About few weeks ago, I was shooting alongside a friend and photographer Jason Lioh for a wedding assignment. It was a very beautiful wedding indeed, and emotional one too. It was not a usual thing to get weddings happening in the outdoor setting, and thankfully the weather was overcast, with no harsh sun. I was working with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko digital lenses, the 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and 50mm F2 macro as my main gear setup, with the use of FL-50R flash (ceiling bounce) when necessary. I also brought along the Sony A350 and the 50mm F1.8 as the secondary system. I ended up using both the Olympus with 11-22mm, and the Sony with 50mm F1.8, and this combination actually covered most of my shooting needs for the assignment.
Below is a slideshow compilation of photographs taken on the actual day, presented during the reception dinner. Photographs were from both myself and Jason. Slideshow credit goes to Jason, he did the compilation. Watch in full HD for maximum image quality.
Some thoughts that I had from this wedding assignment:
1) Autofocus is important
Acting fast is crucial not to miss important shots. I think photographer's reflexes trumps everything else in this regard. A lot of scenes can be predicted and therefore, can be prepared for. However, there are many unexpected photography moments which required immediate reflex. You just have to grab the shot as it happened and if you missed it, the moment won't repeat itself. Having a camera that responds almost instantaneously will surely save lives, and those who have experienced the power of the top Canon 1D or Nikon D3/D4 series would testify to the superb autofocus to reliably freeze such moments. Working with Olympus E-5 was not an issue, the autofocus was very fast, in fact it was fast enough for every situation that I encountered, that if I did miss any shots, it was not the camera's fault, it was my slow reaction to press the shutter button. However I cannot say the same with the Sony. This is the main difference between having a professional grade camera (with 11 double full cross AF sensors) and an entry level camera (with only one center single cross sensor). It is not a fair comparison, I would have had the same complains if I was using the E-520. Nonetheless, I guess after using the E-5 all this time, and faced with such a demanding circumstance, I was expecting the Sony A350 to perform better.
2) Knowing the camera inside out
Many of you may not realize this, and I do not make it a secret, that one of the main reasons I shoot on the street as often as I can is to keep myself in shape when it comes to handling my gear. Knowing how to use the camera is not enough, you have to know every single button, shortcuts and ways to optimize the use of your camera, bending it to your will, and produce the results that you want. Picking up the camera once in a while won't help you to become efficient in controlling your camera. Yet at that crucial moment when you, the photographer, are expected to perform, you have no room for hesitation. All your judgement and decision have to be made in split second. Dialing the scroll in the wrong direction will waste you a few seconds of time to redial the control back the other direction. Not knowing where the ISO button is by the reach of hand without looking will lose you that precious time, when you stop looking at your viewfinder and search for the physical button. I believe it is important to shoot often, and stay in practice. Know the camera well enough, know it inside out, and all you have to do is concentrate on your subject, not how to work the camera. It should be at the back of your mind, it should be "automatically driven" in your mind, without having much effort to work it out. My shutter therapy sessions kept me sharp, and ready for action all the time.
3) Being extra alert
Shooting events, such as a wedding requires every last ounce of alertness from the photographer. You cannot snooze. You cannot look away. You need to open up all your senses. You have to be very aware where the bride and groom are all the time, where are they gong, what will happen, and know how to respond to each situations accordingly. More importantly, knowing where to position yourself for the best spot even before the moment unfolds, now that is one tricky part which I have not yet fully mastered. How near, how far to cover how much frame? I usually end up at the right spot, more by luck than my own accurate calculations. Sometimes, things can happen so fast it is difficult to pre-visualize so many things at one time, and anticipate so many steps into the future. On the other hand, it would be foolish not to prepare and just cross the bridge as we come to it. Being alert is the key here. Pay attention to small details, the facial expressions and hand gestures. Sometimes, you can read the signs and they will tell you when something is about to happen, and you can find out, and brace yourself. And set the camera accordingly, or move to that more auspicious spot. Or change to a better lens. Whichever necessary!! Any extra time given is a blessing.
4) Having stamina and physical fitness is also important
Due to the sins of oily, salty, sugary, mostly deep-fried, cholesterol filled, artery clogging and full of MSG Malaysian food I have been indulging daily, with no exercise, logically I have gained plenty of weight over my years in Kuala Lumpur. I found myself struggling in a few wedding assignment earlier this year, and I felt my joints hurt when I bent my knees or squatted down for low angle shots. After a day long shoot (typical Chinese weddings can last you from early morning till late might), I practically felt like I was a dead wood, and I was so tired my body refused to move and my mind just could not function anymore, apart from eating (because too hungry) and sleeping. If I were to go on shooting weddings, I told myself to get fit and prevent this from happening again, before the peak season arrived in late this year (September onward). I went to jog regularly, and did some routine weight-training just to shed off some weight, and of course, boosted my stamina. Though my body shape may not seem to have changed much (strange, but some friends did ask if I was going to the gym lately, which in response I said how on earth would I find time), at least not noticeable to my own eyes, but stamina wise, I can last shooting whole day without feeling too much strain or exhaustion. All I needed was constant supply of fluid, and I will survive. The joint pains were gone, and I can move around much faster. The jogging and weight-training paid off, handsomely. Yes, doctors were not lying when they said exercise is good for you. Fitness is actually extremely important for strenuous photography jobs.
5) Post-Processing is time consuming
After each wedding assignment, I would come home with thousands of photographs. It is a hassle to go through each and every one of them, filtering out the ones which will not be used, and from the remaining (usually about 40-50%) processing the photographs would drain away whatever free time that I have. Things would be much worse of all shots were taken in RAW. I shot all images with Olympus in RAW, because those are the important images covered with the wide angle, mostly group shots, and shots of people, where I needed the extra insurance in case I screwed up the lighting control (accidents can happen). I left the Sony to JPEG, because the Sony had the 50mm F1.8 which was dedicated to shooting details and close up. Boy was I mistaken to shoot everything in JPEG for Sony. The JPEG engine was so inconsistent, that I actually spent more time processing the Sony JPEG files than I did on Olympus RAW files. Lesson learned, just shoot everything RAW and use batch processing to save troubles in the future. Individual minor tweaking won't be as painful as dealing with white balance issues from the old Sony camera. This is one time that I really treasure how amazing Olympus white balance engine is, and how Olympus handles color in general. Maybe Sony has improved over the years, but that old camera's inconsistent color output was quite a pain to work with, in all honesty.
It is good to carry a macro lens around, just in case.
This has got to be one of my favourite shots. The moment the man ran away from the fire-cracker as it started to burst.
I have to admit I am still terribly new to wedding photography and I do not get many jobs. There is still plenty to learn and improve, and I know, I gain more wisdom with each experience I get. Each time I get to shoot a wedding, I get very excited, and I know it will be a great adventure. I enjoyed myself for each shoot, mainly because I know I have got to give everything, without holding back. It is mentally and physically challenging, and it takes all kinds of photography skills to get the job done. Yet you have to compose yourself very positively, and exhibit the bright smile. It is easier for the couple and the guests to react positively to the joyful, smiling photographer, than the one with no expression, or worse, showing a sour face. I believe being the best of yourself is crucial too as a photographer that shoots people as their main subjects.
Special thanks to Kenny and Desiree for entrusting your beautiful day to myself and Jason. We wish you both the best in everything you do, and abundant blessings, happiness and prosperity always !