This was my first wedding experience and to say that I was nervous is to understate the situation – a lot! Still, a friend of mine who was familiar with my sports work asked if I would give it a shot (pun intended), so I thought, why not? What could go wrong? It’s only someone’s lifelong memories of one of the most important days of their lives! Giddy up.
Say what you will about weddings though, there are very few gigs around that will allow you to drink on the job, party with beautiful people and not have to know a single dance move. I realise this in hindsight of course.
We all have a certain style that sets us apart from other photographers, although I’m still finding mine, there is a wide gap between sport and weddings. So, with that in mind, I wanted to come up with something that would look and feel airy, as wedding photos should, but also have a unique aesthetic that would set them apart a little.
So I decided on a technique known as Hybrid Photography. I’ve only ever played with this for my own private work, but maybe now was a good time to give it a go commercially.
Hybrid, strictly speaking is when you use both a film and digital camera and edit the digital images to match the film type of your choice. In my case, I chose Fuji 400, 160 and Ilford Delta 3200 high speed B&W film for the indoor shots. I didn’t actually take my film camera, the film too expensive, processing and scanning the negatives too time consuming. But what I wanted was the look and so that is what I went for using digital instead.
This is a very challenging workflow that I’ve set up for myself, but it’s quite rewarding and fun. In particular, the reception turned out to be my favourite part of the wedding to photograph.
What I liked about it was that I didn’t have to run around from location to location, constantly selecting different lenses, settings and lugging gear around and best of all, by this time the bridal party and guests were familiar with me. They were well buzzed on alcohol or just happiness and allowed me to shoot candids without interruption or reservation.
These images displayed genuine joy and excitement which is rare in portraits of any genre.
I decided on using a Canon 5D3 body and the cheapest lens on the market – a nifty fifty 50mm f1.8 lens. I wound up the ISO to 6500, chose a slow shutter setting (around 1/60th) and opened the aperture all the way to 1.8 to get some great background blurring. No flash, and manual focus because there just wasn’t enough light to lock focus quickly enough – plus that lens is sloooooow to focus anyway. I really wanted to emulate a vintage film camera as closely as possible.
In my mind, the obvious film to emulate was Ilfords Delta 3200 B&W stock. It’s an amazing high speed film perfect for capturing images in very low light. It gives a big, pronounced film grain which I love, although it can be reduced by shooting medium format, using a flash or using developer that tidies the grain up a bit. But I love it, so I wanted the organic, 35mm natural grain look the film has when processed and shot normally. And the grainy B&W really makes the out of focus highlights sparkle with energy!
If I owned a higher quality 50mm lens, perhaps I would have preferred to use that, but I think in this case, the cheap one worked fine.
For this situation, the light was mostly even so I set my camera to 1/60th, f1.8 and ISO 6400 and just shot without changing anything. More critically perhaps, is the viewfinder. Focusing in 6400 lighting conditions is the most challenging part of the equation. I’d say that focus is the number one problem with these photos. Maybe you’re looking at my photos and thinking the same thing! The majority of the images that I throw out are either the wrong moment or I completely missed the focus. A bright viewfinder and accurate focus mechanism will not correct every focusing error but it’s a necessary start. However in this case I had to manually focus because lets face it, the nifty fifty isn’t exactly a high tech, high performance lens.
In terms of actually getting shots, I immersed myself in the throng of guests on the dancefloor. I keep an eye on people who were having an awesome time and were hovering in an area where they had some light on them.
It sounds dumb but you really have to be careful not to back up into people or bump into them while they’re dancing or walking. It makes you look unprofessional and it’ll ruin your shots by startling you when you’re concentrating. So I do not keep my eye glued to the viewfinder. It’s also good for people to see your face and vice versa, to maintain that social connection. I never told anyone to look at me and smile, they just do it on their own. And that doesn’t come without work.
I exposed for the middle tones, faces really and set the camera to over expose a little. The rest was a bit random and I relied on a luck a little. Shooting in very low light is tricky and you just need to experiment.
Then you take the shot, I wait for the height of emotion, maybe a mouth wide open or a glass held up high. Rapid fire for several versions and pick the best in post. Personally, I always shoot for the moment first, focus, exposure is always secondary to that. If I miss focus or there’s a little camera shake, sometimes this works. These little imperfections really express the film and vintage look I’m trying to go for.
I hope you like them and please comment below and tell me if you love or hate them!
Dave shoots for Speed Media Image Agency, a professional photo agency providing coverage of all sports, events and photojournalism. We photograph for international, national and local media agents, including Getty Images, Icon Sportswire, AP, News Corp, The Times, ESPN and CNN. We have a team of commercial photographers ready to shoot for sport teams and sponsors.