Last weekend my sister-in-law asked me to take on the role of photographing her wedding preparations before the official photographer started his job at the church. Photographing an event like this with the weight of someone else’s expectations can be quite daunting, but on this occasion I really enjoyed it and was pleased with the results, so I wanted to write a post about the experience, the mistakes I made and the photographic discoveries along the way.
This was the first proper outing for my new Nikon D600 since I upgraded last month and also my first chance to use the Sigma 24-70 lens that my sister had bought only a couple of weeks before. The place where Zoe and her bridesmaids were doing their preparations was the sitting room of her aunt’s house which is quite compact, full of furniture and doesn’t have a huge amount of natural light. If you look at wedding prep pictures on somewhere like Pinterest they all tend to be shot in very minimal bright hotel rooms, so working in this sort of environment was my first challenge!
One of the ways I chose to minimise the scene was to convert about half of the photos to black and white. My lovely friend Em at Snowing Indoors had just released a free Lightroom preset for just this purpose and it did the job perfectly. Along with converting to black and white, her particular preset flattens the blacks to give a lovely matte look to the images which particularly suits wedding photography as it gives it a timeless quality.
However I wanted to give the Bride some colour images too and most of them had a colour cast caused by the tungsten lighting in the house.
It was so invasive that no amount of white balance correction could lift it, so my sister suggested using Lightroom to desaturate the yellow in the images. It worked brilliantly. If you look at the before and after image above you will clearly see the huge difference it made to the wall colour at the top centre of the image (and of course throughout the photo) allowing the full range of colours and true skin tones to shine out in the photos.
Fortunately the two make-up artists wanted natural light as much as I did and so had done a brilliant job of lining the girls up to face what little was available, giving me the chance to get some great photos with catch-lights in their eyes.
One of the things I found the D600 was particularly good at was capturing detail in images whilst blowing out backgrounds. This photo of Zoe and her dad is one of my favourites because Zoe is lit by a halo of light from the window behind. I’ve mentioned it before but this is a good example of how full frames seem to be so much better at soaking up light. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to take this kind of photo on my D7100.
One of my unexpected stumbling blocks lay with my sister’s Sigma lens. Although I’ve only had my new full frame set-up for a few weeks, I have already got really used to shooting with just one fixed length lens (the f/1.8 50mm) and I found that although I had a zoom for the day (and a very nice one at that!) I kept forgetting about it and instead trying to contort myself (and my 6 month pregnant bump) into corners of the room instead of zooming out. This did mean that a couple of the images I took are unnecessarily cropped.
The other problem I encountered during the day was the D600’s reduced maximum shutter speed. With the D7100 the maximum shutter speed is 1/8000, but upgrading to the D600 has meant a trade off for full frame capability and a reduced maximum shutter speed of 1/4000. Whilst this isn’t a problem when you are shooting indoors, once you go outside it can really catch you out of you have left your ISO set too high.
At the reception I was still taking photos and moving between a marquee and the outdoors. I was aware of the risk of over-exposing outside so kept the ISO low, but forgot to switch it in the marquee. As a result a lot of the images I shot there on semi-auto were at 1/30 shutter speed which is slower than the ideal, but I got away with it… just!
The last thing I learned was that despite a (£1000) full-frame SLR and a £600 lens, there is always another bit of kit you wish you had and ultimately this is why you bring the pros in! Zoe asked me to photograph her engagement ring and I spent quite a bit of time attempting to do it, but it is unavoidably a specialist job for a macro lens. The Sigma 24-70 just cannot pick up the necessary detail in something this small whether you use manual focus or automatic. The 105mm macro lens is another £400 to add to your arsenal – gulp!
Last but not least I wanted to share one of my personal favourite photos from the preparations. In the photo I took just before this one my body had cast a shadow across Zoe’s face, so I stepped to the right and got down lower and at the same time she looked to her right. I love how she is lit so well by the natural light from the window, the excitement that is captured in her face and also the subtle shape of her bridesmaid Emily in the background waiting in the doorway.
I’ve always said I have no aspirations to photograph weddings because I couldn’t bear the stress and worry involved, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being a witness to the day through my lens and I’d actually really love to try it again under the right circumstances…