Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday – Analysis Of A Wedding Shoot Part 7 - Cocktail Candids

Good Morning Everybody,
LaDawn and I took the red-eye back to Louisville last night and then made the drive back to the Kentucky side of Cincinnati to get home. Phew! We are bushed (not George Bushed, by the way.) We spent most of the last two days checking in with our vendor buddies and were busy wrapping up things for my tour starting at the end of March - more on that later.

I wish we had a chance to take in more of the show. Let me point you to IUSA which has great coverage of the show and the many of the presentations. I ran into my buddy and outstanding wedding photographer, David Jay who was working behind the scenes to get many of the shots. Here is the IUSA link, don't miss it - tons of good stuff as you scroll through all the posts including an exclusive interview with Anne Geddes - the keynote speaker. LaDawn attended her presentation and said it was fabulous. The interview will give you a peak into her message.

On another note, I was walking through the show, spotted Kevin King, the genius behind the Radio Popper. The Radio Popper transmitter and receiver combo have the unique ability to turn the IR signal from your dedicated Nikon/Canon flash units into radio waves syncing up your master/slave flash combo for complete control with up to 1500 feet (not the ~30 foot limit of the built-in IR control built into the flashes) with consistent firing of the units.

The new units are tiny and a great solution for this master/slave flash capability. Here is the Radio Popper link which will give you much more in-depth description. Kevin promised to send a set to try out - I'll keep you updated.

Anyway, how about another Analysis of A Wedding Shoot which started out as a short post but grew into what is is. Enjoy the read...

Analysis Of A Wedding Shoot Part 7 -- Cocktail Candids
In this, the seventh in our series, the Analysis Of A Wedding Shoot, I would like to briefly discuss and important part of the event to cover, at least for storytelling purposes. This happens to be the cocktail hour before the reception.

Cocktail hours are arranged many times in my area of the country, about an hour before the regular reception. It's a time when the bride and groom's family and friends come together, many of which may not have seen each other for months and sometimes years. Cocktail hour is also the warm-up for the wedding reception.

I feel that as a wedding photographer, that it is our job to pay some attention to the cocktail hour. I call these images we create during this time “cocktail candids.” Let me walk you through how we shoot this part of the event.

1 -- We try to get to the venue to shoot as many of the setup shots as we can of the hors d'oeuvres, ice sculptures, room set up, and whatever else strikes us as interesting.

2 -- Next, I like to just make a few overall views of the guests coming and being greeted by the mother and father of the bride -- the hosts for the event. These are usually just a few wide shots that help tell the story of this part of the wedding day.

3 -- Next, we just cruise the crowd grabbing photographs of the guests as they mingle and visit with each other. I need to make an important point here. These cocktail candids are not photographs of backs of heads, people eating hors d'oeuvres, or drinking their refreshments. If you want to know the truth, I find no use in these types of photographs at all. Frankly, they are mostly unflattering photographs of the guests which are never placed in the wedding album anyway.

4 -- I went to see the faces of the guests at the party. We simply approach a small group of two or more people and request to take their photograph. They always say yes, we ask for the smiles, and take a shot.

5 -- I want to be sure we have no blinked eyes or bad expressions so we always take at least two photographs of each of these small groupings.

6 -- We move through the crowd trying to focus on the groups that include family members and wedding party members. This means, generally, that we will be photographing guests who are fairly important to the bride and groom and their families.

7 -- We light these images in the most efficient way possible to get the best photographs. If there are two of us covering the cocktail hour, I would be on camera while my assistant would be holding the second light.

8 -- If we're working in a smaller space with only one of us covering this part of the event, then we may use our “side-bounce” technique to illuminate the guests. The “side-bounce” technique involves using just our on-camera flash and turning the flash head about 120° away from the guests and bouncing it off of a nearby wall. This is really easy with the new high ISO cameras and an additional benefit is that it allows us to pick up some nice ambient light with a slow enough shutter speed.

9 -- If by chance, only one of us is photographing the cocktail hour, and the space is quite large, then we were resort to just our on-camera flash bouncing directly up to the ceiling with a fill flap in place to bring a lot of the light directly back on our subjects. Yes, I am admitting we are just using our straight on-camera flash to get the shots. It's not the best lighting but it's adequate to cover this part of the event. As you'll recall from last week's post - my assistant is often covering the cocktail candids as I am photographing the reception location.

10 -- If there is only one of us photographing the cocktail hour, we are generally using the Canon 40 D fitted with a 17-85 mm lens. Now if space is quite tight, we might find ourselves fairly close to our subjects and zooming our lens to its widest 17mm setting. If this is the case, we may run into exposure problems.

Our on-camera flashes have an optimum working range for their best exposure. Being very close to the subject is not within that range and will generally over expose the subject. We have two workarounds for this -- first back away from the subject to about 6 or 7 feet away. This is a sweet spot for the flash and we can be assured of consistent, well exposed photographs if we maintain this working distance to our subjects.

The second solution is to turn down the power of the on-camera flash down by two thirds of a stop. The problem with this technique is that we need to remember to return the flash to its normal power for the rest of the shoot. I tell my assistant to stick with plan A when possible as they are shooting the “cocktail candids” - stay 7 feet away from the subjects.

11 -- We occasionally do some “available light” images during this time trying to capture the fun and spontaneity of the cocktail hour. We don't take many of these shots but, we do include a small sampling in our image presentation to our clients.

12 -- As soon as we know we've got the cocktail hour covered, we all meet up in the main ballroom, place our gear in a secure and safe place, and get ready for the rest of the evenings festivities.

So folks, that's about it. You would think that there is not much expertise needed to photographing “cocktail candids” but, there are always things we need to be aware of and I hope I've given you a few insights into those things in today's post. Good luck on your next shoot and remember, "Keep on smiling."

Hey gang, that's it for me today. I’m whooped. Everybody have a great one, and I'll see you tomorrow for Business Day Thursday. Adios, -- David


  1. My experience is that these coctail hours usually take place while we're doing the formals. Do you ever find this to be the case? What do you do in a situation like this? Also I hope that you're ok with me linking to your blog from my

  2. "place our gear in a safe and secure place." Would you please expound on this? I usually just place my rig out of sight and pray. Insurance helps calm me but,,
    Please give us your thoughts. Thanks.

  3. Lewis I usually work it out with the officiant of the location before hand where we can place our stuff that will be safe and secure. Usually in an office or something like that.

  4. Thanks for your post David. I also would like to hear more about "place our gear in a secure and safe place" that was mentioned earlier. This is often a concern of mine at events.

  5. Wow. TTL through radio - that's an interesting combo, can't wait to see your take on the radio poppers.

  6. "Secure and safe place" - For me this is usually by the DJ's table, if the couple has a DJ. Usually you already have a relationship established with the vendors you work with, and they will be sitting there with their gear that costs just as much as yours does. Tuck it under their table, and you're good.

    Or go light with a ShootSac!

    When hiding gear, just make sure you remember to take it home with you. I've had my coat locked in a church on a freezing day before (and the priest drove away), so I learnt my lesson.

  7. Good read David, I've had some interesting discussions with other togs on this very subject, and have had a few scary situations also. One of them was where I returned to my gear which was placed near the band....which also had a guest table nearby I might add, two women were sitting on my LowePro gears bags, chatting away. Luckily nothing was damaged.
    Where you leave your gear is something you should take quite seriously when out doing a shoot.

  8. With all due respect, isn't a 40D a bit "amateur" for a pro coverage of a wedding? Much better result would be achieved with a 5D (not to mention the new one).
    I personally work in Taiwan and Europe and most of the guests at the weddings I shoot own this kind of camera, and while it's perfectly fine for outdoor shooting, the poor iso performance definitely limits the possibilities of shooting indoors.

    Have a nice day