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.
SO HOW WAS THE WORK?
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!