portrait-session-1-2Saturday was the big day. Not only for the happy couple but also for the first-quite- nervous-and-later-on-very-happy me. The king tiger tank of photography, churches, proved to be not so biting than I expected it to be, thanks to thorough preparation. But first things first.

lumenatic-2The ceremony was scheduled to start at 3:30 pm. Keb Leynad and I showed up at around 2:30 pm. It was so early that the church was closed. So we had some time to make some test shots and get nervous about everything. I for myself felt transferred back to my studies. It was like standing before the room in which an exam would take place, waiting for the doors to open. All that stress and nervousness piles up to a level which makes you feel quite uncomfortable. Just look at the picture Keb Leynad took of me and you will know what I mean.

The guests started to arrive and we could shoot away some of the nervousness. Actually the outdoor shooting was not the one I was worried about.

20110611 Achim und Katrin-1Eventually more guests arrived and it was time for me to go into the church. I stayed at the front, to the right of the altar section, Keb Leynad was to stay outside and wait for the bride to arrive. I had the permission to climb the pulpit so I could take some pictures from an elevated position.

Finally the big moment was there. the bride and groom were ready and waiting for the priests (yes, plural. The ceremony was held by a catholic and a protestant priest). This was the real deal.

20110611 Achim und Katrin-3My shooting setup: In contrast to the last post I decided to swap lenses and use the 80-200 f2.8 lens on the D300s. That was a good decision. Most shots I made with the tele lens, and the D300s has the far better noise performance. Most pictures were taken with ISO 2000, some even with ISO 2500. On the D70s I had the 24-70 f2.8.

During the procession down the aisle towads the altar Key Leynad stayed at the back with the couple and then made his way to the front left wing of the church on the side, parallel to the couple. I took some shots of the couple of the procession from the pulpit, then descended and rushed towards the middle to get some front shots.

After this short hectic moment the situation became static (meaning that nobody wasmoving much except the priests). This allowed us to relax a little and try different angles and positions. I mostly shot from the front right, moving only a little back and forth. But I also took other positions, e.g. the one you see on the right. This loosens up the series of images and makes the whole lot more interesting. I have to say a big thank you to the catholic priest Mr. Wolf by the way ! During the ceremony he realised that a microphone stand on the altar section was obstructing my view a little and he put it aside. A little divine intervention is always good 🙂 Thumbs up for the cool move !

The ceremony took about an hour, but I rarely perceived any of the words which were spoken. I was totally focussed on the job. The light situation was comparatively good – sometimes the sun came out and illuminated one side of the church quite well. I got a nice shot of the organ player in that situation.

I shot mostly in aperture priority mode (A on Nikon cameras) with an aperture of, guess what, f2.8.  Sometimes I even switched to manual mode (M on most cameras) with f2.8 and 1/250s at 200mm. This gave quite dark images, but works well when you have a high-contrast picture like the one with the organ player. Just don’t remember to check the pictures now and then and don’t forget to go back to A mode when you don’t need it anymore.

That’s a general thing I realised: I was quite flexible with the camera settings. I switched between A and M, between matrix and spot metering, swapping cameras as appropriate, sometimes even adjusting ISO. And you can do that only of you know your camera by heart. If you go and borrow another camera for a job, familiarize yourself with it first ! And I don’t mean look at the buttons once – take it out an hour and take pictures with it. Or lock yourself in the bathroom and take 100 shots. Learn where to push and dial to achieve what you want to achieve (e..g. change ISO).

Then came big moment. The priests and the two altar girls formed a tight circle around the couple for the actual marriage. That might be a very intimate situation and pleasant for the couple, but why aren’t priests made of glass ? I advanced a few meters and hoped for a clear shot on the moment when they exchanged rings. And I was lucky. At least I caught the moment when the bride slipped the ring on the groom’s finger. Close call, the gap between the groom and the altar girl was quite narrow.

20110611 KatrinAchim-14Side remark: The picture on the left is a classic case of “fix it in post”. The colour picture looks quite flat. A mixture of colours and patterns which did not really add up to a smooth and pleasing picture. My finger was hovering over the “x” key (command for “discard” on Adobe Lightroom), but then I tried to do a b/w version. Saturation set to zero, restore highlights (the text in the book became visible), play around a little with the gradation curve and finally add a slight vignette. Voilà.

After the marriage it went quite fast. Some more singing, some final words, some music and off they went. Keb Leynad covered the procession out from the side / back of the church (couple facing him) and I covered them from the front of the church (being behind the couple).

The low-light extravaganza was over ! Daylight ! Vampire-free zone again ! (Well… the church was also such a zone…). Ah, and always remember the classic fail of photography: Turn down ISO ! Don’t make a daylight shoot with a sporting ISO 2500. Get suspicious if the metering gives you 1/8000s. (Keb and I remembered of course…)

20110611 Hochzeit Katrin und Achim-97  Then came the congratulation orgy. And the champagne. And the… frame pictures. In Germany there is a, well, kind of a tradition I would like to say. Someone brings an empty picture frame to a wedding (just the frame, no back), and people hold the frame in front of them and have pictures of them taken. I promised in the last post not to be the classic German party pooper and of course I took pictures of everybody and everything that wanted to be photographed with the frame. Which was everyone present. I was happy that Keb Leynad was with me, so he could capture the rest of the event.

20110611 Hochzeit Katrin und Achim-144That lasted about half an hour, and it was full of commands I had to give. “The frame a little higher please-no, don’t rotate, just higher ; Step to the left 2 meters, you are in direct sunlight… hold still… ” and so on. Here it was very important to give the people commands. Tell them what to do. Otherwise they look a little helplessly. Make them happy, give orders 🙂

The guests finally left and headed towards the party location. The couple stayed with us and we did a portrait session in the adjacent garden on the church premises. We brought extensive lighting equipment with two light stands and several flashed, but that proved not to be necessary.

20110611 Hochzeit Katrin und Achim-49We did about half an hour of portraits. Everything went well. We could use available light, just supported with a reflector  in come cases. There was a small playground climbing rig on the lawn which I mounted for some shots (see right). That gives you the opportunity to take pictures with a uniform background. When being on eye-level you would have had the lawn and the church in the background. That is not bad, but to have a little mixture in the pictures changing the perspective is always a good thing.

h yes, mucho importanto: Capture the dress ! In that case the dress was double-important, because a friend of the bride had made it herself. Be careful not to blow out the highlights. Check the pictures on the camera monitor. Check the histogram if you are not sure.

Using the reflector was also very important. On some shots we could highlight the faces and spread some light on the eyes, which tend to be quite dark when the light is coming from above.

And finally it was done ! People got hungry and before reaching the point of don’t-want-to-be-photographed-any-more was reached we closed the session. The couple went off to the party, Keb Leynad and I headed back to my place.

There are some key conclusions I can draw from my first job:

  • Preparation is of utmost importance, you do not have much time to think on the shoot
  • Use only high-aperture lenses (I am looking for an old 80-200 f2.8 Nikkor on eBay since the borrowed one performed quite well)
  • Take only ISO beast-bodies. Full frame welcome (we did not have full frame cams, but it went anyhow quite well)
  • Know your camera and where to push the buttons
  • Check the results every now and then on the camera monitor
  • Move around a little. Change perspective.
  • Give commands when staging photos.