Friday, November 25, 2011

Courthouse wedding

I spent some time recently photographing a wedding for some friends of my neighbors.  The ceremony took place at the county courthouse and lasted just 15 minutes.  I was a little concerned going in that I wouldn't be able to get very many photos from such a short event, but by showing up early & staying late (for a whopping 45 minutes on the job), it all worked out.

The couple are friends of my next door neighbors, and just immigrated from Bosnia (also my neighbors' homeland) a couple months ago.  In fact, the groom's English was still spotty enough that his bride had to translate the vows for him as the judge gave them.  The fact that they wanted to get married here in their new country was touching.  Over the years, we've gotten to know a good number of the Bosnian immigrants in our town, and they're wonderful people.

The wedding itself was, as I said, brief.  The pre-ceremony shots consisted of milling around the courthouse's second floor elevator lobby waiting our turn in the courtroom (the title photo was taken there).  Once we were led in, the witnesses signed the paperwork, and the judge (who was quite a character and probably a riot at parties) had the ceremony done in 15 minutes.  The vows & such took place in the open area in the center of the courtroom, right in front of the bench (which was still cluttered with the day's paperwork, providing a unique backdrop for wedding photos).  A few family members sat in the gallery, and I was free to wander the room with my camera.  We hung around for 15 minutes more after the judge left, taking shots of family groupings.  Most of my favorite photos from the day (including the "kiss" shot below, between the daughter and grand-daughter of the best man & matron of honor) came from this post-ceremony time.

Ambient light:  10mm, ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/30s
I had called ahead to talk with the bailiff about the courtroom itself.  I wanted to know the ceiling height, wall & ceiling color, how the room would be laid out, where I would be allowed to stand, etc.  She was quite surprised.  Apparently, they don't get many pro photographers at this type of wedding.  Her description of cream-colored walls and a white, ten-foot drop ceiling told me that I'd be fine bouncing an on-camera flash off the ceiling, so I needn't worry about light stands.  I've given up trying to gel my flashes to match today's menagerie of fluorescent lighting colors, so I left the flash bare and set the camera to daylight white balance.  The yellow cast that it gave the walls looked better than their natural white color, anyway.

I did strap a "black foamie thing" around the front edge of my flash to shield it from directly hitting my subjects.  I wanted all of the light to be diffused off the ceiling.  A little bit of direct fill would have bee nice, but spill from a bounced flash is never uniform across the frame and always looks bad.

Unfortunately, the courtroom was darker than I expected.  I wanted to keep the ISO noise at reasonable levels, so I shot with my Canon 7D at ISO 800 and my 430EX flash on auto TTL.  Aperture was generally f/5.6 in order to keep everyone in focus.  The dark room made for higher flash recycle times than I'd have liked, and I therefore missed a few candid moments that I would have liked to capture.  I think a more powerful flash (1/2 power recycle times are much faster than full power) as well as a higher ISO would be in order next time.  Normally, I wouldn't use a flash during a wedding ceremony, but this one was more low key than most, so I opted to avoid the sensor noise that ISO 3200 would have introduced.

I shot most the ceremony with my Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 macro lens--the older variety from 2007.  The newer version is f/4 at 70mm, is optically stabilized, and has a faster focusing motor -- all of which would have improved the situation that afternoon and reduced my postprocessing time.  I've been wanting to upgrade my walkaround lens for some time now, and events like this only push me farther down that path.  If only it was a constant f/2.8 at the long end, I'd be in heaven.

Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8, wide open
I also whipped out my old, manual-focus Nikkor 135/2.8 lens for a few tight shots of their hands during the vows.  I've gotten so used to shooting everything in manual mode (including my flash power for studio work) that I forgot how inaccurate the flash's eTTL is with non-EOS lenses.  I had to dial the flash exposure down to -3ev to get a decent exposure with that lens.

Anyway, that's about all I've got to share today.  No great pearls of wisdom--just a couple notes on how I spent my week.  I hope those of you in the USA are enjoying your Thanksgiving weekend (and that the rest of you are enjoying your fourth weekend of November).  I certainly have loved the family time so far.  God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve, and I don't ever want to take that for granted.

As always, if you've got any comments or suggestions, I'd always love to hear them.  Speak up below.

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