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An afternoon with a pro photographer and other humanity

On the importance of professional photographers and that which binds together humanity.

There are times a big damn Metz potato masher flash comes in handy.
Photo courtesy of Paul Udstrand

Today I’m taking a break from my usual musings about matters of immense importance and intense debate in order to make a couple simple observations

I’m a photographer by trade and I photograph a lot of weddings. Weddings can be challenging because they involve almost every kind of photography in 4-8 hour time frame. You do table top, studio, portrait, and documentary photography all in the course of a single job. Although a lot of planning goes into weddings the photography is not scripted, there can be a lot to keep track of, and you have to solve problems on the fly.

For instance at my most recent wedding at a cute little church in St. Paul MN, the altar had unique feature that was kind of problematic.  It was lit more like a stage than a an altar and in the late afternoon I’d lost a lot of the light that I’d had earlier in the pews. Consequently I was likely to get more of a silhouette affect than I wanted.  This is my first observation: it pays to have a pro photograph your wedding. The difference between a good pro and someone with a nice camera is the ability to recognize situations like this and figure out how to handle it on the spot because you don’t have all day to figure this out. The other difference is a good pro should be carrying the equipment they need to implement the solution.

Now the obvious solution to a silhouette problem is a fill light, that ain’t rocket science. The problem in the case was that if you’re not careful you’ll project some weird shadows up behind the bride and groom, and you’ll lose the cool ambient lighting back there, a classic problem with a direct flash.  In this case the only way to preserve the ambient light of the alter and resolve the silhouette problem was bounce the light off the ceiling. The problem is I’m standing in the back of the church and I don’t want to reposition because I need to be there after they kiss.

wedding photo
Photo by Paul Udstrand
Shot with indirect fill light.
wedding photo
Photo by Paul Udstrand
Shot without fill light.

This is where a big damn Metz potato masher flash comes in handy.  These are the big flashes that mount off to the side of the camera, the ones you used to see all the time at press conferences. That sucker will light up a small city so bouncing off a high ceiling in the back of a church is not a problem. I should also mention that this is an old manual flash, no dedicated multi-matrix exposures with this baby, you just gotta know how to use a flash.  I think I’ll also take this opportunity to mention that about an hour prior to this the flash tube on a different flash blew out- reason # 102 to hire a good pro; back-up equipment.

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So anyways I take the shot and it’s brilliant.

You can see that while the difference is subtle, it’s significant. For those of you who are interested I was using a Nikon D200 with a Tokina 2.8 80-250 zoom lens at a distance of about 50 feet.


Having demonstrated my photo genius at the ceremony I wandered over to the reception to see what kind of damage I could do over there, and that’s where I found my second observation. Not to repeat myself but I’ve already explained that when I’m working, or really when any of us are working, politics, amendments, foreign policy, and religion are not usually preoccupying our thoughts. Politics actually popped up at this reception however because while I was taking some incidental shots of the cake topper the bride came and explained a couple things. She’d made the topper herself because all the one’s she’d looked at were crap and didn’t fit their personalities. This one depicted the bride and groom, one of them hugging a tree while the other gleefully pursued some unseen game with a rifle. She explained that one of them is a very liberal Democrat while the other is a gun toting Republican.

I was thinking about this conversation just before the first dance started and I realized this: a wedding is one those unique places where a certain universal humanity is on display. There’s nothing magical about weddings, I know some of the weddings I’ve photographed have ended in divorce. But ON THAT DAY, behind whatever anxieties or frustrations people may be feeling, the bride and groom (and maybe others) share a very basic joy that transcends all other considerations, problems, debates, or fears.

Wedding couple
Photo by Paul Udstrand
Democrat or Republican?

It may not last, but it’s there, and it shows us that there are places where we can meet and recognize our commonalities rather than our differences. It can remind us that those commonalities exist and it’s nice to find a place where our common humanity rather than our differences are on display. Weddings are kinda like off-leash dog parks that way.

This post was written by Paul Udstrand and originally published on Thoughtful Bastards.

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