by Michael C. Lam
Let me start by saying that I am not a Wedding Photographer, and I would welcome and encourage any of the wedding photographers out there in Guyana to volunteer to write a follow-up article to clear up any misconceptions or erroneous assumptions that I may make.
What I want to convey is a (hopefully) short list of things that anyone undertaking to shoot a wedding in Guyana should take into consideration. This is not a complete list, and probably misses lots of things that I haven’t encountered in my few weddings. Also you should know that some of these things I am guilty of not having done (or have done), it is how we learn, and how we can help others.
I don’t mean everything about them, but it’s probably a good idea to meet with them, to discuss in general terms, what they like or dislike, what types of photos they want, whether throwing in a few whimsical ones or dramatic ones will work for them, and it can’t hurt to do a pre-wedding photo-shoot either, I’d say make it part of some of your Wedding Packages, since it gives you an idea of how they will react to the camera and to your directions, so when the big day comes there’ll be less surprises.
Type of Photography
Unlike many international photographers, few local wedding photographers have a portfolio that conveys the range and style of their work, so unless the client knows your work well and is hiring you specifically for your style, it is probably a good idea to also discuss with them what types of photos they are looking for. My family grew up under the limitations of the capacity of a roll of film, so at my own wedding there was a list of the required photos, and the rest was up to the photographer (and all in two rolls of film). While a list might be constrictive, it helps to guide the photographer to what the couple wants.
Each photographer develops a certain style after a while, so if what the couple wants is outside of that style or contradicts it, that‘s a decision for the photographer to make, whether to adapt to the situation or walk away from the job.
In this digital age, it is conceivable that the bride (especially the bride, less so the groom) has seen photos online that she thinks she would like her wedding photos to resemble. Don’t look at this as a bad thing, work with them, don’t promise her that it will look like it, but tell her that you will work toward a similar vision but with your style and her beautiful presence. Having a set of photos that she likes will also give you a starting point for the overall shoot, you don’t have to come up with the sets all by yourself.
Of course, don’t let this limit what you shoot, express your own style and view of the wedding in addition to what they want, it is time that local photographers be noted for their individual styles as well as for their ability to capture the standard wedding shots.
Remember that the bride and groom are the only important people on the wedding day, you are a photographer, you are there to capture their important day for them, so don’t be punctual, be early! Being at the location(s) early let’s you get a feel for the layout of the place, as well as an opportunity to get some atmospheric shots, or detail photos of arrangements etc. before the ceremonies/festivities/chaos begins.
It’s ridiculous that someone has to tell you how to dress, but it seems some people can be clueless about these things. This is Guyana… so weddings differ from locale to locale, from one religion to another, from one income bracket to another, and so does the general attire of the guests. You should be able to blend in, to be unobtrusive, so consider the wedding and dress accordingly. Do NOT show up in a jeans and t-shirt! Wear something that makes you a bit inconspicuous, and not a pink shirt that will make you stand out like a sore thumb. Try for neutral colours. (I’ve had bad experiences at two weddings with men in pink shirts and their cameras, it will be too soon if I ever encounter another one)
Whether its a Justice of the Peace, a Pandit, a priest, a minister, an Imam, or any other person that officiates the ceremony, it is always a good idea to have a chat with them before the ceremony. Sometimes there is a rehearsal that helps to guide the process, you should be at it if there is one. If there isn’t one, just find the officiating minister before the ceremony begins and have a chat. There are some that have strict rules of where the photographer/videographer should or should not be, and where they are allowed to be; if it is in a place of worship, some portions are considered sacred and that should be respected. (Also, if there is a videographer, work along with them so you don’t end up in each other’s shots/footage all the time)
Working with the official ensures that you abide by his/her rules and should you ever need to photograph another wedding that they officiate you will probably be treated respectfully (if they remember you, which is why you should go chat with them… every time)
Wikipedia describes this as “a colloquial term used in digital photography to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture.”
This one is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to photographers who shoot events (especially weddings) where there is never a “redo”, if you miss the moment, it is gone, forever!
You should know your gear, it should be an extension of your own body by the time you are shooting events. Checking back photos at a time when there is a lull in the proceedings is fine (while the priest or pandit talks, during speeches, etc), but never during the critical moments. I’ve seen too many photographers miss the “kiss” or “the exchange of rings” or the moment the official “blesses the couple”, simply because they were “chimping”
Stop it! Did you just get your camera out of the box? Was every shot so miraculous that you couldn’t help looking at it the very next second? Turn off the camera review and just shoot the wedding.
Speaking of your gear, I won’t try to tell you that you absolutely NEED the latest full-frame camera with the absolute sharpest prime lens to get those perfect captures, I also won’t tell you what camera or lens you should be shooting with, that’s your headache, you’re a wedding photographer! What I will say is this; no matter how often you think you’ve done the “routine”, there’s always that time when you’ll forget something… so make a checklist.
Clean your lens (or at least dust it off), unless of course, dust spots on the images are part of your style.
Reset your camera settings, I know I make the mistake every once in a while of not resetting the camera, then the next thing I know I shoot something and wonder why the shutter speed was so slow (silly me, I was trying light trails last evening wasn’t I?). Just reset it or set it to how you want to start the wedding shoot.
Using a Flash? Reset that too, and make sure you charge your flash batteries (or pop down to the closest “shop” and grab a dozen AA batteries)
Uncle Bob, Cousin Indira and Calvin from the office
If you have taken, attended or been the photographer at ANY event recently (especially Weddings), then you came across Uncle Bob, Cousin Indira and Calvin from the office. You know the ones? Those family or friends who happen to own a camera (whether DSLR, mirrorless or point-and-shoot) or have a phone, tablet, game console, or a portable heart-rate monitor that also happens to have a camera built into it, and they ALL want to get up and take photos, and will invariably get into the way of the paid photographer.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t normally shoot weddings, but I had decided that there’s only two ways to deal with this phenomenon (undoubtedly there are other ways which I’m sure would work admirably and should you wish to share those methods with other photographers I am sure they would love to hear of it).
First thing, discuss this with the couple, let them know that it is their responsibility not yours, you cannot tell people to sit down or get out of the way, the couple needs to decide if this is something they want to do; telling your friends and family that they can’t take their own photos is possibly a way of starting a family feud, I don’t know… But, the couple needs to decide before hand if they want to try and limit the possibility of it happening or let you, the photographer, figure a way around it.
And here is why the couple needs to do it; they are hiring you to capture their special day in photographs, do they want a high percentage of those photos to include part or the whole of Uncle Bob and his massive DSLR? Do they want you to jostle with invitees just to get the shot? Do they want you to not bother the guests, but try your best to get the shots anyway? You need to inform the couple up front that if cousin Indira sticks her iDevice up in the air and obscures the entire scene from you, you cannot be responsible for it.
The weddings I have photographed have been at the request of the couple, with their permission, and although in some cases I was asked to be the primary photographer, I declined that and offered to “second shoot” (or be the secondary photographer). If they had declined that offer, then I would be a guest (without my camera). For at least two of those recent weddings (my youngest siblings got married a year apart), I was in a position to speak with the priest/MC and request that they announce to the invitees a message along the following lines:
The Bride and groom have asked and hired a photographer for today’s ceremony, it is their wish that they have these photographs to remember this special day. We understand that many of you have devices with cameras built in and are anxious to capture these special moments yourselves, but we ask you to restrain yourselves, and if you must take that photo, please do so from where you are sitting.
This type of message was done before the ceremony, before the sticking of the cake and before the first dance. (Understandably, this was for a Christian wedding, I’m sure something similar can be done at other weddings, whether of a religious nature or not)
Most Wedding photographers in Guyana shoot alone, that’s fine. One person, one set of photos, no one else to worry about. If you do decide to have a second shooter, make sure you co-ordinate before-hand what the responsibility of each is, it is quite unnecessary to have both of you stand in the same spot and shoot the same things.
If you decide to have three people recording the event, it gets more complicated, more tricky to keep one another out of the frame. The more “official” photographers there are, the more likely they are to be in each other’s shots. If you decide to have one primary photographer and three or more other photographers, good luck, you’ll need it!
Having a secondary photographer has it’s advantages, you can cover a situation from two angles, you can have the primary concentrate on the proceedings while the secondary photographer takes photographs of the guests, the kids running around, the decor, the barman serving drinks, the little boy trying to get a very close look at the cake… all the things that the primary photographer cannot see whilst shooting the main proceedings.
Taking turns at primary duties can also allow each photographer to widen the scope of the photographs captured and allow for some artistic expression along the way (of course, by using the time wisely, one photographer can do the same, but he can’t be in two places at once)
When taking group photos there’s two main rules (and I won’t bother with how you arrange them or whatnot, that’s your headache):
1. Identify the Primary Photographer for the Group Session, if not you’ll have everyone looking in different directions, and even though the bride may look at you, and the groom to a photographer inches away from you, you’ll see it in the photograph, they are not looking at the same spot… this really messes with group photos.
So, it doesn’t matter if you have to identify the photog to each group, tie a red balloon to his shirt collar so it floats over his head, have him wear a hat saying “Photographer #1”, make sure he’s the only person in the room with a Courts Yellow Tie, just make sure that the group knows which photographer to look at, everyone else is irrelevant.
2. Line of sight. Maybe not everyone realizes it (or many know it and try to hide behind Uncle Charley), but the camera does not see around corners. I tell the groups one thing “If you can’t see the camera, the camera can’t see you!”
Your job, is to let them know this, the arrangement of people etc., comes with the territory (unless you’re like me and just tell everyone to “fit in”, but don’t do it my way, you’ll probably never het hired again). Do it right and maybe when they are celebrating their 10th and 25th Anniversaries, you’ll be their first choice as a photographer, or in this modern era, when she ditches this husband, the bride will remember you when she’s prepared to marry husband number two.
Eating and Drinking
You are not there as a guest, try to remember that! You are on the job. Do not invite yourself to eat and drink along with the guests. This is Guyana, most times the family of the bride and/or groom will come up to you and insist, absolutely insist, that you eat something; and, like I said, it’s Guyana, you can’t refuse really… so I suggest you politely tell them either (a) you brought your snack so as not to be a burden or (b) that when things are a little more settled you will partake of their generosity. (or a combination of both excuses, because even though you did bring a snack, Granny will insist you are skinny as a rake and can’t take photos if you only had a snack, you’ll fall down!)
I was serious about the snack! You really shouldn’t be spending time over a plate-full of food (or the Leaf at a Hindu wedding), not only because you weren’t invited, but because while you are stuffing your face, you are missing a shot, it is pretty much guaranteed that something interesting is happening while you are not looking (just like when you were chimping!) Walk with some granola bars or sandwiches that you can easily get to, munch on, get recharged, while still keeping an eye on the proceedings.
And leave that beer alone! If the bride wanted angled, out-of-focus, badly composed photos, then she’d let Calvin from the office go wild with his point-and-shoot and not bother to have hired you. Drink water to keep hydrated (and stay sober)
If you’ve never photographed a wedding before, what possessed you to think you can do it and get paid without having some experience? OK, fine, some of you may be able to pull it off, but do you really want to take that chance?
Here’s my suggestion, offer to shoot as a secondary photographer (preferably without pay, as you’ll be learning on the job here, but if the photographer offers to give you some money for your time, don’t refuse), and do this for a few weddings / events. By being the secondary shooter the pressure is not on you and you can take the time to compose properly, get your settings right, watch the primary photographer at work (pay attention, he does this for a living!) and learn the ropes.
When things go wrong…
…and they will, just don’t panic. If you are flustered and the bride and groom see it, they will get nervous and flustered and worried. Stay calm, think it through and come up with alternatives. Keep smiling, keep the bride smiling too, because you want more than anything to get good photographs of her (or boy are you in trouble!)
If you had an outdoor shoot planned after the ceremony and before the reception and the heavens open and lets down several tons of water, either abandon it or rethink it; go back into the church for some private shots while everyone assembles at the hall; leave your vehicle behind (come back for it in a taxi if necessary) and ride along with the couple to get some shots, take a pass at a fast-food “drive-thru” for the novelty of it, if the reception is at a hotel or somewhere that has some space, ask for a little corner or room to do some portrait work with the couple while the reception is being readied.
If the bride’s heel gives away, quickly tell the maid-of-honour to get another pair, make it a fashion statement in the photos, or get some nice candid shots of the shoes being changed… they’ll laugh at it in a few years.
You should have back-ups for your gear, but this is Guyana, and most of us don’t, so if something stops working, you’d better be innovative and use what you have! Or ask to borrow Uncle Bob’s DSLR
In the end…
… just make sure that you get to execute a good job and that the couple are happy with the results of your labour.
Take what you do seriously, but relax and have some fun doing it. If you are relaxed then those in front of the camera will likely be a bit more relaxed as well.
Would I ever take on Wedding Photography as a primary shooter? I don’t know, but I do know I’ve learnt a lot as a secondary shooter, and would take these experiences with me into anything I plan to shoot.
Clicking on all photos (except one) will carry you to the respective galleries on TheMichaelLamCollection.com site.
All Images (with the exception of Nikhil Ramkarran’s image used below for the profile photo) are copyright to Michael C. Lam and TheMichaelLamCollection.com
Michael C. Lam is a Computer Graphic Artist by profession, and still sees himself as a PhotoHobbyist even after being featured alongside fellow photographer Nikhil Ramkarran at the National Art Gallery (Castellani House). He was the Chief Judge at the recently concluded Capture Guyana Photography Competition. His photos can be seen at his website www.TheMichaelLamCollection.com, although he publishes more to his blog blog.TheMichaelLamCollection.com and he can be followed on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheMichaelLamCollection