Last Saturday I undertook a very challenging photography task. About a month prior a friend and co-worker, Alex Chernavsky, asked me if I would be willing to photograph his upcoming wedding to Audrey Kramer. I was hesitant at first because photographing a wedding is a huge responsibility that I wouldn’t want to screw up. You only have one chance to capture the special moments of a once in a lifetime day. Previously I have photographed events for work so I did have some experience with event photography, but the venue for this event would be a bit of a challenge. Since I am not a professional photographer and it was my first ever wedding I told Alex I would do it and my services would be my wedding gift to him and Audrey.
As usual I took this assignment very seriously and started doing my homework. I picked up a book, Digital Wedding Photography by Glen Johnson, and starting studying its pages. I learned about creating a shot sheet with the couple to make sure I captured all the day’s events and participants they wanted. I also secured some additional lighting equipment from a friend to help with the portrait type shots taken after the ceremony. The final preparation task was to scout out the unique venue.
Audrey and Alex live in the South Wedge area of Rochester an historic section of the city that includes The Cinema Theater, one of the oldest continuously running movie theaters in the United States, and the venue for their wedding. This unique building has a great art deco exterior that would require a very wide angle lens to capture it (unless I wanted to stand in the middle of a very busy intersection!). The concession area is under construction, but was transformed into a nice reception area with the help of the couples family and friends.
My biggest challenge was to deal with the lack of lighting where the ceremony and reception would be taking place. After all, this is a movie theater and not usually well lit. About a week before the wedding I was able to visit the theater with Audrey and Alex as they did some last minute planning for the reception set up. I was able to take some test shots to experiment with the camera settings needed to capture the action in the low lighting conditions. A conversation with a professional photographer later in the week gave me additional advice for taking low-light shots.
When the big day arrived I was up early to pack the car and get to the theater a couple of hours before the wedding. I wanted to get the lighting equipment set up before the ceremony started. Since it isn’t my own equipment I wasn’t very familiar with setting it up and I wanted to make sure everything worked properly before the guests arrived. I also took some test shots to make sure I had my cameras set up properly.
As the hour of the wedding approached I headed out around the theater to photograph the reception area, theater decorations and the exterior of the building. The theater owner put Audrey and Alex’s names on the marquee. Not an easy task since it requires climbing a large ladder and sliding the letters in one at a time. As part of the theater renovations the owner is hoping to install a new digital version soon.
The guests began arriving just as I finished recording the theater set-up. The invitation stated that guests could, “…come dressed in your favorite movie-themed outfit…” and I didn’t want to miss any of the special “guests”. The resident cat, Princess Baby, was also on the guest list and I was lucky to catch her relaxing with one of the guests before the ceremony began. The cat disappeared just before the ceremony began. I think some of the guests costumes might have prompted her to make a run for her favorite hiding place.
Guests entertained themselves by watching a slide show of Audrey, Alex and their family and friends before the ceremony, and munching on popcorn. A Bugs Bunny short, The Barber of Seville, was the signal to the start of the festivities. A fun way to start a wedding that is taking place in a movie theater!
The ceremony was short and sweet. I had to kick off my shoes so I could move quickly around the theater without making much noise. There wasn’t much time to capture all the significant moments: vows, ring exchange, and kiss, but I managed to get it all.
The reception followed immediately. Good food, good friends and the usual ceremonial parts too. The challenge during the toasts was that the concession area of the theater was even darker than the theater itself. All the guests crammed into a very small area to participate in the toasts. This was an especially difficult challenge for me. At only 5′ 2″ tall I had to be right on top of the action to capture any of it. A set of stairs allowed me to gain a slight advantage, but if I ever want to make a career of wedding photography I will have to get myself a set of drywall stilts.
After all the ceremonial activities were completed I set up the lighting equipment for the portrait sessions. A challenge in itself to corral the desired participants, get them posed, smiling and looking at the camera all at the same time. I could not have done this without the help of my friend, Maggie Huff. She helped gather the groups and get them set up for me. The most challenging shot was the one Audrey and Alex wanted of all their friends and co-workers that work and volunteer where we work. I wanted to be in the picture so while I installed a remote control on the camera, Maggie wrangled the group into position. There was just the right amount of room for me to squeeze in on the side.
I finished the day with some shots of the happy couple. By this time the reception was winding down and everyone was a bit more relaxed. I was done with capturing the shots I wanted, but I still had to pack up my gear and head home to process the pictures. I managed to get all the pictures processed and posted to my photography web site by the end of the weekend. The biggest lesson I learned about wedding photography is that it is an exhausting endeavor. If I was going to make a career of it I would have to do more training. My right arm was a bit sore the next day. Carrying around a large camera with a flash attached is harder than you might think. Being a career event photographer is not something I would strive for, but if asked again I would not hesitate to do it. Thanks for the opportunity Alex and Audrey. It was a pleasure.