I Used to Say, “I’ll Never Do Weddings.” Then I Shot One.

All images and guest blog post from Nathan Hostetter. Be sure to also check out his instagram.

The phone call was great; the groom and I had a lot in common and he sounded really excited to have me photograph the wedding. I made sure he understood I had never shot a wedding before and that,  based on the budget, I would not be bringing a second shooter. The groom (also named Nathan) told me they weren’t looking for traditional wedding photos. He explained this would be a small wedding, no wedding party, and no expectation of a shot list.

I used to always say, “I’ll never do weddings.” Weddings are among the most important days of peoples’ lives, and I wanted no part of that pressure. I made this decision a few years after picking up a camera, I was asked to be a wedding photographer. My initial thought was “no way,” but I was asked by someone from my hometown whose brother was getting married. She had seen my portrait work on social media and reached out. Reluctantly, I agreed to speak with the groom about the big day.

Nathan sent me his engagement video, which took place mid-air while he was flying a small airplane! I accepted the job and asked the couple a few questions to find out more about them.

30 days until the wedding

When I accepted the job I owned a Canon 6D, a 50mm L, 24mm L, and one Speedlite. I knew I would need a zoom lens, so I scrambled around begging anyone I knew with a 24-70 to lend it to me. I got the lens two days before the wedding. Moral: make sure you have the gear to do the job you accept (but don’t make saying no a habit either).

Getting ready

Since I was not able to afford a second shooter, I couldn’t be with the bride and groom at the same time. They knew I was working solo, and we discussed the possibility of not being able to get shots of both the bride and groom before the wedding. We all decided spending time with the bride was the right move. The grooms’ brother snapped a few shots of him, while I stayed with the bride for hair, makeup, and putting on the dress. Moral: Set expectations with your client. Be up front about what you can and cannot do with the budget, time, and setup provided.

First look

As the bride was putting on the final touches, I went to go meet the groom in a park 10 minutes away. Nathan and I took some portraits while we waited on the bride. By the way, the brides name is Ana. These were some of my favorite shots; seeing the looks on their faces as they saw each other for the first time was incredible. I was really beginning to enjoy myself

Skip to the venue.

The wedding took place in an airplane hanger/small museum in Camarillo, CA. They had airplanes positioned all around the wedding: what a great backdrop! I arrived hours early to see what kind of light would be available and where some good vantage points would be. Initially, the ceremony was supposed to be completely outdoors, but because rain was in the forecast (which never happens in southern California), they moved all the chairs into the hanger.

Moving indoors didn’t seem to be a problem, but 30-45 minutes before everyone arrived, they decided to open the hanger doors. Now I had a challenge. I was shooting from inside the hanger with the outdoor light coming in from behind my subjects; getting the proper exposure would be difficult.

ISO 1600/3200 and F2.8; this was basically my setup for the entire wedding (minus the outdoor portraits). I tried using the Speedlite for one or two shots of the ceremony, but I wasn’t happy with the way they were looking. I ended up sticking to natural light and just working with the shadows and black and white levels in Lightroom to make sure faces were properly exposed. Using a Speedlite can also be distracting to the ceremony; while it’s my job to capture the big day, I need to do it quietly.

Everyone is seated. The groom is waiting. The bride enters. I crouch in the aisle and get my shots, then bail. They say their vows, pictures from the back. In come the rings, I get in position. One quick shot with the Speedlite, didn’t love it. The rings go on, I get my shots. “You may now kiss the bride.” Deep breath, the main shots are done.

Time to party

Pleased with my shots, I finally take a quick break for some water and the restroom. After the ceremony, I dedicated the groom’s brother-in-law to direct family members for some outdoor photos. I highly recommend having someone who really knows the family to help coordinate these shots, this way you can call out what/who you want and they will make it happen.

The rest of the night was very smooth. By now, everyone had loosened up, no more major events for the day, just good food, good company, and plenty of dancing.

So there it was, I did it. My first wedding! Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Make sure you know your value. Since I had never done a wedding, I had no idea what to charge. I knew some wedding photographers charged thousands, but I wasn’t a professional wedding photographer. Even so, I will definitely be re-assessing my rates for events like this.
  2. Use a second shooter. Figure out any way you can to factor a second shooter into your budget. There are so many little details in a wedding; it’s difficult to capture all the details and all the important shots by yourself.
  3. Plan on everything (and everyone) running behind. Try not to let this stress you out, but don’t be surprised either. Remember, the wedding won’t start without the bride and groom.
  4. Try and gain access to the venue at least a few days before the wedding. Try to be there at the same time of day the wedding will take place to see what the space will look like. While you’re doing that, take note of any possible changes that may occur (blinds open or closed, clouds, open hanger doors).
  5. Connect with the bride and groom as much as you can. The month leading up to the wedding, we had an email thread for bouncing thoughts and ideas off each other.
  6. Have fun. Things will go wrong, there’s often nothing you can do about it. Be polite, be personable, and be quick on your feet.

This was a great experience, and it turned my “never weddings” attitude into a new passion.

Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to [email protected]