A Primer on Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

With the Spring and Summer months behind us and the Fall and Winter months ahead many people start planning ahead for the next season’s warm weather activities. Many of these plans will revolve around weddings and wedding engagements. Because of that I’ve decided to try to provide some information that will help in deciding what photographer would be best for you from a photographer’s point of view. So here is A Primer on Wedding Photography.

First and foremost is the misconception that all that a photographer does is show up, take pictures, go home and send them in an email. That’s no different than thinking that all that the caterer does is show up and put some food on a table, serve it up and throw away the paper plates. That food needs to be carefully prepared, delivered carefully and served in a beautiful way and then the dishes need to be done. It’s a process as photography is a process. It’s certainly true that you can hire someone to come and take pictures inexpensively, you can also hire a caterer that will serve TV dinners.

When you hire a professional photographer you will expect more than snapshots of the wedding. A photographer can take hundreds or sometimes a thousand or more photos at a single event. Once back at the studio they will need to sort out all of the stinkers before starting the processing phase of the project. Out of focus, closed eyes, redundancy etc are all considered in this phase. This all takes time. After the initial sorting of the photos there are still many more left to consider whether they’re worthy of being a final photo.

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

If the photographer is using film, which some still do, they will have shooting time plus processing/developing time. If they shoot digital they will also have processing time. Modern professional photographers photograph their images in what’s called a RAW file which is considered a digital negative as it will need to be converted into a usable image format for printing or digital display. This RAW format gives the photographer the same form of adjustment ability that the film photographer does in a darkroom, primarily brightness, contrast and color adjustments such as white balance and saturation, plus a lot more. Because each photo is unique each will typically require separate attention from the rest. In other words each photo is typically processed in its own unique way.

In many cases a professional photographer will have a second or third photographer at the event. The second, or assistant photographer, is helpful in capturing fleeting moments that come and are gone in a flash. This assistant is also helpful in setting up any equipment such as lighting and backdrops as well as posing people, seeing overlooked details as well as sorting the photos after the event. Once sorted the primary photographer will process the final photos. A second shooter will also help with any video captures of the event. Today most professional wedding photographers provide video service as well.

A professional will also have a backup photographer who will cover for him if he becomes ill or is unable to photograph the wedding for unforeseen reasons. The last thing that you want is a sick photographer at the event or one that’s too ill to attend.

What do you get for your money?

All of this can add up when considering cost. Generally speaking one can expect to pay from $2500 - $10,000 for a true professional wedding photographer. Most photographers will have packages at different levels of pricing. The packages will typically provide a specified amount of final photos provided as well as other products such as specialty printing like canvas or acrylic prints, a hard bound portfolio album or a video of the event.

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

I know what you’re thinking. Holy macaroni, right? I know because I’m asked a lot about photographing weddings and have seen the look in a few faces when they start to think about their budget. First consider this. Will you remember or enjoy or remember the catered food in twenty years? Will you remember the DJ or the wedding planner or the venue manager? In my mind photography is the most important part of the wedding besides the vows. The photos will be with you for the rest of your lives and will help you to remember the details like the fabulous food and great music. Why compromise on what will truly be heirlooms for you and your family?

I also understand that a professional, in many cases, is impractical. In those cases my advice is to look for a photographer who is trying to make a mark for themselves or one who is trying to gain experience and a professional portfolio. Most aspiring photographers are not only willing to work for less they’re also usually enthusiastic. In this day and age, in many cases, one will know someone that’s either a friend or a family member that has a nice camera that would be willing to do this, sometimes for free. Ask to see their photos. You may be surprised.

And a final word concerning attendees with their own cameras or cell phone cameras who are tempted to snap photos during the ceremony or during the professional photographers time. Please consider that if there’s a hired photographer working please allow them the freedom to work. There have been many times where I’m unable to get the photo through or between guests trying to get the same photo. It also makes it difficult when eyes are straying while a group of people are all looking at different cameras all at once. Many weddings ask attendees to not take photos during the ceremony and to relax and enjoy the event. If the bride and groom ask or if there’s not a professional working photographer there some brides and grooms want their attendees to snap photos. They figure that 25 photographers working for free are better than one or two pros working for a wage. That’s a valid approach which I give as an option when I discuss a job with a potential client.

I hope that this helps those who are considering hiring a photographer for their wedding. And may I be the first to congratulate you.

Is That Photoshopped?

Trillium Lake Aurora

“Is that photoshopped?” I hear that question every now and then, mostly on Social Media, although not as much as I used to ten years ago. I suspect that it could be that digital photography has become accepted more, and with websites such as Instagram that allow the user to alter their photos with a touch of a thumb, most of the time in an attempt to emulate a bad film photo, people are more accepting of photos with an artistic twist.

Photoshop is a photo editing program but the word is now used as a transitive verb usually in past tense to describe an altered photo. An altered photo is a very broad description for a process that can easily go from simply resizing a photo to altering a photo into representing something that wasn’t there. There are those who find no fault at all in the photographer editing their own photos, and there are those who say that one dare not touch their photo lest it become fake.

In reality even back when we sent our photos to the drug store they were altered in some way through the process, usually in an attempt to auto correct by the technician or because of the quality of the maintenance or calibration of the machine used to develop the film and even the type of film that we used.

As a photographer who learned how to shoot using a 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35 to be precise, and learned how to develop my own black and white photos I have my own take on the whole, sometimes controversial, subject.

Happy Sadie
Happy Sadie

Back when I started out as a hobbyist in 1977 I wanted to learn how to develop my own film in a darkroom. I joined a camera club and learned from the “old guys” there. One thing that I did learn is that it’s not just a simple process of developing, rinsing, fixing and drying. There’s also more to enlarging and making a print than what I suspected. What I learned the most is how much one can alter the look of the photo either by accident or on purpose in the darkroom. This is not to mention how one can alter a photo while they are making the image in the camera using the basic adjustments.

While in the darkroom one is able to push or pull the process which involves leaving it in the developing solution for a longer or shorter period of time, as well as dodging and burning areas independently of other areas. This was a favorite process of Ansel Adams and how he was able to put into practice his Zone System. Masking can be done with cut outs made of cardboard during the printing/enlarging process. Pieces of other photos can be combined, other details removed. One can be creative in the darkroom and most don’t realize that this was done regularly.

The composites that I mentioned that were made in the darkroom are still done today, and are the likely source of the use of the word photoshopped as a verb. These include images that include components that were not a part of the scene at the time such as huge moons, false skies or a person in a scene that they weren’t a part of. Some do it not to deceive but to create art. It’s done as an artistic method and the image or the artist usually make it known. But as with all good things in all good things there will always be those who abuse it. If it’s not real say so.

I say that in a judgmental way and I’m not afraid to say that. Any kind of deception isn’t good. In the world of photography it makes those who would otherwise enjoy genuine hard earned and skillfully made photos question the photo’s authenticity. It also makes beginners hesitate to enjoy the freedom that they have today in digital photography to be able to develop their own photos without chemicals or a dark room.

In digital there’s no such thing as not adjusted, or as some call it, “SOOC”, straight out of camera. It’s a myth that the image is a pure image. You have presets that are programmed onto the camera when it’s manufactured, usually Landscape, Portrait or Vivid, Neutral or even Black and White. All of these are processes that develop your photo in the camera. An engineer is, essentially, processing your photos for you, so why not do it yourself?

All of this considered, today we have the ability to do the same processes with our computers with the lights on. In my work my processing workflow follows closely the processes that are used in a darkroom. Exposure, contrast, color correct, dodge, burn etc. Even the one “special effect” that I use was made for film photography, the Orton effect.

I urge anyone who has ever wanted to learn to become a photographer and develop their own photos to not let digital stop them. I also tell them to not let the judgement of others affect what they do in either life or photography. Don’t let the question, “Is that photoshopped?” stop you from being creative with your photography. And the best part is that, due to the introduction of Lightroom you can say no it’s not, that is until lightroomed becomes a verb.  

Take Better Cell Phone Photos

The Columbia River

What did we ever do without our cell phones? In this era of miraculous technology it's hard to remember how it was to wait until we got home to make a call or to search for a phone booth along the way. They have revolutionized communication. These little devices have also revolutionized photography as well.

Gone are the days of limiting the amount of photographs that you take or the need for delayed gratification due to having to send the film out for developing. We just snap, smile, share with our friends on social media or email then forget about them as we continue to record in more pictorial detail our day to day lives.

As cell phone camera technology is improved the pictures become better and better. They have become so good that they have essentially replaced the point and shoot camera. They are all the average person will ever require for their personal photography needs, and even though they have become incredibly capable, they still take a little experience to master, especially in challenging light. A few tricks can make your photos even better.

Don’t shoot with a dirty lens. As we carry our phone here and there we can put them through a lot. Dust and dirt can collect on the lens of the camera. A little lens cleaner on a soft cloth will help to keep your photos clear and crisp.

Don’t miss the shot. Cell phone cameras won’t give you an instant shutter actuation. They take a second or two to find and focus your subject. This is referred to as shutter lag. Anticipate this shutter lag and be prepared to get the shot a few moments prior to the moment. This is especially true with moving objects.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t use direct sunlight when photographing people. Find bright shade to eliminate sharp contrast of glare and shadows. Your subjects eye won’t be as apt to be squinting.

Don’t use your flash. The stark light of your flash will wash out your photos. There’s an HDR (high dynamic range) setting, use it. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I like to use a flash when my subjects are back lit, such as at sunset.

Dont zoom. Zooming with your cell phone camera is not an optical zoom but it an electronic enlargement of the image. The image quality suffers when you zoom in. Choose to move forward or back to fill the frame. If you have a cluttered background move in to fill the frame to make your subject dominate the scene.

Don’t use harsh light.. If you are going to do portraits choose to do them in either mid morning or late afternoon. The light during these times has a less harsh feel and is more warm and welcoming. The camera will struggle less with the light and the photos will turn out nicer.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t settle for straight out of the camera. Post process them. Your camera does, why not you? Download applications such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to adjust the photo to make it look its best. Most camera phones come with their own image editing application.

Don’t be selective in what you shoot. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital. You increase your odds of getting a great photo if you take more of them.

Don’t forget about them. In the past we would take our photos, print them and put them into a photo album. We can still do that today even though we’re no longer using film. You can either print them yourself if you have a printer, go to the drugstore and use their kiosk or you can send your digital file to a company online who can print them and send them back. Even better is that you can now self publish your own book in any quantity, including a single issue of your vacation photos.

Do have fun with it. It’s always with us when in the past we would leave our cameras at home today it’s usually within arms reach at any time of the day. You have a much better chance these days to get a unique photo of life as it happens around us. With these few little tricks you can make your photos better, but it takes practice and the willingness to tell your camera what to do.

Photography Tips and Tricks

Darlene at Cape Kiwanda

Have you ever stood next to someone as you both took a snapshot of the same subject, looked at their screen and wondered what the heck they did or why didn't you think of doing that? Trust me, it happens more times than you would think, and it happens to the best of us. Taking a photo can be all about luck. Luck to be at a place or a moment or having the camera work just right, just having everything line up all at once if you're really lucky. But if you leave it all to luck, as in life, your chances of getting lucky will be slim. Therefore, it pays dividends to increase your chances of getting lucky by understanding a few basics of how to be more in control of creating the image with your camera.

Image creation is different that just taking a photo. Ansel Adams famous quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” explains it best. Think of it this way. You can walk up to a scene and point the camera at it and get a photo, or you can take a moment and look around the area around you. What do you see that can be a foreground interest? Let's say that you're shooting Mount Hood, for instance. Many folks, I'm sure, point their cameras at the snow clad peak beyond, ignoring the rhododendron bush close by that would give the photos some scale and depth. Is there some sort of trail or an element that would make a lead in line. Perhaps a gateway of trees to frame the scene. Look around and find some components that, if you position yourself properly, will create a more thoughtful composition.

And then there's photographing people in landscape and photographing landscapes with people. I tell landscape photographers to include someone in the photo. It gives the photo scale and perspective as well as allowing the viewer to create a story in their minds as they view the photo. Conversely, I tell photographers who photograph people to put the landscape in the photo. Create a compelling photo of a friend or family member of a great time or location by including the whole scene. Get close to your subject and use a fill flash if you need to to illuminate them, or have them walk off into the distance and stand on a rock using a noble adventurer stance, pointing off into the distance like Lewis and Clark or their arms thrust into the air air in triumph. It will add a dimension of emotion.

Mount Hood View
Mount Hood View

Now that we've discussed adding a subject to a scene, or adding a scene to a subject, let's talk a bit about composition. I have an understanding of and yet an aversion to standards and rules. I understand how I can learn them and understand them but I love to break them. Learning compositional standards is learning the mechanics of art. Learning how to break them is when art happens in my opinion. In the beginning the first standard one learns in art is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds dictates a few rules that I feel is always a good place to start, such as not centering your subject, putting the horizon on either a top third of the frame of the bottom third of the frame and, in some forms of interpretation, in no case shall you center your subject, to which I would reply never say never, ever. Although I may start with the rule, it typically stops once I put my subject off center, such as a person at the side of the frame as not to block the view of the of Mount Hood scene behind. At that time I will look to each side and up and down to position the frame to include everything that I want in the frame and excluding all that I don't. Move in toward your subject or further away, zoom in or out. Try shooting lower or stand on something to put yourself higher. Picture your photo inside of a frame. Be creative.

Light is important when making a compelling image. Try to go out and get your shot either in the morning light or in the late afternoon when the light is less harsh and more warm. Mid day sunshine is the most challenging light to get a nice photo in. Don't be afraid to photograph your subject into the light. If you're photographing people, try filling them with a fill flash because they will be in their own shade, or put them in shade and do a nice fill flash. One thing that I rarely do is put my subject in a position where the sun is shining into their faces, primarily because they will be squinting their eyes, but their faces will be too bright in most cases. Use the light to your advantage but don't fight it. If you have the ability to do so return under a nicer light.

You have a lot of options to be able to create an image. Don't be afraid to experiment with some of your manual setting if you have them. It always pays to know your camera and to override the Automatic setting if it isn't getting it right. Conversely, don't be afraid of the Automatic settings. If your manual settings aren't getting the shot, flip it over onto Automatic and give it a try. The last thing that you want to do is miss out on the photo by messing with camera settings.

The next time that you're out with your camera consider what Ansel Adams said and make your photograph, don't just take it. Create an image not just a snapshot, but whatever you do capture the moment.

Accessories That Make a Difference For Your Camera

Camera Accessories
Camera Accessories

Last month I shared a few thoughts to consider when choosing the right digital camera for your use. I mentioned how one can easily get by with just their cell phone camera, while others will consider much more when deciding on a camera and will decide on a Digital Single Lens Reflex or Mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.

This month I want to cover a few basic accessories that you will need sooner or later when taking photos with a DSLR camera.

First a couple basic lenses. I recommend a wide angle to mid range zoom such as an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm will also come in handy. Many times a camera kit will come with both lenses as a package. One can get spend a bit more and get an 18-200mm. Then you will have the most common range in a single lens.

A good backpack. Your backpack will be your first line of defense from damage to your gear. Make sure that you get one that’s well padded and has partitions for your body and lenses. I like to make sure that I have one that has an extra compartment for a lunch or a jacket.

A solid tripod.. A tripod is used as a steady platform to place your camera one while taking a photo, typically during a longer exposure. You usually don’t need to use a tripod if your shutter speed is fast enough to keep the shot from blurring due to motion. Examples of when you would want to use a tripod is if you’re taking a photo in dim light, or if you are taking a longer exposure of a waterfall for instance. Don’t scrimp on a tripod. You don’t need an expensive one, but don’t get a cheap wobbly one that will fail in the field or shake at the hint of a wind.

A couple of words about filters. The only filter that I can’t live without is a circular polarizer to reduce glare or to enhance the blue of the sky. Many people use a UV, or Ultraviolet filter, but because digital cameras have a filter on the sensor to do it, a UV filter is now used to protect the front element of the lens. A warning about using filters at night or with bright lights. You can get light refracting between the lens and the filter. City lights are a good example where you would want to remove your filter.

Good cards. Get good memory cards that have good read/write speeds. It helps the camera write the photos to the card quicker as well as downloading to your computer. A fast card will help a lot if you’re doing a burst of a continuous sequence of photos. A better care will be less apt to fail on you. There’s nothing worse that losing a whole memory card of irreplaceable photos.

Camera Accessories
Camera Accessories

Camera strap. A good camera strap will save your camera from hitting the deck. If you’re walking around with it, sling it around your neck. I buy neoprene straps with buckles that allow me to remove the strap from the camera while it’s on the tripod. It keeps the strap from getting caught on my arm and knocking the tripod over, plus if it’s windy it keeps the camera steadier without the strap flapping in the wind.

A remote shutter release. It’s very easy to get shake and slight motion blur in your photos by simply pushing the shutter button down while mountain on a tripod. A remote shutter release will keep this from happening. You can get them that connect via a wire or via remote. I use the wired type because I find them more reliable.

A good computer and storage. These days the digital cameras are making some amazingly fine and detailed photos, but that quality can come with a price. Processor speed, memory and storage will be taxed if you have an older computer. Make sure that you have plenty of room to store your photos on your machine, and consider backing them up to a separate external hard drive in case of computer failure. I recommend deleting any photo that you deem a failure to save hard drive space. Today’s cloud storage services provide a great place to backup your photos. Another practical solution is to sign up to sharing sites such as Flickr or even printing sites such as SmugMug to store your photos.

The bottom line concerning accessories. My approach to photography, and most things in life, are to keep it all simple. You don’t need a truck full of doo-dads, gizmos and what-nots to take a good photo. You best accessory to your photography is going to be your knowledge of your camera and how to use it on manual to have control of the light that makes your photos.

What to Look For In A Camera For Any Skill Level

Digital SLR

I'm often asked, "What kind of camera do you recommend?" I'm not so sure that those who ask that one simple question actually understand just how many questions that it can generate in reply.

Cell Phone Camera
Cell Phone Camera

There's the old adage that, the best camera is the one that you have with you, and a lot can be said for that. Capturing a moment in time is easily served well by modern cell phones. Most of the time the photos that are made are perfectly acceptable. With a little experience and an application or two and an Instagram account one can call it good and their photographic needs are taken care of. Not long ago if someone wanted a simple camera they would get a Point and Shoot but today cell phones have taken that role.

Because cell phones have their limitations, if a person wants to be able to take a little better quality photo, especially in challenging light or fast action, they can choose some excellent cameras today that make the pro models from years past look primitive. Even at entry and bridge camera levels. A bridge camera, or prosumer camera, is one that gives the user the ability to either shoot in automatic, programmed modes or manual mode. Generally speaking they don't have interchangeable lenses but have a large zoom range. Some offer from 24-1000mm equivalent focal length zoom capabilities. These cameras usually run from around $300 - $1000, with the average around $500-600 dollars and cover the majority of the needs of the average consumer or hobbyist.

The next step up the the progression of abilities are the Single Lens Reflex cameras. The majority of serious hobbyists or professional photographers will want to own a DSLR camera because of their increased capabilities such as more control, larger file sizes for larger printing, lower light capabilities, better lenses etc. I tell anyone who is considering buying a DSLR camera that if they don't plan on learning how to use it on any other setting than Auto to not bother with the expense as the Bridge cameras will give you the equivalent image. An entry level DSLR can cost as little as $500 for the camera body with lenses additional, up to $6000 - $8000 for a pro model with a myriad of costs and models between. I will discuss the differences in the different types of DSLR cameras in a future article.

Digital SLR
Digital SLR

It is important to note that technology marches on and in the next few years we can see a shift in the camera paradigm since the Japanese 35mm film SLR's came to the consumer market in the 1950's. The next big thing in cameras is the elimination of the mirror mechanism that's the main part of the single lens reflex camera. The mirrorless cameras have no moving parts and the sensor controls the exposure. Another benefit is that they are smaller and lighter. Manufactures such as Sony, Fuji and Panasonic are leading the way while, oddly, the big guys Canon and Nikon seem to be dragging their feet at this time, but it's logical that all of the other will follow suit soon.

To get back to my original statement about the best camera is the one that you have with you. I always tell anyone who wants to use a camera as a hobby to create artistic images that it matters little the type of camera. I have made beautiful photos with a wooden pinhole camera and 120 film. A pinhole camera is, essentially, a box with a little hole in the front. The photographer uncovers the hole for a moment to expose the film and then covers it again. I have made some photos with an old Brownie Hawkeye that would rival a Hasselblad. Don't use the excuse that you don't have a good camera to start taking photos. Use what you have. Learn how to use it. Learn what good and bad light is. Learn a few composition rules and practice. Learning photography is like any skill. It takes a lot of practice. And the true art of photography doesn't depend on cost or complexity of the paintbrush. There's a lot to be said about using gear that is more suited to your skill level and growing to the point where the camera's limitations are limiting your own. I always say that a pair of fancy golf shoes or an expensive titanium driver is not going to help my golf game. If I were a pro or a very good hobbyist, maybe.  

I have not addressed or endorsed a recommended brand. There's no reason to choose one over the other. Arguing about Canon or Nikon is like arguing about Ford or Chevy. It's all about personal preference. The brands do what brands do. They leap frog each other to try to have the best. We all win because of it. The main reason that a person chooses one brand over the other is the user interface or lens selection. And once you choose a brand and invest in a few lenses, one has little incentive to change brands just to buy a whole new set of lenses, which is indeed something to consider when choosing a brand.

I should also mention that if you are an old film fan you can still purchase film and have it developed, but, sadly they have taken our Kodachrome away!

I hope that this gives you a little bit of information to allow you to decide on which camera might be right for you. I am always available to answer questions either here at my blog or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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