I'll warn you now, this post goes on a bit, but it's kind of interesting and there are loads of pictures.
This is a post about my first year as a documentary wedding photographer and a bit about before, where I came from and how I got into photography in the first place, which involves a trip to Iceland and about 3,000 terrible photos.
I'll also explain how I've built my photography business and the things I've learnt along the way, as well as the fundamental rules I've put in place to make sure my business is not only successful but also as enjoyable as possible to run. I'll talk a bit about the gear I use as well as detailing the evolution of the equipment I've had and how and why I have changed it.
My First Camera
Lets start with this image:
This is one of a very few images I took in Iceland that I actually like today, if you ever get he chance to visit this awesome place then do it, it is the very definition of awesome. This was taken with my first camera a Nikon D60 + 18-105mm lens, I had used a DSLR at college before but owning one was a great feeling, using it was another matter.
I bought both the lens and body off eBay using money I had saved from moving back in with my parents, something which at the time seemed like a step backwards in my life, but if I had never done this I would not of been able to afford a camera when I did and the journey would never have begun.
Shortly after getting the camera I thought to myself I needed somewhere to go and take pictures, so with the extra money I had I booked a trip to Iceland, I still have no idea to this day why I chose to go here, a random yet excellent choice, 3 weeks after booking I was on a plane. By myself.
I had never traveled alone or really been away from anyone I know for 6 days, so this trip was both a learning opportunity for the photography and a personal achievement for myself, and I would recommend solo travel to anyone, you can do what you want when you want.
I kept myself busy the whole time with all day coach trips to awesome sights and late night trips to try and see the Northern lights which sadly I didn't see, I learnt so much about the camera in a short amount of time, not least because I took over 3,000 photos, of which the few here are the only ones I don't hate.
I made mistakes and thats how I learnt, I've never had any training in photography or how to use a camera, just a basic understanding of the aspects then lots of trail and error, but I shot in full manual mode, this is a must for first time photographer as without it you don't understand why the camera is doing what its doing and more importantly how to stop it from doing so. But my first time with a camera lead to lots of errors such as;
-Shooting in the wrong white balance almost the entire time. In Jpeg.
-Leaving a circular polariser on the whole time, which not only lost me light and made for some blurry images it also put a nasty vignette on loads of the images.
-Thinking that taking more photos means better photos.
-Not taking a tripod so having to walk for 2 hours to a camera shop to get one.
There were of course loads of other little mistakes here and there, the one I most learnt form was the white balance thing, not only setting it correctly [or leaving on auto as I do 99% of the time] but that shooting in RAW means you can change it afterwards. Mistakes made, lessons learnt.
All in all an awesome trip and a real growing and learning experience, this made my hunger for photography grow ten fold, I wanted to create better images, this lead to buying more gear, the two rarely go hand in hand, but my kit bag grew and changed quite dramatically over a very short period of time.
So moving on from Iceland I had learnt the basics of the camera, and fell in love with taking pictures. I started to take my camera out more and more getting to know it and develop my understanding, it was not long before I bought a new lens, the wonderful 50mm /1.8 and this gave me the images I was trying to make with the kit lens, all that out of focus background was addictive, as was the feeling of owning a new piece of glass.
My gear grew and the cameras changed, my needs develops and my understanding of what makes a good lens also changed, here is a breakdown of the evolution of my gear:
The first camera, learnt so much on this but longed for something more so upgraded..
Sold the D60 and changed up for a much more expensive D300, the high iso and rugged build made me love the camera.
Got this as a backup to the D300, but soon the D300 was causing problems, very bad back focusing, that meant it was to be sold.
Another Nikon D90
This was the new backup to the D90, another one, this was bought with a cracked rear screen, which was fine for me as it was a bargain.
Bought this after reading lots of reviews and blogs about it's awesomeness, got it and haven't looked back, this camera bought extreme low light capabilities to me and gave me a great travel camera.
After the love affair that was the Fuji X100 the XE1 was next on the buying list, I couldn't really arrow the Xpro and didn't really need the OVF, another great addition to the team.
This was an impulse buy, saw one come up on a forum for really cheap, like £300 under the market price, snapped it up and was the proud owner of my first full frame camera. Sold the two D90's to fund this and sank more money into canon glass.
And this is where I'm sat now, the three bottom cameras are my working gear, and suit me down to the ground, the image quality is stunning, having the full frame camera meant I could get super wide lenses, and have much more of that addictive out of focus bokeh!
The lenses of course changed with the times, going from simple kits lenses such as the Nikon 18-105mm up through the awesome prime lenses onto more specialist gear such as the super wides and macro lenses. This journey of gear evolution made me love prime lenses, ever since my first 50mm I loved the super depth of field, small profile and great sharpness, not to mention the cost of a prime verses a fast zoom.
As you may have guessed so far a lot of my buying decisions come down to money, I don't like the idea of getting into loads of debt and for me I don't have to have the latest gear, each decision is thought out and usually involves selling a bit of gear to buy another.
Here is how my gear looks now, its always evolving and I'm never too loyal to one camera brand, as you can see the only reason I switched from nikon to canon was for an awesome deal! In reality brand doesn't matter one bit, find one you like then go take some photos with it, I'll just as soon sell the Fuji's and Canon if I get a better offer!
Bands, Abseils and Landscapes.
Wedding photography was always something that I had an idea to do, it looked to be a very viable way of making a career in photography, it also looked easy, which it does to the beginner, rock up to a wedding take some photos and get paid, easy right?
But I had no experience and no portfolio, so this idea was never really pursued, I kept taking my own shots of stuff I liked and went on more and more trips, I really learnt a lot about making photographs, but there was no sign of a business at this stage.
I managed to get an unpaid job photographing a band, this was great for me, all the experimentation I could want, no pressure, this lead to a few more gigs and really helped me get good at low light photography, and using flash. Now I don't think unpaid work is the demon it is made out to be in the industry, you need to it from time to time, I still do unpaid work, as long as the result is beneficial it it doesn't cost you money then it is worth it. Look at it like this if I do a job for free but book 3 weddings from the contacts I make then that is better or at least the same as spending the money that I would have been paid on advertising, the best advertising you can do is to take photographs.
So at this point the band stuff was going well and I had learnt a bunch of new skills and had a great practice ground to try out new techniques and see just how far I could push my gear, this is what lead to to upgrade cameras and get faster glass, going from the F1.8 to the F1.4, I wanted more light and higher ISO's.
I got a small job from a friend of mine who worked at an adventure centre, there was a charity abseil on at Hereford Cathedral and they wanted a photographer, no money for this either but there was the prospect of print sales, so I gladly took this on, grateful for the opportunity.
The day went well and I got what I wanted out of it, not very many print sales but doing this lead to several things that would not of happened otherwise. I got used to talking to people I didn't know, making conversation and taking photographs of people, which is something I hadn't really done before the band stuff, as well as maintaing my end of an agreement and making photographs which people paid me for, which felt great, I felt like a professional.
Another happening that came out of this was it meant the birth of my first website, I needed a platform to sell the photos on and some way of people seeing them, before this it was all Facebook, so after a quick search I turned up what seems like an interesting site called Zenfolio.
Zenfolio allowed me to build my first proper website and sell pictures without having to do the complex stuff, no coding or any of that, I could create somewhere to show work and to sell my services.
This was where I was at the end of the summer of 2012, I was still working my job at a pizza restaurant, I wasn't really making any money from photography but I had a website and I was learning skills.
I started to do more landscape stuff and work just for myself each time I wen tout I learnt something new, I bought a load of books and read blogs and website to learn new skills, I tried out all sorts off effects and camera tricks, changed up my gear a bit and started to show people more of my work.
The work went down well on Facebook, which was and still is one of my main avenues for getting my work out there, I know people say likes and comments don't mean anything but it is a nice feeling when you get them, a sense of approval that I as a newbie photographer was craving.
I was happy with my photography at this stage, but still wanted to make it into a career, I thought about the weddings again but had no idea how to get started, I bought a few book on the subject and while I was taking photographs on my days off my free time was spent with reading about photographing weddings.
I should also mention that by this point I had learnt to drive, a skill which now allowed me to go and seek out my own places to photograph and without it I would of never had nay chance of being a wedding photographer. Again this was a result of living with my parents and working a job in a pizza restaurant, two things which felt like steps back in my life but they paved the way for everything.
My First Wedding
Well I took a bit longer than I had hoped to get to this point in the post, but here we are, thanks for sticking around.
So by now you have seen me get my gear together, go to Iceland, learn some new skills and just grow as a person a bit, but still there was no business to speak of in regards to the photography, I really wanted to get into weddings by this point and my opportunity was around the corner.
I was with the band I was photographing a bit at this time, one afternoon after shooting some photos for them we were just discussing my photography, the subject of weddings came up and I had said how I had wanted to get into this as a potential business, the drummer of the band mentioned her cousin was getting married at the weekend and if I would be interested in coming along to do some photography, no pay of course but a great chance for me to make some images.
This wasn't the most planned out of weddings, in fact I only knew where it was 2 hours before the ceremony and only when I go there did I realise it was a civil partnership, this made me think straight away, ask questions about the wedding, otherwise I could very easily cause offence.
So I got there with no real idea what to do, I knew there was a family member doing all the posed shots so I didn't have to worry about that which was great. I spent most of the time getting candid shots and learning on the job, now i understand that someones wedding should not be a practice ground, I did forewarn the couple that I had no experience and they were happy for me to get some images as they wouldn't be paying for it either way. My main goal was to not get in the way and make it so they would be glad I came, if not from the images then from my politeness and ability to remain discreet while I worked.
That image above is one of my favourites from the day, I shot a lot of images and a lot of them were terrible, my main problem was low light and focusing, the gear I was using wasn't really any help, and it was highlighted so much at this wedding, here is what I used:
This is the one with the terrible back focusing, it was ok with the 17-70mm lens but no chance of getting the proper focus with the 50mm, so a lot of these are manual focus, I also didn't crank the ISO up that much as I was worried about grainy images, such things really don't bother me now.
Sigma 17-70mm lens
This lens was a real beauty, it was ok at focusing on the broken D300 so that was good, and it was F2.8 on the wide end, it really struggled at 70mm in the low light, but all round a fine lens to use.
Nikon 50mm F1.4
Awesome in the low light but I couldn't auto focus with it, so most of the shots with this were either missed or done manually, which also lead to a lot of missed shots. A good lens for the day, but super hard to get sharp focus.
Nikon AIS 135mm F2.8
My fast telephoto prime for the day, I still own this lens today as it is awesome, but with lack of autofocus it was a pain to use and get the right focus, I was glad I did have it mind as without it I was getting all very wide shots.
That was it for gear, a few memory cards and two batteries for the D300, no flashgun, no backup camera, no backup lenses. It was a really hard setup to use and only having one body meant a lot of time was wasted with changing lenses, this whole day taught me so much a book or website could not.
So this whole day was one massive learning experience, I did get some images tho, which was the start of my portfolio, I was happy with the work I made, but I didn't make any where near enough good photos for a full wedding.
I had some ideas of what I would do differently next time and the changes needed to make to my setup and my shooting style:
A second body: This is when I bought the D90, this was a great camera with the same sensor as the D300 but a bit lighter and of course no broken autofocus!
A better standard lens: I sold the 17-70mm and found a Sigma 18-50 F2.8 for a good price, the constant bight aperture was what I wanted.
Don't fear the guests: The first wedding I was very nervous, almost afraid to take someones picture, at the next wedding I would have to confirm to myself that I'm the photographer and I need to take images of people, thats my job.
Better planning: Get as many details about the day as I could, plan it out and work out the shots i wanted in my head.
My second wedding
So I had done my first wedding, now onto the second. This happened a few weeks later when a friend of a friends mother [of something like that] needed a photographer for their wedding in two days, I was up. This time I managed to get a bit of money for the photography, only £100 but it was better than nothing so I took it.
This next wedding was very rushed as well and as such I had little time to plan, at least this time I knew the locations and a bit about the couple and the order of the day, so that was a start, I headed over to the brides house the get the bridal preparation shots and the day went on from there.
Here's the gear I used:
Nikon D300 [Still broken]
Nikon D90 [Brand new]
Nikon AIS 135mm 2.8 lens
Sigma 18-50mm 2.8 lens
Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens
Now I had a second body to back me up and a faster main lens, the plan for the broken D300 was to only use the 135mm on it, as this lens doesn't have autofocus this wouldn't be a problem, then swap the 50mm and 18-50mm on the D90. I was starting to plan how I was shooting much more at this wedding.
I was still however really nervous, but once I got shooting I felt so much better, I felt much more confident with this equipment and the experience I had from the previous wedding.
This wedding went much better than the first, I had a lot more usable images from the day and felt just better in the service I had delivered, I ended up giving this couple an album made up of the images I took and a CD of them as well, they were happy with the result as was I. The album I gave them actually arrived with a defect, a small blemish on the front, I still took it round to the couple to show them what I had done, they didn't mind the mark and I got a repent for free. I had my first portfolio.
I knew from doing this that I had found a possible way of making money from my photography, I also realised I needed to do much more and make lots of changes to my gear and my website to start to get clients in, I was still looking for inspiration and advice in magazines, then thats when I read about a man named Kevin Mullins...
-This post continues over in Pt 2. Thanks for sticking around-