Challenges an Assistant Wedding Photographer Faces

From the early morning of preparation to the final hours in the evening, all kinds of emotions are felt by everyone attending one of the most joyous events in people’s lives that they could ever imagine: the day of their wedding. This exciting and blissful day finally arrives as everyone gets fixed up with their outfits and makeup, yet with a hint of nervousness from all the things that could possibly go wrong from the bride’s perfect vision of what the most happiest day of her life should be like.


This continues leading up to everyone heading to the ceremony, as the doubtful thoughts that plague her mind slowly melt away at the sight of her future husband standing at the altar, waiting for both of them to exchange their heartfelt vows for each other that they would take for the rest of their years together. Finally the day ends in a bombastic celebration in the reception that occurs afterwards, with luxurious delicacies being served that savors everyone's appetites that lead up to the grand event of the lovely couple having their first romantic dance as husband and wife while soft soothing melodies play in the background.


It becomes the job of the wedding photographer and his assistants to capture every precious, once-in-a-lifetime moment and preserve in photos that could be treasured and passed on to future generations. No small feat indeed, as it has its own numerous challenges that could throw off a first-time wedding photographer if they decide to throw caution to the wind. I was lucky enough to have wedding photographers Ron Delhaye and Steve Vansak take me under their wing as their assistant in what would be my first ever wedding photo shoot.


Certainly a tall order, as it was a Greek wedding with over 600 family members and friends attending the grand event. The lucky couple in question were Jenn and Angelo, who were very generous in letting me have hands-on experience in photographing their wonderful day despite the inexperience. This would prove to be quite a challenge for me, as I not only primarily photographed landscapes and nature using natural light only, but also all the challenges I face with having Asperger’s Syndrome. I have certainly learned quite a number of lessons that day, especially in a topic that will have its own blog post in the near future. For now however, I will concentrate on the challenges I faced from an amateur photographer’s perspective.


The first lesson of the day was rather immediate when I arrived at the bride’s residence to assist my good friend in photographing everyone in preparation. Since I was still in the mindset of using natural light, I ended up taking some early photos without the flash. In an area where there are big windows letting in a lot of natural light with the subject in question standing next to it this is perfectly fine. In a more darker corner of a room however, it is better to use the flash unit of your camera despite it being well lit by a ceiling light or table lamps.


This is because indoor lights tend to have a yellow or orange tinge that end up altering what would have been natural skin tones of the people in the shot. While you could adjust it in Lightroom later, adjusting the yellow/orange level of the photo also dilutes all the other objects in the scenes that have the same color. This would cause those specific colors to not pop like everything else in the scene as it should. You could go into Photoshop to fix the problem, but then you realize that you have hundreds if not thousands of photos to go through with a looming deadline quickly approaching. Not getting the lighting right only causes more unnecessary work that takes up precious time that could be better spent elsewhere if you had done the lighting right from the beginning.


Hope you have been exercising earlier this year as well, because you should expect to help carry around some heavy equipment everywhere. For me, it was assisting in carrying the softbox equipment and making sure all equipment used is accounted for before we left any location. The softbox with the portable battery attached weighed a bit more than I expected. If I didn’t apply the right grip and wasn’t cautious on how I carried it, the weight from the top with said battery attached would have me swinging around off-balanced and possibly drop it. A few times during my long walk carrying it that actually almost happened. I was able to catch it immediately and not accidentally drop anything.


This was also done during a very hot and humid late summer day right after a thunderstorm, which meant one thing that I believe everyone despises: mosquitoes. I was unfortunately a magnet for them and forgot to bring the insect repellent, thus ended up with a number of bites when the day was done. Despite the annoyance, being able to photograph the newlyweds in such perfect natural lighting condition from where the sun was positioned made it worth the trouble in my opinion. Can only imagine what the other photographers' photos look like.


Speaking of other photographers, one other thing to keep in mind is to try and stay out of their field of view during these photo shoots. They are the one’s being paid and are expected to have the best quality due to that fact. Your main job is to capture moments that are occurring around you that the other photographer may end up missing or even some behind-the-scenes shots that they could apply for promotional purposes. They can’t be everywhere at once after all. I looked at this as a test of my skills as I took advantage of the leeway to experiment with different shots and see what works and what doesn't.


To me it’s another case of twisting what some would think as a negative into a positive. Have certainly made some stunning shots I might not have been able to get of I kept looking at it from a particular perspective through the lens and butt heads with Ron with trying to get it a certain way. There is more than one way to get a great shot and have to open your mind to multiple possibilities instead of thinking you can only get a nice shot straight from the front and not from an angle.


While confident in my skills at photographing in natural outdoor lighting, photographing indoors in the evening was another story altogether. Here is where the real challenges start! One of them essentially requires you to know your camera inside and out, what settings to choose, and what camera lens to switch out at a moment’s notice. Never know what memorable event will appear that isn’t on the planned schedule and will need to adapt quickly in order to capture those memorable moments. Granted you should always know this for any lighting setting, but as discussed before, I have mainly done outdoor setting in natural lighting conditions.


All of this while having the right settings to capture it perfectly, despite a more darker setting. This is especially true for first dances of the evening. I went with manual settings and raised the ISO high enough so that they can be visible. While this is good for making the scene appear brighter that should be captured well with a small flash unit, it also comes at the cost of graininess. The higher the ISO, the more grainy the photo becomes. It becomes a balancing act that you have to figure out on the spot or risk having upset clients afterwards with it being more grainy than television static. It is also a good idea to adjust the shutter speed as well depending on what kind of shot you want. Too low means that you will be getting a blurry image, but it could also capture a sense of motion depending on what you are aiming for.


The one thing you have to keep in mind throughout the entire event is that there are no re-shoots. Once the moment has passed, it’s gone for good. There is quite a lot of pressure to make sure you capture these moments when they happen, for both the assistants and the head wedding photographer. The larger the wedding, the more sharp your eyes need to be in order to spot them and capture it on camera. Funny enough my first wedding turned out to be one of Ron’s largest weddings he has ever photographed, so this was quite the test for my skills. Not only skills in utilizing my gear, but also my sharp eye in identifying anything that could occur at any time throughout the day.

Adding to all of the above in terms of testing my skills as a photographer came also a new challenge that pertains to certain individuals such as myself. Next time, I will discuss about how I eventually prevailed probably my biggest challenge of the evening: sensory overload and anxiety while working on the job in loud, populated areas. This was also the one that I ended up being proud of the most out of all the difficulties I’ve faced. Come back next time to read about how I handled large events when I have Asperger’s Syndrome.