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Planning for Great Photography
When it comes to planning your big day around great photography, it all comes down to two things: controlling the light and controlling the people. This article provides some practical advice on scheduling your day, selecting locations, dealing with guests with cameras, and ensuring your photographer and videographer work as a team.
Selecting a time of day for photography
Photographers will often talk about the quantity and quality of the light. Generally speaking, the best natural light for taking pictures of people occurs during the "golden hour" just after sunrise and just before sunset. The light of the early morning and late evening is more diffuse, warmer (in terms of color temperature) and at a lower angle than at midday which means fewer harsh shadows, better exposures and healthier-looking skin tones.
While some people do get married at dawn, most get married later in the day and most people get married during the period from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. If this is your situation, the sun will likely be high in the sky for most of your wedding day and, assuming it's not overcast, that big, beautiful sun will be casting harsh shadows everywhere: under trees, under canopies, and even under your eyes and chin. These shadows are generally not very flattering.
In reality, most couples schedule group photography after the ceremony and before the reception, typically in the late afternoon. This is fine, but the later in the day the better the images will be from a lighting perspective. If you can move your ceremony from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM , for example, consider doing so for the sake of better pictures.
Ideally, you should plan to have at least some pictures taken outside with your photographer during the golden hour. For example, on June 21 in Toronto the sun sets at 9:03 PM so you should plan to have some pictures taken between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM. On September 21, the sun sets at 7:17 PM so you should plan for some shots starting around 6:15 PM. If you want to calculate the sunset times for your location and time of year, visit http://www.largeformatphotography.info/sunmooncalc/
Selecting a location for photography
If you are planning an outdoor ceremony during the summer months, you should definitely talk with your photographer about your plans. If possible, you should arrange for a tent to cover the ceremony area, ideally made of a lightweight, white translucent material that will let most of the light through without creating shadows. In photographic terms this arrangement is known as a "scrim". Rip-stop nylon is perfect for this purpose. The tent can also keep you dry if the weather turns wet - an added bonus and insurance against Mother Nature's whims.
If you are planning an indoor ceremony and you have a choice of venues try to select one that is well-lit. Look for a venue with big windows (ideally west- or south-facing in the afternoon), skylights or lots of artificial lights with flexible controls. Visit the venue at approximately the same time of day as your ceremony to see how it looks. Remember: the sun's position in the sky changes quite dramatically between the winter and summer months, so be sure to think about that when you're visiting the venue. You should also invite your photographer to see the venue and to advise you on its potential from a lighting perspective.
For formal and group photography, virtually any location will do: a park, a hotel rooftop, a backyard, beach, urban street, or remote windswept hillside. The most important elements are, not surprisingly, the quality and quantity of light. Solid shade or indirect (reflected) light are usually ideal, particularly if the images are being taken in full daylight. If they aren't available, your photographer may use light modifiers to create the effects they need. You should ask your photographer for recommendations on where to create your group and formal photography.
Finally, check if a permit is required. Most public spaces require a permit for wedding photography and fees can vary widely. Securing a permit is usually your responsibility as the client, although you can ask for your photographer to make the arrangements. Be sure to book early to avoid disappointment; many of the most popular public spaces are booked many months in advance.
Scheduling group photography
The larger the group, the longer it will take to position everyone. When trying to figure out how much time to set aside for group photography, budget one minute for each person in each group shot. If you have two four-person group shots, set aside eight minutes. If you have one big 30-person group shot, set aside a half-hour. Your photographer may not need all of that time, but there are a number of factors that can slow down group photography:
- Missing group members. Someone is always taking a restroom break, or talking on a cell phone, or rounding up an uncooperative child just when the group shot is being set up.
- Bad lighting or bad location. Sometimes, that set of stairs that appeared perfect for a group shot turns out to be less than ideal and everyone has to move to another location. Or, your photographer may want to set up light modifiers such as scrims, reflectors or flashes to ensure a properly-exposed image and this will take time.
A typical group of bride and groom, two sets of parents, six wedding party members and another ten family members should take around 90 minutes to shoot, not including travel to and from the location. Your photographer can advise you on how much time they will need for your group.
The mixed blessings of guests with cameras
Weddings are among the most important events in our lives. It's only natural that family and friends will want to capture their own images using their own cameras. Most photographers don't mind guests with cameras, but you should keep in mind that you've hired a professional to do a very important job.
Guests with cameras can unintentionally make your photographer's job more challenging in a number of ways:
- Guests with cameras may step into the aisle as you're making your big walk, blocking the shot for your photographer.
- Guests with cameras may distract one or more people while a group shot is being taken, resulting in ten people looking at the photographer's camera and one person looking at Uncle Bob's camera off to the side. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons your photographer will take several shots of the same group.
- Guests who want their own group shots will typically wait for the photographer to finish, then shout, "Hold it, everyone!" while they take their shots. This tends to slow down the formal photography session and leaves less time for your photographer to work.
- Guests with consumer-grade, point-and-shoot equipment may have "focus assist" lamps that cast a red light on the subject just prior to the shutter firing. If your photographer is trying to get the same spontaneous shot - perhaps the two of you kissing for the first time - these focus assist lamps can create very ugly effects on your faces.
- Guests with advanced camera equipment, particularly external flashes with wireless capabilities, may interfere with the functionality of your photographer's equipment.
You can make your photographer's job easier (and get better images in the process) if you give the following advice to your guests in advance of the wedding:
- Tell them to enjoy the day and leave photography to your photographers. This won't keep all of the cameras away, but it will cut down on them. Most photographers have a way for guests to order pictures online after an event, and chances are the professionally-created images will be the ones people want on their walls, desks and in their wallets. You may consider adding this to your invitations: "Our wedding will be photographed by [studio name]. Images will be available later for all to see. We invite you to leave your camera at home and enjoy our special day."
- Hold your group photography at a separate location instead of at the ceremony location and invite only those who will be in the shots: immediate family, wedding party, and perhaps close friends. The fewer the people, the faster and smoother the group photography will go.
Videography, photography and teamwork
If you are hiring a videographer, you should make a decision about which one is more important to you: wedding video or wedding photography. If video is more important, let the photographer know and vice-versa. Why? Videographers and photographers often want to capture similar images and scenes, and they want to do so without getting the other person in the frame. A videographer at your elbow while you are exchanging vows will make for dramatic footage, but it will not lend itself to a compelling photograph unless you're really fond of your videographer.
Generally, and with apologies and due respect to videographer's everywhere, most couples decide that photography is more important on their big day. This doesn't mean that they won't get great video, but it does mean that the photographer should have the freedom and authority to provide direction to the videographer if necessary. For example, some videographers use on-camera lights that are perfect for videotaping but often less than ideal for photography (although that's not always the case - some photographers love the look of video lights).
If you've decided that photography is more important, let your videographer know that fact in a plain and direct manner. Your videographer will appreciate your candor and it will help ensure that there is no confusion on your wedding day if your photographer asks your videographer to stop filming or move out of the way.
That said, professional photographers and videographers are generally very aware of each others' presence and will work together to ensure both get the shots they were paid to capture.
A final word
Wedding photography is one of the few things that persist long after your big day is over. Ensure you hire a professional so that the memories are the best they can be, and so that they last for generations to come.
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