Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Being a Wedding Photographer

Today we have a special guest contributor, Melissa Prosser, sharing some tips for those of you who may be thinking about getting into wedding photography.

Wedding photographers, it seems that there are a million out there. Each claiming to be a photojournalist, artist, capture real moments, etc, etc.... In this age of the digital revolution it takes much more than a decent camera and catch phrases to set yourself apart in the industry. It takes a lot of training, practice, patience, time, and EFFORT to stand out.
How I got here: I started out as an intern with other photographers in the Atlanta area. While interning, I formed my own website, and started charging what my peers were charging. This was a mistake. Charging too much for my experience level granted me only four weddings that first year that I had my website up. I continued working with other photographers while trying to get my own clients for the first 3 years. I’m glad I worked with others for a while, because I learned SO much from watching and observing these talented professionals that would help mold me into who I am today. When it was really time to fly solo, I chopped my prices in half, shot 14 weddings in one year, and gained a client and vendor base. The following year, I was able to raise my prices and shoot thirty-one weddings! I feel that I have seen a lot going into my sixth year in this industry, and with that being said, I’d like to give a little advice to those wanting to photograph the most important event in a couple’s lives.

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Be an intern. It is the best advice I can give anyone wanting to get into this industry. This is what taught me what I needed to know. Sure, having my art marketing degree is great, but the real world experience, and real WEDDING experience, under other professionals is fantastic. You get to shoot, and shoot a lot without the pressure of being the primary shooter. Learning the ‘ropes’ on someone’s wedding day as a primary photographer is just not a good idea. Being a second shooter or an intern allows you to hang out in the background a little bit more, be creative, observe, and shoot until your hearts content.

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Save on equipment. You can go completely broke trying to get all of your equipment at once. If you have the money, by all means, go for brand new, top of the line camera gear. But in reality, most of us don’t have that luxury. It took me many years to outright own all of my professional equipment, but I did it with no business loans and I’m proud of that fact! If you buy a decent camera body, then you can buy used lenses to test out the waters. It’s more affordable, and later on you can always purchase the more expensive ones. Another idea is to rent equipment and figure out which lenses and accessories you really want to have in your collection and spend the money on.

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Don't be afraid to drag your shutter speed. This is a classic amateur mistake. So what if your photo is a bit shaky at times? It can be a cool intended effect, or it can bring in ambient lighting into your photo and make it way more dramatic and effectual. I have held my breath many more times than I can count to drag that shutter and make the world look dreamy and romantic. (The image above was taken at night, with a barely lit venue. I dragged my shutter to a 15th of a second, put a little off-camera flash on the couple, and voila! Magic dance shot!)

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Use off-camera flash. Sure, bouncing a flash on a white wall is great… if you have one. In a lot of venues, this is not the case. Sometimes you may even be outside, with no light at all. This is why learning off-camera flash is so important. At all of my weddings, I have an assistant shadow me and give me some supplemental lighting when I need it. I dial in for the ambient, then give a little kiss of flash when needed. Using Canon’s awesome glass, this makes for wow images! (The image above was exposed completely for the sky, and the little peak of sun at twilight. My assistant was hiding in the corner with a flash aimed on the subject. Pretty dramatic!)

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Shallow depth of filed, use it! Shallow depth of field is your friend. I am constantly shooting below F2, and the results speak for themselves. Using a shallow depth of field really allows the subject to be the primary focus of the photo, and just lets everything else go into never never land. (The above image was shot at F2 outside as the sun was setting and we were losing light. The fast lens allowed all available light to come in, feature the couple, and just barely let us see the fabulous old car on the street.)

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My (secret) lighting tip: I adore shooting with a hot light/video light. Essentially, this is just a battery-operated light that videographers use with their own cameras. This lighting technique is great to use at twilight to expose for the sky, yet not overpower the subject. The light I use has a warm glow to it, which is so beautiful. It's also easy to use because you turn it on just like a flash light, and can then dial in for the ambient around you. Magic! (Shown above)

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The wedding photography industry really is an awesome one to be in. It’s not for everyone, and every wedding photographer does things a little different. In order to make it in this industry though, it's really important to have passion, patience, skills, and a clear vision and style. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade my job for the world!


-->About Melissa: Melissa Prosser is an award winning member of www.wpja.com and www.agwpja.com . She is based out of Atlanta, GA, and has been in the wedding industry for about six years. Prosser approaches each wedding with an artistic eye, unobtrusive approach, and sense of fun while documenting some of the most meaningful moments in a family’s life. She shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon lenses. Her favorite lens is the Canon 85 F1.2 L lens.

all photos © Melissa Prosser