On Friday I shot my last commercial wedding. Driving home it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I realised just how stressful the whole thing was. To full time Wedding Photographers, you have my unqualified respect. To anyone who is considering doing this as a job, all I can say is that this is the hardest photographic work I have ever done, the most concentrated and the most nerve wracking.
Firstly its hard physically. You are on your feet for the majority of the time. This can be 6 hours +.
You're carrying a fair amount of equipment, which even if you don't use it, is hanging round your neck.
Secondly - its the responsibility of it all. There's no second chance. You are recording a piece of unrepeatable social history. This is one of the most important days of many peoples lives and you have one go at it. You can't mess up, you can't be ill. I've done these on various forms of medication, with a bad back, with chronic stomach ache. My co-photographer B did one a few days after a bout of swine flu!
I would have a knot in my stomach for days before each wedding, the morning of which I would emerge from the duvet with a swarm of wildebeest running around in there. Butterflies is far too mild! Once there I was able to kick in to "pro mode" and appear "in charge" and full of confidence and unflappability. Not quite what was going on inside.
You may conclude from this that I probably wasn't cut out to be a wedding photographer, and you're probably right. However it does have its rewards. It's almost the ultimate social documentary photography. You are recording a historic event, the joining of two families which will have implications for generations to come. You could be photographing the parents of the first astronaut to land on Mars, a future Olympic gold medallist, the scientist who found a cure for cancer. The destiny of these two families will never be the same.
Weddings are also celebrations and you are a part of that. People are for the most part happy and also in these suspicious times, happy to be photographed.
For this final wedding as a team the two of us got a bit carried away. 2700 + images between us! Part of the reason for this was the bride and groom. Certainly the nicest couple I think we have photographed and a good end to our photographic journey. It was also a nice place to work. The whole place, a hotel, had room for us to move freely. There was a friendly relaxed registrar who didn't impose draconian conditions on us and the people there were relaxed and uninhibited which helped us get some great shots. It was also the first time that I was working together with another photographer. B is usually in charge of the video, but as this was a stills only wedding for us, he had his first opportunity to work as a full-time photographer instead of grabbing the odd snap from behind his GH1. I could almost be tempted to carry on doing photography only together, as it worked so well, but I feel that my aching back and nervous system will persuade me to remain as a "retired" wedding photographer.
In terms of the practicalities I used a Canon 7D. Part of the reason for so many pictures is the speed of this thing. Just touching the shutter button results in a burst of 3 or 4 shots. Handy to avoid closed eyes but a bit disconcerting to someone used to more sedate behaviour from his cameras. I only used two lenses. Both primes. A 28mm f/1.8 which I used for the vast majority of pictures and an 85mm f/1.8. I also used my Leica X1 for shots when quietness was required. B used the Canon 550D with 50mm f/1.8 mostly and his GH1 fitted with either the 20mm f/1.7 pancake or the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 MF lens which I had for so long but now resides elsewhere. See /soundimageplus/2010/09/panasonic-gh2-blurring-of-boundaries.html
So its been an interesting 18 months that I've been doing this. The wedding work has been a small part of what I (we) do, and to a certain extent it was an experiment to see how we would react to it. I think that we can say that we have a done a good job and I'm certainly very proud of the photographs and video that we have shot. Whether B will carry on I don't know. Another member of the family has been with us on previous occasions and the two of them might wish to carry on, but certainly I'm calling it a day. Its too hard on both my body and my nerves and in terms of financial reward has not been very successful.
Photographing a wedding is one of those things all serious photographers should do, as its something that we are all linked with in the eyes of everyone else. Almost every time I tell people I'm a photogapher, the first question back is "Do you do weddings?" so its something we are permanently associated with. If it does nothing else, it will demonstrate the level of skill and professionalism that the vast majority of wedding photographers bring to their craft. Next time you hear people complaining that they charge too much or that they are just "hacks" imagine yourself in their position, with the responsibility of recording "THE Day" for posterity.
From one who has been there, albeit briefly, I certainly applaud the efforts of these often underestimated members of the photographic profession.