“I have shot four weddings, I have shot four weddings.”  As I sat down to type up this blog that you may or may not be reading, I kept telling myself that.  Me, a “photographer” with just two and a half years of experience under my belt has provided four couples with photos that they will keep for a lifetime…or until the divorce.  You too can provide couples with lasting memories!  All for one special low price, we have prepared the premiere  wedding photography course for you, the novice photographer!

All joking aside, this stuff is hard.  Damn hard.

I shoot with another photographer, Carl, who has gotten us our clients with his connections to the military.  The old adage of who you know definitely rings true here.  We’re not professionals, don’t have the best equipment, but we have enough wherewithal to work with what we have and manage to get some good shots.  Sometimes great ones.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to discuss the flops.  The misses.  The ones you pull up in Lightroom and scream, “Oh shit!  I screwed this up!”

Group Shots – I shoot with off camera flash 90% of the time when I do group formals.  I’ve seen way too many photographers use on camera flash which casts shadows on the wall behind all the subjects.  It simply does not look good.  If you’re into shadow puppets and that’s your thing, it might appeal to you.  Most of us are slightly normal and are appalled to see shadows.

Having said that, if you don’t already know aperture controls how much light comes into the camera.  If you shoot at f/22 you’re letting in a minimal amount of light.  If you’re shooting at f/1.8 you’re letting in a ton of light.  Now imagine you have an off camera flash and it is set at 1/2 power.  If you shoot at f/22 then your exposure will be dark.  Very dark.  A simple off camera flash will not produce enough light at 1/2 power to give you an adequate exposure at f/22 (there are exceptions based on the type of flash, but for my purposes just consider the flash I’m talking about your normal flash that you could attach to the hotshoe of your camera).  At the opposite end, if you shoot at f/1.8 then your exposure will be heavily overexposed.  Too much light is coming in.

Making sense so far?  Confused?  Hopefully not.

Imagine this scenario.  It’s my first real wedding.  I set up my flash and umbrella.  (When you shoot through an umbrella you lose light.  So you either have to increase the power of the flash or change your aperture.)  I’m getting people situated into a group shoot and I start banging out photos.  And damn it all to hell.  Needing as much light as I can eke out I am shooting at f/2.8.  The exposure on the back of the LED screen looks great!  Woot!

Then I get home.

I plug the CF card into the computer.

I see the group shoots that in which I used f/2.8.

I have a panic attack.

Depth of field…..depth of field.  When you shoot at such a wide open aperture your depth of field decreases.  So these few group shots have everyone at the front of the group in focus with the people behind them looking all blurry.

Lesson learned.  Shoot at a higher aperture.  f/5.6- f/8.

Missed Shots – Since I shoot with another photographer, the chances we will miss a crucial photo lessens.  But it can happen.  You’re pressed for time, you’re trying to get formal group shots and the families are being slow, and the preacher suddenly announces it’s fifteen minutes until the ceremony!  You wrap up the shots and move on to the ceremony.  You take a few more group shots afterward and then off to the reception.

Guess what.  You forgot to get pics of the bride alone at the front of the church.  In all your haste, with people running around in a daze, tand he bride in a frenzy, you forgot.

The next thing you know a deputy shows up at your front door with a summons and a complaint.

I bet next time you’ll make a list and consult it.

Fortunately this has never happened to me.  I always carry a list.  I consult with my fellow photographer to make sure if I didn’t get certain pics that he did and vice versa.

You only get one chance to get it right.

Equipment – If it can go wrong it will.  Imagine having only one camera at the wedding.  You drop it.  It breaks.  You get sued.  Or the hell beat out of you by a drunken groomsman.

Make damn sure you have at least two camera bodies, various lenses, a sufficient amount of memory cards, and charged up batteries.

At my last wedding I filled up a memory card, pulled it out and plugged in another.  The camera wouldn’t read it.  I took it out, plugged it back in, and it failed again.  Imagine if that had been my only other card.  I keep several memory cards with me.  They can break.  If it can go wrong it will.

The Holy Shit, Hail Mary Moments – Without a doubt, the last wedding I shot was the hardest.  The setting was an Episcopal church with draconian rules about when and where you could shoot.  No shooting at all 45 minutes prior to the ceremony, no flash at all during the ceremony (which isn’t that uncommon),  and the photographers have to stand at the rear of the sanctuary.

A football field sized sanctuary.  One in which not even a 200mm would help.  And it’s dark.  The walls are of a dark wood that eat up light like a kid with milk and cookies.

I’m panicking.   How can I get a shot?  I don’t have enough light even at f/2.  I’m too far away to get a decent composition.  What to do, what to do.

And it hits me.  Lay down.  On the floor.  Give ’em something different, ’cause buddy you’re screwed as far as the conditions you’re working with.

So ignoring everyone I get down, I put the camera to my eye and click.  I get the shot.

What you see isn’t what they see – My last piece of advice is don’t be overly hard on yourself.  You’ll see flaws in all of your photos if you allow yourself.  You’ll nitpick over compositions, over lighting, poses, etc.

Remember you’re capturing memories.  Years from now the bride isn’t going to fret over whether you used the rule of thirds, or whether Aunt Sally is well lit as Uncle Bob.  She’s looking at those pics as a record of what happened that day.  A recollection of memories, of dreams and hopes.  You might be capturing the last images of a family all together in one place before someone passes away.  It happens.  When I was married in 2002, the photographer took a family shot of my entire family, mom, dad, brother and my sisters.  We hadn’t been in one place together in years.  Six months later my dad died.  It’s the last shot we have of us all together.

So keep in mind your clients are looking for memories, not rules and technical know how.   Those shots that you think suck may be cherished by someone else.

So if you shoot a wedding, be prepared, be diligent, but be calm.  Think outside the box.  And remember, have fun.

As trite as it may sound you’re not just a photographer on that special day, you’re also a collector of memories.