How The Pros Do It – Portable Lighting For Wedding Photography

Ac 3
The PocketWizard AC3 paired with the MiniTTL for Canon

My nephew got married recently, an event I was unfortunately not able to attend, although my high tech family managed to send me pictures of the event. One picture that made my teeth grind was one with the wedding photographer in the background, trying to light a dress shot with a dinky external flash.

This was the photographer with a killer web site that my future niece felt she was lucky to get, but there was no way the results displayed on the web site were captured with the camera and flash combination in that photo. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen so far, she was duped by a slick web site with, at best, a tenuous connection to whoever took the promo pictures displayed there.

To contrast the difference between that lighting setup and the real pros, I went to see Karl Leopold at Images4Ever near Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl has been shooting weddings longer than most photographers working today have been alive, has won more awards than I can list here, and is the president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association. I wanted to see a real pro lighting setup and wasn’t disappointed.

Karl builds his portable lighting kit around a pair of Canon 580 EX ii Speedlites, pairing those with a PocketWizard FlexTT5  for Canon. The trigger on the camera is a combination of the MiniTT1 matched up with an AC3 Zone Controller for changing the power settings on any of the flash units on the fly wirelessly.

“I can change the power by 3 stops on any of the flash units right from here,” Karl explains, dialing back the power with the AC3. I watched him flip through the power settings while shooting nearly continuously, much faster than making the change through the camera menu.

The arrangement provides the flexibility to mount the fill flash on a monopod and let an assistant adjust the location and height to fit the situation. If he’s working alone he can mount the remote on a light stand and adjust it himself. Instead of being tethered to the camera, he can also move the key off the bracket handle if the situation calls for it.

Lighting set up
How it all comes together - One Speedlite on a standard bracket, the other a remote that can be mounted on anything

It’s all about speed, reliability and flexibility, with added bonus of being able to light the world.

“The big advantage is you can put a light behind the subject for those nice, bright highlights,” Karl explained. The radio triggers work around corners and even when concealed behind foreground objects.

Equipment isn’t the only factor separating the pros from the posers, but having the right gear is definitely a bonus.

In the days to come I’m planning to work with Karl and Images4Ever on more articles on studio lighting, exposure, and working with models on commercial shoots. Stay tuned.

Five Trends In Wedding Photography

wedding photography
Retro styling is making a comeback - By Ícaro Moreno Ramos

There’s a fine line between the words “trend” and “fad” in the world of photography. The word “trend” implies gradual and sustainable growth over time. The word “fad” has somewhat negative connotations among photographers because it implies glitz with no substance. Those of us in the business a while recall infant portraits in an over-sized tea cup with just the twinge of a shudder.

In wedding photography the market changes fast and the difference between trend and fad is sometimes hard to distinguish. There are some changes I’m pretty confident calling as a trend at this point.

Photo Booths

These can be the old style retro photo booths where guests pose for pictures, or a more modern digital equivalent. The idea is instead of just signing a book, guests sit for a quick picture. Instead of a simple guest book full of incomprehensible scrawl, the happy couple has a digital guest book of the people just as they were that day.

Overall I like this trend, but it adds to the overhead because the mechanical type need to be staffed.  You don’t exactly want to clamp your Nikon D700 to a tripod and let people shoot self-portraits with it.

Proposal Photography

I’ve filled in on at least three proposal shoots this summer. This has moved from the fad to trend column in a big hurry, to the point now it’s almost an expected part of package along with engagement photos.

It’s more work, but at least it’s fun. While a wedding is a huge amount of work to shoot right, proposal pictures really are snap-snap, goodbye. In, out and done in thirty minutes.

Boudoir Shots

This is hardly a new trend. Boudoir photography came into existence about 15 minutes after the first successful photography process was developed back in 1826. Boudoir popularity has kind of ebbed and flowed since then and is making a comeback lately.

Usually not part of a standard package, it is getting to be a more requested as an add-on. If you’re a guy, you might want to think about partnering with another female photographer in town because some customers will be more comfortable with a woman shooting those shots.

As a purely professional precaution, I take my wife along if I’m going to be shooting one, or a female assistant. That way there’s no questions about propriety.

Wreck The Dress

Wreck the dress
Wreck the dress is your chance to be creative - Karl Leopold

Another one of the more enjoyable trends in wedding photography, this is your chance to go crazy on a lovely wedding dress. Pictures in the pool, a mud pit, the ocean, let your imagination run wild.

Probably the best one I’ve seen was one done at the paintball park, it was certainly the most colorful.

Again, more work but also more fun.

Slideshow At The Reception

This is a little more tricky, but is definitely a hit with the guests. A slideshow of the wedding photos play on one or two big screens at the reception. It gives everyone a chance to imprint those memories, for better or worse, while it’s still fresh in their minds.

You’ll probably need a gear mule to help with this and the equipment is not cheap. But this points to a growing desire for real-time photo sharing.

Look for this trend to continue as well as a desire for near real time posting on Facebook and other photo sharing web sites.

4 Reasons Not To Shoot A Friend’s Wedding

wedding photographer
If he falls off the ladder, who's responsible? - photo by Alethe

One of the touchy moments for any photographer is when friends or relatives ask you to shoot their wedding.  To me the answer is obvious, but for you, when the situation arises, the answer may not be so simple.

The hard cases are when friends are asking out of economic necessity.  They can’t afford to hire someone so it’s you or no one, or maybe it’s a relative in the same situation.

When those situations arise, it’s good to review your mental checklist of why it’s a bad idea before you answer.

1) You won’t get to enjoy the wedding.  Shooting a wedding right is a ton of work.  It’s more than just taking a few snapshots, but that’s what your friends will say to try and convince you.  “Ah, come on,” they’ll beg.  “Just take a few quick pictures.”

Only it won’t be a few quick pictures, because if that’s all you do, you’ll miss many of the expected shots and your friends will be disappointed.  Don’t kid yourself, if you take on the job it will be a day of planning, shot cards, dress shots, the entire ceremony, the formal shots and the reception.

2) If something goes wrong you’ll never be able to escape their disappointment.  Data cards can fail, cameras can have problems, things can go wrong.  If you’re shooting a friend’s wedding you might be tempted to cut corners and skip the backup body and second photographer.  Something that will almost guarantee a problem with your regular camera.

3) You’re putting your equipment on the line.  When dragging all your gear to a wedding, you’re risking having it lost, stolen or broken in an accident.  Part of the reason you charge for doing weddings is so you can carry insurance against loss.  When you watch your Canon 5D take a slow-motion tumble from the second floor balcony, you’ll understand this concern in a much clearer light.

4) You’re putting your financial freedom on the line.  If by some bizarre circumstance you injure someone or damage something, you could end up being responsible.  Organizations like WEVA exist to help photographers obtain liability insurance at reasonable rates.

Sometimes the answer might still be a yes.  If you’re new to the business and want to build your portfolio, or if it’s a charity case and you’re willing to accept the risks.  Just remember, in those cases you’re lumping the time and accepting the expenses and associated risks.