Reportage from the tulle-lined trenches of wedding photography.
How much experience did you have with photography when you started shooting weddings and what advice would you give to someone who is looking to get into wedding photography? PS. I love how honest and upfront you are, it's awesome.

Hi Diego, thanks for your questions. I’m going to split my answers up into two posts, because those are BIG questions!

How much experience did you have with photography when you started shooting weddings?

I’m glad you like honesty because my story is frankly a study in how to do stuff wrong. 

I had absolutely ZERO wedding photography experience when I shot my first wedding. The way I got started isn’t ideal, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, unless you have a pretty good grip on where your skills are AND your client is also aware of your experience level and their expectations are in line with what you can produce.

That said, I was by no means new to photography.  I got started with photography in the mid-90s in a high school with a darkroom class. That inspired me to set up a darkroom in my parents’ basement.  I shot everything back then with a trusty Canon ft-B, which was later stolen. (Still hurts to think about, I loved that camera and the replacement was just not the same.)  

In college, I snuck in a couple photography classes, and signed up for a new offering called “digital imaging” which was barely digital at that point.  We were shooting film, scanning it and messing around with it in Photoshop 4.0. I really loved that class. It was very open ended, and we no formal instruction whatsoever in Photoshop because the instructor was learning along with us. We had free reign to just experiment and discover Photoshop on our own. I made some work I was really proud of at the time, which is on a ZIP disk god knows where. (Remember ZIP disks? Hahahaha!)

This was when I became known as the “photographer” among my friends.

Fast forward 10 years later, and I had basically put photography on a back burner to pay the bills.  I had a 35mm but didn’t use it much, and I had a cheap point-and-shoot digital that I took macros with but that was about it. I’d experiment with stuff here and there, like infrared film, old bakelite cameras, and SX-70 manipulations, but it was a hobby.  A friend from my college days had a relative getting married and they asked me to shoot it.  Mind you, I didn’t even own a dSLR.  This was 2007. I tried saying no, but was told it was me or nobody, the bride had no intention of hiring anyone else, and was ok if the photos were junk.

I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try something I was always interested in, with little in the way of risk, so I said OK.  Luckily, I had just met Mr. Mockstar and he at least had an entry-level Nikon dSLR and was willing to help out.

I bought a Canon 40D about two weeks before the wedding.  (I shot the e-session with a Sony Cybershot! I know, shameful, right?)  At the time, I owned a 50mm 1.8 (plastic fantastic) and a 28-90mm 4.5-5.6 kit lens, the latter which gave the 40D error codes.  So I shot the wedding with the 50mm, and dusted off my 420EX flash, purchased years ago, and never used.

So in other words, my set up was GHETTO. It was embarrassingly bad.  And while I in no way recommend shooting weddings with crap gear and no back-up equipment, it’s exactly what I did because I wasn’t charging money and there were no real expectations. Also, both I, and the bride knew this was pretty risky, and she was fully aware this was my first wedding.

So realistically, what was my experience level? Around that of a serious amateur that was pretty good with natural light stuff. I had a solid foundation in exposure that came from my film days, and I knew how cameras worked.  I knew enough to feel comfortable shooting a brand new dSLR I had never used before in manual all day. I knew enough about lenses to know mine sucked, but I thought I could get by between my 50mm and Mr. Mockstar’s decent sigma lenses. I knew just about nothing about flash.  So I spent some time practicing with that beforehand.  I wasn’t worried about bounce direction or making pleasing light, I was just worried about getting an ok exposure at the reception and calling it a day.

I also prepared by looking at lots and lots of wedding photography beforehand. I didn’t know about the existence of places like OSP, DWF, SWPB and so on, so I didn’t read any forums. Which was probably for the best because I would have been rightfully blasted if I had posted about my plans, and been scared out of shooting the wedding.

I knew fuck-all about posing, how to shoot formals, or what lens choices make sense at which part of the day. 


Given the picture I painted, you’d expect it was horrible.  And I’m sure if I went back and looked at the full gallery, I would be really depressed. But there were some shots that I loved, and still love. I continued to use my favorites from that wedding in my web gallery for years. It was really a luxury that I knew this family so well. I had spent holidays with them, knew the extended family, and everyone knew me. So I felt really comfortable getting close to my subjects (which was necessary, having only a 50mm lens.) I also think having such a simple set up meant I couldn’t think about lens choices and I knew nothing about manipulating lighting, so I really just worried about composition and looking for moments.  In a way, I honestly miss the simplicity of shooting like that. 

As coy as it sounds, I think you know if you are ready to shoot a wedding. I’m not saying you’ll feel confident.  Hell, I was WAY more nervous than the bride before the wedding. But you should have a general gut feeling if you are over your head or not. The way I started was not ideal, it was completely unplanned, and I hadn’t even thought about shooting a wedding before that. If I could go back in time, I’d do things differently. But I knew I could produce something.

I have quite a few thoughts on what would be a more ideal way to get started, and I’m even going to controversially suggest using craigslist. But I’ll save that for my next post.

In the meantime, keep the questions coming!

Your Friday Zen

In my last post, I talked about my wee breakdown.  Ok, maybe not so wee. I know you guys don’t come here for life advice, but for what it’s worth, I thought I would share a few things that have really helped me cope the last few months, during this interminable winter, and general shittiness. 

Winter ALWAYS puts me in a funk, every year.  I pretty much shut down creatively and I tend to get depressed.  I live in one of the most overcast places in the country, and all those cold, dreary dark days wear on me. Plus winter seems to get longer every year, and we all know, this year has been especially rough.  It’s March and I still can’t back down my driveway without ramming into a giant pile of ice/snow/mush that’s basically a baby glacier.

Anyway, some of these things I discovered recently, some I have been using for awhile, and almost all of them not only help with the general winter blahs, but also tend to help me get into that creative zone that sometimes we struggle to find.  

Disclaimer:  I’m an acclaimed medical doctor, but only on the internet. Also, I made amazon affiliate links.  I’m a money grubbing jerk face! 

Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way made waves when it came out, and continues to be a popular book on tapping into your creativity.  That said, I didn’t read the whole thing.  There was a little too much jesus-y undertone and it kind of turned me off.  I keep meaning to go back and give it a re-read, but I have a LOT of books on my to-read list.  

But I did take away something from it that I have been using for years on and off, and that’s the idea of Morning Pages.  The basic idea is that you get a notebook, and first thing in the morning, you just do a brain dump of everything that comes to you, stream-of-conscious style. No matter what, you fill 3 pages, even if it’s gibberish, or three pages of you saying you don’t know what to write.

I find it very challenging to actually do it first thing in the morning, because I’m not a morning person and prefer to stay in bed as long as possible. So sometimes my morning pages end up being afternoon pages or nighttime pages. Julia is very adamant that this should be a first-thing-in-the-morning task, but I say, NO JUDGEMENT! I’ve found the exercise of getting all the chaos in my mind out on paper to be very helpful, no matter when I do it.  (That said, doing it first thing in the AM does help knock the cobwebs out and get you in a good frame of mind for the day.)  Writing morning pages helps me figure out what’s really important, discover issues that have been under the surface that I haven’t consciously recognized, and it helps me feel less anxious. Getting all that garbage out of your system is like a brain detox and paves way for better thoughts and creativity. 

The idea is NOT for this to be a formal journal.  It’s not about sitting there at your mahogany writing desk with a fountain pen while you ponder life’s peculiarities and smoke a pipe/sip scotch. It’s recommended that you not even read back through your twisted ramblings at a later date. I have a problem with being overly precious with journals. I think of them more as personal art pieces and then want them to be perfect, and end up paralyzed and not doing anything with them.  By contrast, my morning pages journal is a beat-up piece of crap with a torn spine and full of crazy scribbles.  It is hugely therapeutic. 

I have always liked the idea of meditation, but I struggle to find time to actually do it.  And if I wait until I’m tired, I fall asleep.  Or I attach these silly rules to it, like I need to be “serious” and commit to 20 minutes. So then it never happens. This app has been great for me. I’m three months in and still using it regularly, and how often do you find that happening with an app purchase?  The app itself can be a bit buggy on my 4S, but with short meditations starting at 5 minutes, it makes meditation painless and easy.  It’s free in the app store, with the option to buy a 1-year subscription for $9.99 which unlocks more meditations.  There’s a couple cheesy visualizations here and there, but it’s mostly a winner.

I started using this app on a whim, but I find it really does help me feel calmer and more focused.  Most of the things I’m recommending today fit in that niche.

I have had one of these for awhile.  If you suffer from the winter blahs, or sit in an office all day with no natural light, or inadequate light, you NEED these in your life.  They recommend using it for 30 minutes a day, but I crank this sucker all day long, pretty much everyday.  You can find them  here on amazon, but check out their website because they frequently have deals.  Like right now, everything is half-off until 3/31.  They also have deals in their refurb department.  

I own 4 of these suckers, and I’m seriously tempted to pick up that 2-pack of little lights I just noticed was on sale.  I use them everywhere. It’s also just a really nice quality of light, and I know us photogs are snobs about color temperature…..or am I the only one that spends 25 minutes in the lightbulb aisle at Home Depot?

I am kind of embarrassed to admit I use this, because it just sounds like such hippy nonsense, but I have been using this app for years and it always works.  Binaural beats are sounds at slightly different frequencies that play in each of your ears (only works with headphones, naturally).  Basically, some sciencey dudes figured out that different frequencies produce different effects.  This app offers quite a few different “beats” that  aim to offer calming, increased focus, sleep induction, energy, and more.  Maybe it’s placebo effect, I don’t know, but it works for me.  The headache one has helped me numerous times. The focus one REALLY helps me sit down and churn through giant wedding edits and other tedious work. The calming ones help my brain shut up so I can sleep.  It hasn’t been updated in forever, and it has these kind of corny sound effects you can play over the beats, or you can just open the app and then play music from another app over it.  I honestly just use the beats alone most of the time, because I like the white noise effect of it, kinda like how some people find it hard NOT working in a noisy coffee house.

Don’t let the corny name turn you off.  This stuff  is really effective.  Apparently most of the US population is magnesium deficient because of commercial farming practices and our shitty standard american diet.  This powdery stuff is a magnesium supplement - the powder form is apparently easier for our body to utilize.  Look up magnesium deficiency and you’ll see a zillion symptoms - because magnesium is an important precursor for a number of functions in our body.  It can help with a wide range of common issues, like fatigue, panic disorders, muscle cramps/aches, sleep, constipation, ADD/ADHD, etc. It’s fascinating how many different things our bodies use this element for.  

I decided to try it because as you can tell, I’m on a bit of a “serenity” kick after being through a lot of emotional upheaval the last few months.  And I’ve always had an issue with panic attacks, they tend to run in my family.  And it has helped in that respect.  I don’t feel sedated or numb, but I do just feel….calm….as stupid as that sounds.  Like it’s easier to stave off my anxiety before it hits me full on.  The other big difference I’ve noticed is with sleeping.  I take this twice a day, and when I take it at night, it really puts me out.  Mr. Mock has noticed this as well.  Magnesium helps with melatonin production, which is the chemical that is supposed to make you sleepy at nighttime.  If you spend your evenings in front of a 27” monitor and other electronic devices, you are probably destroying your melatonin before it can do its job.  I’ve also noticed the quality of my sleep has improved - I  sleep deeper and I have more dreams now. (Mr. Mock corroborates on that as well.) I have a hard time winding down at night, and used to frequently be up until 3 or 4 am because my brain just refused to shut off, even if I was exhausted.  This is making me a much better sleeper.

That said, when I take this during the day, it does NOT make me sleepy at all, so I think the nighttime dosage just really kicks your melatonin into gear.  

Two other things to know about this: it fizzes like a mo-fo, so you need to add water sparingly, let it fizz out, and then fill the glass…otherwise it will make a mess.  And it has stevia in it, so it has a pleasant taste. I actually find it too sweet.  

I have my first wedding of the season this weekend, so I’m curious to see if it helps with the sore muscles that are part of the “wedding hangover”.  If you want to know more, check out the amazon reviews, they are pretty compelling.

I seriously thought this would be a SHORT list you guys. Sorry!  Here’s my last one - the tumblr account Unfuck your Habitat. I just discovered this account and it’s brilliant. If you work constantly and your house and office is a vortex of dysfunction, this will make you feel so much better about your life. Practical advice, no judgement, and a good source of motivation wrapped up in a snarky but well-meaning package. It is exactly what I need right now. I really struggle with managing my household and keeping it organized and clean. With two jobs, I’m always exhausted, and I just don’t have the time or energy to put forth the effort to clean. It also doesn’t help that I have an old house with no dishwasher and inadequate storage for people who have as many hobbies as Mr. Mock and myself have. I feel overwhelmed a lot, and I strongly believe that your physical environment has a lot to do with your mental wellbeing, or lack thereof. Somehow the idea of unfucking your life seems much more do-able than trying to be martha stewart. It’s a sentiment that resonates with me. I now tell myself throughout the day to go “unfuck” this or that.  It’s really doing a kindness for yourself, this unfuckery.  Go forth and unfuck, I say!


Mockstar Misses You

I don’t know why I keep referring to myself in the first person.  That is weird, Mocksy!

Being active on twitter is a great exercise in concise writing, but the truth of the matter is, I love to ramble.  I’m not sure if people really want to come to tumblr and read a long missive.  I’m guessing probably not.

But I feel like writing, and feel I owe some people some explanations, so here goes.  

TL;DR Version: The last few months have been shitty but I’m coming out from the rock I’ve been under. I’m also questioning everything in my life, including photography. That said, I’m doing ok now.

Even my TL;DR version is too long for twitter.  I suck at conciseness!

The Long, LONG Version: I basically fell off of social media for awhile, starting a few months ago.  Something bad happened.  Nobody died, and I still have all my limbs, but last October my heart was basically ripped out and left bloody and beaten on the sidewalk.  Ok, that’s emo. (Don’t be emo, Mocksy!) But seriously though, some shit went down. Parts of my life I just took as a given, and felt secure about were ripped away in a pretty dramatic fashion, and I did not deal with it well. I’m not sure what the scientific, clinical definition of a nervous breakdown is, but I probably met the criteria.  

I still have some scars, some doubts, and insecurity about what happened, but the bottom line is that this specific series of shitty events is over, things are healing, and I’m getting past it.

(I despise when people are vague on the internet, but as other people are involved, I have to be.  Please forgive me for being mysterious.)  

Quite a few of my twitter buddies made a point to reach out to me, to listen to my crazy, and offered help or were just a willing ear. I didn’t start an anonymous twitter account expecting to make friends….it was literally a whim….I thought it would be fun and I clearly have no shortage of sarcasm. But strangely enough, I’ve come to really like you guys (awwww) and I’ve gotten to know you weirdos so much better than expected.

I was very humbled and touched by those who reached out to me.  You know who you are.  And I appreciate you. Thank you for being awesome. I owe some people some emails, and DMs and such.  The thing about coming out of a fog is that you don’t really want to talk about that time in the black, you just want to get on with things.  So I have kind of neglected getting back to you.  I’m sorry.  There was also a project I was really excited to be involved in that I let slide to the wayside, and I deeply regret that. I hope I haven’t ruined my chances to participate in the future.

That said, all that shit that happened had me looking seriously at my life, my goals, and my basic-day-to-day-reality.  Being honest sucks. It almost makes me sympathetic for all the crockstars out there ruining our industry with lies. (Ok, not really, fuck those guys!) The truth of the matter is, that while I know a lot of about photography, have the technical knowledge, experience, and some decent work to show for it, sustaining my business for the last seven years has been a struggle, and I’m really questioning where to go from here.

I bitch about my day job a LOT on twitter.  And it truly sucks. The work environment is incredibly negative and soul-draining.  I feel exhausted mentally and physically when I get home, which is ridiculous because I sit at a desk all day. It’s not enough money to survive, but it leaves me time for photography. But not enough time to run a photography business successfully. Those are two separate things.  I can’t save enough from my day job to quit and do photography full time, and only being able to do photography part time just gives me time to juggle what’s currently in the fire, not to market and do the things you need to do to make this a full time, sustainable career.

I have lived, breathed, and studied the shit out of this business for the last 7 years.  I
know what I need to do, it’s just finding the time & energy to do it while also working another job to pay the bills.

I’ve been stuck in this shitty Catch-22 for seven years now.  I kept expecting some kind of break to come, for the clouds to part and a sign to proclaim “Now You Can Quit Your Shitty Day Job”. But that day didn’t come, or I wasn’t paying attention.  Between my day job and my photo business, I don’t feel like I ever can rest…..and even when I’m trying to, I feel guilty and can’t truly enjoy the downtime. The stress of 7 years of this, along with struggling to make ends meet has led me to feel depressed and paralyzed pretty much all the time.  It’s like a constant, slow motion panic attack. It is one of the leading contributors to the Big Shitty Thing that happened last fall.

And seriously?  I MISS WEEKENDS PEOPLE.  Boring ass things like grass cutting and pulling weeds?  That sounds like a dream.

So I’m evaluating things right now, and trying to figure stuff out.  I have a love-hate relationship with weddings.  I really enjoy the challenge of them, the thinking on your feet, the problem solving, and sometimes even the hectic pace.  I thrive under that pressure. But I also feel like I’m dangerously close to going on auto pilot.  I worry that my work is getting too much the same, that I’m following a formula.  Sometimes formulas are ok, if this was literally just about business, and making money, and churning out the same results for everyone, then that would be ok.  But I got into this to be an artist too, and with no time left at all for personal projects, wedding photography needs to fill both those niches. It shouldn’t have to, there should be time for other outlets, but there isn’t. I find myself frustrated by clients that are making perfectly reasonable requests, but I’m so overworked and overstretched that meeting their needs feels like a hassle.  I’m tired of feeling absolutely useless on a Sunday and not wanting to get off the couch because I’m so exhausted. I feel like being a burnt out wedding photographer is not much better than being a shitty craigslist shooter with a rebel. I feel like I’m in danger of losing the integrity I believe you should have to do this job. 

I don’t want to stop caring.  And I feel like that’s what’s happening right now. So it’s time to take a step back.  Maybe for awhile, maybe permanently. I’m not saying I want to give up photography as whole. I really don’t.  But I think I need to stop doing weddings for awhile, and I’m worried about what that means to my business.  Will I even still have one?  

The opportunity has come up for me to apply for boss’s job at work. It’s in a field I have over a decade of experience in, on paper, but it’s not my passion.  It would effectively double my salary and solve a lot of middling problems in my life, which in mass, are overwhelming and life-defeating.  Whoever said money can’t buy happiness hasn’t had to stretch twenty bucks for three weeks after paying the mortgage.  Even though I dislike the industry my day job is in, I think if I was the one calling the shots, I could give the organization some purpose it lacks now, and I could turn a place that makes me miserable into a place that is vibrant and has an actual mission. It wouldn’t ignite my passion for the industry, but it would make it a lot more pleasant than it currently is.

If I get the job, I will have to give up weddings.  And it would make sense to give up my studio as well.  But the idea of giving it up the studio really, REALLY upsets me, because I know without the studio, it will be easy to stop doing photography altogether. Then ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, I will be filled with regret.  Just contemplating it NOW fills me with dread, panic, and regret. It feels like a punch to the gut. I worked so hard to get here.  I have put so much of my life into this. And I still want to do it. But my lifestyle now, where I’m constantly stressed and at the breaking point, isn’t working either.  Something has to give.

I don’t know why I’m sharing all this. Maybe some of you can relate. I feel like a fraud or failure sometimes.  Yes, I am knowledgable about a lot of aspects of this business, but I’m obviously not an expert or I’d be doing this full time.  I honestly enjoy helping and teaching people who are earnest about learning this craft, and I feel I have something to contribute, but at the same time, I feel like the biggest phony in the world.  And ironically, I can see how some of the crockstars get their start. I could probably give a hell of a workshop (one where people would actually learn something), but I can’t manage to quit my day job.  WTF, right?

I am great at giving advice but lousy at taking it myself.

I’m hoping the first step of getting on some kind of track, is at least acknowledging the fucked-up-ness of all of this.  So that’s what I’m doing. I’m in the interview process for the day job promotion, because it would be stupid not to allow myself that option. In the meantime, I’m thinking about what I want my photography career (if you can even call it that) to look like in the future.  I am realistic enough (or maybe pessimistic enough) to know that my dream photography job will never happen, but I think I could really love doing portraits. I know some portrait photographers can’t imagine shooting weddings. I, on the other hand, feel like weddings are a comfortable thing.  I know how to market to brides, I know how to book them. Getting portrait business is out of my comfort zone.

So that’s where I am right now.  I’m a bit out of the loop with the latest crockstar dramas and I’m ashamed to say, I don’t even know what’s going on with this new fuji everyone is creaming their pants over.  I’m so out of it.  But I’ll be back on twitter more, and moving on from my funk.  If you made it this far, thanks for listening.

Anonymous asked:
How do you photograph receptions? How do you do interesting photos of really boring things? Like the speeches? Or jebuz forbid open mike (my last wedding had an open mike it was so incredibly painful). I feel my photos are just snapshots - how do you get them to look professional?

I love this question, because I think we’ve all been there - the horrible, gross reception hall that’s stuck in the 70’s with hideous brass lighting fixtures, wood panelling, and my personal favorite, movable walls.  I freaking DETEST movable walls. (They probably have a real name, but that’s what I call them.  You know what I mean those, those ugly panels that fold up.) 

Here’s the dirty little secret of wedding photography - not every wedding is going to be pinterest-worthy and it’s rare that you’ll have days where every part of the day is aesthetically pleasing. That’s just the truth.  It will get better as you book clients with bigger budgets at better venues, but especially when you are starting out, you are working in some rough places.  

Embrace it.

If you can make that VFW hall look good, you can make anything look good.  This is a good skill to have.

I don’t mean to come off like a snob.  Sometimes clients have very good reasons for choosing less expensive venues.  Sometimes that reason is even so they can afford YOU.  So don’t judge them from it.  Their wedding isn’t about how fancy the tablecloths are.  But if you can take a place that is pretty dire, and make it look normal, or even nice?  Your clients will appreciate that shit. They aren’t expecting their photos to look like the Ritz Carleton, but if you can make photos that don’t call attention to the faux-marbled paneling and linoleum dance floor?  They will sing your praises. 

And if you are trying to book nicer weddings (not even high end, but just nice normal weddings with photo budgets higher than a craigslist shooter) you need to have images that don’t look like they were shot at the VFW hall, even if they were.

The second wedding I ever photographed was for a friend of a friend.  It was a very low budget wedding - the couple already had started a family and been together for awhile, the wedding was just to make things official.   There was very little in the way of decor, the hall was spectacularly shitty.

How shitty was is?  A mouse fell out of the ceiling during the ceremony.  There’s some stuff you can’t make up.  Only my friend and I saw it, but we both exchanged looks of horror and then tried not to dissolve into giggles, because seriously, if you saw what this place looked like, and then added CEILING MICE to it, you had no choice but to laugh.  

That said, we took the best photos we could and put that wedding up on our website and booked rodent-free weddings as a result.  

So anyway, enough of me rambling on. Here’s some suggestions for dealing with ugly venues, mouse-ridden or otherwise.

- Go back to those basic “improve your photography” rules.  Shoot tight. Keep backgrounds clean.  Rule of thirds up in that bitch.  

- Generally there’s at least one wall that is less horrible than the other three.  Shoot everything you can so that wall becomes your background.  Maybe it has some ambient light that looks pleasing when it’s bokeh-ed out at 2.8.  Or maybe it’s just a clean wall not littered with the crappy “decor” the venue purchased in the 80’s.

Along these lines, find a good bounce surface and bounce off that all night.  I like to bounce directionally, rather than up at the ceiling, when I can.

There will obviously be times you have to shoot in another direction, but try to work the best parts of the room exclusively as much as possible. 

- Long lenses are your friends in receptions. This is true of any reception, but they’ll really help you out in fugly venues. You need a wide angle lens for the big sweeping room shot, and maybe some informal dance shots once the party gets started.  But details, speeches, first dances can all be shot at 85mm and up.  (Ok, maybe get a couple full length dance shots, but then go back to your long lens.)  Let the narrow field of view and compression blast that reception ugliness into blurry oblivion!  

Nothing pisses me off more than reception details shot with a fisheye. Ditch the fisheye.  That shit was cute when you were just a hobbyist.

- Get an off camera light.  You can still have a flash on your camera, just plug your pocket wizard into your camera.  You can then either velcro that sucker to your flash or use a straight flash bracket, which is what I do. Beautiful light always helps.  Use it as a kicker to add a little side lighting to subjects’ faces, and try back lighting the first dance.  Just don’t do that shit where the flare obliterates the B&G’s faces.  That looks dumb. 

- I kind of started off mentioning this, but it bears repeating - simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY your compositions.  If you’re shooting candids, shoot tight - they’ll have more of an impact AND show less of the venue.  See if you can recompose a shot to remove distracting elements.  Even beautiful venues have things that don’t look great, like exit signs, beat-up kitchen doors, and fire alarms.  

When I’m shooting a close-up of table details before guests arrive, I always will remove crap like sugar packets, ugly salt-and-pepper shakers, and so on. Just put it back when you are done as you found it. NEVER move the clients decor, even if it’s fugly.  But I have no problems with picking up that horrible faux floral arrangement the venue inexplicably put next to a perfectly fine cake so I can get a shot of the cake without it.  

- Be a diva and tell everyone where to stand for speeches, which direction to cut the cake in, where to stand for bouquet toss, and so forth.  No one knows what to do anyway and they are usually grateful for the guidance. If you ask the DJ if you can put the couple somewhere else because the photos will be better, 99% of the time they won’t care.  

- And naturally, a shallow DOF always helps when you are trying to minimize distracting background elements.  But make sure you have enough in focus.  This is not carte blanche to shoot everything at 1.2.

I know I’ve already written a novel here, but to answer the second part of your question about making things look less snapshotty - well I think a big part of it is doing the things above, and the remaining part is looking for and waiting for the right moment to shoot.  When you are new,  you just want to run-and-gun and make sure you get everything.  When you get more confident, you’ll KNOW you got the safe shot and then you can sit there and wait for (or hunt down) the interesting shot.  Wait for the punch line of the joke during speeches, walk around the floor and find a unique angle.  Open mic does sound like a painful thing to sit through, but I bet there were awesome opportunities for silly, ridiculous candids.  

Anonymous asked:
My questions: Posing. Do you pose? Do you direct? Do you have an idea in your head and try to create it? Or just tell the clients to do something and catch that moment?

Yay!  My first question.  I wasn’t quite sure if anyone would submit one.  It’s kind of hard to trust the advice of someone who’s work you can’t see.  I totally get that.  It’s one of the more glaring problems with having an anonymous twitter account.

But anyway, thanks for your question.  :)

I am going to assume you are talking about weddings in particular.  The answer is I sometimes pose people, but mostly I direct them.  If I see a spot with terrific light, and a good clean background, I’ll say “hey, go over there and hold hands and chat for a second”.  

On those rare, rare occasions when you have clients that look like super models, or are super comfortable in front of the camera that’s all you need to do.  In reality, we’re dealing with people who feel shy in front of the camera, or a bride wearing an ill fitting dress, or a guy that’s half the size of the bride, and you need to direct them further from that starting point. The important thing is to always make the client think they are doing it right, even when whatever they are doing does not work AT ALL.  So I’ll set them up, tell them to do their thing, take 1-2 photos and then say, “Why don’t you try moving your arm there?”,  ”Can you push your shoulder in front of hers?” and so forth.

Posing is a bitch, and it’s something I still struggle with, especially if the wedding is stressful and I feel rushed.  It’s a good idea to have a couple action-orientated ideas you keep in your pocket so when you are wracking your brain trying to think of something, you have a starting point.  Once you have a place to start from, it becomes much easier to mix it up.  Note that I said “action-orientated”.  I much prefer the idea of telling the groom to run up and twirl the bride around, or tell them to take a little walk rather than trying to set up some complex pose you saw in a posing guide, or effing pinterest.  Whatever the action is that I suggest, I’m usually not shooting for that action, but for the expressions I’ll get after. 

The problem with using a photo of a pose on your iphone or whatever as inspiration is that pose worked great for that couple. But for your couple it could look cheesy as hell, or awkward, or just plain wrong.  Maybe the height difference between them makes it impossible to get that pinterest shot to look right.  Or maybe it just doesn’t fit with one of their personalities and one of your subjects starts to shut down and get uncomfortable.  If you lose your subject in this manner, it’s really hard to re-establish that trust on a wedding day.  

And also, it’s a helluva a lot easier to say “go sit on that bench and be silly and make each other laugh” versus “I want you to put your forehead against her right temple and then make a soft expression and turn your left foot like so, and meanwhile, the bride is going to move her chin 2 inchs left and and look off 30 degrees to the side while giving me a tiny smile and…..WHAT?”  These people are on their wedding day, they have a drunk bridal party probably watching them from a few feet away, they are worried about guests showing up early and interrupting them, they are in clothes they are not used to, it’s probably really hot and they are worried that they look sweaty….they simply cannot process all that info.  Sitting on a bench and talking to each other is something they can handle.  Also, if you were the couple, would you want to look back and remember a lot of tedious instruction/correction or that you hung out with your partner and cracked jokes?

Sometimes if the couple did an e-session with us, I’ll go back and look at their images and see what poses/set-ups looked the best for them.  Or more likely I’ll spot issues I wish I had dealt with better.  So I’ll be more aware of that on the wedding day, and I’ll work to get it right.  But I rarely go into a wedding with a certain pose in mind unless something about the couple really inspires me and I feel pretty confident they can pull it off. And if it doesn’t work, I just move on.  I don’t try to fight any pose into working.

It really is helpful to spend some time studying posing.  There’s some people that really take the whole photojournalism thing seriously and won’t set anything up, and while sometimes that works, just about every client I’ve ever talked to wants to be directed.  Regardless, it’s a skill you should know.  Don’t shoot PJ because you can’t pose.  That’s like calling yourself a natural light shooter because you don’t know how to use a flash.  The key is to keep it light and keep them moving so you get natural interactions and real moments.

I also have no problem with going right up there and moving people’s hands and faces if I need to.  Sometimes it’s just faster than trying to explain.  Obviously, make sure your clients are cool with you touching them.  And always fix the bride’s hair if she’s got strays flying in her face.   

Your LCD is a lying whore - Histograms 101

I came across this whiny post the other day from this photographer who didn’t understand why her images were rejected from all the fancy schmancy blogs she submitted them to.  The photos ranged from OK, to “meh”.  I’m not saying that to be a bitch, there were actual real technical issues.  One running theme was that just about every photo had highlights blown to smithereens.  This is a common thing with inexperienced photographers who have learned from the rockstars that the key to good photography is to shoot everything at 1.2 - 1.8.  You see it a LOT in wedding photography, and weddings often have a lot of things that are white and tend to be important details like:

- the dress
-the invitation
-the menu/place cards
-the flowers (I hate white flowers.  PICK SOME BETTER FLOWERS!)

Of those, the dress is obviously the most important. Also the subject you’re photographing the most will be wearing it all day.  So there’s that. It’s kind of important to not nuke the exposure so all the lace detail, beading, or other embellishments are obliterated.  Likewise, things like invitations tend to be more meaningful if you can read the actual text on them. You know.  Just sayin’.

But maybe she was blowing out the details for artistic effect! You’re just being mean.  

No, no I’m not.  It looked like goddamn Hiroshima was happening outside every window. Mockstar is not mean, Mockstar is being your friend. Mockstar is telling you why a detail-orientated fancy wedding blog is going to reject photos where you annihilated all the details because you don’t understand  how to expose for highlights. I’m trying to help you, dammit!

Blowing out images unintentionally means you don’t know WTF you are doing, and when you are shooting weddings or anything else important enough to charge money for, you should kind of know your shit.  

Which is why we have to talk about what a piece of shit your camera’s LCD is.  

Your LCD is an untrustworthy gypsy that will sell you down the river.  Don’t listen to a thing she says.  LCDs don’t show you what an exposure really looks like - how can you trust a display that lets you adjust its brightness? If you really want to know if you nailed exposure, you need to look at your histogram.

But histograms are scary!  There’s like graphs, and numbers and MATH!  I don’t need that! 

OMG, shut the fuck up and put on your grown-up pants.

Histograms are stupid too - stupid easy to understand.  (Ha, see what I did there?) Here I made you an awesome drawing to illustrate:


Now let’s talk x and y coordinates, quadratic equations and a little bit about linear algebra.  HA HA, no not really! 

The histogram is just a graph picture that gives you the lay of the land. It’s a map for your photo. Think about it in terms of “bright stuff”, “dark stuff”, and “how much stuff”. The horizontal axis (this is mathy as I’ll get!) tracks how dark and light things are in your photo.  The vertical axis just represents “how much” of that stuff you have.  In the image above, there’s some dark stuff, a bit more “stuff”and a whole lot of bright stuff.  In fact there’s so much bright stuff, the camera can’t even capture it all, that’s why the graph falls off the edge.

We do not give a shit what the shape of the histogram is.  Your histogram could look like a charming rolling hillside or fucking Mordor.  It does not matter.  All that “stuff” is just parts of the photo that aren’t absolute black or white….it can look like anything. We really just care about where the graph starts and stops.  If it’s going up to the edges, you’re “clipping” your blacks or whites…’re leaving pixels on the table, so to speak.  Your camera is not capturing all the data. If you’re clipping, but your graph ends at the bottom of the hill, and not the top, you aren’t clipping much, and you’re probably ok.  If your graph looks starts or ends looking like Mt. Everest, you MAY want to re-evaluate your exposure.

Cameras are stupid. Cameras want everything to be 18% grey. Your camera would probably love for your histogram to look like this:


Your camera has the personality of a breadbox.  We don’t care about the shape of the histogram.  This would be the most boring photo in the world.

One more time, so it sinks in - see how the highlights are clipping in the sad face histos? 


God, I am awesome at drawing.


Remember when I said your LCD and camera are kind of dumb?  Sorry, but your histogram is also a moron.  (God, why did you buy such a shitty camera?)  Because sometimes you WANT to blow out your highlights, like when you are shooting someone on a white backdrop.  


In that scenario, you definitely want your backdrop to go totally white, and you can ensure that by purposefully blowing it out.  There’s a difference between blowing it out and BLOWING IT OUT.  However, your camera’s histogram is not going to differentiate that because  your LCD isn’t 20 inches across.  If you go nuclear on your backdrop, the light will probably bleed into your subject and cause him to go all fuzzy at the edges. But a little purposeful blowing out saves you from going back into Photoshop later and making your background white.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Now take everything you just learned, and realize it goes the same way for blacks.  You can clip your blacks too.  With digital, you can sometimes get your dark details back in post.  With highlights, not so much.  The recovery tool is great, but it’s not always going to save your ass.  Most people who shoot digital worry more about the highlights.  So, REALLY, if this all just too much for you to handle, you really only need to understand that tiny sliver at the right side of your histogram. 


If the graph is up high in this part, you’re clipping a lot of whites.  If there’s no graph at all, you are not clipping whites. (Your photos may be a bit muddy, but that’s a topic for another day.)  


Your camera probably lets you look at a regular old histogram or it has the option of looking at the RGB histogram which shows three histograms.

More graphs! Numbers! Colors!  Math, Math, Math!

It’s the exact same principle, it’s just breaking it down into red, green, and blue channels.  My camera is set up to display all three.  It’s my default view when I chimp, I see a tiny version of the shot, and my histos.  I like information. But if that’s just going to complicate matters too much, just look at the regular histogram. I won’t judge you. We could get really scientific and talk about this some more, but I don’t have colored sharpies, so you jerks are out of luck.

Bottom Line.  Look at your picture. Look at your histogram. Forget the LCD.  Does the histogram make sense for your picture?  Are you losing information you want to keep? If you’re taking a dark moody photo of some exotic goth princess in a bat-infested cave, your histogram will be all big and chunky to the left.  If you are photographing a bride on her white unicorn, your histogram will lean towards the right. But don’t let it clip or you will not be able to see all embroidery on her dress hand sewn by 12 blind nuns.  

Now go submit that shit to Style Me Pretty, because brides on unicorns is totally going to be a trend.

Likewise, if you’re photographing He-Man in front of Castle Greyskull* your histogram will look like a boob.

imageThis is not a histogram, but an awesome postcard @bitter_weddings sent me.  Why aren’t you following her?

*Castle Greyskull is exactly 18% grey and can be used to set your white balance.

**Oh shit, no it’s not. Castle Greyskull is GREEN.

You suck at naming things, Masters of the Universe! Do not use Castle Greyskull to set your white balance.

If you don’t mind insanely long rambling tumblr posts that have photos of Castle Greyskull and boobs, ASK ME A QUESTION about wedding photography or general photography.  

Why You’ll Never Second Shoot for Me

We were just pulling into our studio last week to meet for a client consult and our business phone started ringing.  We thought it might be the bride looking for directions, so Mr. Mockstar picked it up.  It turned out to be one of those calls. The “I want to second shoot for you” call.

He started off with “Hi, I’m an artistic photographer, blah blah blah.”  He lost me from that first sentence.  He’s an artistic photographer?  How contrived is that?  And isn’t that also a bit redundant?  As opposed to what?  A boring photographer?  A uncreative photographer?  A bokeh specialist?  (If you’re shooting for art, the term is “fine art photographer”.)

He then talked our ears off about how he did landscapes and families and “a bit of celebrity work” and how he was available and interested in making a “few bucks” in case we wanted to hire him as a second.  Desperation oozed from every syllable.

I know a lot of newer photographers are anxious to second shoot. I used to want to second shoot.  It’s hard to get those jobs when you’re new, and no established photographers will take you seriously. We told the guy that called to email us a link to his portfolio, but I can tell you right now that email will fall in a black hole never to return.  Perhaps if I explain why it can help a couple people in a similar situation looking for second shooting gigs:

- He clearly didn’t do his research.  We are a two person photography team. Mr. Mockstar and I are both FIRST shooters. Either one of us could comfortably shoot a wedding with an assistant or second, or alone.  We deliver WAY too many files because of this reason. But we like working together (usually.)  We obviously don’t need a second shooter, like, ever. An emergency back-up? Sure.  A third-shooter?  Sometimes.  An assistant?  I would fucking LOVE an assistant. 

If this guy had spent ten minutes on our website, he would have known this and he could have said “Hey, I know you two shoot together, but do you ever need an extra hand?”  (And the answer to that is “possibly”.  We’ve hired 3rd shooters before.)

- He called himself an “artistic photographer”.  This is a total bullshit term to me.  Then he followed up with “I also have done some celebrity work”.  Again, bullshit.  Your celebrity work was probably shooting a band whose tickets you bought, or the celebrity was at an event you attended as a guest.  By those qualifiers, I too am a celebrity shooter.  Whoop-de-freaking-do.  If you were doing legit work with celebrities, you A.)  wouldn’t be living in the midwest and B.) wouldn’t be calling me for second shooting gigs.

The moral of the story is be honest about who you are and where you are on your path.  I would MUCH rather have a wet-behind-the-ears photographer approach me and say “Hey, I have never shot a wedding, and my best friend is getting married in 2 months, and I think I know what I’m doing, but I’d really like to test that out in the real world before I ruin her wedding photos.  Can I tag along to an event?”   That kind of honesty is refreshing.  You’ll make me feel bad if you do in fact ruin your friend’s photos.  If you offer to carry bags and help keep our gear from running off while you shoot a little here and there, then heck yes, you can be a third shooter. 

- Your “jack of all trades” portfolio lacks specialization.  i.e., I know you obviously don’t give a shit about weddings.  Quality wedding studios want second shooters who know how to shoot weddings. Shooting landscapes doesn’t impress me.  Shooting celebrities doesn’t impress me.  These things have fuckall to do with second shooting. I’d rather hear about how you made an awesome portrait in a boring ass conference room with a flashlight and a piece of posterboard.  That tells me something concrete.  Send me that photo and not a gallery of effing waterfalls.  I have no use for a landscape photographer on a dance floor. I have no use for sports shooter when shooting details.

When we need seconds, we hit our local wedding networking groups and hire people we know personally or know well online and have vested by talking to our photo friends.  Good, reputable studios don’t hire strangers who emailed asking for a job. No offense, but we aren’t risking our reputation and weddingwire rating on you. If you’re asking me for a job, I should have heard of you. If you are totally new and don’t know anyone, go to wedding industry mixers and cozy up to the photographers.  There’s no shortage of those mixers. We’re much more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if we’ve met you in person.

There’s a huge difference between a new photographer who is looking to second shoot and a studio hiring a second shooter.  In the first scenario, the second shooter is basically looking for a safe place to PRACTICE.  In the latter, someone is expecting you to PERFORM.

The expectations are TOTALLY different depending on who contacts who first.  Realize that weddings are NOT teaching scenarios.  You should feel pretty confident in your abilities before you approach another photographer to second shoot.  It’s not the main photographer’s job to answer your questions or give you critiques during the event. 

When someone contacts us to ask about second shooting, I almost feel put on the defensive.  You’re asking to second shoot, but what I’m hearing is “Please pay me money so you have the privilege of teaching me what it’s taken you the last six years to learn.”  Likewise, when I’m looking to hire a photographer, I’m trying to find the most experienced person who’s available, and I’m expecting great images. Huge difference in perception there.

If you are truly brand new and have no wedding portfolio at all, this is what I suggest:

- Work your way up to second shooting.  Offer yourself up as an assistant.  (A legit photographer SHOULD pay you for this, but maybe you offer them a free day just in good faith and to get their attention.)

- Offer something useful in trade. Can you help the photographer re-design their blog, or are you a Quickbooks guru, or is there another skill you can help them with? Are you willing to help them on non-wedding stuff?  If you’re legitimately interested in helping someone, they will want to help you.

- Don’t get hung up on second shooting.  If you can’t find someone who will let you second shoot, but you want to be a wedding photographer, go out there and be a wedding photographer.  Note:  I’m not suggesting that anyone just book a wedding without any experience.  I’m assuming you have done your homework and practiced wedding-like scenarios.  Go book some low budget craigslist weddings.  Again, I’m not saying to become a $500 shoot-and-burner, but everyone has to start somewhere.

- If what you are really seeking when you look for second shooting jobs is an education in shooting weddings, then go book that cheap craigslist wedding and hire a second shooter who’s more experienced than you to coach you through the event.  (In this case it IS a teaching event.)  Maybe you only break even on the event, but you’ll have gotten work for your portfolio* and a genuine real-world learning experience.

One last thing - understand and expect that photos you take second shooting are not necessarily yours.  You may not get to use them on your website.  Always have an agreement in writing with the main photographer about your responsibilities and photo usage. Contracts keep everyone on the same page and preserve relationships.

*Do not even think for a second of using your more experienced second shooter’s image in your portfolio.  That’s just bad juju.  Never lie about your experience level or try to make yourself out to be someone you’re not.

I’m sure it was just her web designer…

Looks like J* has bought into the Doug Gordon Method of Content Acquisition.

I honestly don’t even want to embed this video, because I just feel like I’m giving this guy a bullhorn.  A buddy sent me a link to this, and I assumed at first it was about that PASS bullshit and the saga of the 19-cent prints, and I just couldn’t summon the gumption to willingly watch this clown talk about how that was the best idea ever.  

But I was wrong, turns out this video is not about DJ profiting off of your photography, it’s about how criticism is bad.  A kitten dies.  Or something.

1.)  Is he high in this video?  This is a serious question.  His eyes, his demeanor, his belief that he has something valuable to tell photographers - all seem like telling clues to me. I feel like immediately after this, he put on some Pink Floyd and ate an entire bag of Doritos.

2.)  Telling people that criticizing is bad is super convenient when a significant portion of your target market thinks you’re full of crap.

3.)  What’s hurting this industry right now is the LACK of quality criticism. Critiques can be soul destroying, but they make you into a better shooter.  A wiser shooter. The kind of shooter who maybe won’t give your prints away for pennies on the dollar. *cough*

I’ll play your game, DJ.  Here’s something I think you are awesome at:

Appropriating images of Mother Teresa.  Whenever I need to really drive my point home, I now know, thanks to you, that the most effective means of persuasion is to haul out a compelling jpg of Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa means BUSINESS, people.  

See how everything I wrote above seems even MORE earnest and important now?  Shit works.

I know brides can be annoying, but stop killing them.

Recently a bride drowned during a Trash the Dress session. This morning on the Today Show John Michael Cooper was interviewed about Trash the Dress sessions.  Here’s a link to the video if you missed it:
(embed script seems to not play nice with tumblr)

Anyone else find it interesting that they chose not to run Cooper’s arguably most famous TTD photo of a bride on fire?


I’ve always thought TTD sessions in the water (or involving fire) were the height of stupidity.  Anyone who’s spent time shooting wedding gowns has picked up enough to know those things are heavy.  Even 10 inches of water is enough to wick up and cause the dress to get exponentially heavier.  This kind of accident was bound to happen.  I’m kind of surprised it took this long.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not minimizing the tragedy.  This was a horrible event.  But it could have been easily avoided with some common sense.  As evidenced by the end of the video clip, the bride and her family seemed to trust the photographer’s judgement over common sense. 

I am sure a lot of photographers immediately felt bad for the photographer, but I think he deserves the negative press.  It was stupid idea to begin with, but it was even stupider that he went without a full entourage of assistants, and chose a location leading to deeper water. I wonder if this guy has liability insurance.

Also, I can’t help but noting that the group shot they showed from the wedding was complete crap.