Complete Newbie, Straight From Airport to French Wedding - Advice Needed

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by chezmojo, Aug 11, 2008.

  1. I'm an amateur/hobbyist and have only really dove into the technical (and costly) aspects of photography in the
    last year or so. I am flying to France in a month to attend my girlfriend's cousin's wedding and we're basically
    walking off the plane and heading straight to the wedding. Knowing that my girlfriend and I enjoy photography,
    the bride asked if we wanted to take pictures at her wedding. No money is exchanging hands and I've stressed my
    inexperience, but they think it would be mutually beneficial for me to get the experience (and the fun!) and for
    them to potentially get a few good pictures of the wedding--they have not hired a real photographer instead
    hoping that people at the wedding will suffice. She has, however, invited me to take photos before the wedding
    where I will presumably be the only person with a camera.

    I'm taking this as seriously as I know how to and have been reading up on portrait photography (right now Bryan
    F. Peterson's book), these forums, Planet Niel, etc. Here is what I own; Nikon D300, 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, 50mm
    f/1.8, SB-900 flash, flimsy ultra-portable tripod, and two 8GB CF Cards. I chose to invest what money I had in my
    NAS budget in the flash because I figured I would need lots of practice with it before hand. This plus plane
    tickets leaves me on a very tight budget--I can probably squeak out $200 at most on camera stuff before we leave.

    Given the circumstances (i.e., not being able to see the place beforehand, not knowing where/when I can use a
    flash, having no experience, etc.) I would appreciate advice on what I can best do to prepare and if there are
    any lenses that would really make a difference, for example a 17-55mm f/2.8 DX for low-light or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR
    (the 18-200 doesn't treat me well in low light on the long end). That said, I'm pretty sure they're not going to
    care if there is high-ISO noise, vignetting, or other small technical flaws--they will care far more about
    well-framed, well-exposed, well-timed, etc. pictures. I would really prefer not to risk rental equipment and
    would rather put the money into a diffuser, memory card--something I get to keep that will benefit me in the long
    run. I am double-checking on this, but I believe that there will be indoor and outdoor aspects to the wedding.
    French weddings often include a parade through the town and a ceremony in a really old church.

    Are there any books, exercises, websites I should take a look at? Any suggestions for places around Boston that
    might be good for practice? General advice? Oh, and I should add that I do not speak enough French to communicate
    anything complex so for posing/group photos, etc. my communication will be limited to my girlfriend's patience
    and willingness to spend part of her cousin's wedding translating for me. Is limited communication inhibitory to
    decent wedding pictures? I've already had people express their dislike of the SB-900's ability to temporarily
    blind them even when bouncing off the ceiling--is there a diffuser that might help me be less annoying indoors?

  2. Congratulations on your first (ahem 'gang') initiation into wedding photography! I'm sure regardless of how 'serious' the bride is about the photos, you are feeling the stress :)

    But, rest assured, the D300 is an Excellent camera, and you already have the 50 1.8, which is just fine for most portraiture photography in low light. Even the 18-200 would be fine for outdoor photography and group shots.

    Your biggest concern (of course) is the indoor work. Both the 17-55 and the 70-200 would be excellent investments, but their usefulness and practicality depends on your shooting style and budget. Personally, I think the 17-55 would be the more useful lens (and cheaper) than the equally excellent 70-200 VR F2.8, if you are willing to make the investment.

    A flash is also invaluable for weddings... maybe a SB-600 or SB-800 (depending on budget). But, be sure to bring an omnibounce with you as well as it helps to soften shadows and fill the room with light. Remember you lose 1 or 2 stops of light when bouncing the flash with an omnibounce, so be sure to adjust the flash compensation accordingly.

    Since you are travelling, you won't want to carry too much gear, and since this is relatively "informal", you will probably be just fine with the D300, all your lenses, and a flash. Normally I'd recommend against shooting a wedding without a backup camera, but I think you have more to worry about here, and it is 'informal' in a way.

    You seem to have the right attitude about this, and i'm sure you will do just fine... Just be sure to PRACTICE! and read as much as you can. I spend a lot of time looking at other people's work to get composition ideas and inspiration... i'm sure you already do this, but in case you don't... spend lots of time looking at other's work!

    Either way, Good luck! It's a great opportunity, and we all look forward to seeing your results. Be sure to post them when you are done so we can all (constructively) slam and insult them ;)
  3. Under the circumstances, I would keep the $200 and use what you have or use the money for more memory cards and batteries. Your lens isn't the fastest, so some kind of tripod is necessary although you may find you can use the 50mm in a church that isn't completely dark. You can get creative with found supports or a string tripod as well. For outdoor sessions, the lens will be fine. I would not be so worried, since no money is changing hands and expectations aren't crushing, so read all you can, etc., but don't stress. You will need to be thinking about what to shoot next, rather than about technical issues, so keep things simple.

    My best advice would be to first make yourself A Better Bounce Card (google and watch the videos). Then practice with it and your flash in various locations using Program or Aperture Priority (I believe Nikon cameras limit the shutter speed in the latter mode to something hand holdable or I wouldn't recommend that mode due to setting of slow shutter speeds indoors). The 'various locations' part is important because any time you bounce flash or use a modifier, results are different at each different venue. Large, dark locations are not as easy--small, light locations are a piece of cake--to get good results. It isn't necessary to get any other kind of modifier. And use the flash direct if you have to--a clear, well exposed image is better than a fuzzy, underexposed one. And if shooting in very dark venues, bouncing flash means your recycling time may not be fast enough for action.

    Using the above, learn how to compensate both your ambient and flash exposures and why. Learn to evaluate your histogram and know when to compensate. Review guidelines for handholding and for subject motion. Shoot RAW.

    If you do decide to get a lens, a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 is a nice one. I would say that no book is going to really help you since a wedding in France is going to be different in what they do and the schedule. You are going to have to be prepared to shoot whatever happens. As for posing, you might want to check the section in Steve Sint's book on wedding photography. He covers the basics, which can easily be communicated and translated. The instructions aren't that complicated.
  4. Also--be sure your chosen focusing mode is one that you can control and know how to use with accuracy. For Canon cameras, it is One Shot. The other modes might slip up on focusing. Check re your Nikon cameras.
  5. I agree with David's recommendation about the 17-55 and assume he missed that you've already bought the sb900. You don't need to buy an omnibouce as the 900 comes with something very similar, but if you really want your flash work to look like Neil's DON'T use direct flash, even with a diffuser. Bounce it with the black half snoot he uses.
  6. It sounds like the consensus is--thankfully--that I can get away with the equipment I'm already packing, but that if I do rent/buy I should go for the 17-50 f/2.8 end of the spectrum. And that flash practice is a must.

    I have been practicing with the flash and have started constructing my own bounce cards and diffusers in an effort to get a feeling for how they work. So far I have a giant bounce card made from photo-inkjet paper, a piece of flexible vinyl, and a plastic bottle approximately the shape/size of a Lightsphere--the difference in the amount of light these throw forward (and the quality of that light) versus straight bounce flashes is really striking! Since I almost always shoot RAW/manual mode I've been sticking with that and experimenting with mixing in the flash. Upon the advice that I try different places and after some convincing, my girlfriend has agreed to let me experiment on her to get a feeling for correctly exposing people with the flash :)

    As for the memory cards, I can currently jam about 370 photos on each card in 12-bit RAW mode and I plan on bringing my laptop to dump everything to at the end of each day (I've been informed that it is a two-day event)--that gives me about 740 photos per day--does that seem reasonable? I typically end up dumping a lot of photos on-camera after checking the histogram (I'm still learning about metering and exposure).

    I'm very excited about this opportunity and even though it is a for-free, for-fun situation I really want my photos to stand out against the pile of point-and-shoot pictures they're going to get from everyone else. I'd be immensely happy to visit them years from now and see a picture I took sitting in a frame.

    I really appreciate everyone's advice so far--thanks!
  7. Good advice so far. If you are contemplating the purchase of a 17-55 2.8 and can afford it, I would say go for it. 95% of my shots are taken with that combo along with an SB-800 flash with a Lightsphere. My 70-200 always seems too long at a reception with it too easy for people to get in the way. I'll pop the 50mm 1.8 on at times, but I feel that puts me too far away as well and the fixed focus causes me to lose shots since I can't zoom in/out. I use my 18-200 on my D200 for quick grabs at outdoor weddings and still love the quality I get from it. Definitely not a low light lens as you noted.

    Don't forget your power adapter for the different outlets in France for your laptop and battery chargers. You don't want to get stuck with dead batteries.
  8. I bit the bullet and overspent my budget, opting for the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 (I simply cannot afford the Nikon). As much as I love my 18-200, I'm not sure that could live without decent bokeh (the 18-200 maxes out at f/4 @ 50 mm), particularly because they've suggested some shots in front of a pond, some portraits of family members, etc etc. And the responses I've seen seem to suggest that I will be glad to have the mid-range, fast zoom. Are there treatment programs for NAS? :)
  9. You will absolutely not regret it.
  10. The Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 is indeed a good choice of glass by all accounts I've come across. You certainly do seem to be taking this seriously, which is great! I would get a couple of 2 or 4GB mem. cards as well as NiMH rechargeables for your SB900. I avoid 8GB cards because of safety/redundancy issues. If you had an 8GB card fail on you, you'd lose 8GB worth of photos, whereas with a 2GB... You get my drift.
    <p>Also, Boston isn't too different in latitude from Paris (assuming that's where the wedding is), so if you can practice in Boston at the same time of day that the wedding occurs, you should have a decent idea of what settings work and which ones don't.
    <p>Finally, enjoy the event! :) Trust me, it'll show in your pictures if you have had fun ;)
  11. Ryan

    Plse remember spare to get or borrow a spare battery or 2. No battery power no photos.

    Does the SB900 come with the difuser dome like the SB800 - that is fine for a 10 foot max distace shoot in an average room - I assume the blinding effect is from direct flash.
  12. Hi Ryan. I have similar gear to you and have just invested in the Tamron 17-50mm. You should be OK with high speed flash sync - my d80 will sync at 1/4000th if you turn on the high speed flash feature - D300 probably similar. Better bounce card for the SB900 is wise - I went for the foam version & it works well. For outdoor fill, the standard diffuser also works nicely. Otherwise, what the others said!
  13. Ryan--I repeat my comment about testing modifiers and bounced flash in various and different locations. I guarnatee you that your plastic bottle diffuser isn't going to give the same results in a huge, dark location as in your small white living room. Also remember that modifiers and bouncing 'eats' flash power, so recycling can be an issue during a processional, for instance.

    I use 8 GB cards all the time. The thinking goes both ways on big or small cards. Small to avoid loss of files should a card go down. Big to avoid bending pins and handling. So pick a method but always be careful about card handling. Lastly, be careful with high speed sync. The guide number of the flash goes down with high speed sync, meaning you lose 'reach' the faster the shutter speed beyond the limit.
  14. I forgot to mention on my list of things I own, a spare battery, an A/C adapter, and AA NiMH batteries (for the flash). Oh, and plenty of plug-converters (we go to France fairly often) : ) I think this weekend is going to involve a "photo safari" out-of-town somewhere. I will definitely use this opportunity to get familiar with the flash in as many situations as possible (hopefully in direct sun because that'll mean the weather is nice!). I may even have the new lens by then (got a tracking number this morning). As for the flash sync--the SB-900 displays a big, fat distance scale on it's LCD. Does anyone know if it is smart enough to adjust for sync speeds? My observation is that it is not smart enough to know anything about bouncing except that the head is either pointed "not straight" or "down, for close-up". It also zooms with the lens, even when pointed straight up, which seems silly (though easy to override). I can also fire it off-camera using the built-in flash in commander mode, but I probably will want to keep things as simple as possible come show time. The SB-900 does come with a diffuser (apparently like the SB-800). I had a chance to play with the flash in bar with 14' dark wood ceilings. Hopefully I managed to attach a picture from the bar with the flash pointed straight up and the built-in bounce card extended.
  15. Do some searches for direct sun shooting with flash. Also, the planetneil article covers this. No diffuser, because a shoemount flash outside in bright sun is puny. I don't know about the Nikon flash, but with Canon flashes, one can leave the HSS setting on all the time, because if the shutter speed goes below the limit, the flash operates as normal, and if the shutter speed is faster than the limit, it operates in HSS mode. Check your manual.

    It is indeed good to adjust the zoom angle on the flash when bouncing. It makes a difference. With low ceilings, I adjust the angle manually to something wide, like 28 or 35mm. With a high ceiling, I adjust it to 50mm and sometimes 70mm, if it is really high. The added distance allows the beam to widen out. Wide = bigger light source = softer light.
  16. Ah! Zooming the flash to compensate for high ceilings is something I would never have known/thought to do--I should print this thread out and take it with me this weekend : )
  17. The advice I've heard generally is DO NOT use the camera to delete photos from the card. I have heard of the card's file system getting corrupted more than once when people are doing this. I leave all bad shots on the card and remove them later during the culling process on the computer, once I have backups of all of the files made.

    740 images may be a lot, it may not be. It depends on how much you are shooting. More batteries/cards is never a bad thing. It's hard to have too much, easy to have too few.
  18. A piece of advice from Paris. This year the weather is rather dull, be prepared for rainy/cloudy days too. Of
    course you can have luck and get one of the rare bright sunny days, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen.

    Here you have a link of a French wedding photographer, PJ style.

    Good luck,
  19. Overcast in Paris! Never :) The wedding is actually close to Nantes which, in my limited experience, seems to have better weather. Thanks y'all for encouraging me to pick up the 17-50mm f/2.8 Tamron--it was worth going in to debt for. I dragged it out today to go to the farmers' market and stumbled across a live band of Berklee students and thought "this is exactly the sort of thing you need big apertures for!". Hopefully I've managed to attach my favorite photo from today to this post.

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