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Wedding Photography: Five Tips For Second Shooters

back stage with a wedding photograher

Karl Leopold sets up a bride and groom shot as video pro Bruce Reynolds works a separate angle

One of the most common ways to build up your portfolio as a wedding photographer is to start out as a second shooter for someone else. While you won’t make a lot of money, you will learn a lot about taking wedding photos.

If you want to work as a second shooter for the primary photographer there are a few things to remember both in terms of preparation and the actual shoot. Since it’s been a while since I shot a wedding, I decided to hook up again with Karl Leopold and tag along as the second shooter at a beach wedding in Cocoa Beach.

I’m going to be honest here and admit I made some mistakes, mostly because I haven’t done it in a while and because I use my DSLR a lot for video. My mistakes will help you avoid doing the same thing.

On this shoot Karl was using a Canon 5D MK II with a Canon 580 EX ii while I was shooting a Canon 7D and an off-brand speedlite.  One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to lock my ISO at what Karl was using for consistency.  A crop sensor camera with a long lens simply can’t shoot at the same ISO as a full frame sensor, which has much better response in mixed light.  That was one of those moments you ask yourself later what you were thinking.

What To Wear

Unless otherwise specified, you’ll almost always be okay wearing black slacks and a black button-down shirt. For an outdoor or beach wedding you can usually get away with khakis and lighter colors.

We were at a beach wedding and while the guests were barefoot, I don’t recommend that when you’re working. One stray metal scrap will put you on the sidelines. Wear shoes, but not dress shoes which don’t do well in sand.

Arrive Early

arrive early

Get there early and shoot some background if you've never shot that venue before

Arrive early, particularly if you’ve never shot at that venue before. Use the time to get your angles and exposure settings.

If you’re working with a top-notch wedding planner, the venue will be ready well in advance. Introduce yourself to the venue, support staff and other vendors but don’t take them off task. Everyone there has a job to do besides you.

In the off chance the primary photographer is late, be prepared to step in and shoot some of the preliminary shots. Traffic happens, accidents happen, so even as the second shooter you have to be prepared to do the entire job. If something happens to the primary, it’s all you. Hope that never happens, but approach every job like it could.

Focus On Your Assigned Coverage Area

Mine was crowd shots, candids of the wedding party and guests, and to shoot the diagonals on the ceremony because I had a longer lens.

candid photo

My assignment was guest shots and candids of the wedding party

There’s no point in having two good photographers shooting the same shots. I did a couple times on this shoot, only so I could show you the setups and resulting shots. Otherwise, as second shooter, be out looking around for other shots. If the primary is busy with the bride and groom, grab some shots of the family and kids. Take pictures of little details that can get lost in the rush, those shots can add a lot to the memories of the day.

You’re Not The Only Person Working That Day

There are a lot of people working at weddings, including other vendors. At this wedding we had a video guy besides the wedding coordinator. Give others room to work and try not to be banging away with a flash when the video people are trying to get their set shots.

Also be aware that the video shooter will likely have a wide covering shot running somewhere, try to walk behind that camera whenever possible. Give other professionals room to work and they’ll give you room to get your shots. It will all get done.

video guy

Try to avoid firing your flash when the video people are trying to get set shots, work cooperatively with other vendors

Remember Who You Represent

Keep in mind as the second shooter you are representing the primary photographer. Your shots are going out under their name and they’re responsible for you. This is not the time for showboating or self-promotion. I always carry one or two business cards of the primary photographer and if one of the guests asks for a card, that’s the one I hand out.

If other vendors ask for your card, that’s a little different. Then it’s okay as they usually already know the primary photographer.

Who Owns The Shots?

When you’re shooting second camera normally the photos belong to the primary and go out under their name. Don’t expect any residuals on the prints or reorders. If you need the photos for your portfolio or other uses, clear that in advance with the primary. After the shoot is not the time to try and negotiate ownership and usage rights!

The idea here is not to undercut the person you’re working for. In most areas the vendors all know one another and treating someone poorly will get around in a hurry. No person is an island in a small business and you may find yourself someday needing the people you treated badly.

On the other hand, shoot well, conduct yourself like a professional and be responsible and you may find a lot of photographers appreciate what a good second shooter can bring to the table. All the while you’ll be learning from the best and building a portfolio you can be proud to show off.

comparison shot

One of the mistakes I made was framing too tight in the camera. My shot is on the left. Karl's version has room for a decorative picture frame and recognizes that prints come out darker.

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Nikon Raises The Resolution Bar With D800

Nikon raises the resolution to 36.3-megapixels in the D800 and D800E

Nikon is raising the bar on resolution and video by fielding two new cameras the D800 and D800E, both boasting an unusually large 36-megapixel image. That would make the D800 the first in the Nikon DSLR line to challenge resolution formerly only available in medium format cameras.

That will mean 7360 x 4912 resolution RAW images that are over 70MB in size, while processed TIFF files will be over 212 MB. The files are so big Nikon decided to add USB 3.0 support to the camera.

At the core the D800 and D800E both start with a full frame, FX-format, 35.9 x 24 mm CMOS 36.3-megapixel sensor backed by Nikon’s Expeed 3 image processor. The imaging system incorporates the latest 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering III and Advanced Scene Recognition System, coupled with an improved 51-point AF system that promises lightning fast response.

The D800 also promises minimal noise under variable lighting conditions, with a native ISO range of 100-6400, expandable to 25,600 and will output 16-bit images. Coupled with the image processing is a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor for its Advanced Scene Recognition system, which can accurately detect human faces, and recognize scene colors and brightness, according to Nikon.

Back of the D800 shows a clean layout and full size LCD screen

While recent camera models have included upgraded video specs to make them competitive with Canon cameras, the D800 is the first that aggressively attacks the video market. The D800 boasts manual exposure and audio controls in video mode and 1080p recording at 30, 25 and 24 fps, coupled with a built-in optical filter with anti-aliasing properties. Nikon also claims users can also send full uncompressed video out via HDMI as the video is being captured. It remains to be seen whether that promise delivers on the set, but could be a huge upgrade for filmmakers.

The D800E model is basically the same camera without the anti-aliasing filter and is aimed at studio and commercial photographers who may be less concerned about moire and more concerned with maximum detail.

The D800 will be priced more competitively with the Canon 5D MK II with the D800 being offered at $2,999.95 and the D800E at $3,299.95.

For a long time Nikon seemed reluctant to battle for the DSLR video market, but with the introduction of the D800, it’s on now as Nikon fields a camera worthy of both studio photographers and professional videographers.

The upgraded video specs in the D800 will certainly appeal to filmmakers

More Info At:

Nikon USA

Compare To:

Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D MK II

Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 7D

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4

Nikon D800 vs D700

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The Five Biggest Lies In Wedding Photography

wedding picture

February is Pop The Question month which officially kicks off the spring wedding rush - by Diamond Farah via Flickr

We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day, which a wedding photographer friend of mine euphemistically calls Pop The Question Day. No matter how you look at it, there will be a lot of rings in a lot of champagne glasses by the middle of the month.

The Valentine’s Day rush will inevitably kick off the wedding booking season, which promises to be a good one in 2012. Wedding photographers I know are already seeing healthy bookings for the season, with one reporting 15 deposits in already.

As brides pull out their checkbooks and the real stampede starts to book venues, arrange catering, find a DJ and book a photographer, this is a good time to review the basics of shopping for a wedding photographer and to be aware of the most common untruths that can slip through unnoticed in the rush.

Sometimes it’s not a deliberate lie. Wedding photographers have a natural tendency to answer every question with yes, yes, yes. That sometimes leads to misunderstandings with brides thinking they’re getting service that isn’t in the contract.

The “Now Or Never” Lie

wedding 4

"Now or Never" is a love song, not a negotiating strategy - by I.A. Walsh via Flickr

If a wedding photographer tries to tell you that you have to book today or the slot won’t be available tomorrow, leave. Anyone trying to bully you into signing a contract is a major red flag.

The best photographers will book early but that doesn’t mean you need to be in a rush. There are many great photographers out there and cancellations happen. In fact, be suspicious of any photographer who tries to use fear of availability as a pressure tactic to get you to sign a contract without giving you a chance to sleep on it. The best photographers will show you their calendar, show you the dates they have open, remind you that bookings are only finalized when they get the deposit and let you leave with the contract to read at your leisure.

The very best wedding photographers will also have a shelf of books you can sit down and page through at your convenience.

The “Sure, I’ve Shot That Venue Before” Lie

wedding shot 2

Sure I've shot that venue before...where is it again? by Photos In Cancun via Flickr

Some photographers will say they’ve shot a venue knowing they can figure it out. If they really have shot that venue before, then they’ll be able to show you a wedding album shot there.

If they haven’t shot a venue before, an honest photographer will just admit it and the really good ones will swing by on their own time beforehand and take some background shots to make sure they have the proper lighting gear on the big day.

The “Preferred Vendor” Lie

This is a big one and usually comes from a caterer or venue operator, but sometimes a photographer will trot out a list of local venues and caterers that claim them as a preferred vendor. Those endorsements are almost always paid.

Carters and venue operators rarely get to the see final pictures anyway, so why would you take their word in the first place?

The “Top Rated Wedding Photographer” Lie

Some wedding photographers will trot out some really impressive ratings and endorsements from groups with names that sound really impressive. Anyone can manufacture endorsements and there are companies specializing in what’s called “online reputation management” that can boost vendor ratings in online forums and rating sites.

The best wedding photographers have a blog and post a few pictures from every wedding they shoot so you can see consistent quality from one wedding to the next. Pick out your favorites and ask for the bride’s contact information as a reference check.

wedding 3

If their assistants were that good they'd be running their own business - by Harold Hoyer via Flickr

The “My Assistants Are As Good As I Am” Lie

Really? Then why aren’t your assistant photographers running their own successful wedding photography business?  The real pros are members of a professional association or a guild and when they need help, that’s where they go.

This is a topic to approach with some caution. After all, if the photographer you really want is sick or ends up under a bus, you want someone there, right? Many photographers do have hand-picked teams doing most of the work while the top person goes from wedding to wedding inspecting the shots and maybe adding a few of their own. That’s okay as long as they explain that all up front and you agree to it.

Sometimes there are really good reasons for a person not to be available and you want to be a little flexible. What you do want in writing is some reasonable assurance that the photographer you want isn’t merely handing the paper off to someone else while they’re out playing golf.

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Food Photography A Growth Industry

food photo

Food photography is one of the few growth industries in photography - by Sidious Sid via Flickr

One of the challenges in photography is to make enough to keep eating. In that light it may be somewhat ironic that one of the fastest growing specialty fields is food photography.

The field of food photography has undergone changes since the introduction of the cell phone camera. The rise of sites like GrubStreet and Tastespotting where users are posting their culinary adventures, complete with photos.

The rise of food blogs has in turn put pressure on restaurateurs to raise their visual game on both the food they serve and the visual environment on their menus and web sites. That creates a growth environment for food photographers.

Just like any other field of photography, it’s a tough slog to get established. You can’t expect to post a food portfolio online and have work rolling in. Even if you did, you run the risk of pitching a big time client when you lack depth in the industry.

Use a reflector to bring some more light to your subject - Photo by Emily Hill from flickr

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting

You’ve heard the old saying in real estate that a home’s value is related to location, location, location. In food photography the corollary would be lighting. The best food photographers are lighting freaks and happened to find a home in food photography because their passion for lighting combined with a field of photography that requires a slavish dedication to detail.

Many food photographers work alone, but some bigger shoots might have an assistant, a food stylist, an assistant food stylist, and prop stylist. Most prefer to work in their own studio due to the difficulty of hauling all their gear to locations, though sometimes that can’t be avoided.

The food photography studios I’ve visited look more like industrial machine shops and the really good ones are booked for weeks in advance.

While there is a lot of lighting, none of it is particularly big. Surprisingly, I saw one big floor flash and the rest were smaller, point source lights and a lot of articulated arms holding mirrors, scrims, and reflectors. There were none of the big softboxes, umbrellas and lighting kits you’d find in a portrait studio. It’s a different kind of lighting, more directional, more sharp shadows than you find in portrait photography.

Photo by Benjie Ordonez from flickr

While the market for many types of photography is changing and for most that change is toward fewer opportunities and less income, food photography is showing surprising growth. One of those reasons is stock photography is not terribly useful in this application. Most food shots are of unique creations specific to the client, a work of art you can eat.

Some large customers, like restaurant chains and some hotels, are creating master image libraries for their food pictures, but other than that there are few ways to cut corners. The market for food photography is likely to stay healthy for quite some time.

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Five Tips For Choosing a Wedding Photographer

bride photo

This is not the time to find out you don't have rights to your wedding images - By iluvrhinestones

My nephew recently got married and I got a bad feeling about the photography from family snapshots that showed the photographer in the background. The equipment I saw concerned me and their engagement photos lacked anything resembling imagination.

Recently we got to see some of the actual pictures at a family event. For a second I thought it was a proof book, but those were the actual delivered pictures. I had to leave the room to keep from saying anything. The pictures were beyond merely bad, they were hideous and the photographer showed a peculiar fondness for the Topaz Photoshop plugin and I confirmed that if you’re a poor photographer, Topaz will not fix what’s wrong.

I felt bad for not being able to make it. Even in the role of “Uncle Bob” I might have been able to get some decent shots. Few photographers could have done any worse. Yet when I looked at the photographer’s web site I saw a portfolio that any photographer would envy. It was gorgeous. So what happened? And, more importantly, how do you keep that kind of “bait and switch” from happening to you?

Don’t Be Fooled By a Web Site

Anyone can put together a decent web site, the photos don’t even have to be theirs. Any photographer in the business long enough will have actual photo books you can sit down and page through.

You may not be able to completely trust photos in any medium, but you can ask to see proofs from recent weddings, particularly if you’re trying to arrange a wedding out of town.

Also keep in mind that sometimes web sites are actually produced by a front company that does nothing but refer jobs to vendors in particular areas.

Read That Contract And Check References!

Don’t sign anything until you know exactly what you’re getting and the terms and conditions attached to it. Understand exactly what’s included for the price and the itemized costs.

Read that contract carefully and don’t be afraid to make changes. If any photographer tries to tell you the terms are non-negotiable, leave. Everything is negotiable.

In most countries and jurisdictions in the US, if you make margin notes on a contract, the hand written notes take precedence over the typed copy, but don’t count on that. Don’t be afraid to X through anything you don’t like.

A reference check is a no-brainer.  Pick one or two brides from the portfolio pictures and call them directly.

Don’t Allow Substitutions

One of the clauses to look for is the one that allows the photographer to send someone else. Now, you don’t want your photographer showing up sick or not having a substitute lined up if they end up under a bus. What you can do then is modify the language to say that in the event of serious illness or injury, the photographer can select from an approved list of alternates. That means screening the portfolios of each of the alternates and being able to live with the substitute but it will prevent a complete stranger from showing up on your wedding day.

Think Carefully About Exclusive Agreements

One of the bigger trends in wedding photography today is having two photographers. It costs more, but the peace of mind is priceless.

This is one point that will chaff many professional photographers, most of whom try to slip in language that says they’ll be the only pro working the gig. Many will pass on jobs where they have to work with another photographer, so you might have to keep looking until you get the people you want.

It is a pain to work around another photographer and it adds time to the job, so you can decide on how important this is, but having two photographers helps insure at least one of them will be competent.

Understand Your Image Rights

Make sure that as part of the deliverables you get full resolution images and that you have the rights to republish and reprint them. If you’re going to be a bridezilla about anything, make it on this point. Make sure your wedding photos are your images and that you can have them printed anywhere you want.

The most common reason photographers give about not releasing print rights is that they want to control the print quality, which is 90 percent horse manure. The real reason is they want to keep the rights is to make you go to a web storefront on a site like Zenfolio that returns a portion of the print cost to the photographer. That residual income is a big part of their salary, so don’t be surprised if you get a fight on this point.

With all of these issues, understand that some photographers may pass on the job. You can either hold out or negotiate a compromise to get the photographer you want. But if you do compromise or give in, at least you do so knowingly and it doesn’t come as a rude surprise 72 hours after you sign the contracts.

Notice the dress shot in this video that the dress is on a cheap plastic hangar?  That’s why I always carry a spare decorative hangar for the dress shots!

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