Cameras, lenses, settings: How I shoot a wedding
“Gear doesn’t matter” is an oft repeated phrase I hear, usually made by professionals and quite often with the most cutting edge equipment nearby or hanging round their necks. The truth is, while you don’t have to be a gear-head, equipment does matter. It’s true that anyone can get lucky and take an amazing picture with their phone or a modest compact camera, but to get consistently excellent results, your equipment does need to come up to a certain high standard. You don’t have to have the best of the best, but for a start, camera bodies should allow full manual control, have a variety of metering options and have sensors that have the sensitivity to obtain professional results in low light without excessive “noise”. Lenses should have edge to edge sharpness, even at their widest apertures, as well as excellent colour rendition and contrast. While I’ve recently upgraded my camera bodies to pro level, full frame models, in the past I’ve used semi-pro or “prosumer” crop-framed camera equipment, which has nevertheless produced excellent results.
My core, workhorse equipment at the moment is two Canon 6D camera bodies, a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens, a 24-70mm f2.8 mid-range zoom and a pro-level Canon flashgun. I have a variety of other specialist equipment that can come into play as required, but this is what I have on me all the time I’m shooting a wedding, which gives me the coverage I need from wide angle to when I need to get in close. I’ve also used different fixed focal length lenses with wide apertures as “art lenses”, which I will use for portraits.
The first thing I do when I get a new camera body is move the focusing from its usual location to a button on the back of the camera. Usually focusing shares duties with the shutter release, which can lead to the undesirable result of the lens jumping focus just at the moment I’m about to take the picture. Good focusing is absolutely crucial. An over or under exposed image can be rescued in post production. An out of focus image is irretrievable. The camera has various zones of focusing with multiple focus points, but I must admit I don’t opt for using any of that. I use the method I’ve used since I had a film camera, which is to use the central, most sensitive focal point to focus on a subject – which would be, for example, a person’s eye, if I’m shooting a portrait – and then recompose the image before I take the shot. If I point my camera at a room full of people, how is it supposed to know who the main subject is? I can work very fast with this focus/recompose method and I lose very few shots to poor focusing.
I use evaluative metering on my cameras, their most sophisticated metering mode, which is fine for most situations. I shoot in RAW format, the highest quality, at all times. Of the various exposure modes, I tend to use aperture priority the most. Here, I choose the size of the lens aperture, and then the camera automatically selects the shutter speed and ISO rating to give me the correct exposure. Choosing the aperture size affects the look of the picture the most, which is why I like to have control over it. Some years ago, I went to a seminar by a world renowned wedding photographer, someone in my top two, who advocated using the P (Program) mode. This is an automatic mode that can be tweaked by the user, unlike the fully automatic mode that most novices would set their cameras to, which you can’t make adjustments with. While I certainly can’t argue with the results he was getting, the problem I have with P mode is the camera tends to choose the middle apertures, which don’t give the shallow depth of field look that the wide apertures I normally choose do. So I passed on that particular piece of advice. There are other times where I’ll use other exposure modes. During the bouquet toss, I need to be guaranteed of a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, so I’ll choose shutter priority to allow me to set a suitably high speed. I also use manual mode sometimes, where I set both the aperture and shutter speed. I normally do this during the ceremony where I’m glued to the spot and the light is normally unchanging. It’s particularly necessary if, for example, the couple are standing against a window and are heavily back-lit. Once I have a setting that gives an accurate exposure, I can lock that in with manual mode, and not worry as I move from composition to composition. Another time I’ll shoot in manual is if I’m using flash. I’ll dial in settings that give me the look and quality I want and then let the camera work out the amount of flash needed to give me an accurate exposure.
Another useful function on the camera I use a fair amount is the exposure lock. If I’m dealing with a high contrast scene, I can “grab” an exposure reading from one part of the scene by pressing the exposure lock button, and then recompose my framing knowing those settings are locked in until I take the picture. This is useful for example if the subject is against a window and would be rendered in silhouette if I just pointed and shot. I can point the camera to below, above or to the side of the window, use the exposure lock to “grab” an appropriate exposure, then recompose and get my subject correctly exposed when I take the picture.
Prior to the wedding, I’ll make use of the cameras two custom, memory recall settings. Together with the default setting, this basically gives me 3 presets. So I can have one where the camera is set up for outside shots, one for inside and one for flash. I can choose whichever one I want in a matter of seconds by rotating the exposure mode dial on the top of the camera.
There are a few other items to note: I generally use auto white balance, and before the wedding I’ll make sure the time and date on both cameras are in sync to the second, ensuring all photographs across both cameras can be instantly arranged chronologically in post production. This is the basics of my set up for wedding photography.
You may be familiar with terms from neurology and psychology, to be “left brained” or to be “right brained” which have more and more made their way into the vernacular. Meaning to be analytical, logical, scientific (left brained) or to be intuitive, artistic, empathic (right brained), and that people tend to be biased one way or the other. One of the things I’ve found challenging about wedding photography is you kind of have to be both at the same time. I need to be cognizant at all times of technical things like appropriate settings on the camera, while at the same time connecting in a empathic way with my subjects to put them at ease. Knowing through a lot of experience how my camera works – and the more creative control you wish to have over photography the more complicated it gets – has put me in good stead for what can be a stressful and challenging day’s work.
30th May 2018