Monday, March 21, 2011

My First Stint as an Amateur Wedding Photographer

{In which I think about how to improve as a photographer}

This post is an extremely long reflection and analysis of the process of getting those photos done — it's really a way for me organize my thoughts about what I did and how to improve next time, so feel free to skip if it doesn't interest you. And if you haven't already, feel free to check out the photos on Picasa or on Facebook!

So as you can see from my last post, I finally, finally finished the wedding photos. I know, it took me forever. I am so incredibly relieved, you have no idea. For a long time I didn't want to deal with them at all. Taking the photos at the wedding was a lot of fun, but once I got home I felt overwhelmed every time I thought of the sheer number of photos I had to sort through and process. And when I started processing I saw so many things wrong with my photos. Some things were out of my control, but there were some things I should have remembered to do while taking the pictures. And my processing skills are not good enough to fix all the problems I saw in my photos.

Whenever I tried to work on the photos, all I saw were my failings as a photographer and that made me dread looking at them. Which explains why it took me so long to finish them. I should probably stop being so hard on myself. My self-confidence took quite a shredding. I think it needs some time to recover.

But even though my technique might be a little lacking, I realize that I am more about capturing candids that are fun, artistic, or show emotion. I think that comes across in the photos despite my other flaws. I was there to support and document the beginning of Phoebe and Brandon's new life together, and at the end of the day that's all I can ask.

Plus, it was a good learning experience. Here are some things I'd like to remember for next time:

Be Prepared to Take Photos All Day Long

One lesson I clearly haven't taken to heart is "take more photos." I mentioned it in my other post on lessons learned, and you'd think 2,000+ photos would be enough for one day, but nope. Still wish I took more photos. Yes, it was kind of tiring to photograph constantly for long periods of time, but I would have liked to have captured more moments and expressions if possible. Endurance is important for long events like weddings, and I didn't really prepare myself for that.

Don't Worry, the Photos Won't All Look the Same

Also, I wandered off to get food and socialize at some point while the photographer was taking pictures of Phoebe and Brandon on the school grounds, because I figured there was no point in taking the same photos the pro was taking since, hello, he's the pro.

But I was totally wrong! Our photos, even of the same scene, look very different due to the differences in angle. I looked through the pro's disc of photos with Phoebe and Brandon and kept exclaiming "wow our photos look so different!" I mean, I've read that before — that different photographers photographing the same thing will produce totally different photos — but it didn't really hit home until I saw it for myself. So I kind of regret not sticking around to take my own photos. They wouldn't have turned out to be too repetitive, given all of our unique styles. That's pretty much the only thing that made me think my photos weren't useless or redundant — the thought that my photos have a different feel to them than the ones that the pro and Toliver took.

Remember to Check Camera Settings

Yeah, fewer would be good, but I think I need to improve the quality as well. One major thing I should have remembered was the auto-focus mode. I should have changed it to AI Servo for the processional and recessional, but I forgot. Thus I had a lot of photos with focusing problems, which was a little problematic.

As you may have noticed, I desaturated a lot of the photos of the ceremony. This is because the room was dim, I didn't have a flash, and I was in the pews a few rows back. Thus the photos were grainy and terrible white balance (very yellow) — shouldn't have relied on auto WB — and I don't know how to fix them correctly, if they can be fixed at all (if you're a photographer, help me out!). Maybe it would help if I shoot in RAW, but I'm not sure how steep the learning curve is for processing RAW. Something to look into. Anyway, I thought they looked better desaturated, so that's what I did. A cop-out, I know, but that's the best I can do.

Practice Post-Processing

I also realized that I suck at consistency during processing. That's why the colors in different photos all look different, even if it's the exact same scene. That drives me crazy, but I just don't have the skill, time, and energy to make them all match right now. Must improve in the future! Maybe getting Lightroom would help, but that costs money (I currently use GIMP, which is free. Yes, I'm cheap).

Learn Flash

Toliver, who shoots with a Canon 5d Mk II, was kind enough to talk photography with me a little and let me try his Speedlite 580EX II. I usually avoid flash because the on-camera flash isn't too great, but I've never used an external flash before. I think it would be helpful for me to get one and practice with it so I have more options when shooting. But it looks like it'll take a ton of practice to be good enough to take photos without the flash shadows (hate how unnatural they make photos look) so I'm not sure if I'd actually use the external flash even if I got one.

I might be surprised though. I mean, I wanted to sell my longer zoom in exchange for a faster zoom (yes, another thing to add to my wishlist) to replace the kit lens, but at the wedding I was glad I didn't, so maybe it'll be like that with the flash. The long zoom turned out to be really helpful, considering that I was kind of far away from the action. Although I sometimes got too carried away with the zooming - for some pictures it would have been nice if I'd given myself more room to crop.

Don't Stay in One Spot

Another thing is that I should have moved around more. I stayed in my seat like a good little girl during both the ceremony and the reception, when what I should have done was to move around and try to take photos from as many different angles as possible. Though I probably would have gotten in the way of other people trying to take photographs if I'd tried to do that. I have a ton of photos where the pro photographer was between me and what I was trying to photograph. But I do think more variety in angles would have helped, and it might have let me capture some shots that were blocked. Ah well, I'll keep that in mind for next time.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Let's see... oh yeah, I also learned that sorting and processing thousands of photos is a ton of work. That should have been obvious. I mean, I knew that it would take time, but I didn't think it would be so draining. It wouldn't have been if I hadn't put so much pressure on myself to be amazing, though. Also, they would have been done much faster if I'd been more diligent.

I think I pushed myself too hard to reach a standard that's out of my ability at the moment, and then let myself wallow in self-pity and procrastinate instead of just sucking it up and putting in the work. I mean, once I got started, I learned new things through trial and error and the momentum helped me to keep going.

Be Positive

I think I have a lot of potential as a photographer — my strength is the emotions and moments and details I capture. It just drives me crazy that my technique isn't good enough to actualize the vision I have for each photograph. I want to be more confident in my work! It sucks when you look at your own photos so many times and work on it for so long that all you see are its flaws and that's just super depressing. I'm determined to practice and study and improve so that my self-confidence won't take such a beating every time I look at my photos. And I think better gear might help (I still have to learn how to use them properly though). Time to start saving up (unless any of you want to buy me Lightroom 3, Speedlite 430EX II, or a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 for Canon :D).

Anyway, they important thing is that all the photos are processed now. YAY! Huge burden off my back. Which means I can start working on the other boatload of photos. Must catch up!

More photos coming your way!

with love,

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