In our recent article How To Make Money As A High End Wedding Photographer, we explored the high end wedding photography market.
But, it seems that the more I am able to charge for a wedding, the more complicated and stressful wedding photography becomes.
So recently I have decided that I would like to simplify my wedding photography a bit – get back to basics – unplug if you will.
In this article I will take you through my simplified approach on how to photograph a wedding with just one photographer, one camera, one lens and one strobe.
In the Beginning…
In the beginning, there was one photographer, one camera, one lens and one strobe.
Then strobe begot strobe, camera begot camera, lens begot lens and photographer begot assistants and the next thing you know, you’re walking around with three camera bodies, six off camera strobes, light stands and modifiers and an army to lug it all around for you.
The cash from high end weddings is nice, but the stress is not, so I have recently decided to try out a new bare-bones low cost / high profit wedding photography business model (more on that soon). A big part of the profitability of this plan is making sure that my wedding photography as efficient as possible.
That means eliminating all superfluous gear that I don’t absolutely need to do a good job of photographing a wedding.
Of course, this is where we all started with wedding photography, and where a sizable portion of the budget wedding photographers still live – but now that I am an experienced photographer, I was surprised that the wedding photos I can produce with just one camera, one lens and one flash are not that much different than what I typically shoot at high end weddings with a truckload of gear.
So, I though that I would take you through my approach to wedding photography – unplugged.
How To Photograph A Wedding…
To show you my approach on how to photograph a wedding with just one photographer, one camera, one lens and one flash – I am just going to take you through a series of photos of a recent wedding (you might recognize a few of these photos from another recent post When A Guest-With-Camera Saves The Wedding Photography).
But first, my gear – I used:
I also had a collapsible reflector, a spare camera body, lens and strobe, spare batteries and my old trusty Canon G9 with me (I’ll explain that one in a bit) a 0.6 (two stop) neutral density filter, a polarizing filter, Cactus V6 wireless radio triggers and a Manfrotto lightstand.
Unplugged Wedding Photography Examples
The beginning of my wedding photography day starts with meeting the brides and bride’s maids while they are getting ready. I split my time between photographing the girls getting their makeup and hair done to photographing the essential details – the wedding dress, shoes, jewelry, garter etc. This is often done in a cramped hotel room with messy beds and piles of shoes, makeup, candy wrappers and cans of Red Bull laying around everywhere.
In these circumstances it can be difficult to find a good spot to create polished looking photos (just one distraction in the background ruins the whole photo), but if you spend a little time cleaning up and moving furniture, you can usually find a few good locations to set up.
These two photos were taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm with the SB-800 on camera in TTL -2/3 and pointed straight up at the ceiling.
Normally, I would also take the bride glamor shots and the bride with her bridesmaids at this point. However, the girls were running late and this was just about the last photo I had time to take before they ran out the door to catch their limo.
After the girls left for the ceremony / reception venue, I went to meet the guys. They were staying in the same hotel, just on a different floor. I usually spend a couple hours with the girls, but I only need 15-30 minutes with the guys. The great thing about the guys is that they are so reliable – they are never ready until about 15 minutes before they have to leave so there is no point getting there early.
The next two photos are just natural window light with a reflector. Both are 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 200, but the first one is at 35mm and the second is at 70mm. I always try to back up and zoom in as much as possible, but a lot of time the space you have to work with is limited by the room you find yourself in and the angle you have to shoot from.
On the way out to the limo, we went through the lobby of the hotel which had a pretty cool looking wall. So I took about ten minutes to grab a quick group shot of the guys, along with each individual guy with the groom.
Both these photos are taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 1600 with an on camera flash in TTL -2/3 pointed straight up at the ceiling and 28mm and 50mm respectively.
Technically speaking, this series of photos is not the greatest. There is a ton of mismatched light going on here – overhead tungsten, circular fluorescent on the wall and my flash. This is the danger of shooting high ISO and expecting an on camera flash to fill the shadows – because it doesn’t always work very well.
However, I was able to mostly correct the color casts in Lightroom and to a client – these photos still look great.
After racing the guy’s limo to the venue, I had about 30 minutes with the girls – which I used to take the bridal glamor shots and the bride’s maids shots that I missed earlier at the hotel.
This series of photos was taken in the coat check room at the venue. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon and the outdoor light was horrible, not to mention that it was a lot cooler inside with the AC, so I made due with the only decent window light I could find.
Even then, this window faced south, so the light shining through the window was still pretty harsh and I had to be very careful how I photographed the bride so that the harsh window light looked like soft pretty light.
The first photo was taken at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 800, 28mm with no flash or reflector. I basically just overexposed the window light to produce a semi-silhouette.
Next, I moved my bride to a bench on a wall perpendicular to the window. The bench was not in the direct line of sunshine streaming in through the window (if it was, I would have picked it up and moved it to the opposite wall). This gave me a location with soft pretty and very directional window light to work with.
The next series of photos are just natural window light with the camera set to 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 1600 and 35mm, 35mm and 50mm respectively.
The guys arrived at the venue just as I was finishing up with the girls. The schedule for this wedding was to do a reveal before the ceremony and get the “park” photos out of the way first – so while the guys and girls were getting a drink at the bar, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the details in the wedding hall.
Again this is just natural light at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 50mm.
When I was able to drag the wedding party away from the bar, we went outside for a quick set of photos (again, I would normally take these after the ceremony, but this particular wedding had them scheduled before).
It was bright and sunny and near mid-day, so I was pretty limited as to what I could do outdoors. But to give myself a little bit of artistic leeway, I used a 0.6 ND filter and a polarizing filter for all of the outdoor photos.
The neutral density filter gave me the latitude to shoot at f/2.8 to minimize the depth of field, and a polarizer really helps to make the colors pop.
This photo was taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100, 24mm with the on camera flash in manual at 1/1 and pointed straight at the wedding party.
Next, we were able to find just a teeny bit of shade beside one of the buildings, so I used that space for a few bridal romance shots and a couple traditional wedding party in a row photos too.
The next three photos are all taken at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO800, 24mm with the on camera flash set to TTL -2/3 and on a forty five degree angle for a little fill.
I finished up with the wedding party about 20 minutes before the ceremony. Again, it was a bright sunny day in the middle of the afternoon, so the ceremony photos were taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100, with the on camera flash in manual at 1/1 and pointed straight at the subject.
I was also limited to shooting away from the sun (I will not disturb a wedding ceremony by going behind the officiant and shooting back towards the audience) which means that everything in the ceremony photos just looks bright and boring – but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
After the ceremony, I grabbed the newlyweds and dragged them out into the vineyard for a quick set of photos. This time I was able to shoot back towards the bright sun, which makes all of the grape vine leaves back lit and adds some nice rim light to the bride and groom.
This photo was taken at 1/250, f/4.0, ISO 400, 24mm with the on camera flash set to manual 1/2 and pointed straight at the subjects for fill light.
Next we went down to the wine cellar – which was nice and cool if not a little dirty and smelly. Here I had to light the entire scene with a single flash, so I decided to back light my subjects for a dramatic effect on the wine barrels.
This photo was captured at 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 400, 50mm with a strobe on a light stand behind the couple and to camera right in manual at about 1/16th with the head zoomed out and pointed back towards the camera. I wasn’t entirely happy with this photo, so I cheated by borrowing an additional flash from a wedding guest and using that too.
This was the last series of photos I did with the bride and groom. At this point, they were pretty worn out, so even if I had time to keep going, there was no point because they were no longer feelin’ it.
So, I sent them to the bar to mingle with their guests and enjoy themselves a little before the reception began.
By now it was late afternoon with great outdoor golden hour light – but the timing just did not work out. There was no way I would be able to convince the bride and groom to go back outside for more photos – so instead of pissing them off by trying, I knew that I already had all the shots I needed, so I left it at that.
But, since it is a known sin for photographers to let good light go to waste, I grabbed their rings and photographed them instead.
This shot was taken with just natural light, shooting into the light and exposing for the shadows at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 800, 70mm.
Now earlier I mentioned my old Canon G9 – here is a little secret for ring shots…
I often bring my old Canon G9 point-and-shoot with me just for the ring shot. You know the “flower mode” that you never use – aka macro – well it actually works really well for closeups and almost every point-and-shoot has “flower mode”.
However, at this particular wedding I actually forgot the battery for the G9 – so I just used the D800 and cropped the photo in. (If I would have used the G9, I would have shot the rings quite a bit closer than this).
Next there were the dinner and speeches and then the first dance. For the first dance, my personal preference is to set up my flash on a light stand across from my shooting location and photograph the bride and groom as a rim lit semi silhouette with the strobe flare in the frame.
This photo was taken at 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 400, 35mm with the flash set to manual mode at 1/8th.
And finally, there is the dance party.
Nothing looks worse and more guy-with-camera than photographing the reception dancing with an on camera flash in TTL.
But, no matter what you do it can be pretty hard to make a half dozen people on the dance floor with a Costco DJ light show look like a Vegas club. My weapon of choice in these situations is to put the camera in rear-curtain sync and drag the shutter.
The results are very hit and miss and can be a little trippy, but brides generally love these types of photos because they’ve never seen anything like it and nobody else there will be taking photos that look like this with their phone cameras.
Both of these photos were taken at 2.0, f/4.0, ISO 100, 24mm with an on camera flash set to TTL -2/3.
Unplugged Wedding Versus Full Gear
In the end, what I find really interesting about taking a minimalistic approach to wedding photography is that the images that I am able to produce are not that much different than what I would normally create with all my regular gear.
It is also interesting that my approach to photographing the actually wedding is not that different either – except for the logistics of carrying around one camera bag rather than several.
But where I found the biggest efficiency is packing and unpacking gear. Packing and unpacking a full set of gear for high end weddings is like packing for a trip to the moon – it takes a lot of time and effort compared to grabbing one camera, one lens and one flash and heading out the door.
What Is Your Minimum Gear For A Wedding?
What do you think is the minimum amount of gear to professionally photograph a wedding?
Is one photographer, one camera, one lens and one flash enough?
Leave a comment below and let us know!