It was several years ago and my memories are somewhat vague, but not the feelings and the reflections of the emotions of those few beautiful and fulfilling days. That time I just stepped onto my path as a photographer. Yes, I was already making good photographs, though these skills should be perfected with time. Many people have complimented my photographs and noted that I have “a good eye”. And it encouraged me to continue and evolve.
Photography wasn’t simply a hobby for me, it was a way to see the world and express my feelings — to connect with what is around me. It allowed my imagination and creativity to find the way out. And no thoughts about the photography business have ever crossed my mind. Actually, it was completely opposite, I was afraid to lose this wonderful feeling of oneness with the world and bury it under routine business tasks and errands. That’s why when somebody asked me to do something and promised to reimburse it, my usual response was “I’ll do it for free” (just for the fun of it). But people still refused to accept it for free and paid me.
And one of such clients was the real estate company “EastBanc”. They reside in Washington DC, where they specialize in development and investment in retail, office and other properties in Georgetown (the historic part of the capital). It happened that I was working as a software developer in their IT branch and my improvements in photography have been noticed. So, not long after that I was tasked to take photographs of newly developed buildings, interiors and other things.
Such relationship brought me closer to Susi, who was my primary customer at that time. And on one day our conversation suddenly for me swayed from the business to photography in general and finally to a proposition to be her wedding photographer. First of all, it was great news that I was glad to hear, and secondly it was somewhat a shock. Me and to be a wedding photographer? Before it I barely took any pictures of people.
Why me? At first, I tried to persuade Susi that I have never done anything like that and it requires a great deal from me, so I cannot take such responsibility. But she was conviced that I will do just fine and insisted on me being her wedding photographer.~ Top ~
As many beginners I found my passion in nature and landscape photography, where you combine hiking and photography, where the life is unhurried and you can take as much time as you want to take a shot. And nobody will be offended if you messed up a photograph and something didn’t come out right. In contrary, the wedding is such a hectic event, so everybody is agitated and rushing to be somewhere or do something (I am talking about the bridal party and the parents of the bride and groom). In addition the bride will be quite disappointed if the photographs will be not on a par with her usually high expectations.
These concerns (mildly put) just scratched the surface of my fears. I didn’t know a first thing about wedding photography and even weddings. Moreover, my experience with the weddings started and ended with one wedding party in Russia, which as may assume was more like a party, and very little resembled a wedding.
What about equipment? You may think that if you have a camera, then it should be enough to pull off the wedding photography assignment. And you will be wrong, the wedding photographer operates in quite different environment and conditions that a landscape photographer. There are a lot of tough constraints, such as light, time and coverage. As I learned by reading books and articles on the Internet, the weddings usually take place in dark churches or poorly lit (in photography sense) reception halls, and most of the reception often happens after the sunset. On the other hand, people are such unpredictable and constantly moving creatures. That’s not an easy task to focus, compose and get a good expression in a single frame. And on top of all it, the wedding photographer (considering the photojournalistic approach) has to be everywhere and see everything. How about pressure now? How would you feel in my shoes?
Thus the industry standards predicted a very tough transition (or rather a leap of faith) from a landscape photographer to a wedding photographer. I was raised with a very strict notion about responsibility and respect, and it didn’t make my task any easier. It only made me study harder and prepare better for my first wedding photography job. Yes, I took the job, and was doing it for free. Hey, I didn’t want to make my client pay for my mistakes and inexperience.
No amount of knowledge or skills would have allowed me to do even a decent job without the right equipment. Because of the low light conditions, the lens should be able to let pass a great amount of light and fast, otherwise the image will be blurry (focus will not be achieved in time) or underexposed. And such lenses are quite expensive. There are several other issues and concerns about profession photography equipment, but I will not bore you with it. Nonetheless, I got the right equipment and was almost ready.~ Top ~
Meanwhile the date of the wedding day was coming closer and closer, and the pressure and tension were building up. Oh, yeah. I read many articles, which I could find online, and tried to follow quite a few advices. But still I was a rookie. Though only one advice was the most helpful — enjoy the wedding. It sounds a bit off, however if you consider how it the feelings of the wedding photographer reflect in his photographs, then you will understand the full value of this advice.
There was only one thing left — scout the “enemy territory”. The wedding was going to take place in a small inn in the country. It was a beautiful place with a small pond and a little arch that let the waters fall into a creek. And I thoroughly explored the inn and its surroundings in a search for possible locations for formal portraits and just to know where the things are. Actually my exploration almost got me in a trouble. Remember the arch I just mentioned, well, I was taking pictures of the pond through the arch when I heard a hissing. I turned my head and in a couple of feet from my head was a snake in a fighting stance.
The snake was probably enjoying the warm sun when I disturbed her and was clearly displeased by it. It may sound stupid, but my first reaction was not fear, it was more like a mixture of respect and curiosity. And instead of running away or even backing off, I pointed my camera and took a shot, and only then I left her alone.~ Top ~
Finally, I was more or less prepared for the wedding and was almost anxious to do it. And then the time came, the wedding day commenced. For me it started in the middle of the day. While others, including the bride, were busy with making the last arrangements and preparations, it was a good time to blend in and catch the pace of the day. Being more than a hired photographer, but rather a friend, I helped with a few small things and didn’t forget take photographs. Though most of the time those were the test shots to try different settings and to adjust to the lighting conditions.
During the first hours, especially I was doing the real photography (not the test shots); I was constantly reminding myself to stay calm and focused. The only thing that will make all other things worse or even make me fail is the nervousness. It will interfere with all my actions and ultimately will ruin the photographs. So, I made everything possible to smile and enjoy the wedding.
The wedding ceremony was probably one of the tough parts of my work that day. It was full of events and required shots, and, of course, it was utterly new to me. The good thing though is that I had the detailed schedule written down, and I could easily follow it. And the minister has generously allowed me to move freely during the ceremony, which lead to a few good shots from interesting perspectives.
The greeting part after the ceremony was new to me as well. Initially I tried to photograph the bride and groom, but it turned out to be very boring — the same faces and somebody’s backs. So I stepped behind them and the pictures drastically improved. There is always a solution to a problem, isn’t?
It’s not clear to me what actually affected me more: the rush and excitement of a first big assignment or the joy and happiness that filled that day. Nonetheless, all anxiety and uneasiness were washed away and I truly enjoyed the wedding. Everything seamlessly fell in place and followed the delightful flow of the day.
It took me an hour or two to completely blend in and become one of the invited. And after a few glances at me people completely forgot about me, even the multiple flashes didn’t distract them. It still amazes me how you can be invisible in a crowd — sometimes I was literally in a few inches from the person and took a picture without him noticing it. Only people around us noticed and smiled. And when they smiled I took another photograph and smiled back.
The mood of the day and this relaxed attitude that flew in the air let me truly enjoy the day and focus on photography. It didn’t require much of my strength and nerves to attend to the details of the wedding and not to fumble with my equipment or lighting conditions. That day I truly felt to be capable of being a professional wedding photographer. My attitude and the smiling face evoked the same from people around, which greatly improved the photographs. It was so great to be there and share the joy of such a beautiful day with people around me.
And from that day forward I fell in love with wedding photography. Before that time I shied away from people photography — it is a very responsible job and least of all I want to hurt somebody’s feelings with my poorly done photograph. However the emotions that filled the day and the produced photographs have made me certain that it is the right job for me, and the one, which I will get a great delight from.~ Top ~
One of the great things about photography and especially about the wedding photography is the joy and pride when you deliver the beautiful photographs to the bride and groom and see their faces light up and smiles appear. Working for big corporations or companies you often miss the opportunity to get directly involved with the customer and receive that emotional feedback when you deliver the product or service. In photography it is right in front of you — it could be said that you are engulfed by the surge of human emotions. And it’s you who is completely responsible for the outcome and the emotions you get. It’s definitely a great experience and line of work.
Of course, there were mistakes and things that required improvements. One of them was the technical side of the trade — the equipment has failed me on some occasions. I cannot say that the equipment I had on that day was of a professional quality, that’s why I invested in top of the line professional gear, which I could depend on in every imaginable situation. And it already proved its reliability and capability to produce stunning images.
This opportunity opened my eyes to a whole new spectrum of photography where I knew so little about it. And it pushed me harder to learn and improve my skills. For example, the act of taking a photograph is just a part of the job. There is the post-processing, when you can not only correct color or exposure, but can make an art by adding your own interpretation coming from the feelings you shared with the people. And this journey will never end…