So it was with great trepidation that, despite my cautions and warnings, I agreed to photograph a wedding last month for a couple, Matt and Mindy, whom I'd known only a short time. It was the second marriage for both, and the couple planned a shoreline ceremony at the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan during Labor Day weekend. Matt and Mindy knew I'd never photographed a wedding -- I made that perfectly clear immediately and quickly and suggested they consult someone with experience. They insisted they wanted me -- and reassured me.
Mindy's mother had strongly endorsed me, and the bride-to-be wanted to give me the chance after she'd made some inquiries and learned the fees charged by professional wedding photographers. Mindy tried to put me at ease by telling me that she had all of one picture -- taken by her mother -- from her first marriage. "If you can get me two good pictures, you'll have beaten what I got the first time," she said.
Mindy's remark indicating she had no professional-level expectations from me -- or at least, didn't want me to go into the job feeling defeated before even starting -- is what convinced me to do it. It would be a required condition for me to do any future wedding as well, and that does not mean I want to do any more. I can't emphasize that enough.
The job was hard, and I worked hard -- throughout the weekend, and in post-processing for the next two and a half weeks. Beyond doing research and watching wedding photography instructional videos beforehand, I relied heavily on my documentary and event shooting skills. I shot Friday night, all day Saturday and a final beach shoot Sunday night. There were a couple disappointments, which I fully expected going in (my goodness, who won't fumble on the first try?), but in general, I was pleased with the results. I found that I was far too guarded with my "pleased with the results" self-evaluation. "Mindy loves, loves, loves the pictures," her mother gushed shortly after I delivered the DVD with the photographs to the couple.
The disc was all Matt and Mindy wanted; no album, no other fancy photo merchandise memorabilia. Just the images. And they wanted almost everything I shot that was worth keeping (they'd gotten a preview of my shoot the day after the wedding when Mindy's mother uploaded the images from my memory card onto her iPad so everyone could see what I shot). This, too, I agreed to do with great trepidation. After all, they were seeing my unedited images.
The DVD contained 650 or so images from the three days of shooting, which represented a bit less than half of the 1,400 pictures I took throughout the weekend. Like I said, they wanted everything. This veers dramatically from how professional wedding photographers would handle it. Professionals, who also charge fees for prints and photo memorabilia, present the bride and groom only the cream of the shoot -- perhaps 75 to 100 shots at most.
Professionals have found that the more limited choices people have, the easier it is to decide on what to order in prints and/or memorabilia. The more choices you give them, the more difficult and longer it takes for them to decide ... and sometimes they're so undecided, they won't order anything. But I knew all they wanted was the images, so I was OK with giving them everything I thought was presentable.
I was fortunate that I didn't have the post-ceremony chore of printing materials for the couple, because I probably would have required extra time to deliberate on what I perceived to be the "cream" of the crop of 650 images.
I started the assignment with some iPhone shots along the beach the first night we were at the Dunes, Friday night. Mindy and Matt and some of their kids went there to test a few flame-powered lanterns they were thinking about sending into the air after the ceremony the next day. I grabbed some nice silhouettes of the activity there, although there was difficulty in getting all but one of the lanterns (left) airborne. They would abandon the lantern idea in favor of bubble-blowing the next day.
On Saturday, as family arrived and people began to decorate the screened-in deck at the rented house where the post-ceremony party would be, I started shooting with my Canon 6D equipped with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I shot in RAW format, knowing this would give me the best opportunity in post-processing to salvage shots that were borderline because of exposure or white color balance issues. I used available light primarily, knowing that the 6D's low-light sensitivity would work in my favor, and I was right.
The family went to the shoreline near the rented house in Long Beach, not far from the Michigan state line, early Saturday, the day of the wedding, where I shot with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens on my Canon 7D so I could stand far enough way to not be intrusive, to allow maximum interaction shots of the family as they skipped pebbles into the water (right). It was the last time that weekend I would use any lens other than the 24-70.
In the early afternoon, the groom, his brother and father, the bride's mother and I got into a car and drove 30 minutes west on U.S. 12 to the West Beach of Indiana Dunes, the site of the ceremony that evening at 6:30 p.m. Matt and the other men wanted to erect a bamboo structure to serve as the focal point of the ceremony. I wanted to scope out the scene to understand what I'd be dealing with in just a few short hours. There would be a lot of sand to conquer, I noted.
While we were there, ominous skies moved in, which seemed to support a weather forecast that promised rain at some point before early evening, which in turn would imperil the outdoor ceremony. I took a couple pictures of the skies, bracketing my exposures for possible treatment in high-dynamic range (HDR) software in post-processing. I'd never attempted to do that without a tripod using the 24-70 lens, which does not have built-in stabilization. But I got onto one knee, rested the camera there, held my breath and gave it a try (left). At worst, I knew I'd have at least a single frame to represent the scene I was looking at.
By the time we got back to the rented house at Long Beach, there was a relatively small window of time to shoot the wedding party getting dressed before we needed to get into the cars and drive back to to the West Beach Dunes. I started my prep shooting at a second rented house, about six blocks from the main house, where the groom, his sons and step-sons-to-be would be dressing, but it was clear after 20 minutes there, the photo ops were zilch. I walked back to the main house, where the bride and family were preparing. That was a wise choice, and I got some very nice shots there.
Not long into the drive to West Beach, the skies opened up. The groom, his brother-in-law and father had left to go early to finish site preparation. They got rained on, although they had umbrellas to help protect them. And they scampered to the bath house to seek cover. Shortly before 6:30, the rain stopped. Everyone hurried to their positions, the sun came out, and I got some beautiful evening light to capture the processional featuring the bride, her two sons, Matt's son Evan and Matt's daughter Emma.
The light stuck around for most of the ceremony, and I exploited it to the hilt when and where I could, integrating still-threatening skies into background shots when I could. I used the setting sun on the lake as a backdrop for group pictures afterward, turning to my Canon 580EX II flash to help me light the subjects when it got increasingly dark. I set the flash on manual with intensity at minus 1/16 or 1/8 to ensure the same lighting with every shot. We got all the group shots in, and many -- but not all -- of the mood/artsy shots we had planned when darkness set in ... and, oh yeah, it started to rain again.
Afterward, back at the main house in Long Beach, I shot available light as the guests mingled in the living room and kitchen area to check out the food and beverage spread. When the main action moved to the screened-in porch, where lighting consisted of a string of incandescent bulbs laced around the ceiling as decoration, I turned to my flash and a flat Graslon Prodigy amber diffuser (right). I set the flash to manual again, tested the light intensity at various levels until I hit on one that seemed to work best, and set my 6D's white balance to tungsten to match the amber diffuser. I was fortunate that the action would be in a relatively confined area, with similar range and distance, so I was confident that a majority of my shots would turn out, exposure-wise. I was right.
After a long day, I couldn't rest just yet. Because of the rainout Saturday during the post-ceremony shots at West Beach, the bride and groom wanted to return to the beach Sunday afternoon to finish the shots. Everyone dressed up again, but this time, we didn't go 30 miles away to West Beach. We went to the beach nearest the rented house in Long Beach, and that's where we got the last shots, again fortunate to get some splendid, dramatic sunset lighting, although it didn't last nearly long enough to allow for time to do things as well as I had hoped.
The couple, by the way, gave me permission to use these pictures in the blog post. And as always, click on any image to bring up a much larger, detailed version.
Above and below: Two of the iPhone shots from Friday night, the one above, probably my favorite of the night, a silhouette of the bride's oldest son, Justin, standing along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Long Beach. That's Justin again below, a monochrome silhouette of him trying to fan the flame under his lantern. You may be able to see the raindrops on the lake as well as on the lantern and Justin.
Above: Breakfast at the main house on Saturday morning.
Above: The kids spent a lot of time on their mobile devices to pass the time Saturday, but so did Ron, Matt's father.
Above: Matt (far left) with his sister, Anne; Mindy; Matt's sister's boyfriend; and Mindy's grandmother, conversing early Saturday afternoon in the screened-in porch where the party would be later that evening.
Above: Matt looking in on the women before heading out to the other house to get dressed for the ceremony. That's Mindy's grandmother in the foreground.
Above: Matt's sister, Anne, and her daughter, Hailey, helping Mindy get her hair ready. Hailey, I found out during the weekend, is a Green Bay Packers fan, as am I.
Above: A shot of all the women huddled in the prep room. In the background is Matt's mother.
Above: Mindy's grandmother, Greta, at her turn on makeup.
Above: The boys' shirts and leis hanging on the blinds in the prep room.
Above and below: Moments of affection for the bride -- Matt's sister Anne (above) and Mindy's mother (below).
Above: Livy, Mindy's cousin, and Justin asked me to take this photo of what they termed a picture of "the maids of dishonor," perhaps because Livy was hitting the wine a little early and, well, I'm not exactly sure why Justin felt he belonged in that grouping.
Above: Livy and Mindy in the van before taking off for the 30-minute ride to West Beach at Indiana Dunes.
Above: The rainbow that appeared as the sun broke shortly after the rain stopped while we waited out the downpour in the parking lot of West Beach, Indiana Dunes.
Above: Justin walking his mother down the promenade extending from the bathhouse to the stairs leading to the beach.
Above: One of the guests played processional music (a pop song whose title escapes me now) on a portable device that enabled Mindy's youngest son, Davin, and Matt's youngest son, Evan, to dance during their march, er, boogie from the bathhouse stairs to the ceremony site.
Above: Emma takes her turn in the processional, threatening skies lurking in the background.
Above: Justin prepares to give his mother to Matt.
A shot taken behind the bride and groom (above), again showing the ominous weather system moving in. Below, a look from the opposite point of view ... behind the preacher.
Above and below: The couple exchanging their vows. The day was significant for Mindy, whose first marriage was perfunctory and took place in a municipal court. With this ceremony, she got the every-girl's-dream scenario she had missed the first time.
Above and below: The couple beginning the sand union ceremony, with contributions from each child who added a different color to the mixture to symbolize individuality within one unit. The shot below was taken with a splash of fill flash.
Above: The conclusion of the union sand ceremony, taken with camera over my head, when I used the 6D's live view feature to compose and focus ... and, again, I used some fill flash.
Above: The couple's first kiss as newlyweds.
Above: Family members participate in the bubble-blowing ceremony.
Above: The ceremony had ended, and people were mingling elsewhere when Matt and Mindy moved off to the side to steal this less conspicuous expression of endearment. Mindy tried to use the bouquet as a privacy shield.
Above: An example of one of the group shots, using the lake as the backdrop. The sun, as you could probably tell, was coming from the left. We were losing light fast, and there wasn't a whole lot of time to set up the shots properly, so unfortunately, they were rushed.
Above and next four below: A sampling of shots of the couple integrating the water and setting sun into the composition. In the case of the second below, I worked the highlights and color temperature sliders in Photoshop Elements to remove some of the bronze tint and restore blue color to the sky.
The shots above and below were requested by the couple, although the timing of the one above to grab the dripping water off Mindy's leg was all chance.
Above and below: After Matt put Emma down from the shot above, Matt's brother, Kirk, surprised everyone -- including me and Matt -- by jumping into Matt's arms to replicate the shot. I was turned the other way, and someone yelled to me to hurry and get the shot. I wheeled right and got off two quick shots. This was the first, and better of the two, although Emma was walking in front of me and got into the lower left corner of the frame. I used the cloning stamp to remove her.
Above: A gratuitous farewell to the shoot at West Beach, Indiana Dunes.
Above and next several below: Shots from the post-ceremony after-dark party in the screened-in deck at the main rental house in Long Beach. This is where I began using the Graslon Prodigy amber diffuser on my flash.
Above: Two shots taken again with the camera held over my head, using the live view feature to compose and focus.
Above: Matt and his sister, Anne. Neither could remember afterward what was being discussed to prompt this reaction from Anne.
Above: Matt's father, Ron, and Mindy's grandmother, Greta.
The couple's wedding cake (above) ... and the cake-eating tradition gone improv (below).
Above: The Sunday evening shoot along the lake shore close to Long Beach began with the couple's ring hands imprinted in the sand ... with rings placed on the appropriate finger. An alternate frame included a shot of the prints with the bride's bouquet, but I preferred this one.
Above: Mindy had seen a photo like this on Pinterest, so we tried to replicate it. We came close. I tried repeated shots to get the ring in sharper focus, and I think if I'd had more time, I would eventually have gotten it. If I'd used the 70-200mm lens to better compress the sight lines, I think that would have made it easier. The problem with the Sunday shoot is that we started later than we should have, so again we raced to get everything we wanted to do before we lost natural light. We accepted the shot above, then moved on.
Above and below: Two more shots Mindy found on Pinterest that we tried to duplicate. We did pretty well with the shot above, except having the 70-200mm lens probably would done a better job giving me the compression I wanted to better blur the children in the foreground and better make the couple stand out as the focal point. We were getting wonderful dramatic sunlight from the left on all of the kids' faces ... except for Davin (right foreground), so I had Davin's grandmother hold a large reflector off to the right, which gave us the bit of light you see on his face here. The shot below we just couldn't get the way I had wanted because we were losing light. I'd have wanted the couple closer to the frame ... and the whole frame in the shot. And I'd have wanted not to have lost the sunlight on the couple, which happened in the short time between finishing the shot above and setting up the one below.
Above and below: With sunlight all but lost, I popped on the flash again, and got these final shots of the mothers holding the frame around their children ... and of Mindy with her children and Matt's sons. I wish I would have increased the flash intensity on the shot below, but I was racing to get the shot before the sun fell completely below the horizon, and it did just that just seconds after taking this.
Above: For the post's coda, a shot of the couple with Emma as they walked back to the main house after the Sunday beach shot. That's the picture frame we used as a prop slung over Matt's shoulder.