For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
One of my photographic idols, Cartier-Bresson understood that the camera is a not a magic tool that makes everyone wielding it a professional photographer. Rather, the camera and photographer are extensions of one another. Someone with knowledge of composition and lighting will create much better captures than someone without that knowledge and experience. While a professional photographer can create beautiful images using all kinds of photographic tools (see this amazing series by DigitalRev on YouTube), today’s wedding and portrait photographers generally won’t be shooting with a second generation iPhone.
I encourage brides and grooms to do a little research on photography and discuss a few key points with their prospective wedding photographers. Having confidence in your photographer’s abilities will ensure that you are not worrying about how well he or she is doing when you should be focused on having fun and enjoying your celebration! While there are so many elements that go into finding the right photographic fit for you (loving the style, both of your personalities meshing with the photographer’s…), I hope that the following can help you navigate your in-person meetings before you sign your contract. And, since I would love for that photographer to be me, I’m including my responses after each topic and sharing my gear list at the end of this post!
1. Photographers love talking about their gear. I’m guilty of boring my friends with long-winded answers when asked a simple question like “what does that lens do?” Asking your prospective wedding photographer about his or her favorite lenses for shooting a wedding can give you a sense of how much the photographer enjoys the work and how much experience he or she really has. Being met with a blank stare is probably a sign you should move onto the next candidate!
My personal favorites: the 70-200mm f/2.8 is my go-to for ceremony shots and certain portraits. It lets me stay back far enough that I do not get in anyone’s way or distract from the ceremony while still getting tight shots. The 24-70mm f/2.8 lets me get wider shots of the ceremony, plus many of my big bridal party shots. A photo walk with the couple is when I break out my 85mm f/1.8, which gives incredibly sharp portraits with soft, romantic backgrounds. For rings and other small details, I can’t live without my 40mm f/2.8 micro. While I bring many more lenses with me (you never know when the inspiration may hit for a great fisheye or ultra-wide shot), I have used each of the aforementioned lenses at every single wedding I’ve ever shot.
2. Did he or she go to school for photography? While plenty of talented photographers are self-taught and do just fine, there is much to be said for earning a bachelor’s degree in the art. Requirements of a photography degree include a great deal of peer and instructor critique, which is the best way to see your images in new ways and improve upon concept and execution.
I received my BS in Photography from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division. I started working toward the degree while also working full-time, then received a wedding photography internship that allowed me to fall in love with the photographic genre and begin building my portfolio, resulting in a wedding photography certification. I also have a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Ritual and ceremony fascinate me, and I am extremely respectful when shooting them. It is important to me to chat with officiants or venue managers ahead of time so I know exactly how the ceremony will go and where it is acceptable for me to stand. Trust me, you don’t want the photographer distracting from the ceremony because he or she was standing too close to the altar!
3. What is the photographer’s shooting style during a typical wedding from start to finish? You can tell a photographic style from a portfolio, but how those images were captured may not be evident.
My goal, when shooting a wedding, is to blend in as much as possible. Of course there will be times when I’ll be more vocal (for example, getting family members into position for post-ceremony altar pictures or large group portraits), but generally I will provide limited instruction and just let you interact and enjoy yourselves. If I think a certain movement or pose will make for a beautiful composition, I’ll let you know, and if you are really shy and really want more instruction of course I’ll give it! However, I find that the most successful images happen when we select the right setting for a photo walk or portraits and I just let people interact with minimal coaching. Once we finish with portraits and photo walks, I like to leave my couples pretty much alone to enjoy their event, getting candid, photojournalistic shots to tell the story of the day. As mentioned above, I like to get my ceremony shots without getting in the way, and the same goes for the reception. I like to get my shots without blocking everyone’s view of the first dance or cake cutting. Couples have called me a “ninja” because of my ability to be in the right place without distracting from the moment.
You’ll find a plethora of other ideas out there regarding what to ask your wedding photographer, but I felt that the above topics needed some attention. In the end, it is so important to sign a contract with a photographer who has enthusiasm, confidence, and whose personality fits with yours as a couple.
What’s In My Bag?
I won’t bore you with the multitude of accessories that are in my roller bag (seriously, tons – including Shout wipes in case of dirty dress emergencies!), but here’s a glimpse into the most important items I carry to every wedding:
- Nikon D700
- Nikon D3X
- Backup – Nikon D90
- 10mm f/2.8 fisheye
- 10-24mm f/3.5-5.6
- 24-70mm f/2.8
- 40mm f/2.8
- 50mm f/1.4
- 85mm f/1.8
- 70-200mm f/2.8
- Strobie 130
- LED light panel with gels
- CheetahStand C8
- PocketWizard Flex TT5 (x2) and MiniTT1
- White diffusion umbrella
- Sto-Fen flash diffusers
- ExpoImaging Rogue Gels