The more appropriate title for this blog should be "How I Overcame My Biggest Wedding Photography Weakness," but I was going for something a bit shorter and simpler that would still get the point across. I know I personally have a TON of weaknesses that I'm still working on, so I won't pretend to have that all figured out! However, when I was just beginning wedding photography, my biggest weakness became apparent very quickly and for awhile, even thinking about it terrified me to the core.
So. What was I so scared of? Answer: lighting dark spaces.
I had a recurring thought that was terrifying: I would walk into a venue with incredibly high, dark ceilings (meaning I can't 'bounce' my flash) and would be forced to set up off-camera flash. I knew I MIGHT be able to make do, but the pictures wouldn't be great. And I wanted great pictures. As a person who loves challenges and always wants to do my best, it wasn't long before I took action and forced myself to become a better wedding photographer.
These days, I LOVE difficult lighting situations. I can walk into the darkest banquet hall that has wood floors (red/yellow skin tones!), high ceilings (forget on-camera flash at this point!), and a non-linear space (meaning if my flashes stay stationary then I have to, too) and assess the situation in a few minutes. In fact, this particular area has become one of my specialties, and I can proudly tell any couple that I can light any situation well. At least one person has told me they chose me as their photographer because they could tell I am good at lighting big reception halls.
So how did I do it? It didn't happen overnight, and I certainly improve all the time, but here's how I overcame my biggest weakness.
1) I did a lot of research and bought the right equipment. Before just running out and buying what I thought I needed, I researched. I looked online, asked a lot of people who knew more than I did, read reviews, and thought it over before I hit purchase. I can say with confidence that I bought nothing I did not need, and the only things I ended up replacing were light stands that just weren't quite as sturdy as what I wanted - and that was pretty rare.
2) I invested in the best education I could find. At the time, Justin & Mary were offering in-person lighting intensives. I invested time (an entire day out of town) and a good chunk of money (especially since I wasn't making much at the time!) and dove right in. This single class taught me more about lighting than I ever could have learned through self-study. It was worth its weight in gold not just for how much I learned, but also for the confidence it gave me to light any room.
3) I practiced at home. I sometimes wish I had done this more, but sometimes I brought out my flashes and practice with any and everything I could find - my ring, my shoes, and even my husband. I studied how the light fell, what it looked like in-camera, and what edits I had to make.
4) I chose not to settle. I want to be very careful and say that I never PRACTICED at a wedding. I wanted to show up to every event as fully prepared as I could be, and that's what I did. But this is a continuing piece of education for me and every photographer, because every room is different, and every lighting situation changes from one wedding to the next - even if I've been in that room before!
So I actively choose not to settle. I know how to make a room look good, but my ultimate desire is to make it look great. I will shoot, adjust, and re-shoot until I am satisfied. One example? A couple years ago I photographed sparkler exits with Nathan up front, holding my flash. It looked good, and I'm still proud of those photographs. But then I saw a far better picture than my own, with the couple rimmed in light - and I realized how much better it would look if I put my front flash on a stand and had Nathan 'chase' the couple with a second lighting. Complicated? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
In all honesty, sometimes I walk into a venue and take a deep breath as I look around. Some rooms are simply harder than others and require more work! But, thankfully, after years of following the top 4 steps over and over, I can confidently photograph any room at any time - and do it well. Cheers to more receptions and darkly lit banquet halls!