Photographing a wedding is one of the most challenging assignments a photographer can take. For photographers who excel at it, like Laura Pineda, owner of Alternate Angles Photography, it’s a passion. You can hear the excitement in Pineda’s voice when she talks about weddings, and with 15 years of experience, she’s a master of capturing special moments. Here’s her best advice for shooting weddings, for fun or for profit.
1. PREPARE YOURSELF with the right attitude and the right equipment. Pineda photographed her first wedding the day after college graduation. “My very first wedding was one of my biggest nightmares,” she says. “You can’t redo weddings, so I went with three camera bodies thinking I was golden. Over the course of my very first wedding all three broke. Literally pushing down the shutter, I lifted it up and there was a spring in my hand. It just fell apart. I kept a smile on my face, and I remember saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to switch to black-and-white now.’ I turned around and then my face fell. But they never knew anything was wrong. Being able to keep your cool and calm in any situation so that they don’t lose confidence in you is so important.”
2. VISIT THE LOCATION to minimize surprises and plan your creative approach. Pineda prepares for every wedding with a site visit. Even if you only can check the venue the day prior or just arrive early to the event, a plan of attack is invaluable. “I’ll go to a site visit for every client even if I’ve shot at the place 50 times,” she says. “It gets harder when you’ve shot at the location so many times. That’s where I’m going out and pushing myself to find a different angle, a different location. What’s in this building that I haven’t found before that’s really cool?”
3. DON’T BE A GEAR JUNKIE or you’ll lose sight of what’s important. “A lot of people get caught up in the gear,” says Pineda, “and I’m just so anti that. It’s really the set of eyes and the personality that’s behind the camera that creates the images.” Sure, Pineda brings backups in a spare kit, but on her shoulder is slung a simple bag with one body and a few lenses. “I shoot with the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II,” she says. “I have a 70-200mm, I have a 15mm, a 24-70mm and a Lensbaby. And flashes, of course. I could shoot the entire wedding with a 70-200mm if I had to. That’s my favorite lens.”
4. FAST LENSES ARE A MUST in order to photograph naturally. Good glass is important, but Pineda says it’s the speed of the lenses that really counts. A large maximum aperture allows her to work quickly, center attention on her subject with shallow depth of field, freeze action with faster shutter speeds and capitalize on beautiful light even when it’s dim. “You have to have fast lenses,” she advises. “The speed of the lens is really important. I think you have to have at least ƒ/2.8 or faster to do the job really well.”
5. MAKE THE MOST OF LIGHT with ambience and off-camera flash. Pineda advises utilizing natural light whenever possible. It’s so much better to boost the ISO and get the shot than to miss it. When she does work with flash, it’s never on-camera. Moving the light adds depth, dimension and interest. “I’m utilizing natural light a lot,” she says, “and whenever I’m using flash it’s never on my camera. A lot of newbies are really overwhelmed by that—by the speed that you have to move and to not have the flash on your camera—but it’s very doable. I have an assistant and that’s really his key job—to light from 45 or 90 degrees.”
6. WORK FAST AND PAY ATTENTION or you’ll miss fleeting moments. “There are moments in life, passing us by every second,” Pineda says. “I see my job as to capture the honest story as it’s naturally unfolding. I’m not someone who’s going to reenact or repose anything, so I therefore have to be aware of everything that’s around me at all times and work really quickly to pull together the technical side. I think the images that my clients are looking for are those wonderful fleeting moments, the reactions. You have to be aware and you have to be able to move quickly to capture those.”
7. PUSH YOUR ANGLES AND PERSPECTIVES to set your work apart. If you’re not sore after shooting a wedding, you may not be working hard enough. “The thing that kills me the next day is my thighs,” says Pineda. “I swear I shoot half the wedding from the ground, or I’m up on a ladder. Moving your body to different angles and perspectives just changes everything. Push your angles to see things differently than the pack of 20 other photographers over your shoulder. That’s what’s always in my head: What would the best photographer in the world do right now? Do I literally leave the room and shoot through a window or the doors? When I’m feeling like the job is done, I’ve created the obvious: What do I do next?”
8. FIND A MENTOR if you’re serious about wedding photography. For her first three years in business, Pineda assisted more than a dozen wedding photographers to supplement her income and to learn from their experience. “Assist as many different people as possible,” she says. “You take a little bit that works for you from each person. It’s really important to learn and make your mistakes on someone else’s dime. You learn really different things in the classroom than hands-on on jobs. Being able to pick a professional’s brain while you’re on the job is just worth so much.”
9. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS and understand your clientele. If you decide that you’re going to take the leap into professional wedding photography, Pineda says you have to know your numbers—the overall cost of doing business, adjusted for the type of clients you hope to reach. “What does it cost for you to be in business for a day?” she asks. “I think it’s an important part of your homework to research what’s out there, but I think it’s a really big mistake to price yourself based on your competitors. Don’t price yourself as the lowest photographer in town. Your pricing needs to speak to your clientele as well. You have to define your clientele, who you’re speaking to, before you open your door.”
10. HAVE PASSION for wedding photography or don’t do it at all. Succeeding with weddings is a lot of work. Many newcomers mistakenly think their only investment is a few hours on the weekend. Because of all the hard work and potential for stress, Pineda advises that you’d better really love it before
you dive in. “People are hiring you based on your work,” she says, “but they’re also hiring you based on your personality. If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, they’re going to see that and you’re not going to be able to sell yourself. If you’re passionate and you love what you do, that comes through. People feed off of that, they pick up on it, and they’ll hire you as a result of your enthusiasm.”
View more of Laura Pineda’s work at www.alternateangles.com.