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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: deciduous on September 02, 2012, 07:54:16 AM

Title: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: deciduous on September 02, 2012, 07:54:16 AM
I've been a photography enthusiast for a few years, and it's been a wonderful hobby for me, I've been able to create quite a few shots I'm proud of. But now it's put me in a tricky position: a friend of mine has asked me to shoot his wedding. I've shot a few weddings casually already--who doesn't have a camera at a wedding these days? But I haven't ever been responsible for the official archives.

I can say for sure that when I normally shoot in the expected settings, all of my shots have motion blur and/or ISO noise as I compensate for low light without a flash. It seems like it would be prudent to have an off-camera flash setup for the wedding at least.

I follow a blog about lighting (and portraiture photography in general) and the author has worked with a retailer and put together lighting starter kits. Here is the cheapest, most basic version: If you are a hobbyist like me, you know $300 is nothing when it comes to camera gear. But I'm still curious what anyone thinks here, if there's a way to remain frugal and not trick myself into "needing" something I only expect to use occasionally.

Another obvious option is to rent a kit. 20 seconds of searching online shows that renting a kit with a little more bells/whistles for a week (the wedding's out of town) will run me about $100. One major non-obvious drawback to this option is limited opportunity to practice beforehand, to learn the gear and how to balance artificial vs. ambient light.

For what it's worth, I'm planning on making these photos into my wedding gift to the couple. So this isn't on top of that, but there will also be travel costs, food, etc., as well as $150 for a bunk in one of the beach houses for a few days. I'm guessing the overall wedding experience will cost me about $500. I'm not used to sweating such "small" amounts but if anyone remembers my previous thread, I'm living off of savings while between jobs right now.

Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: deciduous on September 02, 2012, 07:58:43 AM
Two other notes: I have another wedding coming up just a few months later, and don't know anyone yet here in town who could simply loan me the gear, sadly. The first wedding is in about 6 weeks, which isn't immediate but is too soon for me to feel comfortable without a clear plan anymore.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: James on September 02, 2012, 08:42:46 AM
Setting up lights like that is not required for a wedding, you can get by with a simple light modifier on your flash just fine.  I like my Rogue flashbender a lot, but the last time I shot a wedding I hadn't purchased that yet and used a Demb Flip-it with diffuser.  I do have the Demb flash bracket as well, which is really nice for wedding to get the flash off the camera, but isn't required.  Can you list your kit so far regarding camera, flash, tripod, etc?

If at all possible get the group and formal shots outside, finding an area of bright shade with good fill light is so much better than shooting them inside, no matter what setup you have.

I get very nervous hearing you say "all of my shots have motion blur and/or ISO noise as I compensate for low light without a flash"

Shooting a wedding is a huge responsibility, don't take it on if you aren't sure you can produce at least average results.  Any old point and shoot is better than a professional SLR with blurry or out of focus pictures.  I suggest going to and reading in the forums about wedding photography, it will give you a better idea of what to expect.  Photography is a great hobby and shooting a wedding is really the pinnacle.  If you can pull it off it's very much worth it, it's a great feeling to get those shots and help them out on the big day, but if you can't then you definitely shouldn't.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: deciduous on September 02, 2012, 09:47:59 AM
Thanks for the help! I sent you a PM with a link to another friends' wedding that I shot just as a guest.  The family in that wedding liked (and asked for) the shots, and I think they were a big part of the reason my buddy asked me to shoot the upcoming one. I was touched, but also tried to be explicit with him that there is a huge difference between "extra guy with a camera" and "guy responsible for flattering pictures of grandma."

You're definitely right to be worried about the way I described my shooting. In reality, what it means is that I shoot 100 pictures, throw away 90 as completely unacceptable, and of the remainder, 4 will be so-so, 3 pretty nice (to my eye), and 3 are great. As a hobbyist, that's fine because the expectation is 0 great pictures.

I tried to explain that I'm simply not a pro, but he is fairly insistent that A) most people pay thousands of dollars for wedding pictures they never really look at, B) everyone at the ceremony will have cameras, who needs a pro? and C) my pictures are more than good enough. (I still have a LOT to learn, it's not going to my head.)

My gear: Canon T2i, 4 lenses. (3 primes and the 18-55 kit lens.) I don't have a tripod or any external flash.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: Peter on September 02, 2012, 11:29:24 AM
Given what you said about this friend. I'd think you'd be OK to shoot this wedding. He has low expectation. Is he intending on paying you? If so I would refuse it and say you'll just take really nice photos as a friend.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: deciduous on September 02, 2012, 11:38:01 AM
No pay, he asked me partly out of desperation because of the rampant costs of wedding-throwing. And yeah, his expectations are low enough that I think my best will be good enough. I'm just trying to figure out how to do my best.

Craigslist has come up with one interesting lead, but other than that is pretty dry. I've been reading and researching and am kind of shifting my targets. I think that reflector thing James mentioned looks excellent, once I get a flash. I also think it might be smart to rent (or better, borrow) a 5d and maybe a 70-200mm or something so that my normal body becomes a backup.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: James on September 02, 2012, 07:38:05 PM
You certainly have some skill, I'm not as worried after seeing your photos.  The key is preparation, making sure you know how you are going to get each shot.  I used the wedding rehearsal to practice, asking them to walk through the wedding as much as possible while I take shots.  Plan out where you are going to be, what settings you are going to use, etc.  Don't be afraid to use program mode if everything falls apart, but

Here is what can happen.  You prepare, have everything lined up in your head, and then the big day comes.  You forgot you put the aperture at 11 in order to get the shot of the rings in a flower or on a shoe, and all of a sudden you are shooting the wedding itself.  All the photos are blurry because of the slow shutter speed, and you didn't notice like you usually would because everything moves so fast you never had a chance to check the screen to see what you were getting.  It's not lack of skill that kills the amateur wedding photographer, it's lack of routine.  It moves so fast and you can't slow it down or figure out your setting on the fly.  You just have to know it and do it.

I taped a reminder on the back of my hand to check aperture frequently since I was shooting in aperture select mode.  You need to be able to focus on the wedding and composition, not settings.  For you it could be a different thing, you just need to know your weakness and defend it.  Make sure you make a shot list of things to get, you won't remember them otherwise.  Also find out ahead of time if they want family group shots and who all should be in them and when/where that will take place.  You don't want to figure any of that out the day of the wedding, and you want to keep them as simple as possible.  Outside in shade with fill flash is perfect.

The T2i would work, the idea of renting a 5D isn't bad, but comes with risks.  You wouldn't know the camera and might screw things up in some way you can't predict.  But on the other hand you could set a nice high ISO, use a smaller aperture to avoid focus problems, shoot faster shots to hopefully get more winners, etc.  The zoom would be great because shooting a wedding with primes is tough enough with experience.  If you shoot with primes I wouldn't plan on changing them out much.

Make sure you have a good talk with your friend.  Tell him it's possible you will do something (like the above example) that will result in missing a big chunk of the photos.  You can do your best, but you aren't a professional and weddings are fast paced and not repeatable.  Ask him how he would feel if the above happened and to think about it.  If he still wants you to do it, I'd go for it.  It's very stressful, but also fun to put such a big challenge in front of yourself.  I asked another guy at the wedding to be my "second shooter" and get as many of the key moments as possible for backup.  Thankfully mine turned out because he didn't get a single decent shot...  :)

Oh, and your percentage of keepers is about the same as mine, and held through for the wedding also.  I shot about 1800 (preparation through reception, constantly looking for those little shots like grandma's tears, kids watching the bride, dad looking on proudly, etc) and gave them about 160.  Don't give them everything, they won't care in 10 years when they look back on the photos, they just want to see the best shots and highlights.
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: artistache on September 03, 2012, 08:50:56 AM

1. used gear.  it's probably worth it for you to invest in a speed light-type external flash long term, and you can get them used.  check local stores and craigslist. 
2. cheap diffusers--DIY chinese-food style cartons ( and on-flash softboxes run $9.95 on and can give you a lot of bang for your buck. (this kind:
3. Don't forget the fill light
Title: Re: uh oh... camera gear
Post by: deciduous on September 03, 2012, 09:49:12 AM
Thanks a ton James. I spent several hours yesterday going over the wedding photography articles you recommended, and have set up a time to meet with the couple to discuss this kind of stuff, the details of the ceremony, etc. What a no-brainer... I hadn't even considered it before you pointed it out. Thanks!

Thanks artistache--I also did buy a barely-used kit on craigslist which has 3 light stands, 2 umbrellas, and some continuous (CFL) bulbs. I don't think all of it will be used for this, and perhaps none of it--but for $40 it was a pretty conservative bet overall. The build quality seems decent, surprisingly.

I've been trying to study speedlights a little bit; I'm still overwhelmed. I'm currently borrowing some ancient gear from my old man mostly to shoot up some 35mm film, he has a flash in there, but I remember trying it at a family gathering and it wouldn't fire consistently for me. I'm going to try to debug that first, and if it doesn't work out I'll probably buy myself something. It is a general enough accessory that hopefully I could get use out of it for years to come regardless of any changes I might make to the camera.

If I rent the fancy body, I'll give myself enough time with it to learn the controls. I've been vaguely considering asking if the bride/groom want to help me out with the cost of the rental, you hate to do that, but it's a couple hundred bucks to get a nice body and a lens, that I definitely wouldn't spend if I were just attending. I'll have to think it over.

I've been shooting in full manual lately after a couple years of shooting aperture priority. I gotta think for the wedding I'll be on A; my manual skills are still too slow. I am getting better-exposed shots out of manual when I have time to set it up, but time is exactly what I won't have in this situation.

Thanks again! I'm a little nervous but should be fine. I can always just get massively drunk and then I have an easy explanation for bad shots.