Some of you may think it’s a little strange that I’ve chosen to write about a subject that isn’t typically considered a photography subject. If I changed the title to “Exposure Tips for Wedding Photography” some of you who have photographed brides and grooms would probably understand what’s coming immediately.
It’s simple. The wedding dress is white (usually), the grooms attire is black (usually). Which do you expose for? If you expose for the black suit/tux, the dress will probably be overexposed, and if you expose for the dress, the suit will be a black blob with no details. Seasoned digital photographers will already have some idea that you need to expose for the mid-range, as opposed to light or dark spectrum.
How to? If you have a light meter (unlikely for most beginners) you can use that, but most digital cameras have an exposure meter you can put to use.
If you have a specific aperture setting that you like to work with (say F11 or F8), set your camera to the A mode (or whichever mode represents aperture priority on your camera). Focus on the bride’s dress (whitest area) and note the settings that your camera automatically selected for the shutter speed (write it down, or remember it). Then meter the black suit the groom is wearing in the same way. Choose a shutter speed that falls between the two, somewhere close to the middle. Reset your camera to manual using your metered F-stop (F11 or F8 or whatever you used) and set the shutter speed. Take a shot of the couple and check your histogram to make sure the white values are acceptable. Turn on your view screen (what, you shoot with it on? waste of battery unless you absolutely have to check every shot). and zoom in on the bride’s dress and the groom’s attire on the screen. If you can see details in both, you’re ready to go. If not, adjust the shutter speed and try again.
Okay, yes…that takes time and effort. There are some other things you can do. You can use the settings that come on most newer cameras for HDR shots, allowing you to shoot three to five (or more) images with different exposure settings (auto exposure bracketing). The simplest is to set the normal or middle range setting that you would have selected, and then set an exposure for 1.5 to 2 stops under that exposure, and 1.5 to 2 stops above that exposure. These three images can be combined using HDR technology to create a properly exposed photo, but the most flexible option would use 5. (How to Use HDR Settings on Your Camera – and - HDR How-To)
So far, we’ve focused on the dress and tux, and the contrast between the two, but other things to keep in mind when choosing your optimal settings are the skin colour of your subjects – while the attire is important, none of that will matter much if your subjects themselves are over or under exposed. Exposing with middle range will probably give you the most satisfactory results, and will still allow you to adjust the levels and contrasts if you’ve shot in raw.
If you’ve been asked to shoot a wedding and you just aren’t a “wedding photographer” then start practicing. Now. Before the wedding day.
No, you don’t need a wedding dress. Anything white with a little texture (damask table cloth, napkins, white lace) and anything black (a strip of black satin, a strip of black velvet, and a strip of black suiting) are all you need to practice on your own. Practice on sunny days, on overcast days, indoors, outdoors, with natural lighting and with flash. For most of us, practice is the only thing that makes the difference between a successful shot, and a less than satisfactory one. Make it a point to practice a little – every day. Ten minutes is all you need. Before long, you’ll know the best exposures to select for the wedding day shoot – no matter what the conditions.
Traditionally, in Canada and the US the wedding dress is white or ivory, but many of today’s brides are anything but traditional. Add to that the multi-cultural mix that has been brewing over the last ten to twenty years, and if you aren’t prepared you might find yourself unprepared for the wedding day. Today, the wedding dress can be pink, or flowered, feathered or beaded and runs the gamut from startlingly pure white to red or black, or combinations of colour.
The same can be said for the groom’s attire. While Black or dark gray has been the traditional colour, guys are asserting their own style preferences and you may find yourself faced with a groom in a white tux or suit, or in gold brocade (yep…no fooling).
Be sure you avoid an unpleasant surprise – ask your couple in advance about their attire. If the bride is reluctant to say in front of the groom, then talk to them separately, but do take the time to talk about their wedding finery during your meetings.
As always, be prepared for anything and everything, and there won’t be many surprises you can’t handle come the wedding day.
A Special Note to Brides on Budgets – Yes, You Can
Even on a really tight budget you can have a gorgeous wedding dress. Just not a brand new one. Those of you on a budget are likely shuddering at the $5,000 cost of your dress and headpiece. Even a $1,500 dress can be out of reach.
But how about $20? Or $40, $50, $60…maybe $100? Oh, yes. I am serious. Currently in my home there are three wedding dresses (not including my own 34 year old dress) whose total cost (all 3) was $110.00
One dress is decidedly sweet and simple – a 1960s era chiffon and lace – short train (but it has a train), simple styling and at a cost of $20 was perfect for a “trash the dress” shoot. So far, I haven’t been able to bring myself to allow it to be ruined.
The next dress is an off-the-shoulder with removable sleeves – satin, lace, pearls and crystals with a long train, drop-waist styling and a full “I’m a princess” kind of skirt. Simply beautiful on a bride. This one came with a crystal and pearl headpiece, at a grand total of $50.00 (worn once – bought at a garage sale.) Nobody would have guessed this dress (whose original price was over $2,000) was not a first-timer.
The third dress is beautifully simple with ivory tones, embroidered bodice, and full slightly pleated skirt. A lovely peau-de-soie and taffeta with a long embroidered train and clean lines, a few pearls mixed with some of the embroidery (also worn only once). This was purchased (yes, at a garage sale already having been cleaned) for $40. Sorry, no pictures available since it was bought for my daughter’s wedding…which hasn’t happened yet.
A dress we’ve no longer got, but acquired at an auction at Goodwill was a 1950s full lace dress with southern-belle skirt and came in at $60.00, and was accompanied by an antique Juliet-cap (this was fabulous) with attached fully-embroidered cathedral length veil for $80 (bought at an antique shop). The bride was stunning and elegant in this attire and no one guessed that it wasn’t the dress’ first trip down the aisle.
You want more? Look in mom’s closet, or grandma’s closet. Perhaps the dress style isn’t exactly right, or the fit, but a good seamstress can turn that dress into a one-of-a-kind bridal creation designed just for you, and usually at a reasonable cost.
When it comes to the dress, even though you might be limited by your budget, you don’t have to be limited. With creativity you can have a gorgeous dress that makes you feel like princess for a day at a price you can afford.
Red & Gold Wedding Dress: Yessenia @ morgueFile
Red Wedding Dress: Hamper @ morgueFile
Wedding Dress Back with Brown Insert: Hickey Family Foto