Shooting a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

When my friends Jen & Reid asked me to photograph their rehearsal dinner, I was stoked. First, I was flattered they liked my photos enough to ask me to do such a thing. Second, it meant I got to play with a really, really nice lens for the first time. And third, well, it was the first “hired” event I’d been asked to do. So I was nervous and excited.

About a month before the event, a photographer friend and I went to the venue (Opal Divine’s Penn Field) with cameras in tow to test out the lighting and angles. I wanted to confirm the usefulness of the lens I wanted to rent, and I wanted to generally see what obstacles (high ceilings, etc) I’d have to deal with.

We came to the conclusion that I couldn’t bounce the flash off any ceilings, since the one inside was too high and half the party’d be taking place outdoors where there was no ceiling. (Little did we know they’d put up a tent for the event itself, maybe in case of rain.) I know the challenges of shooting w/a flash: I was worried about harsh shadows if I didn’t use my Omni-Bounce, but without it I doubted I could get enough light to expose the background correctly. I didn’t want to rely on second-curtain sync because that would cause motion blur in candid shots. I looked at some on-flash lighting accessories at Precision Camera, but after doing some tests didn’t see anything that’d help me out. So I just decided to stick with my bare flash and Omni-Bounce and see what happened.

Along the way, my company also issued its annual performance bonus … some of which I blew on a Canon 60D. This was a smart move on my part. I had been shooting with a Digital Rebel XSi (450D), an amazing little camera, but with poor high ISO performance (given its entry-level nature). The 60D has a larger sensor which translates into better high ISO performance. That feature definitely came in handy, as I shot most of the night with ISO 1600, a setting that would’ve been unusable on the XSi but which worked relatively well on the 60D (assuming nobody wants any 8″ x 10″ prints đŸ˜‰

Buying a second camera was smart in another sense — it meant I had two cameras, which was nice because that matched my two-lens setup (the 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM and the 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM). Two cameras meant extra weight to carry around, but in practice it wasn’t so bad, and it reduced the need for me to switch lenses. Two cameras also meant increased memory storage — I have a 32 GB card on the 60D and an 8 GB card on the Rebel. I was worried I’d end up needing more, but the setup proved more than adequate. (I also bought extra batteries for the flash, which I didn’t end up needing.)

Time passed and my nervousness mounted. It helped that I wasn’t shooting the wedding itself, which I view as a high-pressure assignment. “It’s just the rehearsal dinner,” the bride told me — important, yes, but if I screwed things up royally, she hopefully wouldn’t chop off my head!

A few days before the event, I had another friend of mine over for dinner, where I took her out in my backyard and shot her numerous times, in different lighting conditions, to see how I’d need to adjust my settings at the event itself. I settled on a certain configuration, but later that week when I went to the event, all of that kind of went out the window.

The event itself was fun. I felt important as the photographer. People moved out of their way for me đŸ˜‰ And I still got to enjoy the evening with a nice dinner — after all, I wasn’t about to get pictures of people chewing their food, so it was the perfect time for me to relax. Some family members even helped me out by alerting me to photo ops such as this one:

The flash setup I ended up using the most was w/the diffuser on and the flash head angled at like 45 degrees upward. This seemed to produce the best results. I was initially worried about the flash reaching to 200m, but the 580 EXII is a powerful beast. However you will notice that pictures at a longer zoom length have way more ambient light (colored, due to stage & candle lighting) in them, as the reach of the flash isn’t infinite. (Stupid physics!!)

By the end of the night I was tired, sure, but I had a lot of fun moving around and capturing different moments so I definitely felt satisfied. The total haul came in at 475 pictures exactly; I winnowed those down over the course of a few days, tweaked them in Adobe Lightroom 3 (another simply amazing piece of software), winnowed them down some more, re-tweaked the keepers for general consistency and other issues, and ended up with 98 photos worth posting. Check them out!!

I’m please with the results overall. Of course in any creative endeavor, you always look at stuff after the fact and think “I could’ve done more!” But given the fact this was my first ‘assignment’ and the challenging/variable lighting conditions at the venue, these photos are great. Like I said before though, I’m super happy I got the 60D. The highest usable ISO on the Rebel is 800, and even that shows distinct noise in smaller pictures. I would’ve had to shoot at ISO 400 which would not have been fun given the lighting in the venue.


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