Archive for the ‘Wedding Photography’ Category

Shooting wedding or party photos in a dark location? Here’s how.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The other day, while I was shooting a wedding, one of the guests approached me during the party and asked quite openly what was wrong with his camera settings. He had a consumer DSLR with a good external flash, yet his shots would turn out “just bad”. He was really desperate.

I had a quick look at his photos, and yep, they really looked bad. They were perfectly sharp, oh yes, but the bride and groom seemed to dance in front of a dark wall where in reality there were all the other guests admiring their dance.

Here is one example from my own wedding in 2003:

Canon DIGITAL IXUS v, 1/60 sec., f/2.8

Well, this problem happens quite often at weddings (and parties), especially when you are shooting in dark locations, e.g. inside the church during the day, or outside in the evening or at night. The problem occurs with both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras.

The camera assumes that you want to have a sharp image in the first place and picks an exposure time of 1/60 or faster, also to meet the flash synchronization speed. The background will not be illuminated by the flash (and even if it was illuminated, it would look bad with its harshly cast shadows unless you bounce the flash off the ceiling), but the background is also not exposed long enough to allow the sensor to capture any of the details in the dark. So the background stays dark while the front is “correctly” exposed, or slightly over exposed.

So you need to find a setting that “naturally” illuminates the back long enough (i.e. long exposure time) while still having the convenience of the flash that “freezes” the action and illuminates the front.

Here’s how to do this.

1. Set your camera to M (manual) mode

2. Set your camera to ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/5.6

3. Do some test shots, and adjust f-stop, ISO and/or exposure time as required

This will override the automatic settings.

And while you’re at it, do yourself a favour and get a STO-FEN Omni Bounce for that extra soft light.

The result will be pictures that may be slightly blurred if there is some motion going on during the (longish) exposure. This will add the feeling of ongoing action. The main subject of the photo will still be rather sharp, though, as the flash fires, while the background will be visible and add to the mood (instead of being just a big black hole). If you have a zoom lens, you can try to zoom during the exposure.

Typically, these images will be better than the photos created by the automatic programs of the camera.

Here are three examples:

Canon EOS 1Ds mark III, EF 24-70/2.8L, ISO 500, 1/40 sec., f/5.6
Mark Zanzig

Canon EOS 1D mark II N, EF 70-200/2.8L, ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/2.8
Mark Zanzig

Canon EOS 1Ds mark II, EF 24-70/2.8L, ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/5.0
Mark Zanzig

Lightroom 2 – seriously improved

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

I admit it: I love the new Lightroom 2. Despite its bizarre international pricing, the software is good. Very good.

Install was flawless, well almost flawless. The only flaw was that the software forgot that I wanted an English installation and installed in German (I had selected “English” during the install.) I could change this setting in the program options later. Other than that, I do see improvements across the board.

One of the key improvements is certainly the new adjustment brush that can be applied to the image. Especially the Soften Skin function is worth gold (and the price for the upgrade). It does exactly what the name implies – it softens the skin of the person on the image. Tiny blemishes and skin problems will be reduced significantly without giving the person that dreaded doll-like look. The skin structure remains visible, just softened. You can adjust the size of the brush and its location, even after it has been applied, as well as a couple of other parameters. Then let the brush do its magic.

Here is an example from a wedding I photographed on negative film in 2005 (as per the wish of the couple). The negatives were OK, but the standard scans that came with the film were simply awful. Wrong colors, dirt, dust – in a word: unusable. But look what Lightroom can do with such an image.

Lightroom Soften Skin
Screenshot of Lightroom’s “Soften Skin” function applied to two areas of the face. If the user points to one of the applied brush marks, Lightroom will show the area that will be affected by the tool.
Photo: Mark Zanzig

Christine right before her wedding
Mark Zanzig

Weddings: How to select photos for the couple?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Susan asks on the excellent Flickr Wedding Photography board:

I shot my first wedding – alone – nearly two weeks ago. I have nearly 1300 photos, which I’ve been working on in Lightroom, a few at a time, and posting in a Flickr set to look at [...] I don’t know how to proceed.

This is a common problem among photographers who start to shoot weddings. The digital technology allows you to shoot everything, and you shoot everything. And once you’re back at the computer, you suddenly realize that you shot an awful lot of photos. And then you don’t know how to proceed. There are simply too much images.

The Wedding Photographer
The Wedding Photographer
Photo: FotoDawg/Flickr – Some rights reserved

In this post, I want to prepare you to shoot a wedding. If you are serious about wedding photography, you will have to adopt this workstyle, or something quite similar to it. Otherwise you will be unable to process the amount of images in the given (very limited) time. Let’s begin with the essentials:

Tip 1 – Always shoot RAW

If your camera supports RAW format, use it.

Sure, the format takes up more space on the memory card and on the harddisk, and it can not be handled as conveniently as JPEG, but the quality is waaay better. Plus, you have serious quality reserves for editing. This can be a lifebelt should things go badly wrong. (Yep, I’ve had a few situations where RAW actually saved me, and the clients did not notice anything.)

Tip 2 – Clean your equipment prior to the shooting

The time spent on cleaning your equipment prior to the big day is time invested wisely! While you can remove dust spots later on with Photoshop or Lightroom, it is smarter to not even have the dust spots in the first place. No dust spots = time saved at post processing time.

Tip 3 – Do not shoot everything

Yes, you have a digital camera with lots of memory. You are eager to not miss a moment. And you shoot like hell. But wait! Are the photos you are taking really good? Do they really transport an emotion or a crucial moment of the day? Do you really need the 36th shot of the couple sitting in front of the altar, motionless? If you think back to the old days of film – a roll of film was 36 exposures. Would you have spent a full roll of film for this series? If the answer is no, then think twice before you release the shutter.

You need to get a feeling for the right moments, and the right amount of pictures of that moment. This will help you to reduce the overall number of shots. It requires experience to capture the important shots, i.e. those shots that end up in the clients’ final selection (and frankly, nothing else matters). You will get there, too, but it will take time.

Tip 4 – Delete photos on location

So you have shot a couple of photos with the same setting, using the same light in the same location. Good. Now, in order to reduce the number of photos that you have to deal with, I strongly recommend to review all the photos as soon as possible on location, i.e. whenever there is a pause in the action, or while you are waiting for something. And then delete all the photos that you don’t like (aka “the bad ones”). Any bad photo deleted on location reduces the time for importing and rating later. That’s why your camera has a built-in display. :-)

Tip 5 – Use a batch software like Lightroom

The shooting is over. You bring home those images that you wanted to take and that passed your quick review on location. That are probably still a lot of pictures. Now you need a batch software, like Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, to handle the photos. Photoshop CS3 is fine for editing low volumes, or for fine-tuning individual photos. But when facing 1,000+ photos it is not a big help for you (despite Photoshop’s Bridge).

You import all the photos into Lightroom (or Aperture) and do all the basic editing there.

Lightroom - Lights Out for Rating
Lightrooms “Lights out” function helps during the rating of photos
Photo & Screenshot: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Tip 6 – Rate all pictures, and quickly

Right after the import has finished, I go through the whole set of images in Lightroom. I put away all the panels to maximize the image on the screen, and I put the background to dark or black using the [L] key. I want to see just the photos. My right hand rests on the arrow keys (to flip forth and back), while my left hand rests over the rating keys [1] to [5]. Here is how I rate the photos:

[X] Rejected. Mostly used for work from second shooters that has some serious problems, e.g. focus or composition. Also for all those “closed eyes” shots. Once the picture DVD is out, these will be deleted permanently. To me, it’s pretty much as if I deleted the photo on location. It just disappears. Gone forever.

[1] Mediocre. Why did I shoot that? I seldomly assign “1″, though. Usually, I delete these shots along with the rejected ones. No need to keep that crap.

[2] Below average. Shouldn’t have done this photo, but heck, I’ll keep it. What for? I don’t know. Not even I will look at these shots again in the future.

[3] Average. An okayish photo, but the clients won’t see this photo as there are better photos in the selection.

[4] Good, but not good enough. Often assigned to pictures that really are a “5″, but with other photos from the same series that are even better, some shots simply need to get a “4″.

[5] For the customer. This shot should end up in the final selection.

To me, it’s important to do the rating quickly and rather emotional. I try to not think about or analyze each individual image in depth. At 1,000 photos or more, there is no time for that (1,080 photos x 10 seconds = 3 hours!). I simply ask myself – will the couple enjoy this shot? Are they missing something if this shot is not in the final selection? Is it really good? And I try to be honest. There is no point in lying to yourself.

As soon as all the photos are rated, I apply the filter function to only show photos with a rating of [5]. Then I go once again through the set, even faster, just to see whether the balance in the selection is right. Are there any inconsistencies to the photo story, or are there obvious gaps? Are there still too many images of a single series?

Be honest. Be ruthless. Less pictures is better for everyone.

(By the way, you can do so much more with Lightroom. Take the color filters, for example. I use them to indicate second shooters’ images, so I can assign the correct photographer credits before mastering the image disk.)

Tip 7 – Batch edit the photos

Now the hard work begins. You go to “Develop” mode and (batch) edit all the images that survived your ruthless rating process with a 5-star-rating. Despite the tools Lightroom provides, this will take considerable time. At this point you will be glad that you shot RAW and that you cleaned your equipment prior to the shooting, see tips #1 and 2.

Even during editing I often decide to “downgrade” a photo from [5] to [4], thus effectively removing it from the final client selection.

When you are finished, let it rest for a day. Do something else. Take the camera and shoot another job, relax in the garden, go shopping. But do not touch Lightroom for at least 24 hours. Then go through the selection one last time and see whether your photos really make sense for the couple. Be harsh to yourself, in the name of the client! Remember – they will still get a suitable number of photos, and they shall only get the shots that you consider to be the best of the best.

Tip 8 – Get the photos out

You are done – almost. You export the photos from Lightroom to the desired format and burn a DVD. Maybe you design a nice cover? Then ship the thing off and let the couple haggle over which shot is best. ;-) You made sure that they only get the best, but it’s ultimately their call to make prints, or send the files off to family and friends.

Tip 9 – Clean up

The next job will come, sooner or later, so you can not have the files piling up on your hard disk! You better move the photo files to a place where they can stay for a long time, e.g. your network server, an external hard disk, or a set of DVDs. Lightroom will allow you to access the files even on the external hard disk should it be required.

Now you can focus on the next job.

What you see is what you like – DVD Cases

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

When I started wedding photography a couple of years ago, the happy couples would get a CD-ROM in a plain jewel case, without booklet or inlay or anything. Just the CD. I thought that the content mattered most to them. Then I thought that the couples might like CD jewel cases with a nice inlay. The feedback was positive.

Evolution did its miracles over the past few years. Today, part of any of my wedding jobs is to design an individual DVD case for each couple. Here is a recent example (front and back, click to enlarge):

DVD Case for Weddingphotos
Mark Zanzig/

DVD Case for Weddings
Mark Zanzig/

Each DVD contains four directories with images from the wedding in various sizes, so that the burden of downscaling them is not with the couple. They deserve quickest and easiest access to the pictures of their great day:

  • /1024 – for easy emailing, uploading, sharing
  • /2496 – for prints up to 20×30 cm (8″ x 12″)
  • /hires – for anything larger
  • /web – with a web gallery, convenient for watching on a PC

The feedback has been overwhelming so far. Couples positively love this.

I’d be interested to hear how you deliver the shots of your wedding photo jobs? Maybe there is something to learn from and to improve? Also, if you are a couple, what would you like to see on a DVD, and how would you like to have it boxed? Please feel free to comment.