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.

Multi-Shot Sequences Made Easy

action sequence.
Image sequence - photo by Xenon-HD

Making a multi-shot sequence is a very similar process to HDR photographs and utilizes much of the same software.  There are some differences in how the sequence shots are taken, so you’ll need to spend more time in the planning phase.

Shooting the Image Sequence

The image sequences that work best offer a wide frame with a subject and background that contrast well.  You’ll also need a constant focal distance across the shots.  You may want to run a couple tests to make sure you have good coverage across the event sequence.

Occasionally you can get by without a tripod for an HDR shot, that will not be optional with an image sequence.

Also different from an HDR shot, I turn off all automatic settings, including white balance, ISO, and auto-focus, even if I’m going to be working in RAW.

Shoot more background and edge space than you normally might so there’s room to crop minor imperfections in image overlap.

Image Processing

First you’ll want to group and inspect your images, removing any that didn’t turn out.  To me it’s better to have fewer good shots in the sequence than leaving in the ones that don’t work.

Next you’ll want to group all the images into a batch, which can be accomplished in Adobe Bridge, Lightroom, Apple’s Aperture, and Digikam on Linux. Run any color corrections or other changes in batch mode to preserve color, tone and luminosity across the image stack.  Some applications require images to be either TIFF or JPEG, it’ll be easier to run those conversions in batches.

Merging The Images

Photomatix is made for this kind of work and Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function.  Your exact work flow will depend on what software package you’re using.  There are several programs you can utilize.

It’s a little harder in GIMP as you have to stack the layers and erase parts of each layer until the image looks right.  It’s worth a few bucks in specialized software to spare yourself that pain.

Optimizing Merged Images

Just like a panorama, there may be minor differences between photos that need to be cropped and this is where you’ll want to smooth over the overall color and contrast.

Digital Photo Frames Go Social

Kodak teaches picture frames new tricks - photo Kodak

There’s an old saying you can’t teach a dog new tricks, but Kodak has taken the digital picture frame and taught it a few new neat tricks that have the potential to take photography another step up the evolutionary scale.

Two Kodak Pulse digital picture frames, released late last year, the W1030S 10 inch diagonal model and the W730S 7 inch diagonal model feature an aSi TFT active matrix screen with 800 x 600 resolution in 4:3 format with a 400:1 contrast ratio.  The frames come stock with 512 MB of internal memory, plus two card slots and a USB port.

The frame is wi-fi enabled and features touch-screen control menus that are easy to use.

Probably the neatest trick is the integration with Kodak’s web site, which allows you to manage all your frames features from the web and gives your frame its own email address.  Friends and relatives can email photos to your picture frame from anywhere in real time.  You can also set up your frame to download pictures automatically from either Facebook or Kodak Gallery.

It’s a small step in technology, with some reports of inconsistent service from early models, but Kodak brings the price point down a notch from some of the other wi-fi enabled picture frames and makes the technology far more approachable for novice users.  Prices have come down some this year from their introduction, making them all the more attractive.

I can imagine it won’t be long before some events are offering live photo previews and professional photographers start offering services like live wedding photos, as the ceremony is taking place, for friends and relatives who can’t be there.  That’s a step beyond where even this frame puts us, but as the ubiquity of wi-fi enabled image display devices increases, the demand for complimentary services will increase.

Video from PCMag.com

5 Awesome Lighting Hacks

If you’ve ever been in a professional studio you were likely blown away by the sheer volume of lighting equipment and were maybe a bit depressed when you thought about what it all must have cost. And my friends in the video business are even more annoying with their envy-inducing rigs like Skylight Balloon Lights.  I fell like The Joker in the Batman movie asking where they get all those marvelous toys. Still, even with the collection of lighting equipment available, I’ll still turn to low-cost lighting hacks in a pinch and there are one or two I use regularly because I don’t need the expensive rigs enough to justify the cost.

A quick and inexpressive way defuse your flash - photo by Duncanc

Milk Jug Diffuser

One that’s been around a while that doesn’t miss is the Milk Jug Diffuser, also called the Milk Jug Ring Light.All you need is a gallon plastic milk jug and a pair of scissors or razor knife.  Cut out one side of a milk jug, and at the narrower end cut a hole the just slightly smaller than your lens filter.Fit it on the end of your lens and the milk jug should stick up high enough to act as a diffuser for your on camera flash.  It looks funky, but works.  I’ve also taken a shorter piece of milk jug material and taped it over the end of my hand-held flash with gaffer tape.

Complete DIY instructions here.

Chinese Lanterns

I’ve used Chinese lanterns in both video and still photography shoots and they make a really interesting diffuser.  They’re big enough inside to work if you need to put foil on one side, and you can point your flash up, down or away from the subject and get a different effect.  They’re very light, easy to move around, you can even hang them from the ceiling and hang the flash unit from the metal frame inside.

chinese lantern
Expensive softbox or $2 Chinese lantern? You decide.

They come in a variety of shapes, colors and rib designs.  Even the big ones are fairly inexpensive.  If it gets wrecked on set, no one is going to lose sleep over it.

Do keep in mind they are not fire proof, so don’t go putting halogens or hot lights inside.

Another great feature of Chinese lanterns are they come with an internal wire support you can gaffer tape to the light stand.

So, you can spend $600 on an Octobank or $2 on a paper lantern, get a very similar effect and be able to run it up as high as your light stands will go.  I don’t have my soft banks anymore, but still carry my paper lanterns around.

The $35 Beauty Dish

A Fong diffuser
A Fong Diffuser

With a Fong diffuser, an aluminum foil turkey pan and some gaffer tape you can make a beauty dish.

Cut a hole in the middle of the turkey pan and fit the diffuser through it, tape if necessary to hold it in place.  Foil or gaffer tape over the end of the diffuser and blaze away.  Results are surprisingly good.

Complete DIY instructions here.  For as often as I really need a beauty dish, I’ll risk looking a little low rent.

Shop Lights

Craig Brewer made his first full-length movie called Hustle & Flow with nothing but shop lights and a handful of photo bulbs.  Anytime we get separated at the hardware store, my wife knows right where to find me.  I’ll be in the section with the shop lights.

I’ve used halogen shop lights on photo shoots and video sets as both primary lighting and for lighting background elements.  I carry a set in the truck anytime I’m headed out for a shoot.

Shop lights
Shops lights my favorite cheap lighting hack - photo by Joe Kras

Sometimes the temperature is off, but nothing I haven’t been able to correct with $20 worth of gel filters from Adorama and a handful of clothespins.

The new LED shop lights are the right temperature and don’t out nearly as much heat.  Perfect for when you need a shadow fill or colored gel for a background effect.

The Foamcore Strip Light

I think everyone has seen this one before, but it’s worth repeating.  A little harder to put together because you need a glue gun and a space to work, but it really makes a nice strip light.  Almost as good as any of the commercial units I’ve used.  If you take your time and put them together neatly, a lot of people won’t even notice you made them yourself!

Great instructions here.

Got a favorite lighting hack you use?  Share it with us in the comments.

Lytro Is Not Going To Put You Out of Business

Old still camera
Lytro technology is not going to put photographers out of business - photo by Arne Nordmann

If you’re in the photography field, you’ve probably already heard of Lytro field technology.  It has some unique imaging capabilities, including the ability to select DoF and a focus point after you take the shot.

Lately there has been speculation on some of the photography discussion boards that Lytro’s technology is going to revolutionize the field of photography overnight, making most of us obsolete in our own industry.  Personally, I’m not worried.

Photography has been around in one form or another for almost 200 years now.  During the entire course of the industry, there have been people getting paid to take pictures.  Photographic technology continued to advance the entire time.  In the 30’s Kodak brought photography to the masses with the Brownie camera and pre-packaged rolls of film.  There was some speculation on those days that cameras in the hands of common people would put photographers out of business.

Yet photographers survived the Brownie, 35mm film, photo labs at the corner drug store, Photoshop, and digital cameras.  There have been more than a dozen times in my lifetime alone that photographers were going to become obsolete, yet here we all are.

It’s too soon to say what impact Lytro’s field technology will have on photography.  Right now it appears to be a generational improvement that has the potential to bring a lot of positive change to the industry, but it will not replace professional photographers.

We went through this in the video industry as well.  Cheap digital video cameras were going to revolutionize filmmaking.  While they certainly revolutionized the porn industry, the rest of filmmaking stayed pretty much intact.

If we can survive digital cameras with big sensors, quality glass and price points under $1,000, we’ll survive this.  Put the world’s most advanced imaging technology available in the hands of an amateur and you’ll still get amateur photography.