The Wedding Photographer

Just over 12 months ago I broke one of the cardinal sins for a photographer.  On a trip to my homeland (the great North West of England) and in a slightly drunken yet elated state I offered to take the photographs for two very good friends of mine who had recently announced the date of their forth-coming wedding.

The next morning, slightly hung-over, I recalled my “generous” offer and hoped that the couple to be might have suffered a greater alcohol induced memory haze than myself.  I’d returned back to London and nothing had been mentioned for at least a week, “phew that was a close shave” I thought and then, that fateful email pinged into my Inbox.

“were you serious about taking the pics for the wedding Andy?”

“yes no problem, call it my wedding present to you both…..”, hmmmmm mistake number 2.

Registry Office So I was now well and truly committed.  I’ve taken snaps before at many weddings but never as the “official photographer” so the pressure was on to deliver the goods, plus I was also a guest at the wedding which would include a large group of some of my very best friends… we don’t often get the chance to all get together so I didn’t want miss a great opportunity for a catch-up.  I had 5 months to prep myself (plenty of time) the only other additional complication was the wedding was to be held in Spain!!! To be more accurate the ceremony in Gibraltar and the reception later in the day at a Villa on the Costa Del Sol.

So with a few weeks to go I thought it might be prudent to read-up on the subject and take-in the do’s and don’ts.  I’d also need to confirm the finer details with the bride and groom e.g. timings locations and logistics.  Logistics, I found with research, would be important especially given we would drive down in the morning to Gibraltar for the ceremony at 11am.  This would mean having to deal with the border crossing from the Spanish town of La-Linea into Gibraltar and the notorious traffic queues caused by the overzealous Spanish border officials.

With Flights and Car hire booked, my camera kit packed and a memorised (backed up with paper) list of MUST HAVE shots I set off for Gatwick Airport bound for Malaga on a late night flight that would get me to the Villa a couple of days before the wedding.  Those 2 days prior to the wedding were great, I had to chance to have a few beers with the lads and tease more details out about the ceremony and reception which helped me plan in my mind how I’d tackle the task at hand.

The LadiesDay of the wedding, and a early start.  I was responsible for making sure the groom was up and ready in time for the best man to collect us from the Villa where we would drive south to Gibraltar.  This meant I’d have to be up even earlier to get myself suited and booted and make sure all my kit was ready to go.

First logistics success was the decision we’d taken NOT to attempt to drive over the border into Gibraltar.  On arrival in La-Linea the expected traffic queues materialised so we decamped on the Spanish side of the and hot-footed it over the border, which for those that have not experienced this before means about a mile walk through the border, across the runway of Gibraltar’s International airport before you can grab a short bus ride into town.  This wouldn’t have been too bad if it wasn’t for the heat combined with the weight of my kit and the full suit I was wearing.  After a quick hydration stop we arrived in good time outside Gibraltar’s tiny registry office.  This gave me a chance to get the groom and his family shots in before the bride and her bridesmaids arrived as well as the much welcomed opportunity to cool down in the shade.

The bride arrived a little late, as is permitted (and expected) which gave a great opportunity to grab shots of her and the bridesmaids walking up, reservoir dogs style through, the narrow cobbled street that approached the registry office.

To describe Gibraltar’s registry office as small would be an understatement.  There is about enough room for the Bride, the Groom and registrar plus about 7 guests – it is literally an office!!! So not too good for shots other than then obligatory signing of the register and the happy couple together.

Post the ceremony we took a stroll towards the Marina to celebrate with a quick mid morning glass of champers and the route there gave me ample opportunity to grab some shots amongst the old town walls of Gibraltar, coincidentally right next to Gibraltar’s own Photography Club.

The early afternoon would see us all drive back north towards Malaga where a humanist reception amongst the remaining guests and friends would await us.  This is where it would get difficult as many of my friends would be gathered there and in no time the drinks would be flowing whilst I had to keep on my game for the remainder of the day.  I’d previously promised myself that I’d only partake in a couple of drinks on arrival and through the meal, setting myself a cut-off time post the bride and groom’s first dance, then I could put the kit away and play catch-up.

The BrideAll went smoothly, corralling the guests for pictures was easier than expected primarily because my friends were assisting in ushering people together and as I think everybody knew I was also a guest I got more opportunities to blend in and get some great documentary shots which really helped to tell the story of the day, and true to my promise I put the kit (well most of it) away after the end of the first dance.

The day was a great success – I was running on adrenalin (more like beer) at the end of the evening and was really happy with the results.  To top it all I was showered with compliments from the Groom’s father, a man when growing up, I had greatly revered and knew that such compliments were never given easily.

So what lessons did I learn?  Planning is key.  Knowing in your mind the types of shots you are aiming to get before the day, helps massively.  Chat with the bride and groom about the sort of shots they are after and write a list of the “banker shots” that every wedding should have.  Pre-scout the venues and locations to get an idea of nearby places that could offer good photographic opportunities, use Google Earth and Flickr to help you out with this.  Build rapport with the bride and groom to put them ease… in this instance this was easy for me as they had been lifelong friends.  Don’t be afraid of getting into the best position for a shot especially post reception and ceremonies when you’ll have competition for good pictures from the guests.  HAVE FUN and most of all don’t worry too much about breaking that rule e.g. don’t be the photographer for a friend’s wedding.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.  After the event I compiled the pictures together and sent off the shots to be published as a photo book.  Having been a guest at many weddings I can honestly say that being a guest and the photographer was an honour.  Witnessing and sharing in such a big event in peoples’ lives is one thing, but knowing you have helped to document this event and that for years to come my friends will be able to look back at the photo’s I’ve taken and remember their special day fills me with pride.

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Macro Photography on the Cheap.

I mentioned in my previous blog entry that I’d go in to some detail about achieving good quality macro photography on the cheap e.g. without having for dish out for a dedicated macro lens.

I discovered my interest in macro or close-up photography last year when I was undertaking a 365 Project and was looking for a different challenge, something I hadn’t attempted before.  A few macro pictures grabbed my attention and I thought why not give it a try.  Unfortunately however I didn’t have the spare cash to shell out for a dedicated macro lens so was forced to do a bit of research on the subject to see what I could achieve without the expense of a new lens.

What is Macro Photography? Essentially macro photography is termed as extreme close-up photography or where the subject in the image projected on to your camera sensor or film is larger than the actual subject.  Where the image on the sensor is the same size as the subject you’re achieving a reproduction ratio of 1:1.  A reproduction ratio of 1:1 or more is classed as a macro photograph.  To make this a little simpler, but more generic, some categorise an image as macro where the vertical height of the subject shot is less than 24mm.

The Macro Conundrum As macro photography requires close-up, high detail images, a number of challenges become apparent which you need to deal with in order to get the best shot.  Two main issues impact the macro photographer, Light and Depth of field.

As you need to get close to the subject of your shot the amount of light entering the lens is less.  Traditionally if shooting in Manual or Aperture priority you could widen the aperture (decrease the f number) on the lens and let more light in… or increase the ISO on your sensor.  However opening the aperture wide narrows the depth of field e.g. the amount your subject is in focus across the depth of the image.  When shooting small subjects using macro the depth of field will equally be reduced meaning you could have a lot of your image out of focus if your aperture is wide open.

So the trick or balancing act is to maximise the depth of field across your image subject whilst trying to get as much light in as possible.  You’ll see later how this often results in having to use a slow or long exposure shutter so a tripod is a necessary item to get macro shots correct.  The use of a dedicated macro lens will ease the balancing you need to achieve and give you more flexibility but overall whether you use a dedicate lens or an alternate method the challenges above are still an issue.

How to do it on the cheap  There are a number of different methods for achieving macro images without having to use a dedicated macro lens on your DSLR.  I use fully manual macro extension tubes and I’ll discuss these in more detail but you can also use macro/close-up filters which magnify the image at the end of the lens (image quality can suffer using this method) or lens reverse mounts which allow you your flip your lens around on your camera.  All methods including dedicated lenses aim to extend the distance between the end of the lens and the sensor in order to increase to magnification on the sensor.

Extension Tubes What are extension tubes I hear you ask? Well they are and do as described.  They are a set of tubes of varying length that when placed between the lens and the camera extend that distance and achieve greater magnification of the image on the sensor, hopefully getting you a reproduction ratio of 1:1 or greater.

You generally get two flavours of macro extension tubes.  The expensive ones such as Canon’s EF 25 II Extension tube which retails at over £140 ($90) for a single length tube and the dirt cheap ones which can be found all over Amazon or ebay for less than £10 ($6).  So what is the difference?

Most importantly there will be no difference in image quality between the two different types, spending more in this instance doesn’t get you better image quality.  Extension tubes contain no glass elements, they are a tube, so despite the engineering and optical excellence of Canon and Nikon etc none of them can improve the quality of the air between your lens and camera.  The main reason you pay more for a branded set or single extension tube is they maintain the direct connection of the lens to the camera to support the use of auto focus and/or aperture control.

In my opinion it isn’t worth paying the extra as firstly you will in most instances need very fine focus control when shooting macro so would most likely need to use Manual Focus and secondly with a little bit of knowhow you can retain control of the aperture without the lens being electrically connected to the camera.

So what do you need? Apart from a DSLR and the aforementioned manual extension tube set you’ll need a lens and a Tripod and if you want even greater focus control I’d also suggest a macro focus rail.  Cheap adequate rails ones can also be found on Amazon and eBay for under £10 ($6).

In my setup I generally use.

I already had the camera and tripod so for a total of £97 ($60) I have myself a little macro rig and a decent fast 50mm prime… everybody should own a nifty fifty, for the price you can’t beat them.

By comparison the cheapest Canon Macro lens which is capable of achieving the all important reproduction ratio of 1:1 is the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 which retails at £365 ($230) and this won’t fit a full frame DSLR!!  The next cheapest is Canon EF 100mm f2.8 which retails for £429 ($270).  Also be aware that some lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f2.5 are marketed as being a macro lens but they don’t hit the 1:1 reproduction ratio so whilst they can get close they don’t go close enough.

Setting Up (Canon) When using an extension tube set the general rule is the longer the tube or the more you stack the tubes the greater the magnification.  Getting a eye for the correct amount to use comes with practice but in short the setup is a follows…

  • Set desired aperture with just the lens on your camera (see tip below on how to do this)
  • Remove lens and add required extension tube(s)
  • Re-attach to camera and shoot away.

Macro extension tubes basically fit between your lens, in my case the EF 50mm f1.8 and your camera.  However before you go running off to fit your tubes to the lens and the lens to the camera STOP!!! When using manual extension tubes we need to think about how we are going to set the aperture of the lens, without that control from the camera provided by the more expensive branded extension tubes.

TIP There are two methods that can be used to set the aperture on the lens before we connect the extension tubes, each method requires the lens to be connected to the camera and setting aperture as desired before removing the lens with the camera power remaining on.

A common method I’ve seen used by many on YouTube is to set the aperture whilst in Live View mode before removing the lens, with the power still on.  The second method, and my preferred because it reduces the exposure of the sensor to the elements when removing the lens is to use the little DoF preview button that is found on either the right or left side of the lower part of the lens mount on your Canon DSLR.  If you press and hold this button you’ll notice that the camera sets the aperture as desired so you can preview your shot through the optical view finder.  If you remove the lens whilst pressing and holding the DoF button you can effectively set the lens aperture without the mirror being locked up exposing the sensor as would be the case if you did this using the Live View method.  It can be a bit fiddly but practice makes this quite easy.

Once you have removed the lens you can power off the camera before attaching the lens to the extension tubes and then everything back on the camera.  That’s it, you are ready to shoot.

Things to consider As I mentioned above, normal depth of field reduces when using extension tubes so in order to get an image where you maximise the amount of subject in focus you’ll need to go for a small aperture (larger f number).  I find I shoot with nothing less than f7.  However using smaller apertures obviously means that less light is getting to the sensor so shutter speeds will be impacted.  Therefore in order to get a well exposed image you are more than likely going to need to either increase ISO or use a tripod to keep everything solid, unless you have a LOT of light available e.g. shooting outdoors on a bright day.  I’d stick with a low ISO and use a Tripod in order to maximise image quality but this is less useful if the subject can move e.g. an insect and you have long shutter times.

Lastly you’ll also notice that focus range becomes very short and focus adjustments become much more sensitive using macro tubes.  The slightest move of focus can have a very large impact which is why even when using the more expensive macro tubes and dedicated macro lenses most opt for manual focus to get that fine control.  The best method to get pin sharp focus is to shoot in Live View mode and use the screen magnify function to check everything is sharp before taking the shot.  For even finer control of focus, mount your camera onto a Macro focus rail then on to a tripod, this makes the whole focussing process much easier especially when you’re mounted to a tripod and you want to move your perspective around and take a shot from multiple angles.

So in a nutshell that’s Macro photography on the cheap.  Pop over to my Website and Flickr pages to see a selection of Macro examples all of which have been achieved using macro extension tubes.

Thanks for reading and in my next blog I’ll be reviewing the Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC HSM “Art” lens.