Monday, August 09, 2004

PJs shoot weddings differently

I shot a wedding over the weekend (actually, a 10th anniversary redo). It's strange to shoot film on important shoots now. I caught myself chimping (checking the back of the camera) several times. Since film cameras don't have preview screens, I had to actually "trust" my own light calculations. Spooky.

Now, I'm waiting on somebody other than myself to develop the film and make the CDs. I'm not too terribly worried about this, but I'm sufficiently expectant. I've seen a PJ (luckily not me) lose a $5,000 wedding shoot due to a commercial machine malfunction. I can't imagine the conversation with the parents of the bride afterward.

In one of my sociology classes I learned about suicide rates. Wedding photographers were No. 5 on the list of professions with the highest suicide rates. I think dentists were No. 1. So, if you think wedding photography is an "easy" profession think again.

Most PJs start shooting weddings in college. At the time, the PJ is the friend of the bride or groom who knows how to operate a camera and is cheap. Since college weddings are typically financed on a shoestring, the price is the key. We all get better images and more expensive with time and experience.

Consequently, most PJs have already shot a few weddings before they get their first staff job. Since most news jobs have disgustingly low salaries, PJs often supplement their incomes with weddings and other freelance gigs. After enough weddings, it's breaking news in a white dress.

In the last few years, PJ wedding photos have become en vogue. The reason is because we work the entire day and get the truly memorable images. Yes, we can do the grand display portraits of the whole wedding party, but we also get the little details often missed by standard wedding photographers. We tell the whole story of the wedding day: the raw emotional tension and the quiet moments of reflection.

One photographer in town, who is well respected and does high-end studio portrait work, said a client requested a PJ treatment of the wedding. He asked me if this meant he should shoot 3200 iso, B&W film to make it look like PJ. I blinked (are we this misunderstood). I told him to shoot 100 iso color film if he honestly wanted it to look like PJ. The difference is in the approach.

I have different levels of weddings I shoot. The top level is a start-to-finish wedding. I arrive at the bride’s home before she wakes up (she typically stays with the parents the night before the wedding). I photograph her from the time her folks wake her up until the time the limo drives the happy, exhausted couple away to their honeymoon.

In between these moments, I shoot the chaos we all know is involved in a wedding. I get both the joys and the frustrations. By the time the couple leaves, I'm in pain - absolutely everything hurts.

I wish I could show you some older images, but I formerly gave the film to the couple and was done. Then, they had the film to order as many reprints as they wish. It was no longer my problem. I got paid to shoot. I shot. I delivered. They were happy.

This time, I had the film developed and CDs cut. I'll edit down the images to only those I'm proud to affix my name. With those, I'll color correct them using a batch process and cut final CDs. I'll also choose the 20 images I feel tell the total story best and desaturate those images as an additional B&W slideshow.

I'll give the couple the CDs and a certificate of unlimited use (I retain the copyright), then they can pop it in the DVD player, have a bottle of wine and laugh at themselves all night. Later, they can go to a local camera store and have quality reprints at reasonable prices.

Someday I'll discuss front-end vs. back-end billing. I'm a front-end guy. There’s no surprise after the wedding. There will be enough of those for years to come. I want the couple to be happy with their memories and my images.

Enough for now,

08/09/2004 UPDATE:

Well folks, don't trust other people. Now I regret my plan. I should have simply handed the film to the family and walked away. I took the negs to Eckerd's photo center and requested development and scans. I should have known when they said they could do it in under an hour it was going to be a problem, but the file size is appropriate for a quality scan.

Now, the negatives are ok, but I must manually re-scan them. Eckerd's CD scans look horrible while the negs are fine. They are completely full of noise. I think they have some old generation dit camera with a macro lens and run it through a cc program. This would explain the look and speed. It doesn't exactly explain why some CDs are upside down though -- not all CDs, just some (really doesn't make sense).

Next time, I think I'll just rent a dit camera ($200 p/day). I can't use my DMN camera bodies for some bean-counter reason I don't quite comprehend. But, this is a chance for us all to learn from my mistake. At least this can be overcome with a little time.


photosuperstar said...

How would the bean counters know? You don't turn your cameras in at the end of the day do you? That is insane. Anyway, this is a great post. I did my first PJ style wedding in 2003 after doing the conventional stand them up and shoot 'em style many times before.

The amount of compliments I got for doing it PJ style were overwhelming. I will only do weddings this way from now on. Your right, the best moments are the candids, the "soft" moments, the moments of koas.

The best is seeing peoples faces light up when they see the photos of the candids, it truly records what they are feeling.

I have a wedding for one of my best friends coming up at the end of the month, I used to dread shooting weddings, now, I can't wait.

I'm really enjoying your site, Mark, keep it up.

I used to work with a woman who left us to come to you guys, Rebecca Stumpf, I do believe she went to your features department as a paginator.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Thank you for the comments. :-)

When you work in a big corporation, it's best not to give them any reason to fire you. They will. Is it worth losing a good job to save time or money shooting a one-time wedding? No.
I know there are talented PJs itching to become staffers. I was once one of them. I had some talent and a lot of luck, so I got the job. I'd like to keep it for a while. I'm not willing to compromise my personal ethics to keep it, but I can live with silly rules if needed.

marco said...

hi there, just discovered your site and wanted to thank you for sharing your techniques and information!

my sister had her wedding done in pj style some years ago and the result was fantastic!

just wondering what lenses you used for pj wedding photography? when doing your more candid shots, did you get in close to people or shoot them from a distance?


Mark M. Hancock said...

I use the same lenses I use every day. I may rely on my 100mm f/2.8 fixed lens a little more since I try to get a good shot of each person who attends (usually groups). The 100mm is small enough to hide how far across the room I'm reaching. So, I can stay far enough away from people that they forget I'm there. It looks natural and is more flattering to the subjects.

Unknown said...

Mark -

Adding a link to your blog and returning the favor.

Joseph Hollak

Mark M. Hancock said...

Links are always appreciated. :-)

AMK Photography said...

Very nice site and nice advice :)