Stripping it bare, taking it back, making it work.

The power that comes from knowing when something isn’t working, stopping, breathing, changing it, and making it work.

This week my blog is all about what happens when something isn’t going the way I want it to, and what I have to do to make it work – in my photography life… though the lesson is well learnt everywhere else too!

Last week I had a friend of mine’s wife come in for a shoot. We had met for about an hour the week before, just to get to know each other. I immediately felt incredibly comfortable with her and actually felt like I had known her for years. I really value meeting people before a shoot, as I totally believe that the way I photograph people and perhaps women in particular, is about getting to know them first. I very often meet my clients in advance of the shoot so that we can chat over coffee about what they might like, what their reservations are and what sort of things inspire them. I often send them away with a Pinterest link – if they don’t have one already – and ask them to start building a mood board or inspiration board and to share it with me, so that I will have an idea of who they are and what they like, before we get into the studio.

This particular lady (Kate) opted for a make-over so it was really important to get the mood board going. There were some amazing photos on there, very colourful, lots of crazy make-up and hair, women with long, gorgeous dreads, punks etc, and her creative and artistic side really shone through the choice of these pics, so by the time we got into the studio, both Michelle (from Bie Hair/makeover) and I were super excited. We knew we could go all out there both in terms of make-up and photography.

As Michelle started to apply the make-up (bright, crazy, pink, orange and green) it became apparent that we could go a little bit further, and the further we went, the more punky it got. Kate had the most amazing hair, which Michelle curled and then put up in a sort of fake Mohican. It looked incredible. Kate has quite a few piercings and tattoos as well as a totally unique style – it all went really well together. Then it was time for the shoot.

We started shooting – firstly with a few standard portrait shots. I always like to simply shoot and see what my lights are doing first, before moving them (and/or my subject) around to see what different effects I can get. I don’t tend to build the picture first, but instead, take lots of pictures and try lots of different things. I know some photographers work differently, placing their subjects, moving them slightly, waiting for the right shot before shooting. I am just not comfortable working this way, as I feel that the subject gets bored too easily and the energy of the room becomes less vibrant, less ‘energetic’.

What quickly became apparent to me was that even though the make-up looked awesome, it was making Kate look too harsh under the lights.

Kate is not harsh – she is soft, vibrant, open, friendly, calm, beautiful, womanly, funny and quirky, but somehow we had created a look that made her quite hard – almost impenetrable. For me that wasn’t Kate. I love this photo (left) as you know how I feel about the dark, but it is not really Kate and I wanted Kate to shine… I also think that we were not actually as comfortable with her in make-up as we thought we would be – I say we, because it really is a 2-way thing!

I asked her to take her hair down, and magically straight away, we both began to relax. The shots were definitely getting better and the result was that Kate was more ‘Kate’ (I now sound like that ad for hair colour – apologies). But still, it wasn’t quite right. That’s when I decided to turn it around 360. I asked Kate to go and remove the punk make-up whilst I breathed deeply for a few minutes, telling myself I was doing the right thing. I was right. This time, it really worked. The session completely changed from being something that seemed a little difficult – a little put on, affected even – to something that was easy, natural and fun. We both commented on how much more relaxing it became.

It was a bit of a milestone for me as I am not always good at knowing when to change something, even though it is not working, but thankfully I listened to my inner voice and realised that if we were going to get the shots we wanted, it was important to go back to the beginning, strip it all back and start again. I am so glad I did. I learnt a powerful lesson that day – in fact I learnt a few. The first is that if something is not working, change it. The other is that if we want to push the boundaries, we should do so half way through the session, when everyone is into it and have become relaxed and happy, not at the beginning when we are finding our feet. It has to be something that grows, not something that is forced. The third? – my intuition is usually right.

I am really grateful to Kate for being such an amazingly good sport, for being great company and for following my lead, without doubting me, throughout the whole thing. I have asked her to come and sit with me and go through the images with her artistic eye (not with a self-critical one) so that I can learn some more. Hopefully she will have a look at some of my other images too. I really value her opinion and I think a bit of positive criticism is really important when you are trying to grow as an artist (of any kind). I should just end by saying that Kate did love some of the images, even some of the beginning shots, but that we both preferred the natural ones, where she was simply Kate; with Kate’s essence shining through, and that of course is whole point of the Essence of Woman Project.

If you would like to know more about the Essence of Woman project you can find lots of information on my website by following the link. If you would like to chat with me about having a shoot, then feel free to give me a call on 07882 534 115 or email me christina@christina-dithmar-photography.co.uk. Thanks for reading! xx

Embracing the darkness and having an epiphany!

I am having what I can only describe as an epiphany! Last year I was thinking quite a lot about moving back to Denmark… I do this intermittently. I was born there, lived there until I was eight/nine years old. My grandparents stayed there and I spent my summer and winter holidays there for many years. My larger family still lives there and about 12 years ago my parents moved back there. It seems that no matter how long I live in England, I will never be 100% English, though most of the time I do feel it, I still have so much Danish in me. I often think of moving back and then suddenly I dismiss it for one reason or another.

Lesley Boudoir BW-9690

This time it was because I had the opportunity to take on the studio and I have no regrets about this at all. I am however experiencing something I have not experienced before on the same scale and that is a clinging, a yearning, for scandinavian things – music, art, books – and it seems to me that if I can indulge in these things here, and continue to follow both the old culture and the new pop culture, then I will have no need to actually move there.

So what does this have to do with photography? Well, I have realised that my some of my studio photography has been developing and moving in a different direction to what I expected – especially the boudoir/Essence of Woman project. My photography is much darker than I thought it would be (what did I think? I am not sure really). By dark I don’t mean gory, scary or mean, I simply mean that I love the darkness within it, the dusk, the shade and the shadow with shards of light, as opposed to the white and the bright! I have been watching quite a lot of Danish crime series – The Killing and the Bridge and not forgetting the excellent Borgen and Swedish series like Wallender and films like The girl with the dragon tattoo and Babettes Feast. I have also been reading a lot of Scandi crime novels – some Danish, Swedish and Norwegian – (from authors such as AAse Larsson and Jo Nesboe to name only a few) and I have only really been doing that in the last couple of years. So what I am trying to say is that I feel that all of these, including my own ancestry and love of many things Danish, must be having some influence on my photography – more so than I realised.

Serena Witt hires (42 of 130)

At first I was liking my photography to Film Noir… well there is not a French bone in my body and apart from loving Paris, I have never been particularly fond of French Film Noir – nor of their singers or musicians. So whilst I was watching The Bridge the other night, listening to the exceptional theme tune Hollow Talk By the Choir of Young Believers, I started to realise that what I was actually influenced by was not Film Noir (as such, though black and bleak it still is), but instead I am very obviously influenced by the country and continent of my birth; the ice cold winter days, the snow and the darkness, the candles in all the windows, the feel of the dry, chill wind on your face, the birthday cakes with flags on, the well-lit streets of Copenhagen against the black sky, the warmth of the schnapps as it trickles down your throat on a freezing cold xmas day, the long bus journeys in snow boots and hats and gloves, the heat of the radiators on the trains that make your face go red whilst the snow falls  on the windows and your hands struggle to soak up that heat, and the dark underground bars and cafes that welcome you in with Brunkager and hot coffee. It is this that my creativity seems to draw upon in my photography. It IS the light (without light there is no photography), but it is the candle light, the glimmer and hope of the light, the cold and the darkness as we wait for the light and longer days of springtime, that is my influence. It is the candle light that beckons me – the candle light that creates ‘hygge’ (a sense of cosiness – though it means so much more) and the harsh unrelenting winter walks along the beach, and the wind – that crazy northerly wind that makes everything feel like it is 10 degrees below what it actually is – that pushes me forward whilst holding on steadfastly to my past.

KTP Boudoir hires (11 of 41)

It is a bit of a revelation. I have never before sought out Scandinavian music to find the soundtrack to myself or my creativity, until now. The music I have been listening to as I work has been dark, bold, soft, gentle, open, unforgettable, cold, brash and very Scandinavian – there is a real purity in it – almost like ice – sharp, soft, gentle and strong and very beautiful. It has evoked memories of urban cities as well as dark dense woodland, bright, light and carefree summers, and comes with a big black line drawn under it that makes it unmistakably Scandinavian – all of it, albeit, sung in English – and yet that too is unmistakably Scandinavian, as I don’t know a single Dane that cannot speak fluent english. 

Lesley Boudoir BW-9602

So the point of this? Well there isn’t really one.. just that I am musing…musing about the thought of sounding so english, yet being so Danish and how one’s true nature will inevitably always appear if one is creating something like art, literature, photography etc because I don’t think it is possible to lie about one’s creativity as it has to come from the heart, from one’s soul, one’s essence – and my essence is obviously still very Danish.

Objectivity – a lesson learning.

I have recently met a most wonderful photographer by the name of Emily Fairweather. She specialises in rustic Children’s portraits – natural, outdoors, a little ethereal at times, simple and always, gorgeous. You can check out Emily’s images here: http://www.emilyfairweatherphotography.co.uk/

She contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some work with her, which of course I was/am. Having chatted, I recently went and helped her out with going through her images from a few weddings she has been doing, and getting them down from too many to just about enough! As with all digital photographers I suspect, she overshoots. I do that too, because I would hate to think that the shot I wanted most was not actually the shot I got and of course, shooting digital means you can do what you like – take as many or as few photographs as you want. The problem of course comes when you have to go through them and delete all the rubbish ones and find the ones you love, because sometimes there are simply too many good ones, but no one wants the same/similar photo twice.

When I do this for myself I can’t look at the images from a wedding until a few days later or I run the risk of deleting the lot! I have to give it just enough time for the adrenaline of the day to settle before I actually dare look at them, and even then, I am uber critical of them at first, but from a very subjective point of view.

Having helped Emily with hers, I have notice that actually when I look at my own images now, I am starting to look at them in a much more objective way, almost as if through someone else’s eyes; the eyes of the person in them, or the people or person who I am doing them for. So, for example, when I went through and rejected some recent studio shots, I thought mostly about what sort of photo Sarah would like to see of herself, then I thought about what makes the photo a good photo and then about what I thought I could do to make that photo better – not necessarily for all the photos individually. It was a big change as before I had found myself mostly thinking about whether it was an image I would like and that represented me as a photographer, as well as whether it was an image they would like. I am not sure I am explaining this terribly well, but I what I think I am trying to say is that there are many different reasons for keeping a photo or deleting a photo, but that the sole reason cannot be simply whether I like it or not. It has to be more than that, and that is why being objective and not always following your heart is one of the hardest and yet most valuable things to be able to do.

I really felt that having done this exercise for someone else, I am beginning to learn to not be so overly critical of myself, which is a very valuable lesson to learn. I have in other instances learnt not to take so many photos as well, whilst shooting next to someone shooting film, and that in itself has been an invaluable experience.

Claire Tom Wedding lores jpgs (10 of 251)The great thing about getting to know other photographers so much better is the amount of knowledge sharing you can do. All the people I have met recently have been incredibly kind, helpful, and communicative, not to mention, totally up for collaborating. I do really believe in the power of collaboration and that as there are so many photographers out there vying for business it is essential that we start to communicate and we begin to think about the prices we charge, so that we don’t undercut anyone else. Obviously there are different levels of pricing, but it really is essential that we become more aware of our impact on ourselves and those around us!
Tyntesfield lores (55 of 62)So, I am loving my new found friends with similar interests. In the last few months I have met and got to know a lovely group of photographers, who I think would all get on really well. I think it will be one of my missions to get us all together, even if it is simply to chat about fstops, the beauty of film, wedding traumas, memory cards and exposure settings – all over a drink or two. Well – it would be rude not to!

Love and fstops to you all, – mine’s a 1.8 barman!

Christina

Blow up

blow up pster

I don’t know if any of you remember the film Blow up… I didn’t see it the first time around as I am actually not quite that old, but in my mid-twenties my then partner and I bought a poster of the film. It was a photo of a woman that was completely pixelated so you could only just make out what it was. The colours were black and cream, red and blue and it was in fact a Polish design with Polish writing on it. The British posters were of the photographer and the woman, nothing quite as gorgeous as this…  I remember when I first saw it and loving it. Just this morning I was thinking about the effect of this poster and how after we bought it, I converted a couple of images of my partner into pixelated images, using the same effect, for a birthday present. So, since I sadly had to leave it behind when we split (14 or so years ago), I decided to get another one… so I bought it this morning!!! I am now very excited for it’s imminent arrival.

At the time of buying the first one I was working in reprographics and was surrounded by beautiful photography, extremely talented Photoshop workers, designers, illustrators and retouchers and I had never thought about becoming a photographer, but something about this poster really resonated with me. It was a few years later that I sat down and finally watched the film. It was all about a mod photographer who takes a series of photographs of a mysterious beauty in a London park and finds something rather suspicious going on as he develops the film. It is incredibly 60’s, a little avant garde at least for the time, I think, and is an absolute joy to watch. It was nominated for a couple of Oscars and won a number of other awards I believe.

I am not hugely into old films, but there was definitely something about this one that lit the fire of passion in me for photography. It took many years for it to develop, but this film, along with working in reprographics and publishing were definitely key to me finding my dream. I often wish it had happened sooner, but I would not be the photographer I am today, if that was the case, so I really can’t complain.

I recently did a shoot for Chrissie. She wanted photos done for a profile picture as well as photos for her reinvention, her rejunevation, her coming to terms with an ageing body and ageing face, and learning to embrace that, whilst also in the midsts of menopause. I was immensely honoured that she chose me to accompany her on this journey.

Chrissie July 2013 Colour BW LORES (15 of 132)We spent 4 hours together, walking, talking and taking photographs. It was a very valuable experience for me, and for her, but what it has made me understand more experientially is that there is something so incredibly strong about women in general, the way we have to go through all these hormonal changes at various times of our lives, whether it be the teens or the pregnancy or the menopause and how we simply just have to get on with it – transitioning from one woman to the next woman we are going to be. It is not easy, but we do it. I have also realised that the joy that I have felt taking these photographs of Chrissie, and more importantly, the time I have spent with her, showing her the photographs, and seeing her grow from someone who could hardly look at them at first, into someone who shows absolutely acceptance of who she is, and not just acceptance but ‘love’ for who she is, who she is becoming and how she is transforming herself, was the greatest gift anyone could actually ever have given me, whilst looking at photographs I had taken and enables me to know, truly know, that what I am doing, and where I am, is where I want to be.

Chrissie July 2013 Colour BW LORES (89 of 132)This is what Chrissie wrote on her FB status:
– just a recommend for all my menopausal or post menopausal friends – if you are feeling a bit crappy about how you look, sagging in places you didn’t know could sag, and wondering how to inhabit this ageing (gracefully or otherwise) body, then this is a tonic for the soul. A photoshoot with Christina.’ –

If I ever needed a reason to be where I am now, this would be it. I love being a tonic for the soul and if there are any peri, meno or post menopausal women out there who would like some help coming to terms with where they are and who they are and who they are becoming through going on a photoshoot with me, I would be only too pleased to help where I can!

Love and Chocolate (possibly the only cure :o) to all!

Christina

35mm – Trials and Tribs

agfa

My first ever camera – one I hardly used as a teenager – what a shame!! Making up for lost time now though…

I recently started to get interested in shooting film, rather than digital, at least for street photography. My lovely friend Col, an incredibly talented film street photographer, and I have had big long chats about shooting film and he totally awakened in me the need to go and do just that! Having never shot film before – well not really, only on cameras I took on holiday with me, before the advent of digital technology, I really had no idea how this was going to play out, what I was going to feel and whether I was going to like it or not – there is strange symmetry in this with the rest of my life currently – doing something just because it is fun and it doesn’t matter necessarily what the result is. Anyway – as usual, I digress!

Knightshayes Court Tiverton

This was one of the first colour images I took on the AGFA.

I decided to dig out my great aunt’s old Agfa Silette 35mm camera and see if it actually worked. At the same time, I came across a bric a brac shop that was selling all types of old cameras, and I just happened to buy 4 of them, for £20! A Minolta, a Beirette, a Ricoh, a vintage kodak and later I bought a Praktica from an antique shop! Well, you know me, can’t do anything by halves!!

The first film I shot was on the AGFA, it was a black and white Ilford 200. It was ok until the wind-on button stopped winding the film on but photos were still being snapped – oh no, that wasn’t the worst bit, it was the fact that I could hear that there was something wrong with the film, as it kept crunching and there was nothing for it but to… open the camera!!! Yes… that is one thing to remember when shooting film… don’t open the camera unless you have either managed to run the film back or you are in a very dark place, like a black binliner! I did have the excuse that I had to open it in order to get a new film in, but on reflection it might have been better if I had simply left it. Obviously, I had to wait until the film was developed to really ascertain the damage… I ended up having to pay £8 for a totally exposed film with no images on it what-so-ever… we live and learn.

Taunton Street Crew

Taken on the Agfa

The next film I popped in was an AGFA film which I bought 20 of in Poundland. I popped that into the camera and it worked like a dream. I actually had no real idea how to use the camera and was using it before I went on a film workshop, but somehow I managed to get it mostly right. The images were gorgeous… or rather, the colour was gorgeous.

Taunton Street Crew in the air

Taken on the Agfa

The images were OK… pretty average really… but because of the colour they just look super vintage and beautiful – even more so than any Instagram filter could ever do.  I also took some shots of the street dance boys in Taunton and I was utterly amazed at what I came out with. I didn’t think I would have really been able to capture them in mid air as I didn’t know the speed of my fingers or the camera, but it actually worked.

The mouse at Knightshayes Court

The mouse at Knightshayes Court, shot on the Agfa

Taken on the RICOH 500 - wingmirror - 35mm AGFA colour film

Taken on the RICOH 500 – wingmirror – 35mm AGFA colour film

My favourite camera that I took out had to be the Minolta, A zone focus camera, but it kept jamming. Little did I know that it was because the battery wasn’t working. I changed the battery and lo and behold it stopped – or rather, the lovely men in the London Camera Exchange sorted it for me. It still jams every now and then, but not to the same extent. I love the zone focus because it is so easy to use and I think that if I was going to go and do some London street photography, it would be my camera of choice. I haven’t seen the results from the Minolta yet so I suppose I could change my mind! I love the ease of it! Saying that though, the Ricoh 500 is a great little camera too – and although I have a major light leak problem with it, it is just a real beauty. I love the results from the Ricoh! I do need to stop the light from leaking, however awesome it might look! I took it out for the day in Bristol and shot a lot of benches it seems!! There are an awful lot of empty benches in Clevedon. I also used it for a shot I took of my wingmirror. I personally love this shot. It’s not innovative or edgy, but its just a gorgeous colour!

Sadly the Beirette doesn’t work and although the Praktica did work it now seems to have lost all function of its lightmeter – I however just love the fact that I even know what the light meter is on an SLR and that I know what it should be doing! Apparently this could be because of the battery. However, I changed the battery… and still nothing… so it looks like I will have another excuse to visit the LCE again… not that I really ever need an excuse.

Ricoh 500

Taken on the Ricoh – with the light leak!

All in all, I have shot about 10 films and have still got two that need developing. I was doing a really good job of labelling the films at first, but now it seems I have been a little remiss and I haven’t a clue which is which. Hopefully the images will remind me of which camera I had with me on that day…

As well as shooting film, I also went on an excellent 35mm film workshop run by Justin Orwin in his fabulous studio in Martock. It was myself and my friend Jan, who quite frankly behaved like school girls most of the day! Saying that though, we did learn an awful lot! We were supposed to shoot some film too, but there was so much to take in, so much to learn and rather a lot of laughing and chattering that there was simply not time. I am glad in a way, as it was so good getting down to the nitty gritty technical aspect of film and camera work.I already knew a lot, but this was uber helpful! I learnt more about speed than I had done before -my complete downfall as I never ever shoot in TV and if I shoot in Manual it is always the depth of field I am paying attention to… It was great knowing that I know so much more than I thought, and it was equally as great learning about the film speeds and exposure and which films to use when, about lenses and filters, as well as light temperature and more about white balance. There was such an awful lot to take in that I simply don’t know if it will all stick!

Vivary park

35mm agfa film on the AGFA camera

I have to mention that Justin was incredibly patient with us and I mustn’t forget that he also gave me some medium format film for my vintage Kodak, which I have only used a few times. I am so looking forward to taking it out on my next street photography outing or perhaps even to my next portrait shoot in a couple of days!

I have really enjoyed shooting film, I love the fact that I can’t see the result straight away, though that is more of a love/hate relationship. I do love the excitement of going back into the developers and seeing what is on my pictures. I am getting used to the disappointment too, as many of them don’t come out, but the worst thing about film? The expense! It might only be a couple of pounds for the film itself, but the developing is sooo expensive – I guess in a way that THAT is what makes us so much more careful about when we press the button. I noticed on a recent shoot with Justin that I was more careful pressing the button on my digital camera than before, as he was slower, shooting film. I rather like to remember that now when I shoot. We should treat our digital shots in much the same way, with the same care and attention as we give to our film shots. For me, it was a revelation to come away with so many decent shots, just because I slowed down a bit!

Will I ever shoot just film? No. No! I am definitely not brave enough for that, but I will take some film cameras with me to weddings and other shoots and see what comes of them, and I will gladly shoot film for street! It’s been an amazing exercise, and I am so grateful to Col for releasing this love of film in me that I simply didn’t know I had. Long may it last.

Lyme Bay Bridal Shoot

French Lieutenant’s woman meets gone with the wind meets…

A few weeks ago I managed to get Abby back in her wedding dress. I say I managed – it was not exactly a hardship and I think she might even bite my hand off to do the same again. Justin Orwin and I decided we wanted to have some fun and shoot some bridal portraits by the sea and luckily Abby was a willing victim. Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (48 of 48)Justin Orwin is an experienced wedding photographer who I did an introductory workshop with at Clavelshay Barn not long ago. I went on the workshop to find out really how much or how little I already knew, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I decided to challenge myself all day and shot in manual focus as well as On Manual. I learnt a lot and you can read all about that in one of my previous posts! However, I digress (as usual).

So – A wednesday evening, at Lyme Regis, Monmouth Bay, and the weather was very kind to us! The light was utterly stunning and the backdrop was quite magnificent.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (21 of 48)Justin had a very definite idea of what he wanted to achieve, whereas although I had an idea, I wanted to just see where it would go and simply let the evening, the dress and Abby guide me. That is something I found quite interesting. I think it is very much my style of photography. I don’t think that at the moment I am a ‘Director’… I have no problem asking someone to sit down or stand up or throw her head back laughing, but these are not things I plan… I actually like to see what the environment gives me before I know where to go with the shots.I didn’t find directing Abby difficult, but I also didn’t do it as much as Justin, preferring the candid shots that I got of her, for that very same reason. It is also the difference between shooting film and digital.Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (10 of 48)

Justin was shooting film, and I was shooting digital. So, I was much more able to take snap away, whilst he had to be much more concentrated, waiting, to get that perfect shot. I like the idea of shooting film, but I would never want to do a whole wedding on film only. I have the utmost respect for photographers like Justin who only used to do wedding photographs shooting film – I cannot imagine ever having the courage to do that myself. I love the differences between us. I find it fascinating!

Abby Shoot Col lores (128 of 150)Another thing I found quite interesting was that when I got home, I realised that I had spent an awful lot of time  on the full image – which is different to the way I normally shoot. I am normally much more concerned with portraiture and headshots. Yet, the dress for me, trailing along the sand, or the shapes that the dress was making, suddenly became really important to me. I also found that the images I really liked were the full body, colour images – probably because of the light, the blue of the sea and the dark blue of the cliffs, the white of the dress, the bluey white of the sand and the stones and the overall soft pink light that blanketed every shot giving it a warm glow… I really love these images. That is not to say that the portraits aren’t also my favourites, but they were found later in post processing as I cropped in on some of the images. During the evening itself I concentrated much more on full body shots and the dress. I find it fascinating how I notice these little things about myself and about my photography. How changes occur all the time.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (17 of 48)I shot mainly using my Canon 50mm. This was unusual as I would normally like to use my 18-200mm for safety but actually I really loved just using the 50mm. I changed towards the end to my Tamron 90mm which is a superb portrait lens for very little money. I love that lens and I was delighted with the results. The 50mm is a 1.8 and the Tamron is 2.4 (I think) – so both lens let in a lot of light, and creates a beautifully shallow depth of field. I love how the backgrounds are just blurred out, helping to fix on the subject itself.
I am currently scouting for more models – I have a few up my sleeve and just have to get them together and get them out there! I even bought a couple of wedding dresses – cheap ones that were being sold off – so that we have some should they be needed. I cannot wait to see who is going to get in them!

Abby Shoot Col lores (44 of 150)I have grand ideas about doing a wedding fashion shoot with 3+ models on the beach… I also have a vision of something a bit more edgy, a bit supermodel avant garde alternative! I will definitely need to get my Director’s head on for that, but I think I will be OK – putting the vision into action will be a huge challenge, but I can see it before me… surely that is half the battle won already!

I have to say a huge thank you to Abby for being a star and of course a mega thanks to Justin for suggesting we go play on the beach with wedding dresses and models, in the first place! I hope there will be many more play dates in the future! You can see Justin’s photographs and read more about him here… http://www.justinorwin.co.uk/ – and if anyone is reading this and fancies getting into their wedding dress again and having some amazing images created, then please feel free to contact me for a quote.  xx

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Weddings Schmeddings – what I have learnt so far…

Claire&TomWedding-0087

I have had a few people ask me for advice about shooting weddings recently. I am not sure that I am best placed for writing an ‘advice’ post on them, since I have actually only done three weddings in my short career as a photographer…I have however learnt a great deal in a very short space of time and perhaps imparting a little bit of this knowledge will help. It will certainly be cathartic!

I was utterly terrified doing my first wedding even as a second shooter, last June. I don’t know what possessed me, but at the time I thought it would be a bit of fun and good preparation for a wedding I had agreed to do a few months later! I had made no preparations at all, in fact I just turned up at the railway station and started snapping away. I was not prepared, and that was the probably the hardest thing, didn’t really know my camera well enough, had never used an external flash, had no idea how to set the exposure to capture things like detail in a white dress, but, we live and learn and that is the beauty of photography. We never stop learning. As a second shooter I didn’t have to do much prep, but it would have helped had I known my camera a bit better. the best thing? Meeting the people I was photographing and at the end of it coming out with a few shots that I was actually really proud of. I am not sure that I felt particularly happy about ever having to do another wedding, but could hardly go back on my word, having said I would do the next one only a month later.

Kirsty and David wedding colour high res (8 of 439)

So what did I do? I trawled the internet for as much advice on shooting a wedding I could find. I searched and searched. I read everything I could, quite literally devouring article after article until I was satisfied that I had everything in hand. So, July came and I felt I had pretty much everything in order… shot lists, sketches, more lists and more sketches. Nothing prepares you for flu though… I can safely say that this was the hardest day ever. Flu, tonsillitis, headache – the lot – and a wedding to shoot… IN THE RAIN! But I did it! It worked and all the preparation in advance was worth it.

So what did I do for my 3rd wedding. Well, I felt so much more prepared for this one and actually the preparations started way back last year in October when I did the couple’s engagement shoot. Doing an engagement shoot is one of the best ways to get to know your clients and to make them feel comfortable in front of the lens and with how you work. Since the engagement shoot I spent the rest of the year really looking forward to this wedding, and I was not disappointed. I loved every minute of it and I simply cannot wait to do more. So, as I have now been blabbing on about nothing in particular and not a single piece of advice has been issued about shooting a wedding, perhaps I should start! Here are my 20 things that might make you think twice about doing a wedding, and if at the end of it you still think you have what it takes, I would heartily recommend going for it. It is the singularly most rewarding thing I have ever done, and such a huge privilege to be let into people’s lives in such an intimate way. It is a great honour to shoot a wedding. I hope I never lose sight of that.

Kirsty and David wedding colour high res (108 of 439)One of the most important things to remember is that the bride and groom have chosen you because they know you can do a good job and that they like your style. Have self belief that you can do it and that you are the right person for the job.

  1. It starts with a conversation…have many of them with the bride and groom to be. Find out what their hopes and dreams are, listen to the preparations they are making, pay attention to the dress, the bouquet, the table decorations – talk to them about bridesmaids and ushers, be a listening ear. For me this was the most important thing. I wanted to be absolutely involved in the whole experience as I knew that knowledge would be power and the more I knew about the day, the more prepared and relaxed I would feel.
  2. Include a free engagement shoot in the price of the wedding shoot. For me, this was really important. Getting the couple together, with or without their children (in both the two weddings for me it was with children), is a sure fire way of everyone getting to know each other. Doing an engagement shoot allows the couple to get used to being photographed so that when it comes to the big day, they will already know what to expect.
  3. Make sure you ask for their honest opinions on the engagement shoot. If there is something they are unhappy with, you want to make sure that you don’t repeat it on the day. Pay special attention to what the couple may be unhappy about in themselves, it could be nose, teeth, eyes, anything. Remember, we never see ourselves the way other people see us.
  4. A few weeks or so before the wedding (or more if you can), sit down with the couple and prepare a list of the people who are going to be in the shots. There will be friends, family, bridesmaids, ushers and all sorts of people that will be expected to be captured on the day, for both formal and informal shots. Talk to the couple about the types of shots they would like of family and friends. If they have samples from websites even better. Some couples are happy to use Pinterest, and if they are, then following their pin boards is a good way to get a better idea of what they would like you to achieve. Make sure the list includes names and descriptions (ie Father, Mother etc), so that when it comes to the day itself, you can approach them by their first names or as Mr/Mrs… if that is more appropriate). The list also needs to include the shot lists of which people are going to be in the shot together. It might look something like this:Claire&TomWedding-0218
  5. Abby and Peter (Dad) – on bench by the tree
    Abby, Peter and Molly – on bench by the tree
    Ben, sandra and bill (parents) – on bench by the tree
    Ben, Lillie and Harvey – sitting on swing
    and so forth… 
    I also ensured that I had asked the family in advance to make sure that there would be 1 person responsible for getting all the people for the formal family shoots together at the right time. An usher, a best man or a bridesmaid is usually good for this, unless of course they also need to have their photos done. A responsible teenager did a great job at the last wedding!Mr and Mrs N Wedding MIX BWCOL HIRES XTRA (34 of 52)
  6. Always visit the venue and church in advance to scout out the best places and to speak to the vicar about what is allowed in the church in terms of photography. Some photographers just expect the couple to speak to the vicar on their behalf, but I prefer not to leave anything to chance. When you visit the church and the venue, take some shots to see what the light will be like. I thought I was very well prepared, but having taking practice shots of the light in the church, I was appalled to see that they had put red hot heaters on which made everyone’s faces bright pink. I was not prepared for that, so there is a certain amount of thinking on your toes that also has to be done! Luckily much of this was rescued in post processing.
  7. Make lots of notes when you visit the venue, think about where you could do the creative couple shots, and if you get the chance, do their engagement shoot in the same place, so you get some practice in.Mr and Mrs N COL hires (176 of 610)
  8. Before the wedding – about a week before – I sat down and made a complete shot list, from morning until night… I didn’t want to miss anything at all and I found it incredibly helpful to walk through each shot in my mind and pop it down on paper, so that I would have something as a form of reference when I needed it.
    My shot list started at 9am and included a concise schedule and looked like this:
    9am – CD arrive at venue. Bride staying in cottage (get directions in advance).
    SHOT LIST: (50mm and 90mm lenses for close ups and portrait)
    Prep shots – make up, hair
    Bride and Bridesmaids
    zipping up the dress
    The dress
    Jewellery
    Shoes
    North window bride
    Bride in Mirror
    (if time would be good to spend 20 minutes with bride and bridesmaids for some posed shots before we go)
    Bride walking down the stairs
    Bride leaving
    Bride and dad getting into the car
    CD leave before bridal party to get to the church in advance
    This list went on for 3 pages of typed A4 – possibly a bit excessive but really helpful. and later I cut each section out and put it on index cards bound together so that I had them to hand and knew exactly what was coming next and at what time. I also had a reminder as to the lenses I wanted to use. Mr and Mrs N COL hires (327 of 610)
  9.  Another list I wrote was the 30-45 minute couple only photoshoot. knowing the venue reasonably well having already photographed the engagement shoot there, I had each shot pretty meticulously planned, knowing exactly where I wanted them to stand/sit, and how I wanted them to pose. All the shots were outside. However, I messed up here as we were not able to be outside at all, not due to rain, but because it was so incredibly cold! The only shots we were able to get outside were the bridesmaids ones, and most of those featured blue-tinted skin tones – those poor girls! I was not however very well prepared for doing the shots inside, so for all my list writing, I still missed something. In the end, we had to do the shots inside, and we chose the bedroom which was magnificent, but for me, it was not enough. Had I been better prepared, I would have had a list of inside shots that I could have used and which would have been better than having to think on my toes.
  10.  In between times there were lots of candid shots being taken of the bride and groom, of people  enjoying themselves at the reception, of the table decorations, the well wishes tree and the flowers. Don’t forget to also take shots of the children and grandparents. I love photographing children so I always make sure that I build in time to pay special attention to the children that are there. Mr and Mrs N COL hires (132 of 610)
  11. Make sure that 1 person is responsible for making sure that you are where you are supposed to be at the right time – I almost missed the first dance because no one told me it was happening and it started earlier than expected.
  12. Memory cards… take lots. Change them regularly before they run out. There can be no worse feeling than one of the cards not working and losing all the images because the cards were not changed frequently or not until they were full. Shoot in raw even though it takes up more space – you have much more scope to play around with the image in post processing afterwards.
  13. BACK UP – If you can, bring back up options. I brought my ipad, my notebook, a WD passport hardrive and my laptop… I had an hour whilst they were eating and I backed up 2 of my cards in that time. Obviously don’t delete them off the cards until you get home and you have backed up again, but it is well worth trying to back up whilst you are there. Remember to always format your cards, rather than delete the images off them once you are done. Deleting the images can apparently corrupt the cards.
  14. KEEP cards safe… pockets are not safe! Label the cards with numbers and names.
  15. When shooting indoors remember to keep you ISO high – if you are shooting in AV, increase the ISO to as much as your camera can or pop it on automatic. There will be lots of noise in your shots but this can also look quite effective. However, if you don’t like it you can reduce it in post processing. Keeping the ISO high (Or if in shutter priority mode or manual, keeping the shutter speed fast) will ensure that your pics don’t end up blurry or with yellow or red casts on them! If they do – convert them to black and white and pray that that works afterwards in post processing… If you are really struggling getting the quality you want, set the camera to its automatic setting and let the camera do the work for you, especially if you are moving between inside and outside. Don’t feel bad about this, know when you are beaten and act accordingly, you can always do more research afterwards and figure out where you went wrong and how to change and learn from it for next time. The end results are the most important bit and if you are not yet totally at ease with your camera settings, then just let that go and pop it on automatic so you can concentrate on the composition of your images. I wish I had done this whilst moving between indoors and outdoors at the last wedding. Sometimes things happen so fast that it is difficult to keep track and it is not until afterwards that you really your ISO was not high enough and the images did not come out as sharp as you would have liked them to. Really, the best thing is to know your camera really well. Study, practice, study and practice some more! Mr and Mrs N COL hires (100 of 610)
  16. Using a flash… personally I prefer natural light but it can be very helpful using a flash, especially when indoors. Use a diffuser for the flash and/or if possible bounce the flash so it doesn’t hit the people right in the face. If you are using the on camera flash you can also use a diffuser or a neat trick is to use a piece of card that it reflects off set just under the bulb which gives you a really soft ambient light. Using a flash outside in direct sunlight can also a  stop harsh shadows on people’s faces. I made the mistake of bouncing the flash off the walls too often when I would have been better off remembering that I had a diffuser on it, and that it would have been fine to have been facing forward or upwards most of the time. I was a bit obsessed with not having harsh light. It is unlikely that you can use a flash in the church, so use a tripod or a monopod to insure you don’t get a problem with shakey hands and I recently found out that using a monopod raised high up with a remote control is a really effective way of getting some great shots whilst standing at the back of the church – thank you to Peter Duce Photography for this little tip!
  17. Know your lenses and know when to use them.  ave back-up lenses and a back-up body in case of emergency. I only carried 2 extra lenses on me, plenty of batteries, plenty of memory cards and flash batteries. I left the back-up body and back-up lenses in the car.
  18. Get insurance! Have a contract! Get it signed. This is really important, and, you will feel so much safer knowing that you have personal indemnity insurance, public liability and contents cover. The last thing you want is to lose the images and get sued, or have granny trip over your equipment and hurt herself. Don’t forget to insure your car for business use.
  19. Never stay and have a drink afterwards – one can lead to two..! Get your precious images home as soon as you can, and back up your raw files straight away. Back them up to 2 different places, the last thing you want to do is lose any of them. I tend to not look at the images until the next day, and then I just have a cursory look. I find that removing myself from them physically before making rash decisions about whether they are good or bad, is the best thing for me. I am super critical and sometimes that means that images that are actually not too bad, get popped in the recycle bin too!
  20. Last of all – Well, I have been thinking about this for a while now… I think the only real bit of advice is to enjoy yourself and to know that very often the whole wedding party will be looking at you for answers as they expect you to be in control – so be in control. To get the shots you want you will need to be well prepared and not be worried about being a little bit bossy! You will need to stick to your timekeeping and that often means dragging the bride and groom away from their guests. If you do not take control, you will not get the shots that you or the bride and groom want, even if at the time, they forget how much they want them.Most of all though? Have fun! Weddings are great fun, and capturing them as they happen is fabulous and exciting, and oh so very joyful! Claire&TomWedding-0043 retouch

I am sure I will have forgotten one thing or another and will no doubt come back to this list again in the future. I very much hope to be able to shoot some more weddings. Ideally I would like to be second shooter on a few more; getting some more experience and building up my portfolio. For now I am just looking forward to the next wedding I have booked. It really is a tremendous honour to be allowed to photograph someone’s wedding and such an immense pleasure too!