Sunday, 13 June 2010

A special day

The story of my recent assignment to photograph Anna and Ryan's wedding in sunny Kefalonia, with some reflections and learning points.

The day offered plenty of challenges, in photographic and other terms. The wedding was at 6pm and I arrived at the wedding apartment at 12am, planning to take some pictures of costume details and flowers and of the bride and bridesmaids getting ready and in their finery before leaving for the church.

When I arrived the hairdresser was already working on the bride's hair. things weren't working out and after an hour or so it was mutually agreed that she should leave. The bride washed her hair again and her friends began to set it for her. No need to panic yet...

Panic did set in sometime after 1pm when it emerged that a key wedding document hadn't been provided and without it, the wedding would not happen. The document was a letter from the local priest saying that there was no impediment to the couple's marriage (e.g. neither had been married before). The family hadn't been asked for this before and being 1500 miles away from Liverpool made contacting the priest a little more challenging than it might otherwise have been. After some frantic searching for contact details on Google and a few phone calls they reached the priest and the letter was written and faxed off to the Bishop of Corfu so he could give permission for the wedding to happen (you couldn't really make this up, could you?).

By about 3pm all was sorted and the bride's face lost that 'rabbit in the spotlight' look it had had as she contemplated the possible cancellation of her wedding. I started to think I might be able to take some nice shots of her, but in the event her mother and I spent the next two and a bit hours slowly ironing the creases out of her dress (better late than never...).

The long and the short of all this was that the bride got dressed about five minutes before she had to leave for the church and I'd had very little time to take any pictures at all during this whole period. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Here are a couple that I did get.

It does help to have a beautiful bride.

On to the next challenge: the other 'official' photographer.

A little while after I arrived on the island I learned that I was one of two official photographers. The bride and groom had asked me to take the pictures as they hadn't liked the look of the sample images from the professional offered by the wedding planner. However by the time they told her that they had an alternative photographer it was too late to cancel the booked man: they'd have had to pay 75% of his fee. So they decided to pay 100% and get a few pictures as well. But they forgot to tell me (I think because they felt a bit awkward).

Anyway I met him on the day and he was quite reasonable: we agreed that he would do most of the set piece shots and I'd concentrate on the informal and candid shots.By and large I'm happy that this was the right thing to do. I like candid shots and don't like overly scripted and posed ones. I do however wish that I had not deferred to him quite so much, and that I had taken a little time to get a few shots of the bride and groom's nearest and dearest. I'd have aimed to get quite relaxed images and, to be honest, could have done with the practice in directing models.

I did take a few pictures of the bride and groom in a photogenic setting: the picture at the top of the thread is my favourite from this session. I like the happiness and energy in the image. However this setting was in itself a challenge. The light was intense and there was relatively little shade. I used 100 ISO and shuttter speeds at or around my maximum flash synch speed but still the sky is blown. The effect is not so bad in this relatively shady spot but much more pronounced outside, where the choice was between shooting against the sun to soften the light on their faces or or having hard shadows. If I get an opportunity to do something like this again I would look to hire a more powerful complact flashgun, such as a quantum unit: something that could synch with the camera at high shutter speeds and still give a good level of power. With more knowledge it might be that I could have used my existing flashguns better - I am much more used to dealing with the soft or even dull light of the UK.

The mention of dull light brings me on to the final challenge. The venues used for evening meals and drinks in Kefalonia often didn't have ceilings or walls. Where they did have a ceiling or walls, in most cases it was dark wood (or at one point bright red). What this means is that it's hard to bounce and soften your flash light. And it gets very dark so you need to use flash. I am lucky enough to own a Nikon D700 which works very well at high ISOs. But it doesn't like to be pushed to 12,800 and there is quite a lot of noise in my evening shots.

Take this one of my cousin Jackie, for instance.

It's super-grainy because I underexposed it a bit (didn't wait for the flash to fully charge before snapping the shot). Pushing the exposure a stop and a half in Camera Raw has really brought out the grain. I think that, and the slight softness, are a pity, but at the end of the day I still think the picture works because of her expression and the attractive colours (feel free to let me know if you disagree). I also like the way her hand gesture is echoed by that of her just visible companion.

Sometimes of course a bit of noise adds to an image. The bride's father has a great characterful face and the existing noise and the black and white conversion seem to suit him.

As the evening wore on there was plenty of opportunity to get more shots. This one is called 'You're just to good to be true' because that was the song they chose for their first dance.

And this is one of many many picture I took of the four small boys who attended the wedding. I like the slightly surreal quality of this one. Children are great, aren't they? Hard to be bored when they're about.

All in all I enjoyed the experience, despite all the stresses and challenges. My clients are very happy with the pictures (they awarded me four stars for the ones they've seen so far) and I am happy about that. I do think I could do with a bit more practice in directing poses and in challenging light situations. That'll be my next challenge, I think.