Jay Sousa: Weddings are tricky

June 2, 2012 

Jay Sousa

As near as I can figure I have photographed well over 900 hundred weddings.

I have had the pleasure of photographing weddings for friends and family but mostly complete strangers, many of whom have become friends and longtime clients. I have shot weddings in the smallest of chapels to the grandest cathedrals, on beaches, bluffs, forests, mountain meadows, city parks and one in a movie theater.

I remember one at Glacier Point on a very cold morning in October. So cold I could barely operate the camera.

In my early days, I would do 40 to 45 weddings a year. I remember one weekend a few years ago when I photographed four weddings. I had a Friday night wedding, back-to-back weddings on Saturday and one on Sunday. I also remember that by Sunday night I was exhausted. These days my goal is to photograph 12 great weddings a year.

Photographing a wedding is not for the faint of heart. A wedding is one of the most difficult assignments a professional photographer can take on.

You must possess great technical skills, including great composition and making perfect exposures. Creating a perfect white balance in-camera is also critical. It is important to be able to get the color right in the camera because during a typical wedding I might make 700 or 800 exposures and the editing time to correct mistakes after the fact for this many images is very time consuming.

Weddings are difficult because you have to deal with many different types of lighting situations, from inside churches to outdoors under various, and sometimes challenging lighting conditions

Many brides and grooms do not schedule their weddings around the best time of day for photography. The biggest nightmare for an inexperienced photographer is a bride in her white wedding gown and the groom in a black tuxedo outside on a bright sunny day at high noon.

The ability to work quickly under extreme time pressure is also a must for a wedding photographer.

You normally have a small window of time between the ceremony and getting the bride and groom to the reception. During this time is when all of the formal photographs are taken, including the family, the wedding party and the newly married couple. You must be able to shoot quickly and efficiently while keeping the quality of the images up to professional standards.

Other skills a good photographer also needs are: patience, people skills, a sense of humor, a degree in psychology (half-kidding on this one), stamina (you try shooting a six-hour wedding in the Valley on a 100-degree day wearing a suit and lugging around 30 pounds of gear) and, sometimes, diplomacy skills.

Many people have asked me over the years about weird and strange things that have happened at weddings I've shot.

I'll share one good one with you. I was hired to shoot a wedding in Yosemite many years ago. The couple, from Arizona, made the arrangements over the phone and paid the entire bill with a credit card.

I arrived in Yosemite, met the couple and shot the wedding. It was a small affair and went well. A couple of weeks later I sent the proofs to the happy couple. Not long after I get a call from the groom, who was wondering where the proofs were. I said I'd sent them over a week prior.

He muttered a couple of bad words and said that his ex must have gotten them. Confused, I asked for clarification. This is when he told me that he filed for divorce from his new wife as he had "found out something about her on the honeymoon."

A two-week wedding might be a record for a non-Hollywood marriage.

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