Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Physical Fitness and Equipment Strategies for Wedding Photography

Photography, especially photojournalistic wedding photography, requires a significant amount of physical stamina and prowess.

This past wedding season, I was somewhat plagued with back problems. It was fairly evident that carrying 2-3 cameras--as I had been the previous season--was taking its toll on my back.

Why hadn't I had these back problems the previous wedding season? Of course, I was one year older and I could have blamed it on age. One more year added to my 40+ year old body, though, shouldn't have made *that* huge a difference!

I think the more likely cause was that early in 2009, my home workout equipment broke down and I didn't replace it. I still exercised *some*, but definitely at a reduced level.

The physical strength and stamina that had easily carried me through 8-10+ hour long wedding days was waning toward the end of weddings. I was experiencing physical and emotional/mental lows during receptions. And halfway through the wedding season, my lower back went out and made weddings even more physically grueling.

Instead of going right out and replacing my exercise equipment at that point (partially because I didn't attribute my physical problems to reduced physical stamina and strength), I tried taking one of the cameras off my shoulders and sticking it into a "holster" on my belt (I have this padded belt to which I can fasten pouches and cases to hold lenses).

Getting this weight off of my shoulders helped significantly. It worked great for the two weddings I did right after my back went out. At the very next wedding, however, I had problems with the camera falling out of the holster; it happened 3 times...once on the concrete right in front of the hotel where the bride was getting ready! Luckily, the camera and lenses survived the three falls.

Well, that was near the end of the wedding season and I never did find a good solution to having the second camera on my belt. (I've since heard of fellow wedding photographer in my area coming up with a novel solution to this problem which I hope to learn more about and perhaps report on in a future blog post.)

Even if I do find a good solution, having too much equipment hanging at your waist--even while much easier on the back--makes you "wider" and less able to get around crowded reception rooms without banging your camera or lenses into the wedding guests seated and standing around the reception room!

So, why don't I just eschew the 2-3 cameras and carry only one?! For the very reason I worked up to carrying 2-3 around in the first place!--to cover wide, normal, and telephoto ranges simultaneously with high-quality constant f/2.8 zoom lenses and prime lenses.

Ever notice that no high-quality constant f/2.8 zoom lens--or even a constant f/4 zoom lens--covers the whole gamut?? Sure, there are consumer grade zoom lenses with variable, smaller than f/2.8 maximum apertures that can cover the equivalent of 28 or 24mm to 200 or 300mm (35mm full-frame equivalent). But the combination of their lower quality optics, slower autofocusing, and smaller maximum apertures makes them inadequate for non-flash indoor wedding photography in those all-too-common dark churches and reception halls...and I *like* to photograph as much as I can without flash, or at least without direct flash.

Even the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS, although professional "L" grade, doesn't engage full operation of Canon's higher end DSLR autofocusing systems...*that* is reserved for lenses with f/2.8 maximum apertures and larger. So, this lens may be okay for outdoor weddings; but you need all the help you can get for lowly lit indoor affairs!

Ultimately, then, you've got three choices as a professional wedding photographer:
  1. Photograph with more than one camera and put different lenses on them so you can simultaneously capture people and events happening from both a wide and close-up perspective as needed.
  2. Photograph with one camera and multiple available lenses and try to *anticipate* which lens you'll need to capture the key moments. And whenever you've got the wrong lens for the moment, shake it off and try to anticipate the best lens for the next key moment.
  3. Photograph with one camera and one lens--either per stage of the wedding or for the whole day--and totally commit to that one perspective and make the most of it.
I should note that, of course, it's easier to commit to a one camera and one lens strategy--or even a one camera + multiple lenses perspective--if you're working with a second photographer who is covering a different perspective with a different lens!

Regardless, let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of these strategies.

In the past, I have tended to go with the first strategy: photograph with multiple cameras and lenses simultaneously. This strategy is the "safest", but certainly comes with some potential problems:
  1. the weight can take a physical toll that may affect the quality of the photography and the photographer's emotional and physical well-being
  2. decreases photographer's mobility in a crowded space, which can lead to missed shots
  3. can lead to missed shots while changing between cameras that occasionally get tangled or whose settings get bumped and altered while not in use
The second strategy (photographing with one camera + multiple lenses) helps to ameliorate some of the negative aspects of the first strategy: especially in terms of physical toll, mobility, and missed shots due to tangled or altered settings on the camera not currently being used. However, you're still carrying around extra equipment (multiple lenses), which is still having some impact on physical energy, mobility, and missed shots while changing between those lenses.

To me, the third strategy (one camera, one lens) is the "holy grail" of a seasoned wedding photographer. I've heard some wedding photographers discuss how they photographed a whole wedding with a 24-70 f/2.8 zoom lens. That's not bad. However, a more impressive move would be to photograph a whole wedding with a single prime lens and do an awesome job of it!

At a more realistic level, one could "cheat" a little on the third strategy to take away some of the riskiness of it. First, instead of committing to one lens for the entire wedding day, you could commit to one lens per stage of the event (e.g,. one for getting ready, one for the ceremony, one for group formals, and one for the reception). I'm often in my car between stages where I could swap out my lens for the next stage. Second, carrying one other lens in a small camera bag on your back can help to hedge your bets and/or give you an appropriate lens for the next stage if you can't get back to your car,,,without limiting your mobility significantly or adding a significant amount of additional weight.

I'm still working my way from Strategy One (multiple cameras, multiple lenses) to Strategy Three (one camera, one lens), but I've still decided to finally replace my home workout equipment anyway...

...because, well, it's always good to hedge your bets, right?...;-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I am actually shooting some of my smaller weddings with just a prime. Otherwise I end up hunched over by the end of the night!