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Wedding Photography Part 1 -organisational strategy

Wedding Photography Part 1 -organisational strategy - There's as much skill required in organising groups at a wedding as there is sorting out exposure and composition. Our guide will help you become ringmaster

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Words Mike Upstone, Pictures Mike Upstone and Nigel Harper

Over the next four months we will provide an insight into technical and creative challenges raised by wedding photography and offer practical methods for producing consistent results and avoiding missed opportunities. Wedding photographers work in widely differing ways so treat our suggestions as a starting point from which to work on your technique.

Contrary to popular myth wedding photography is probably the most demanding discipline of all professional work. It is very easy to do badly. A top professional such as Nigel Harper can produce advertising quality; outdoors or indoors, with available light and flash, with groups and individuals, in a variety of styles, in all weather conditions under great pressure and all with an amateur cast.

Top wedding photographers have their technique down to such a fine art that fellow professionals frequently find it impossible to accept that their images were really produced on the day. Stable technique makes life easier and keeps the results consistent. Experienced photographers dont tend to shift from reflectors one minute to fill-in flash the next they can spend more time on the details not the basics.

The moral is to be consistent. In other words if you only concentrate on one technique outdoors and another one indoors, you will quickly be able to do both consistently well. This means the process becomes automatic and time can be spent on improving other areas such as posing, cropping and composition instead.

In Part 1 we will look at how to organise guests at the wedding and arrange groups

Always recce weddings first or arrive very early on the day if a pre-wedding day reconnaissance is impossible.
An effective organisation strategy will save enormous time and stress at a wedding but it must be flexible in order to meet contingencies. Some photographers carry a list of photographs to take. Generally it is far more efficient to start with the largest group and dismiss people, than to start with a few and keep calling for others. It is easier to maintain the interest of the key parties rather than keep the masses waiting until the end of the session by which time they may be much less co-operative through the effects of heat, cold, drink or boredom.

Our suggested strategy is divided into 2 phases;
Before the service is for getting ahead of the game.
After the service the key is organisation, control and efficiency.

Taking 150-200 photographs at a wedding
Our strategy is to create as many opportunities as possible from each situation you may want to edit our list or add to it. Many photographers sensibly take two versions of each shot in order to eliminate blinks and introduce as much variety as possible. It is common for top wedding photographers to do a full-length version followed by a head and shoulders or half-length version of the same set-up as opposed to two photographs, which are exactly the same.

When you read through our list and work out the basic options available you will see how easy it is to make 150 different photographs at a wedding, including a couple of quick options of each shot and a few candids. Note the logical order that the shots are taken add or subtract people to change the group composition easily.

If you do use hit lists we suggest that these are divided into separate sections and written (preferably printed) on waterproofed pocket sized cards. Drill a hole through each corner and keep them together with a loop of string. It is useful to number the cards and have half a dozen copies. With large society weddings these can be passed to the ushers and best man who can do the organising while you are photographing. We have suggested timings for each section these will vary with the weather and the waiting time/availability of guests!

These are two examples of bridal portraits taken before the wedding The left hand shot is natural light with a reflector. The right side is contra jour lighting, exposed for outside light at +1.5 stops
Nigel Harper 2002

Tripod with on-camera flash bounced off a reflector. Interiors are at f/8 + 1/8 to f/5.6 + 1/15 second to turn the lights on Shot on ISO400 negative film and scanned on Linoscan 1450
M. Upstone 2002

Bride at home (20-30 min.)
Preparations, such as fitting veil
Bridesmaids singly (head and shoulders + full length)
Bridesmaids as a group
Bride and bridesmaids
Bride and chief bridesmaid
Bride and family inc. brothers and sisters
Parents and bride
Mum and bride
Dad and bride
Brothers/sisters and bride
Parents and bridesmaids
Extended family
Other special requests ...

Hand-held with fill-in flash M. Upstone 2002

Church arrivals (20-30 min.)
Grooms arrival
With best man
With best man + ushers
Best man and ushers on their own
Groom with immediate family
Groom with parents
Groom with brothers/sisters
Grooms parents as a couple
Groom with grandparents
Groom head and shoulders, half and full length
Best man head and shoulders and full length
Other requests ...
Groom and best man waiting in pew
Arrival of bridesmaids
Brides arrival
Waiting to enter church with father and bridesmaids ...
With vicar
Walking up the aisle

The bride's arrival Nigel Harper 2002

Inside church (5 min.)

Tripod shot in church 1 Sec.at f/5.6 or f/8 (ISO400 negative film) M. Upstone 2002

Signing registers (5 min.)
Bride signing
Groom signing
(Possible group with witnesses)

Normally done on a tripod with flash bounced from a reflector at around f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/8 or 1/15 of a second to permit ambient light to bleed in. Without a tripod you can allow one stop less than the usual hand holding minimum with direct flash on an 80mm lens you can drop the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second.

Walking down the aisle/exit (can take 1020 minutes including waiting for guests)
Exit from the church
Couple being mobbed, candid, outside church.
(Groups at church?) If not ...
Couple in bridal car
depart for reception.

Group strategy big groups first
Keep switching angles and positions, bear in mind the strength and angle of the sun, which should be behind the subjects. Introduce background variety into every new group if possible.

Major groups (5-10 min.)
Optional very young, sick, elderly or disabled
Whole group preferably as a look down from a balcony or rooftop location
Friends (Families asked to step to one side and wait for the next shot)
Extended families both families separately?

Families (5-20 min.)

(Timing depends on weather, co-operation, size of venue, special requests)
Mums, dads, brothers and sisters with bride and groom
NB brothers and sisters now stand aside for 2-3 shots ...
Mums and dads with bride and groom
First set of parents with bride and groom ...
Add brothers / sisters for family group
Second set of parents with bride and groom ...
Add brothers / sisters for family group

Bridal party (5-10 min.)

Bride and groom + bridesmaids + ushers and best man / page boys etc.
Bride and Groom with ...
Best man and ushers
Best man
Chief bridesmaid
Bride and boys
Groom and girls

Bride and groom portraits (5-10 min.)
Couple full, half-length, head and shoulders, including front, side and back views
Head and shoulders of bride
Head and shoulders of groom
Special photographs recording the bouquet, rings etc
Full and half-length versions of individual bride and groom

Followed by...

Cutting cake (normally done now to prevent a 1-2 hour wait for the real cake cutting)
Entry into wedding breakfast
Toast bride and groom clinking glasses together

Part 2 June: Available light technique, fill-in flash and indoors / direct flash
Part 3 July: Aperture and shutter speed selection, Lens choice, depth-of-field, filters, indoor techniques and backgrounds
Part 4 August Candids

About the Author
Mike Upstone Ba (Hons.) CrGWP, LBIPP, LMPA won the Sinar 50th anniversary calendar competition in 1997 with a digital image. Mike is Managing Director of alienideas and created Procedures for Professional Imaging (PPI), the first complete training manual of professional imaging techniques. The manual has already been described by industry insiders as the industry standard for digital imaging and is available as PDF files on CD, and as online downloads from the www.alienideas.com web site.

This article is part one in our four part series and kindly reproduced from the Procedures for Professional Imaging manual. It is from the A02 Professional techniques weddings module. There are another 440 or so pages with loads of essential information for photographers wanting to turn pro. See our review here or go to alienideas to view the contents of the manual.

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