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“Photographic theory can be taught in an hour, the basic technique in a day. But, what cannot be taught is the feeling for light. . . . It is how light lies on the face that you as artist must capture …. and the ability to make flattering {portraits}.”


A Brief History of Wedding Photography

A Look Back at the Origin of Wedding Photography

The history of wedding photography begins in the early 1840s. During this period, photography had very little commercial use, but the idea of creating memories of the wedding day was already born. Mainly because of equipment limitations, wedding photography remained studio photography for more then a century. In the 1800s there were no paper photographs, no multiple photographs, no albums. There was only a daguerreotype portrait on a tiny copper sheet. {During this period there were few photographers and photography was expensive, took great skill and considerable time to create the photographs. Due to the scarcity of tangible photographs, they were prized possessions.} As the years passed, technology {drastically} changed how photographs were produced and presented.
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Before photographic paper, photographers used glass plates, tin sheets, and copper sheets. In the beginning of the 20th century, the production of color photographs became possible, but the process was too unreliable (until the 1950’s) for professional photography. Colors shifted and faded after a short period of time, so photographers continued to work with black and white film. While technology led to the invention of new materials used for producing photography film and better chemistry to process it, wedding photography techniques remained the same until the end of WWII.
The idea of capturing the event itself was born during the “wedding boom” after the Second World War. This surge created profitable opportunities for shooting weddings without a contract or “on speculation”. Using their new portable roll film based cameras and compact flashbulb lighting, photographers would show up, shoot a wedding and then try to sell the photos to the bride and groom. Some of them were military trained photographers, but most were amateurs who took advantage of the portability of small, newly designed cameras.
Despite low quality results, these photographers created competition and forced the studio photographers to start working on location. Trying to imitate the studio settings, photographers would have to bring heavy photography equipment and bulky lighting to wedding locations. While it was almost impossible to document a full wedding using limited amount of expensive film, even candid shots were posed after the ceremony.
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The traditional wedding photography style of beautiful poses created in a studio or on location using studio quality lighting has been practiced for more then a hundred years: until the early 1970’s it was practically the only style of wedding photography. A dynamic change in the photo industry evolved changing the traditional wedding photography style into a new style called wedding photojournalism or documentary style: in other words, the style which captures the wedding as it unfolds. While requiring serious skills, talent, and experience this style was misinterpreted as a series of snapshots which any 35mm camera equipped amateur could take. This opened a gate for weekend shooters who could get away with a series of candid shots and sell it under the guise of wedding photojournalism. While both styles have advantages and drawbacks, neither of them is the primary style for most professional photographers today. Driven by the glamorous look of classic photos which still have their places on the covers of wedding magazines as well as technological advantages that allow modern photographers to document a wedding with less effort, clients began requiring a mixed or blended style of wedding photography. With the invention of digital photography, new creative opportunities emerged. {With the ubiquity of digital cameras, the low entry price and the relatively easy learning curve, the “weekend warrior” and “soccer mom,” wedding photographer was born.} Digital cameras allow deeper coverage of the event with a virtually unlimited amount of photographs taken, and great design opportunities. While traditional film photography is still widely used, it is obvious that the future belongs to digital photography.
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The Curren State of Wedding Photography

My Thoughts on the State of Wedding Photography

A Brief History of Wedding Photography fast forward to 2001. In November 2001 Canon introduced the Canon EOS 1D. A 4.5 mega pixel camera {with a horrible cyan cast] and a maximum {super noisy} ISO of 3200. That was my first DSLR. Knowledge at the time about everything in digital photography, calibrating monitors etc. was known to only a few photographers. Digital work flow and Adobe Lightroom didn’t exist. Niether did iPhones or Instagram. The photography industry as a whole took 5-6 years to embrace digital and DSLR’s. Bride’s needed to be persuaded to trust digital technology. Today the silly argument about film vs. digital has all but disappeared. Several well known labs went out of business {and recently Kodak} because they couldn’t keep above the curve of digital and the expense of retooling. Allot has changed in the world of digital photography since 2001. Today’s digital cameras are amazing for documenting weddings. I challenge anyone to tell the difference between a digital and a film print.
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Today even entry level DSLR’s are nothing short of amazing. I’m a Canon shooter and don’t know much about Nikon. With that said for way under $1k, anyone can purchase a consumer level DSLR {Canon Rebel, Canon D60} and make acceptable exposures. But are acceptable exposures enough? N0. They are not. The learning curve to operate today’s technologically computerized cameras is smaller due to the immediate feed back from the LCD. Sure you can get acceptable exposure. However, what I see lacking in the community of the budding wedding photographer’s arsenal {Who has just purchased their first DSLR and photographed a only a handfull of weddings. I consider anyone that has photographed less than 25 weddings….green. The exception would be a seasoned pro who’s been in the busisness for a number of years with experience in portraiture, fashion or possibly event photography.}, and can be hired from $500 to $1500 to photograph a wedding are 5 attributes.

A Divergence About Exposing Film vs. Digital Capture: Shooting film only you’d have to wait days to get your film back from the lab. Exposing film is trickier than digital because the exposure latitude is smaller than shooting RAW files. A RAW digital image can be over exposed by 1-2 stops and or under exposed by a stop and be recovered. The problem with film exposure arises when you have inconsistent exposures on the ame roll that vary from 1-2 stops. Because the entire roll of film is being processed the same, the resulting prints or scans will be inconsistant due to the lack of detail from over exposure or blocking of shadows from under exposure. Digital photography {shooting in RAW mode} is forgiving. And individual exposures can be tweaked to taste in programs like Aperture, Phase One, or Adobe Lightroom to bring back overexposed and underexposed images.

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1. The Vogue Effect: Vogue magazine employs some of the top editorial fashion photographers in the world. A cover image, single, double page spread or editorial can cost from $10k to $50k dollars. Professional models, professional makeup artists, stylist and professional retouchers are hired for Vogue fashion campaigns/spreads. Prepping the model and set takes the effort of a team of highly trained professionals to pull off a “look.” This look can take anywhere from hours or days pull off depending on the complexity. Brides are highly influenced by the Vogue high fashion look. A bride may not be able to afford the luxury of a Vera Wang couture dress or Monique L’huillier gown but they want to look like the models in those photo spreads. Newly minted wedding photographers {there may be an exception or two} do not know how to pose brides so that they’ll look their best, showing off features that make them look gorgeous and playing down the features that don’t, nor do they understand how to find the best light or are not able to light the shot. To top it off, often a wedding photographer has anywhere from 10-20 minutes {30 minutes on the wedding day is a luxury} to create gorgeous and compelling bridal and couple’s portraits. Compelling images are created by finding great light, making the bride and groom feel comfortable and having the bride pose {something she is not used to doing} like a professional model. Professional wedding photographers often have minutes {not hours} to create and capture stunning, fashion forward images and photojournalistic moments. In a time crunch, you have to know exactly what you are doing. Do it deftly and making it look easy, all the while keeping the bride happy and relaxed. By the time the pro is done and moving on to the next event, the newb is still fumbling with their camera settings.
st. regis wedding photographer bridal pictures2. A Wedding Photographer Must be an Expert in Constantly Changing Lighting Conditions: Its all about light. Crapy light and gorgeous light can break of make a portrait. How finds and uses light it is the difference between a acceptable and a remarkable wedding portrait. Give me gorgeous light and I can make anyone look like a rock star or fashion model. Understanding the subtleties of light takes time. There’s borad light, side light, back lighting, split lighting, portico lighting, flat light, using available light, the direction of light, using off camera speed lights, strobes, tungsten, overhead light, bounce, reflective light, yada, yada, yada. Unless you’ve been in all these situations 100’s of times, its not possible to know be able to identify what kind of light there is, how to use it and how to deal with it on the fly. Part of a wedding photographer’s job is the ability to make snap decisions. No camera, no matter how amazing its technical prowess is can do the job by itself. Human intervention is a necessity. Camera meters can not interpret tricky lighting situations and are easily fooled. This is when its time to get into manual shooting mode, tweak the ISO, aperture and shutter speed to make kick @ss wedding photographs with crazy, random lighting conditions that are thrown at you throughout the wedding day. No time to think, just to react. This is what separates the newbs from the pros. You gotta know what your doing. Or you’ll end up with crappy wedding photographs and a bride with a broken heart.
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3. Acceptable Exposures are Not Enough: Here’s why ….. Over the years I’ve trained myself to be a respectable available and manufactured light wedding photographer, to the point of not having to retouch the wedding captures, because of my ability to find and use the right light. When a wedding photographer finds and uses the right light, skin tones glow, eyes are illuminated, wrinkles are softened, the wedding dress is cross lit as much as possible to allow texture and shadows enhance instead of take away from the composition. Acceptable, is mediocre. And no one wants mediocre wedding photography. Acceptable exposures need to be fixed in photoshop and they don’t look correct afterwards, not really. I can’t count the number of times over the years that brides have called me to ask if I can fix their wedding photographs because of poor exposure and poor posing {and I wasn’t their wedding photographer or remotely involved with their wedding}.orange county wedding photographer pictures
4. Weddings are Fast Paced Events: Why does that matter? During the wedding is not the time to figure out and experiment with how to photograph the bride, the couple, the ceremony and the family or to figure out if this or that light, background or situation works. The solution is experience. With enough experience a seasoned wedding photographer will know what will look great and what won’t. They’ll know what lenses and apertures work for a bridal portrait, a couple’s portrait and for family portraits.

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5. The Martha Stewart Effect: Previously we’ve talked about the Vogue Effect. The Martha Stewart Effect is similar in that the bride is expecting you to making compelling magazine quality photographs of her wedding cake, center pieces, her dress, shoes, her rings, her bouquet and all the little details, just like they look in the Martha Stewart Wedding magazine. Trick is you have to do it quickly, without studio quality lighting, often in dimly tungsten lit rooms with clean backgrounds. Okay that’s doable. At this point the newb needs to be able to understand the subtleties of the Kevlin scale and color temperature and mixed lighting situations. The other trick is to create beautifully composed, tack sharp images with a shallow depth of field and the ability to work in aperture value or manual mode. For this you’ll need steady hand, pro level fast glass and possibly some specialty lenses. Typically these details shoots are close focused images photographed with a wide open aperture on the f1.2 or f2.8 side of things. Professional grade glass {lenses} are costly. Sometimes, specialty lenses such as macro lenses or using extension tubes allow wedding photographers to create compelling detail images. But a fine camera and fine glass doesn’t not a photographer make. Once again, this were experience comes into play. Me, I’m a detail freak! I love photographing details and being able to isolate them with a shallow depth of field. Sometimes shallow depth of field or bokeh is a must, especially for venues that are not Ritz like. Okay let’s not mince words here. Besides the fact that shallow depth of field isolates your subject, shallow depth of field for is your friend when photographing in less than ideal venues.
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Conclusion: Today, anyone with a credit card can purchase a consumer level digital camera for under $1k, or a pro level camera like the Canon 5D Mark III or the Canon 1DX, or Nikon D4, for between $3500- $6700- and purchase pro level glass, put up a website to showcase their wedding photography and call themselves a wedding photographer. Gone are the days of the necessity to understand f/stops and shutter speeds. These days the automation of digital cameras can do allot for us. But they can’t think for us. And, its not the camera that takes the wedding photographs its the wedding photographer. Just because someone has a decent camera it doesn’t mean that they’ll have the experience to deal with the beautifully organized chaos that happens on the wedding day. Nor does it mean that a newbie wedding photographer can handle anything that is thrown at them on the wedding day.
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While a newb wedding photographer will most likely freeze and stutter when confronted with camera failure, card failure, lens failure, less than perfect {allot less than perfect} lighting conditions, and time constraints, an experienced wedding photographer will roll with the punches, have backup gear for their backup gear, and a back up plan for their back up plan. I’ve photographed weddings for over ten years and have dealt with all the above gear failure and more. The newbie wedding photographer will have to know exactly how to deal with changing light conditions and ridiculous time constraints {15 minutes for family portraits and your missing some of the family} coupled with the ability to make everyone feel comfortable, relaxed and capture them at their very best no matter what. Unless the newbie wedding photographer is some sort of savant, it is unlikely they’ll be able to multitask and juggle the technical, the environmental and the human side of photographing a wedding. These attributes are very important but only half the skill set when it comes to who will best fit your wedding photography needs. I haven’t even started to discuss capturing key moments as they unfold or capturing emotion. Other considerations are reliability, follow up, are they insured?, what is their accessibility before and after you event?, what do their photographic prints look like? {yes actual prints}, and most importantly how do you feel around them? How will they be dressed on your wedding day? Will they show up to your formal wedding in jeans, t-shirt and flip flops or appropriately dressed? You get what you pay for. And experience does cost. Is an acceptable exposure good enough? You’ll have to be the judge of that.