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Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Diary of a Second Shooter...

Within the photography world we all acknowledge how hard it is to shoot weddings well.  Generally all we get from the consumer world is disbelief about what we charge.  I'm not the type to make a big fuss about how hard my job can be because I charge accordingly.  Recently I took the wonderful Niki Wright with me on a 2 day road trip.  She offered to write down her experience of the trip - this clearly demonstrates why I choose my second shooters with such care and why you need to be prepared for all kind of eventualities....  The lighting set up she refers to is the Elinchrom Quadra Ranger kit.  And what she didn't mention is that shooting the groups in a room with a roaring fire left me with totally misted up viewfinders for the speeches (here Nikon autofocus saved the day...).


"We set off for our 2 day wedding tour, two weddings 170 miles apart. I am second shooting for KHS, scary if I think about it too much but Kate is not scary, just hugely supportive so I am excited rather than nervous and determined to do ok. We make an early start as the M25 is involved in our journey and we don’t want to risk a late arrival. Even before our departure Kate has taken a key decision to pack lighting equipment – although it is only mid October the forecast is poor, not wintery but the possibility of indoor group and even couple imagery is high, at unfamiliar venues with unknown lighting conditions. What is there to lose by packing the equipment anyway? Absolutely nothing but boy did that turn out to be a good call!

On the first day although the skies started brighter than expected, by the time we reached the hotel venue to meet the bride, it has turned a definite grey. Inside the lovely hotel bridal preparations are well underway, bride, bridesmaids and Mum all readying themselves in a large suite. A lovely atmosphere but limited natural light and lots of hustle and bustle. Do we work on detail shots here regardless? No, we head back out into the corridor featuring a beautiful old wooden staircase and large stained glass window, an attractive setting with pretty light. The bridal party are probably oblivious to what we are up to at this stage, because although we ask if we may take all the pretty things outside the room they are too busy to enquire why. Several staff watch and smile bemusedly as we move furniture around to work with the desired lighting and backdrop. Worth the effort? – oh yes, especially when the ‘detail shots’ are paired with images of the bride on the same staircase as she departs for the ceremony and reception venue. It would have been quite easy to make some nice images within the suite but with a bit of extra effort some very special imagery could be made BUT very fast work is required to pull it off and keep on schedule.   Kate goes ahead to meet the groomsmen and finds a similar lowly lit situation and this time ventures outdoors with the guys using a sheltered area to keep them dry – by this time it is raining!

Moving on to the ceremony in a gorgeous old tythe barn, beautifully decorated, a perfect choice for a stylish bride and groom. For us photographers though this too poses real challenges with  low levels of natural  and ambient light. It demanded the performance of top of the range professional cameras to deliver acceptable image quality. As soon as possible we employ low levels of flash to try to counteract some of the shadows already being cast by the ambient light. It is still raining outside and there is a list of large group shots to pull off.The ceremony room is being re-arranged ready for the wedding breakfast and the drinks reception area is crowded with guests. Where to go? Outside the only sheltered area is too small for the number of people to be included in the group shots so it is time for Kate to grovel with the reception staff who have previously said the ceremony/reception room is off limits. Good manners and good judgement pay off and we are permitted a brief interlude in a small area to complete this task using THAT lighting. Using the ambient light was not an option, far too many shadows which standard flash equally could not adequately overcome. We know, we tested it – testing times but the clients need not be aware of the challenges because of the forward planning and determination, they still have lovely group shots , as good as they would have been if the conditions had been better outside. Next up are some captures of the table settings, during which we spot the bride and groom will be screened from guests by a gorgeous flower display and with fire exit signs behind them – not ideal for our photography or for their guests to observe them. But our bride and groom are obviously happy with and have agreed their table plan so is it really anything to do with us? Yes, we have a commitment to provide the strongest imagery possible so a quiet word with the bride gives us the go ahead to ask the staff to change the seating, more diplomacy and persuasion required to keep the tricky reception team on side, we are not making their job easy today. 

No couple shots yet and checking outside it is still raining, ok so it’s light drizzle but the kind that soaks you really quickly. Indoors? Really a last resort with only the same backdrop as the group shots and no room for creativity or those signature KHS shots. Outside? We can use the sheltered area for some portraits but we need more. Our bride has a nice parasol and some spare shoes but we need to let her and her new husband decide, it is cold as well as wet out there. They actually don’t hesitate and we are able to work quickly to take in 6 or 7 backdrops and approaches to imagery in no time. The couple make it lovely work despite the weather although we do get a ticking off from those tricky venue staff as we are in sight of another bride arriving to a second reception hall. We laugh it off and the rest of the day goes relatively easily with even some night photography to use some pretty twinkly lighting, without rain, hurrah! Last dance is our last call of duty and we leave happy that we have risen to the days challenges. Now for a 3 hour dark drive to the next wedding destination, not wanting to risk the journey on the morning. We make no concession to process rigour either, backing up all the images en-route despite having plenty of cards and no need to delete images and re-use todays until they are also safely backed up in home office environments. We make it to our destination for midnight – plug in all kit to charge, and sleep.

Day 2 starts just as grizzly weather-wise but after breakfast we are hopeful it may clear and we do get some reprieve until later in the day. First up we reccie the church which looks stunning – a central pew challenge will make second shooter photography difficult from the rear so we will need to chat to the vicar but otherwise things are looking good. Next the reception venue at the bride’s family home, a lovely welsh farmhouse setting with a nice garden and orchard. Work is underway to decorate the marquee and barn, all looking very stylish, it’s going to be a lovely day. We get to say hi to the bride and her family and photograph the table settings before heading off to meet the grooms party who are lunching at a local hostelry. Today’s ceremony is a late one, 3pm. Not everyone is there when we arrive so the guys get a drink and we are entertained by their banter in the bar and we grab some good candid captures. All good fun so far but time is moving on and there are still some members of the party missing, along with the buttonholes. Do we wait? No, we can’t risk the rest of the schedule so it is time to take the group outside and accept that we will have to take more shots of the full group later. Kate drops me at the church well ahead of schedule worrying I will be bored while she heads back to the bride. I can keep myself entertained for hours so long as I have my camera and I am able to indulge in some quiet time to capture images of the beautiful church and flowers while I wait for the guys to arrive and to speak with the vicar about our photography positions during the ceremony.

As is often the case the guys arrive later than expected with guests to be greeted and ushered so still very little time to grab those missing shots and they have already fixed their buttonholes, ggrrr. Still it is not raining and the vicar has at last arrived. Our couple have told us the clergy is quite happy for a photographer at the front so hopefully they will be flexible with the position for the second too. Wrong!! My polite introduction was greeted with a blunt statement that no photographer permitted at the front and no photography whatsoever during the service – body blow for me, not at all what the bride and groom are expecting and Kate will certainly not be happy. Accept the situation? No, but I have to hold faith in my ability to negotiate something better without risking the situation further especially as this is Kate’s wedding – no pressure then! I gain agreement to photography from the rear and from behind pillars during the ceremony, better but not great, our couple will still expect more. Do I worry the groom with his issue now – as the couple were very clear that photography upfront was agreed I feel he should know so have a quiet word – he in turn has a chat with the vicar but still no luck. Such a shame we will be unable to do our best for a couple for who the ceremony is so important. AND the videographer has been permitted up front, hmm. I bide what little time remains with photography of guests arriving and when the vicar seems a little more relaxed decide on taking one last chance to negotiate Kate up front, expressing the couples’ expectations as strongly as I dare. I don’t want to jeopardise what we’ve already agreed. Empathy and a strong charm offensive eventually gets us reluctant agreement at the last minute but we shall have to tread very carefully and fully respect  this flexibility. Kate is not here yet and I have to let her know the slippery score – she says she will remember for a while my face appearing at her car window mouthing ‘ we need to speak’. I can laugh now but not at the time, its back to business - having got this agreement we have to get some great shots!    We keep ourselves out of trouble and I am so relieved we have been able to capture a most beautiful service although it still wasn’t easy. Kate squeezed onto the far sideline at the front and me balancing on a small chair for the duration. Tough but I needed height to get the shots from the rear so it was a case of whatever it takes J. And all this bargaining took time, time which could have and should have been spent capturing pictures of the all important guests, we shall have to compensate with more of that later.

We gather our kit and race outside. There is our first good light of the weekend so Kate sweeps the couple to the side of the church to take advantage, and then for a confetti shot amid all the guests before heading for the venue. It rains en-route. The couple arrive ahead of their guests and it seems we have another weather reprieve. Conscious that they will soon be consumed with greeting their guests Kate encourages the couple session straight away, another good decision as we now know we would not have had the opportunity again, certainly not in the dry. Now onto group shots on the lawn – there are a lot of guests to include and they are dispersed all over the place so gathering everyone is slowing us down and there are BIG black clouds looming. A few shots in and sure enough the heavens open, not light drizzle today, proper cats ‘n’ dogs stuff. Everyone runs for cover while we look to the sky and wonder if we are going to get another chance, probably not. Time to head inside where the bride has shown us the room for indoor group shots if required, a beautiful sitting room with a roaring fire, a dark beautiful sitting room. More furniture arranging and yes, lighting set up. While we are readying for Take Two indoors our bride tells us it has stopped raining and lets try outdoors again so we hot foot it back out but everyone’s optimism fades after just a couple more shots as the downpour returns with a vengeance and this time is set for the rest of the evening.

Again challenges are preventing us from the more informal guest capture, high on the couples wish list and something the groom is now becoming conscious of. I leave Kate to complete the group imagery and set to work with the guests, by now crammed into the barn, under eaves, in the wood store and anywhere else they can find shelter. It is cramped and wet work and after a while I see Kate joining me, also running from shelter to shelter to try and capture as many people as we can. We don’t think about getting wet, just try to protect our gear as much as possible.The guests are having fun, rain so often helps get a party going when everyone finds themselves confined together in small spaces. Great, we have happy guest shots which really tell the story of the day.

We take a break during the wedding breakfast, enjoying lovely homemade food before quickly turning our attention to checking imagery and deciding what else to focus on for the remainder of the job. We brave it outside, Kate with tripod to capture some lit scenes of the marquee in the dark. I hold the big umbrella trying to keep us and the kit dry – it blows inside out within seconds. By now hysteria is setting in and we both laugh, deep belly laughs, what else can happen? No let up though, once we have composed ourselves, we continue and look for opportunities to capture the couple amid the pretty fairy lights outside the barn, testing lighting again so it is only us who get wet not the couple. Back indoors to capture the speeches and we are on the final leg. A quick venture back out with the couple ad then it is time for dancing, fantastic dancing to fantastic music and time to capture the guests in action – brilliant. I am sad to leave, despite everything thrown at us it has still been lovely and it has still been fun. Every ounce of Kate’s experience has been invaluable, the couple’s wedding imagery will be fabulous and my learning has been immense. We survived, just the long journey home now, we might make it by 2am. Sweet dreams."

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