I’m not sure how I feel about shooting weddings, I think I would enjoy wedding photography but I certainly don’t have the experience. Honestly there is a long road of development between my skills today and the feeling that I can confidently fill a wedding album with beautiful special moments. But the journey needs to start somewhere, and recently a friend asked if I would photograph their casual at-home wedding with complete understanding that this was my first go at such an event. I said yes and dove in over my head. What an opportunity!
Jay and Erin’s home is a beautiful Victorian affair, intricately detailed inside and out, complete with two carriage houses. The ceremony itself was a beautiful evening setting, lit by christmas lights strung around the room bathing everyone in a candle like warmth. We used one of carriage houses for formal family shots, a charming setting as well.
For the portrait shots I asked Jay and Erin to work with me on an afternoon session the weekend before the wedding. I know, that is a big ask, and probably even a “cheat”, but being my first wedding I wanted to make sure I could nail some great shots without the distractions of the actual wedding day pressing in. Jay and Erin were awesome - beautiful, full of energy, and excited about our shoot.
What is my style? I don’t have a style. I’m looking for it. Maybe someday I’ll find it. I hope so, because I want to find it. I’ll pass a billboard along the highway and immediately recognize the shot as a Joey L photo. And we all know what a Peter Hurley head shot looks like. I met a photographer recently and a few days later came across a shot on the internet that I immediately recognized as his. That's style. In this case Jay and Erin’s home is vintage, so I hoped to create some retro shots without resorting to a filtered old film look. I think we pulled that off… this shot of Jay and Erin on the porch makes me laugh, looking like it could have happened a hundred years ago in the old south.
I mentioned my ‘X’ in the title, yep, that’s my beloved Fuji X system and I’m going to get into the technicals now. Being my first wedding there are some good lessons learned here, some things that worked well, and some that I will do differently in the future.
BorrowLenses came through once again, I’ve always been impressed when renting from these folks. They sent over Fuji XF10-24mm and XF56mm f/1.2 lenses as well as a Fuji X-T1 body. I added my own kit: Fuji XF35mm f/1.4 and XF18-55mm lenses, a Fuji XE-1 body, and a bag full of Yongnuo strobes and accessories. Two bodies, four lenses, a great kit to shoot with!
This was the first time shooting with the X-T1 or either of the XF10-24mm and XF56mm f/1.4 lenses. I was quite excited to give each of these a try! I’ve shot previously with the XF60mm f/2.4 macro and the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, and have heard nothing but great things about the newer glass from Fuji. And, I have to agree, these are superb lenses!
That XF10-24mm is genius, magic really. I simply cannot fathom how such a wide field of view can be so free from distortion. I did make keystone corrections in Lightroom, but that is all about camera position in relation to strong architectural lines. There was no barrel distortion, no fringing, no flaring - just amazing sharpness. This lens was absolutely key to the small, but beautiful and heavily backlit spaces we had to work with on this shoot. For cinematic scenes this lens is an absolute essential and one day I hope to give it a permanent place in my kit!
The XF56mm f/1.4 has been hotly anticipated, and yes it does rock! But, when looking back I’m liking those shots taken at f/2.8 better than those fully open. Not exactly sure why, but all the same my “need” for a XF56 has been replaced by an even more intense “need” for the new XF50-140mm f/2.8.
My next event shoot will find me kitted up with the XF10-24mm and the XF50-140mm, that’s it, just those two lenses! Sure I’ll have my current XF35mm f/1.4 prime along just in case I need a wide open shot, but honestly it may not come out of the case. I thought I would be a prime shooter, but these two professional level zooms from Fuji have changed my mind on that. I can completely understand why Canon/Nikon wedding shooters tend to use their two equivalent zooms almost exclusively.
And, that X-T1… Oh man, I’m going to be in trouble for this. But meh. Seriously, the X-T1 is an awesome camera, but so is the X-E1, and in my style of shooting I just wasn’t sad to return the X-T1 to the rental house. Oh yes, that viewfinder is nice, and big, bright but I can still see jaggies and red and green pixels on either side of high contrast lines. That flip out screen is all the bees knees but it is also lacking in clarity. I realize now that I have fallen in love with the pseudo rangefinder style of the X-E1 body. Turns out there are just too many controls crammed onto the X-T1 for my taste. The push-to-focus button is a really tough reach for my thumb over top of the grip, surrounded by other controls, it just feels fiddly compared to the same button on the X-E1 which is big bold and confident. I don’t mind that the ISO setting is in the Q menu of the X-E1, the menu is easier to navigate with the better four way controls than reaching over the camera to fiddle with a locked dial. Speaking of that dial, the lower level is the “drive” mode, which is quite fiddly compared to the simply drive menu on the X-E1. Likewise the zoom wheel on the X-T1 is more difficult to navigate with than the simpler zoom-in and zoom-out buttons on the X-E1. Really, there are just too many physical controls crammed onto the X-T1. Fiddly. I thought more controls would be better, but I personally found the X-E1’s simpler control layout gives those buttons that are there more confidence and purchase for my fingers.
So, I may not like the X-T1 body as much as I thought I would, but it really does shine in the newer electronics such as focus speed (wow!), focus assist modes, and wifi. I’m looking forward to seeing what advances Fuji makes in the X-Pro and X-E bodies in the coming years, I think these bodies will suit my style better. And all black? I didn’t love it, my silver topped X-E1 body looks like a work of intricate machinery, which it is. The black X-T1 just looks like gear. The details that Fuji has put into their camera works inspires my photography and I want to feel like I am holding a small masterpiece. That silver edition X-T1 does look a bit better, but for now I would much rather invest in the lenses and keep to my X-E1.
One area of equipment that did let me down was the speed lights. I really do like my four Yungnuo speed lights, but the one thing they lack compared to a studio strobe is a modeling light. While shooting family formals in the dark carriage house this was a problem, not surprisingly it is difficult to frame up and focus in a dim space lit by a single forty watt bulb! And getting loop lighting without a modeling light requires quite a bit of trial and error. I’m determined to come up with a portable DIY modeling light for umbrellas and soft boxes, I’m testing a solution now and I’ll share more on that in a later blog post.
Post production… This is where I fell off the cliff on this project. I knew I would, but the ground didn’t look so far down when I first stepped over the edge. Up to now I’ve been working in Aperture but I knew the inevitable switch to Lightroom was coming. I started this project in Aperture, but my workflow broke down completely. For one, most of our shots were taken in the tight confines of the Victorian home, the wide angle view was invaluable but needed some keystone correction for nearly every shot, something simply not possible in Aperture. The other issue with Aperture is that jumping into the RAW file means losing the beautiful Fuji film modes, so I typically stick to processing the out of camera JPGs. Lightroom has those Fuji modes built right in the development module and I really needed to reach for the RAW files on this shoot. So I switched and that’s a big deal. I miss the Color Monochrome adjustment from Aperture, a go-to tool, but wow does Lightroom really shine in many other areas.
I’m a tweaker, and though I feel like I have become fairly intimate with Lightroom through this project, I always feel like I should be able to get something more out of each of the photos. I’m realizing how valuable a good preset system could be. Instead of pushing all the buttons and pulling the levers to make the machine do what I want, just click on the typical actions and then fine tune from there. Next time a project like this comes up I think I’ll be investing in the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets, it looks like an excellent and well thought out system that will fit my work style.
I did pull an ultimate rookie move on this project that seems so obvious looking back now. I nearly delivered a collection of shots that didn’t look like they belonged together. I was working on these shots in the evenings, after coming home from work and getting the kids settled down for the night, maybe an hour or two each night at the most. I would pick a shot from a sequence and begin to process it, after getting to a look I liked I would sync those development settings to the other shots in the set, refining each a bit. Repeat night after night, never looking at the set as a whole. I know, ridiculous, but I was so concentrated on learning the Lightroom environment that I had failed to tone the images to appear as if they belonged together. I realized the mistake only when I was ready to deliver and had to pull back, a bit heart breaking to realize how many more hours would be needed to round off the set. Next time I’ll make things easier on myself by putting together a collection representing a shot from each sequence, process the group so they look great as a set, then apply each style back into the other shots of those settings. Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
Another area I can work on is composing tight shots. If I do have a style it would be looking for wide cinematic type settings. Getting in close is uncomfortable for me. I tend to shoot closeups much wider than I need, looking for a comfortable framing in post. There is a huge amount I can learn in directing couples to pose closer into each other, to bring the viewer into their intimate space without feeling creepy. Maybe it’s difficult because I’m about as much an introvert as can be made, I really have a discomfort of pushing too far into people’s personal space, and I think that shows in my photography…. an introverts view of the world. Something I can improve on going forward.
So, there you have it. This weekend photographer's first wedding shoot and a few lessons learned. I’m still looking for my style, but I’m so thankful to have such a great couple to work with on this project. Thank you Jay and Erin, and congrats! As much work as this has been, I'm almost wishing I had another low key wedding lined up so I could immediately refine and apply lessons learned. We’ll see what the year brings my way.