Throwback Thursday: shooting my little sister's wedding

Here's a post I wrote in June 2012 about what I learned from doing something I never thought I'd do: photographing a wedding. My little sister's wedding, to be exact.

bride & maid of honor

What I Learned: Shooting My Little Sister’s Wedding

When I started out as a photographer, I didn’t know much. But there was one thing I did know, I never wanted to shoot a wedding. Having seen people turn into the worst versions of themselves around weddings and understanding the complexities the day entails, it was something that I set out to avoid at all costs. Until my sister called.

She explained her situation: she personally knew several photographers around Charleston and asked them to photograph her special day. All of them told her they would rather be a guest to her wedding instead of the photographer and they never mix business and pleasure. Yes, she understood that I was also the Maid of Honor and it might be tight, but she could find someone she didn’t know to shoot the ceremony and the toasts if I would be willing to shoot the rest.

How can you say no? I didn’t. 

For the month leading up to the wedding, I diligently researched wedding photography with some great results. My go-to resource for photography is creativeLive and started there. Finding videos from Bambi Cantrell, Zack & Jody Grey and Jasmine Star started me on my way of knowing the ins & outs of how and what to shoot. The thoroughness of these sessions gave me the confidence and understanding of how to photograph the story of her big day (it also reinforced my initial decisions of not wanting to shoot weddings for a living - it’s just not my thing.) Other resources included Kelby Training videos from David Ziser and Jerry Ghionis about subtle lighting and posing in wedding photography.

Armed and dangerous, I loaded up my car with lenses, lights, and umbrellas and made the road trip to South Carolina a week early to begin the adventure. My strategy was as follows: since I know the bride and groom more than most photographers (and I’m staying with them), I have access to the couple all week. My goal was to take my time, and photograph a little each day in order to get all the details, which freed me up on the wedding day to do my official duties and photograph the pre-and post-wedding.

walking together

This strategy worked really well - each day, I focused on different accessories and decorations in detail, slowly and methodically. This gave me the opportunity to review the photos each evening and the opportunity to reshoot something if necessary (which I only had to do once!) Since my sister didn’t know what she wanted or what wedding photography entailed, I looked like a superstar each evening when I showed her my finished photos from the day.

By the time the day before the wedding came, I had successfully shot everything I could and had time for a relaxing afternoon to help out the gracious couple and regroup about the big day ahead. This entailed a shot list for the wedding party, wedding preparations and bridal party scenarios.

And here it was, the big day. So many levels of nerves pumped through my veins: my little sister getting married, being a Maid of Honor for the first time (and the speech!), and shooting a huge day for the most special client imaginable. I ditched my usual decaf for a half-caff latte and began the journey.

Looking back, the most difficult part of the day was making sure I had everything I needed for the day: dress, accessories, makeup, camera, batteries, flashes, etc. But at the time, acting like I knew what I was doing was essential to my sister’s and my own mental health.

The day was going off without a hitch and my shots were exactly what I imagined: capturing each of the special moments as they unfolded. The photographer for the ceremony showed up and we began the obligatory poses. My sister made a joke about how she needed to remember how I had her pose for her bridal shots a few days earlier (thank you, Bambi Cantrell!) To which the photographer replied “did you just look that up on the internet?” I paused and said nothing, but was reminded of friends who told me about how territorial and catty some wedding photographers can be. I let it go and thought about how much my sister LOVED the photos I had taken so far.

with this ring, I thee wed...

The ceremony was beautiful, but I couldn’t resist using my iPhone to take photos of the wedding from the MoH perspective. Using Hipstamatic, I photographed some lovely shots of the happy couple at close range. A few folks snickered, but I was so enthralled in capturing the moment that I didn’t even care.

Then the part I dreaded, the low light reception. Ugh. I didn’t the best I could with an off-camera SB-900 which wasn’t half bad. As I crouched down to take a shot, I noticed  a gentleman walking toward me with a full camera setup - flash brackets and all. As I stood to greet him, he explains how I really need a set up like his and how it would make it easier to shoot with an off-camera flash. At this point, I was exhausted and said some things I shouldn’t have. But I was now upset that two photographers were rude and insulting, instead of supportive and encouraging. 

The rest of the night went well and about 50% of my shots came out good enough to show my sister. Not the percentage I was going for, but not bad for the first time really shooting in low light.

While my sister was on her honeymoon, I set up a nice gallery for her on PASS (a suggestion from Jasmine Star) to allow her to see and show all the photos from her big day. When she arrived home, a link was in her email box and shortly received a call from her on the verge of tears. “They are beautiful. I had no idea you were THIS good!”

Mission accomplished.

Mr. & Mrs.

Mr. & Mrs.

Preparation and research really won the day on this one. Having gone to reputable online resources to find out what the trends were and how to shoot them was the most invaluable thing I could have done. Sure it took more time than I had, but hands down, it was worth it. Hope this serves as an inspiration to all of you who get asked to shoot something out of your comfort zone. 

Photos were shot with a Nikon D7000, Sigma 18-250mm, Tamron 90mm, and iPhone 4 with Hipstamatic.

happily ever after 

happily ever after 

p.s. - photographer #1 emailed my sister to explain that some of the really cute photos she took of the bridesmaids didn’t come out because she hadn’t changed her settings in camera. 

p.s.s. - photographer #2 sent my sister some of his photos - most of which are too dark, have a big exit sign over her head, and no retouching at all.