blur, shoot through pieces of material and fabric, turn off my flash to let the colorful uplighting go crazy, or use one of my vintage cameras with film for fun. No, I’m not going to go crazy during your wedding ceremony, but there is definitely room in portraits and reception photos for some out-of-the-box thinking!
I love bringing different textures and fabrics to play with during sessions, especially scarves. Sometimes a contrasting fabric can really bring life to a portrait, and get me shooting in a different way.
Aside from all the major essentials, there are lots of little accessories that I bring along to shoots:
-Tons of charged backup camera batteries and two battery chargers
-Backup AA batteries for my speedlight
-Lots of memory cards, both large and small capacity
–Memory card wallet to clip to me ol’ pants
-Advil because I will probably need it by the end of the night
-Tripod (very rarely)
-Scarves and other knickknacks
Directing and organizing sessions
Although this isn’t directly related to camera gear, I think it’s the most important thing when photographing people. How I direct and organize your session is something that is constantly evolving. More and more I find that if I sit down and brainstorm before a shoot and how I want to approach it, the better and more cohesive the results. Although my style is very candid and documentary in nature, there is a strange sort of paradox in the fact that I on some level need to plan in order to be spontaneous. I talk about this a lot and if you shoot with me you will hear about it again (whether you like it or not!) but it really is important. The planning and absorbing inspiration happens before the shoot so that during, I can be more creatively free and open and focus on you. I talk a lot with my couples and families beforehand so they know exactly what to expect and how I’ll be shooting during their sessions.
I hope this was interesting, and as always, if you have comments or questions feel free to leave them below!
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