Wednesday, June 04, 2008

So How Many Images Should You Shoot At A Wedding?

Inquiring minds want to know. Boy, Monday's post turned out to be a humdinger in the comment department. Some readers thought I was crazy to shoot 4000 images. Others questioned my film day numbers. I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject so here is the rest of the story. It's a nice peek into why I do what I do.

It's always fascinating for me to watch other photographers shoot a wedding. So many photogs are fairly timid when it comes to getting the shots. Too many act and think they are still shooting film and take for instance, only two or three of the entire wedding party. I may take up to 15-18.

I've got the wedding party grouped nicely and ready to go for the shot. While assembling the group, I fire off a few frames tight on the white wedding gown to check my exposure maybe 2 to 3 images. Read the histogram and view exposure. Once I've got the exposure looking good, it's time to go for the best expression. This involves regular wedding photog banter to get the best expression from everyone. I take a quick four shots. The additional images give me the additional images needed from which to select the best expressions of a wedding party member that may have blinked or I've been unable to catch his/her best smile when I captured the others best expression.

My assistant is shooting peripherally capturing quick close-up expressions, hugging arms, various angles whatever to add interest to the overall coverage. This may include about 5 or 6 shots. After making the key image of the group, I ask everybody to "Group Hug." It loosens up the group even more and I cheer them on to hug tighter and tighter. While I cheering the group, I'm slowing zooming in on the bride and groom - close, closer, closest - about 5-6 images. It makes a wonderful series of images full of spontaneous expressions and emotions for the album. Did I need to take just 2 or three of the wedding party group - maybe if I only wanted to sell one. With my shooting style, I can many times put together a double page spread of about 5-8 shots from my 15 shot rampage. This means a much more exciting presentation for the client and added value to my pocketbook.

Another thing I often see is wedding photographers only work to photograph the "Peak" action. How about when the bride and groom see each other for the first time? I take about 20 images. The emotions are flowing at that time and I believe ALL the tears, laughs, giggles, secret whispers and expressions need to be captured to tell the entire story. Those emotions are on the RISE once the bride and groom set eyes on each other - Click, Click, Click. Those emotions continue to escalate with smiles broadening, tears coming to their eyes - click, click, click, click. I rotate around the couple moving from her expression to his expression - click, click, click, click. I continue my rotation back to the groom's face - click, click, click. The couple continue to hug, kiss, admire each others handsomeness and beauty - click, click, click. A quite peek at the onlookers, parents, attendants.... to capture their reactions - click, click, click.

And so it goes for the rest of the day. Looking for actions and reactions, looking to capture the peak emotions, looking to capture the soft touches and tender looks demands a lack of timidity when it comes to using the shutter release. It demands an aggressive search for those moments, and aggressive shooting to be sure I have the image - the best image.

Shooting with the image stabilized lens also demands shooting more images to get the shot. I'm hand holding my 70-300mm lens during the ceremony as I roam the church quietly and discreetly capturing the expressions of mom's and dad's, grandparents as they watch their children getting married. I don't use a tripod - it gets in the way, besides my IS technique works just fine. Exposure is 1/6 second at F4. The camera goes to my eye, elbows tighten on my rib cage, a pause of breath and rapidly shoot usually 3-4 images, take a breath, then I do it again. I know I've got the shot and by shooting multiples I know it's sharp. Hoping it's sharp if I only shoot one or two images is not an option. It's all free, isn't it?

Let's head to the reception and check out the action. And at this point in the day of celebration there is always plenty of action at the wedding reception. The camera may be at my eye, over my head, near the floor, - anywhere to get a shot that's different, unique, and exciting. Often I'm changing lens selection for additional variety. My team and I are always trying some new technique, something that separates David A. Ziser Photography from the crowd. I sure have talked about that often enough in this blog. It's still the difference that makes the difference in your success. This is the game I like to play. The PIXELS be damned, full speed ahead.

The bottom line is this. I shoot one image every 9 seconds on a wedding. Each wedding is between 9-12 hours long in my part of the world..... you can do the math. My assistant, who shoots second camera doing the peripheral shots takes about 700 more shots in the course of the day. That usually totals to about 4000+ images on a normal (pretty big job.) It the film days, I shot about 700-800 images, still more than any other shooters in the Cincy area. The cost for film and processing back in those days - $1000!!! Boy, do I love digital. At my first digital wedding I shot 400 images before the bride even walked down the aisle. I wrapped the day with about 1200 images on my micro-drives - it was a kick, I loved it. That escalated to about 2000 the next year and now has settled into about 3500-4000 with the extra shooter.

Edit time - about 800 images/hour - yes, at least 5 hours or so. Tweaking in Lightroom about another hour or hour and a half. Do I care, not really. Why - the average number of photographs wedding photogs in the United States deliver to their clients is about 100 - 120. Our smallest bridal albums typically have 250 images in them. 50% of our bridal albums are multi volume sets. Last year we delivered 11 volumes to one client. The bride's albums consisted of 5 volumes, the bride's mother also had 5 different volumes and the groom's mother had a full volume. Currently in process at my studio is a 4 volume set just for the bride and groom. Another wedding is on it's way to be an eight volume set. I not trying to brag here, but you have to shoot BIG to sell BIG.

I hope this sheds a little light on my RAW dilemma, but as they say, storage is cheap and so are the cards. My first 1 gig cards were $800 each when I first transitioned from film to digital! Now they are $19.00. I like the suggestion of one of my readers. Ryan suggested shooting RAW for the really important images and switching to Jpegs for candid reception coverage. Maybe that's the way to go. With the preset custom settings built into the cameras, this should be a fairly simple solution. Anyway, life goes on. I hope this rant #16 gives you a little insight into why I do what I do. Hey gang, this profession is a kick and remember.... Don't take any Pixels prisoners - shoot them all ;~) -David


  1. David,

    When shooting RAW in your Nikon camera, are you shooting 12-bit or 14-bit color? Also are you shooting Compressed, Lossless Compressed, or Uncompressed RAW images? And what are your thoughts on those settings?

    Thanks in advance!

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  4. Yes, David, I thought you were crazy... But I totally see your reasoning and it makes a lot of sense. I am a former film shooter so I know that is where I get my conservative viewpoint but next time, I'll let loose a little. :)

  5. David, most consumers believe digital is free but all professionals understand that every click on the camera costs money (sure it's not the $1 film did) but it costs in wear & repair on the camera and every image requires computer time and storage and editing, etc. The 'hidden' costs (that consumers assume are free) are what is making it more and more difficult to make a decent living in photography.

  6. David, I'm curious how you edit 800 images/hour. By edit I'm assuming you mean reviewing them and cutting out the bad ones (some people use the same term to refer to the tweaking process). I'm also a bulk shooter and it takes me far more than 5 hours to review and slim down my photos.

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