I've been told a number of times and in rather flattering terms that I take striking pictures at weddings. Admittedly, it's a nice ego boost. When people saw me with my DSLR, they kindly gave me a clear view of my subject. People would be more likely to pose for me (or more importantly act natural for me). It was as if they thought of me as a professional simply because of the camera gear I was using.
But this past wedding season has been different. WAAAAAAAAY different. It's because of Them. Them is the new bunch of people sporting brand new Nikon and Canon bodies. Sure, it means that my ego won't be fed nearly as much (boo hoo). But it also means I need to be much more creative if I want my shots to stand out, dammit. What use is it if I'm shooting the same exact moment in the same exact style as Them? Dammit.
Now, don't get me wrong: I love the fact that more people are taking photos with better equipment. It challenges me to take better, more meaningful photos. Not to mention, photography is a good conversation starter with strangers and even better when you're all shooting the same event. But come on. I feel less special now. Because of Them.
<--Okay, I'm done with the sarcasm. For now.-->
Shoot from the Hip -- and Lower
I've been known to take a lot of photos blindly. In other words, shooting with the camera down at thigh level. This is especially effective when photographing children. I also like to shoot at ground level. Yes, that means laying my camera very close to or even on the ground. It gives a new perspective to the scene in retrospect.
For example, look left at the photo of Yvie. Shooting low allowed me to capture her with the sun backlighting her quite nicely. Mix that with the light bouncing back from the floor, you get a shot that wouldn't have been otherwise possible. (In fact, a couple of Them watched what I was doing and began the same kind of shots. Dammit.)
Stand Where Nobody Else is Standing
Okay, so this one may seem like an obvious one, but it works. And for so many reasons:
1 -- You end up with unique angles that nobody is capturing at that moment. (Just be careful -- you might also be the only one not capturing the most fun part of the day.)
2 -- You get the advantage of having more people in the subject's background.
3 -- Because there are more people in the background, you are able to capture crowd reactions quickly.
The Secret Weapon: Post Process
So usually one of the biggest differences between me and Them is the fact that I've been working with Photoshop since version 2.0 (yes, I know there are ton of people who've used it since 1.0--congratulations.) This gives me a leg up when color correcting, cropping and creatively coloring. (FYI, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for 97% of my adjustments.)
Keep Shooting AFTER a Moment Has Passed
Some of the best shots at a wedding are of the bride and groom after their first dance or cutting the cake. This is because they're returning to a normal state -- they're not performing for the camera anymore. They're much more casual and natural. More often than not they're immediately re-living the moment with a family member of friend nearby.
Okay, so this is a little bit of photographer's jargon. Shooting wide open means having your aperture as large as possible (that means bringing the f-stop to as SMALL a number as possible -- confusing, I know.) Luckily, I have a fair array of large-aperture or "fast" lenses. So, even if there are more people bringing in DSLRs, it's rare to find another non-professional at the party with a lens array equivalent to mine. It's a pain in the butt to lug an extra lens or two to the wedding, but it pays off when you get a truly unique shot.
So, what are the advantages of shooting wide open?
1 -- You end up with shots that use natural lighting. In other words, I don't have to rely on a flash. To me, the shots end up matching my memory of the event much better so there's a more organic connection between the photo and the actual event.
2 -- Bokeh (sorry -- another photo term.) It's defined loosely as the soft blur that occurs when things around your subject aren't in focus. The larger the aperture, the softer and more buttery the blur or "bokeh". But be warned, your depth of field becomes very shallow. In other words, lean just a half inch forward or backward and your subject can be completely out of focus.
3 -- Because there is more light pouring into your camera, your shutter speed is much faster. That means you're more likely to get crisp photos when people are moving.
Bonus Amateur Tip: I shoot wide open in the broad daylight with the help of 2- and 4-stop neutral density (ND) filters and low ISO. Why is this a big deal? Well, when you're in broad daylight, shooting at f/1.2 is simply not possible because the camera can't flip the shutter fast enough to compensate for the extra light. My Canon 20D can "only" go as high as 1/8000th of a second. But ND filters block the amount of light coming in therefore letting the camera shutter catch up to the amount of light coming in. (That's how I got the shot of Helen above.)
Photos courtesy of me.