It seems like lately I’ve been asked if I could recommend a good “all-around” camera. Now, it’s tough to know exactly what all around means and there are lots of cameras for lots of scenarios, but normally I think I understand what is being said (without being said). What is being asked is if there is a simple camera that takes high quality images for someone who is a photo novice and who doesn’t want to buy a bunch of complicated, expensive equipment? And my answer to that question is “yes!” As a professional photographer, I know a little more than average about cameras and the photo industry. If you visit your local book store or a large store that carries a magazine section you’ll find a whole group of photo magazines that are raving about the latest offerings from Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Kodak, etc. Now I’m not one to criticize technology; I love my digital photography gear, but I can honestly say that there is an unbelievable amount of hype behind the sale of new camera equipment. And the bottom line is that the average “Jane” or “Joe” doesn’t need to run down to Precision Camera and buy the newest, most expensive model of camera available.
So what camera do I recommend to a person who is a beginner photographer? I recommend the Canon G12, available on Amazon.com for around $500. Why? Well first of all, based on what I’ve read and talking to others, it takes great photos, which should be pretty high on the priority list. But what I really like about it is that it’s small and much more simple than a digital SLR. When I prepare to head off to photograph a bride and groom at a wedding, I pack 2 containers full of photo gear, including 2 large cameras, flashes, batteries, 4 lenses and lots of ancillary photo equipment. When I arrive, I unpack the two cameras, and attach 2 of the heaviest medium-sized zoom lenses in the industry and attach them to the cameras. By the end of the day, my hands, wrists, neck, shoulders and back are exhausted from lugging around these two monster. If I could get away with shooting weddings with the Canon G12 I would, but I can’t – but you (the novice) can!
I’m not the only professional photographer here in Austin who makes honest recommendations about cameras. You can also check out Kirk Tuck’s blog for his favorite point and shoot cameras (he likes the Olympus EPL2 better).
Disclaimer: I don’t work for or receive any compensation from Canon.
The wedding photographer is tasked with a stressful, difficult job – take great photos of a constantly evolving, mobile event (with no re-takes or do-overs) and do it with grace and confidence. Experienced photographers, as well as most new photographers and photo novices who try shooting weddings and end up quitting understand this pressure. Being a wedding photographer is a job kind of like being a rodeo cowboy; it looks exciting and fun, but behind the scenes the preparation and expectation, as well as the physical and psychological toll required to complete the job can be overwhelming.
So imagine adding one more challenge to the balancing act: other photographers. It seems like a recipe for disaster.
Scenario 1: The Sniper. You’ve photographed the bride and bridal party as they stroll down the aisle toward the altar. You settle into a nice spot where you can quietly capture some intimate photos of the bride and groom exchanging vows. As you focus the lens of your camera on the bride and groom you realize that in the background (behind the bride and groom) one of the guests is moving around trying to get a photo of the wedding couple, and he’s in your frame, essentially ruining the shot!
Scenario 2: The Paparazzi. It’s time for the toast. A large group of guests assemble around the bride and groom to “clink” their glasses in celebration of the new life that has begun between the bride and groom. As you glance around to find the best place to position yourself, you realize that the large group of people is tightly packed around the bride and groom and many of them don’t have champagne glasses; instead they are donning cameras and are intent on getting photos.
And, unfortunately, there are many other situations where guest photographers will challenge your ability to get the best shot at a wedding, such as during formal photos and other important events involved in the wedding ceremony and reception. So how do you avoid having problems and focus on getting the best shots while being courteous and respectful to the bride, groom and their guests?
One word: Preparation.
The first thing that you as a professional wedding photographer can do to prepare for a wedding is to meet with the bride and groom. Listen to what they want from you and ask them questions if needed. Meeting(s) with the bride and groom can be your opportunity to explain how important capturing photographs of their wedding day is and how you appreciate them choosing you over other photographers. Obviously, it’s not good to scare the newlyweds, but it’s definitely ok to define yourself as “the” wedding photographer. It’s important for the bride and groom (and anyone else attending the wedding, for that matter) to know that a professional photographer (you) are being paid good money to provide photographic coverage for the wedding. And as such, the photographer should be given free license and full authority to photograph everything, free from limitation, i.e., free from guests hanging out of the pew into the aisle trying to get a cell phone snap shot of the bride.
Obviously, human behavior is unpredictable. And we can’t tell guests what to do. We want everyone at a wedding to have fun and enjoy the day. But at the same time, it’s important for you as the photographer to empower the bride and groom with this knowledge of photographer privileges so that they can share it with others who will be there on wedding day. Because ultimately, if I’m following the bride down the aisle as her official photographer, and a guest hops out in front of me to take a picture (believe me, it’s happened), there’s no undoing the shot.
Now let’s talk about insurance. We live in the digital age where the way we photograph everything is different. In the old days (picture the 1980s :)), getting “the shot” was of the utmost importance. Photographers had to make sure everything was ready and right before pressing the shutter button on their camera. After all, there were limitations; each roll of film that was used costs money, and there was a finite number of rolls of film that any photographer would bring to an event. In addition, equipment used for low-light photography (which is needed for most weddings – think dark, candle-lit rooms with few windows) was not as good then as it is now. These days we have high powered flashes, an abundance of fast lenses, great editing software and amazing technology for processing light in cameras.
In 2011, I can shoot a wedding continuously and go home with 3,000+ images to choose from (note: I don’t usually shoot that many). Having the ability to use top-notch equipment and shoot digital with almost unlimited capacity for images means that I am bringing an insurance policy to weddings. I am hedging my bet, insuring that I will get lots of great images from each event, thanks to technology. So even if someone steps into the shot, 9 times out of 10, I’ve already gotten a very similar shot prior or after the instance where someone stepped in and blocked my vantage point. The same reasoning goes for the “sniper” scenario above. Problem solved.
So what about the paparazzi? Again, part of the solution to avoiding the paparazzi scenario is education. Brides need to let their guests know that it’s ok to take photos, but that it’s also important to her and the groom to allow each important event during the wedding to be captured appropriately by the official photographer who is being paid to cover the event.
The second part of the solution is assertiveness. Be courteous but assertive when you are charged with photographing an event. It is obviously very important to your client to have photographs of their event and they have put a lot of faith in you (the photographer) to act in their stead to capture those precious, meaningful moments. Keep that in mind when you politely ask guest to give you a little space.
You can also advertise that you are the official photographer, albeit in a somewhat quiet way. You don’t need a bullhorn to announce to everyone your intentions (ok, maybe during formal photos). All you need to do is look the part. Have you ever been to a costume party in full costume? I’ve always noticed that if you attend the party donning a special costume, you get treated differently, perhaps even better than if you just showed up wearing what you do every day. So do the same at a wedding. Show your clients and their guests that you are serious and professional with your work. Dress up and include a lanyard with an ID badge with your company’s logo. People make judgments every minute about the way a person looks, is dressed or carries themselves. What judgment do you want your clients to make about you?
Ultimately, I don’t have a solution for every possible shot. Every now and then something or someone will find itself in your shot when you don’t want it there. Your job as a wedding or event photographer is to show up for the event prepared for the worst, expecting the best and ready to handle anything that gets thrown at you. I’m sharing all this because it has worked for me, and I’m certain it can work for anyone else. Good luck with your shooting!
Bridal/Engagement season is off and running and we’ve been getting more emails and phone calls than normal with questions about wedding photography. Some of the questions I’ve been hearing are questions that I hear over and over from brides each year. I never get tired of answering brides questions, and in a way I feel like it’s my duty to share my experience and expertise whenever asked. In fact, when I started shooting weddings a number of years ago I prepared myself for the most difficult questions that a bride and groom might ask by looking online at different websites that had advice for brides-to-be, such as wedding planners, bridal boutiques, venues and wedding consultants. I figured that if I could honestly answer every question that these advice websites had for brides, then I’d be ready to be a wedding photographer.
My task: find every relevant question that a bride should ask a wedding photographer and ask myself how I would answer it. So, after many hours of research on the subject, I narrowed my frequently asked questions list down to around 20 questions (see below).
Until recently, I only shared this information with brides that met with me face-to-face. But at some point I started realizing that brides can easily get confused between qualified professional photographers and inexperienced photo novices who make big promises and often, sadly, disappoint brides with poor quality work (or no work at all).
But let’s lighten the subject for a minute and talk about wine. Why? Why not?! 🙂 One of my favorite things to ask a wine drinker after they tell me about the expensive bottle of Merlot they just opened is if they know the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $110 bottle of wine. They usually shrug their shoulders and plead ignorance. The answer: $100
Unfortunately, photography isn’t that simple. Although many photographers look the same, we all charge significantly different rates and there’s a big difference between one photographer and the next, although it may be difficult to discern. Let me explain.
Each photographer brings a different set of skills, equipment and responsibility to an event. The key is to determine what you want and then be armed with the right questions to ask your photographer. As I tell many brides, anyone can put together a “best of” slideshow on a free photo website like Shutterfly; but can the photographer who will be responsible for capturing all the wonderful moments at the most important event of your life show you photos from a several past wedding (photos of entire wedding, start to finish)? Believe me when I say that it’s a big responsibility to be the photographer for a wedding – bigger than just owning a camera and saying you can do it.
The reason I’m blogging about this topic this week is because I met with several brides-to-be this past week. In fact, I met with one bride in particular who was really enjoyable to meet with (our meeting was more like having a meal with an old friend). We enjoyed speaking with one another and she complemented my work several times, which I was grateful for. She also commented positively on Austin Americana’s pricing and professionalism. I left our meeting feeling confident that I would be photographing her wedding soon.
Unfortunately she contacted me a few days after we met to tell me that she had decided to allow a “photographer friend” to shoot their wedding instead of hiring me. I always respect bride’s decisions, even if they don’t choose me. In business, you get used to rejection – it’s just business! After all, you can’t take it personal and I certainly don’t.
But what frightens me about this situation is all the terrible wedding horror stories I’ve heard from brides over the years about bad experiences with novice photographers who make promises and then realize on wedding day that they can’t deliver. Is there a chance that her photographer will do a good job? Sure. But why take that chance when you can hire a professional? We all have car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, etc; When you write a check to a professional wedding photographer, you are buying insurance – a written guarantee that you will get great wedding photos of the most important day of your life.
So how do you tell the difference between a legitimate professional photographer who will take great photos at your wedding and deliver them to you -and- a novice who won’t? A good start is to ask the right questions. I’ve put together 20 questions that you should ask your wedding photographer. If they can’t honestly answer these questions with satisfactory answers to meet your wedding needs, then you should probably look elsewhere.
20 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer
1. What’s your primary style? Posed and formal, relaxed, photojournalistic, creative, artistic, candid, traditional?
Answer: I consider myself a photojournalistic wedding photographer, although I normally include the standard posed shots associated with most weddings today.
Photojournalistic wedding photography to me means shooting as many candid, unrehearsed moments as I can which capture the emotion of the day and which tell a story.
2. Do you shoot in color or black and white? Or both? Do you shoot in a digital format that can create both color and b/w versions of the same picture?
Answer: I shoot all digital, color photos, which means I can take a lot more photos quickly. In post production/editing I can choose to convert images to black & white, sepia and also utilize specialized filters for an artistic effect.
3. What type of camera do you use?
Answer: I shoot with 2 cameras (with one additional backup): Canon 5D Mark ii, EOS 40D & 30D, professional cameras that are well regarded in the
industry. In fact, as of the writing of this material (year 2010), the official photographer for our U.S. President is using the same camera that I do!
4. What kind of input can we have on the direction of the shots? Can we give you a shot list to work from?
Answer: I would like to get as much input as possible from you. I draft a Wedding Photo Schedule that is customized specifically for your wedding. The schedule allows you to see how many hours are needed for shooting your wedding and exactly who will be photographed when & where. You will have the opportunity to edit the schedule as much as you like.
5a. Are you the wedding photographer who will actually take our pictures? If not, can we meet the person who will be?
Answer: I will be your photographer the day of your wedding (unless otherwise specified). If a 2nd shooter and/or an assistant is needed, I’ll let you know.
5b. We would like 2 photographers for our wedding. Is this something you can provide?
Answer: Yes, we can provide 2 qualified professional photographers for your wedding. An additional fee for this service will be added to your wedding package price.
6. Is there a limit to how many photos you can take?
Answer: No, there is no limit (within reason) to how many photos I can take. My cameras are digitally formatted and use digital media cards to store each photo as it is snapped. I could potentially take 2,000 – 3,000 photos in a single outing. This is very unusual, however. I normally capture 500 – 1,500 images each outing.
7. How many times have you worked specifically as a wedding photographer? How many were similar to the size and formality of our wedding?
Answer: I’ve been photographing people and places since 2002. I photographed my first wedding professionally in February 2007. In 2009 my staff and I photographed approximately 75 events, including over 30 weddings in Austin, Texas. If you would like to see some of my work, please feel free to visit my website at M.Whitton Photography or our new Austin Americana Photo Blog, or ask for a slideshow presentation of some of my past wedding shoots.
8. How many other events will you also photograph that weekend?
Answer: We only photograph one event per day, which eliminates rushing your event or the possibility for errors in scheduling.
9. What kind of equipment will you bring with you? How intrusive will lighting, tripods, other equipment or assistants be?
Answer: Most of our equipment is very mobile and small. I don’t use lighting equipment (except on-camera flash, of course) unless necessary for exceptionally large group photos indoor. I don’t necessarily require the help of an assistant, but one frequently will assist.
10. Do you develop your own film? Do you offer albums?
Answer: I shoot all digital; there will be no film used. The edited image files are developed by quality, professional labs and shipped to your doorstep. Our albums are designed and printed by AsukaBook USA – a renowned, award-winning album company that strives for quality workmanship and style.
11. What type and how much assistance will you provide in planning my album?
Answer: I have partnered with AsukaBook USA to provide relatively seamless album services. We design your album using select images and email you an Adobe PDF file for review. Once you approve it the file is submitted for print and shipped to your doorstep! Yes, it’s that easy!
12. Will you give me the negatives or what is the charge?
Answer: My shooting fee includes providing you a DVD copy containing all of professionally edited images from your event, which allows you to conveniently print images at a discounted rate (No more waiting for the photographer to release rights or paying inflated print prices).
13. How long after the event will the proofs be ready?
Answer: Average turnaround time from wedding day to delivery is usually less than 2 – 4 weeks – sometimes less, sometimes more. Your DVD will be mailed to your doorstep once editing is complete. The proofs will be viewable on my website.
14. Will there be backup equipment available? And what happens if the photographer is ill?
Answer: I have invested in backup equipment for each camera and apparatus that I use. During your event, I will be shooting with at least 2 cameras. If for some reason I am no longer able to honor our agreement to be your photographer (hospitalization, for example), I would contact a reputable (qualified) photographer to act in my stead.
15. What attire will you and your assistants wear?
Answer: Professionalism is very important to me and I dress accordingly – normally in slacks and button-down long-sleeve shirts with a necktie. If the event calls for stepping up the attire, i.e., a tuxedo or suit, please let me know and I’ll be glad to oblige.
16. Can other people take photos while you are taking photos?
Answer: Yes, but I usually ask attendees to shoot before or after I shoot, to prevent confusion, blinking, flashing, etc.
17. Have you worked at my event location before? How did it work out?
Answer: I’ve worked at dozens of locations in and around Austin, both indoor and outdoor. I normally visit the ceremony/reception location 1-2 weeks beforehand to aid in planning the shoot.
18. Should the event last longer than scheduled, will you stay? Extra charge?
Answer: Normally planning prevents the need for additional time, but if needed, I will stay longer. I charge $200/hour for additional shooting time. Once your wedding schedule has been drafted we will be able to determine how much time will be required for your big day.
19. Can I get a discount? I don’t want everything you have to offer in a package price…
Answer: Sure, I offer discounts. If you would like to customize a package to fit your needs I will work with you. I also offer discounts at different times of the year to encourage new clientele and to offer more competitive pricing, including working with discount coupon online stores like Groupon, Localiter and DealOn.
20. After you’ve asked these questions of your potential wedding photographer, there are several questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
A. Do I like this person? B. Do I get along with them or get a good feeling from them?
C. Do I like their work as a wedding photographer?
D. Is it well lit, focused, well framed?
E. Looking at their albums/prints, do I feel like I have a good feeling for the wedding?
Sources: About.com, 2007 and http://www.weddingphotousa.com
What is Depth of Field (DOF)?
According to Dictionary.com DOF is,
“the range of distances along the axis of an optical instrument, usually a camera lens, through which an object will produce a relatively distinct image.” 1
Viewing 2 almost identical images (below paragraph) you can see a demonstration of two very different DOFs. In the top image, moving left to right, you can see that most of the planks in the fence are relatively sharp and in focus throughout the photo. This would be considered a large DOF. In the bottom image only the very center of the image appears to be in focus. The fence planks to the left and right of center are out of focus, creating a shallow DOF. Each image is also labeled with it’s respective aperture (f-stop).
In not-so-technical terms DOF is everything that is considered to be “in-focus” or sharp in a captured image or photograph. Consider the two black & white images below…
So what’s going on inside the camera and lens to create these two separate images?
First, we need to quickly understand what aperture means. Without going off on a technical tangent here we know that as a rule of thumb, aperture is determined by how wide the iris of the camera lens opens when the shutter button is pressed (see black and white figure below). Larger apertures (think larger opening, more light) create shallower depths of field; inversely, smaller apertures (think smaller opening, less light) create deeper depths of field. A large aperture where the iris is open very wide might be f-1.2 or f-1.4. An example of a very small aperture might be f-222.
The primary difference between these two wood fence images is the aperture (f-stop) at which the camera lens is set. Even if we didn’t have the metadata at our fingertips that would tell us the exact aperture that was selected for each photo, we could still hypothesize that the top image was captured at a small aperture (small f-stop), perhaps f-11 or f-15. The bottom image was likely captured at a large aperture (large f-stop), perhaps f-2.0.
Predicting DOF. DOF can be calculated based on three primary factors (and one secondary factor): focal length of lens (50 mm, for example), aperture or f-stop (f 2.0, for example) and subject distance (distance between camera lens and subject). The secondary factor affecting DOF is your camera; different digital cameras have different sensors and components which affect DOF. If you would like to calculate DOF for your camera and lens combination you can easily do so by imputing the three primary factors mentioned above here on the fantastic online DOF calculator graciously provided by Don Fleming of Dofmaster.com3.
Using Don’s DOF calculator I compared two of my favorite lens/camera combinations: the Canon 5D Mark ii + 50 mm prime lens with the Canon 40D + 50 mm prime lens. The factors I used were 50 mm focal length, 2.0 f-stop and 10 ft subject distance. The results:
|Canon Camera||Lens Focal Length (mm)||F-Stop (Aperture)||Subject Distance (ft)||Calculated Depth of Field (ft)|
|5D Mark ii||50||2.0||10||1.45|
The differences in DOF from these two examples are significant: 0.14 (ft) [1.45 – 0.91 = 0.14 ft], which is approximately 6-7 inches in difference. I’d rather not cover too much detail here on why and how this works, primarily because I don’t pretend to be an expert in how camera sensors work or in mathematics. For the purposes of this article you only need to know that every digital camera is different and it might be worthwhile for you to bookmark the DOF calculator link for future reference.
So why do we care about DOF?
DOF and blurring created in any image is subjective and will vary from one photographer to another. Where art and science collide there can be no one rule that is never broken. In many cases photographers simply photograph a subject or event in a way that they choose to interpret it, regardless of whether another person may like the image that is captured. My rule (in general) is for the foreground to be in focus and background to blur. However there are always exceptions and the rule of universal appeal supersedes everything else; Can I answer “yes” to the question, “does the image have a general appeal about it and is it pleasing to view? Hopefully so.
1. Modern Language Association (MLA): “depth of field.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 14 Oct. 2009. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/depth of field>.
2. University of Victoria. http://web.uvic.ca/ail/techniques/phototechniques.html
3. Depth of Field Master. http://dofmaster.com
Wikipedia defines bokeh as,
“a photographic term referring to the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas of an image produced by a camera lens using a shallow depth of field. Essentially, bokeh is an aesthetic and qualitative measure of light distortion in the out-of-focus areas of an image, and is primarily caused by lens aberrations and aperture shape.”
Wikipedia goes on to explain that bokeh is taken from a Japanese word (boke), which can be interpreted as “blur” or “haze”.
In short, I just wanted to create a lead-in to the topic I’ll be writing about in the next week: Depth of Field (DOF). In a way, bokeh is the “Yin” to DOF’s “Yang”, if you will. Or perhaps bokeh could be considered the boundary that delineates where DOF begins.
At any rate, the photo above shows a flower in the foreground that is the focal point of the image. Most of the image that remains is a blurred background or bokeh. The photo is from a Zilker Botanical Garden wedding I photographed earlier this year here in Austin. More on the topic of Depth of Field in the coming days…
This week I’ve decided to add a segment to my blog with photo tips for my fellow wedding photographers out there. I love perusing other websites and photographer’s blogs for tips and information to improve my photography, and now it’s my turn to give a little back.
This weeks subject is Safe Shutter Speeds for Weddings. I frequently recruit new photographers who want to learn about wedding photography and who assist me at weddings where a 2nd shooter is not requested by the bride and groom. A pattern I’ve noticed recently among my shooters is the use of low shutter speeds in order to make up for “low light” or slow lenses.
Sometimes when photographers are shooting indoors or in areas with low light we are tempted to drop our shutter speeds to super low settings like 1/20s or 1/30s to compensate for the low light situation. These low speeds work when shooting landscapes (think: Ansel Adams) from a tripod, but when handholding our camera anything below 1/60s tends to create a blurring effect from camera shake.
And even if the photographer is able to mount the camera on a tripod for the shot and the subject is moving (even slow movement) there will still be blurring of the subject at shutter speeds below 1/60s. Of course there are always exceptions (think: nighttime light trail effect), but for weddings this would be rarely utilized.
Ultimately, none of us really wants to have to use a slow shutter speed like 1/20s or 1/30s when we’re hand holding a camera; so some other options to compensate for low light situations can be increasing your camera’s ISO setting or increasing the aperture (lower f-stop) to allow more light to strike the sensor. And if all else fails, bring out your external flash, which you’ll be using a lot anyway at most weddings!