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Wedding Webinar Tip – Fast Lenses, Wide Aperture

Wedding and Event Photography and NIK Image Enhancement Webinar
John Bentham

Digital Photo Academy and LivinginHD present a free monthly series of photography webinars on Your host, John Bentham answers many questions live during the webinars. Additional questions, answers and tips are posted here on where you can also view the archived webinars.

When shooting in low light the faster your lens (the wider the aperture), the higher your shutter speed can be, which reduces the chance of camera shake and minimizes subject movement. With a faster lens you also don’t need to raise the ISO as high, thus minimizing digital noise issues you get at very high ISO’s such as 3200. You pretty much need a full time f2.8 lens or faster, to shoot this type of work. The kit lenses supplied with most DSLR’s have limited capabilities. A kit lens will allow you to shoot at f3.5 if your zoom is set to 18mm, only 1/2 stop slower than 2.8. But when you zoom out to 200mm the mechanical limitations of the lens restrict you to shooting at f5.6 or even f6.3 depending on the lens, which is usually too slow to shoot wedding ceremony photos without using flash. Many churches and temples place restrictions on photographers, including the use of flash during the actual ceremony in addition to certain areas where photographers are not allowed to stand.

Photo by Russ Burden, DPA Instructor Denver

The photo above shot by Russ Burden, one of the DPA Instructors in Denver is a classic group wedding formal shot. Regardless of your personal taste in photographs or how fun and funky you want to shoot a wedding be prepared to shoot some formal shots. Russ has kept the composition clean with a layered but not distracting background, has left some space around the group so the photo can breath, and has used a normal lens (52mm in 35mm equivalent), thus keeping the perspective normal and not allowing any distortion at the edges. You can tell Russ has added a little supplemental flash to brighten up the faces and the clean white of the brides dress, sometimes you just need a little kick light to bring it all together.

For the few select wedding I shoot each year I usually shoot my standard documentary set-up, the current prevailing style of wedding photography has a documentary slant so the system fits perfectly. Two cameras, the first being a full frame sensor body with no X-Factor, with a wide zoom and the 2nd small digital sensor body with a longer zoom. The purpose for this is two fold. If anything goes wrong with a camera you just swap it out, you don’t want to have 200 people staring at you while you try to figure out what’s wrong with your camera, figure it out later. The 2nd reason being by carrying the two bodies with two different zoom lenses I am always carry a very wide range of focal length without ever having to change lenses. Most group shots will be taken at approx 35–50mm on the zoom range. Ideally you don’t want to shoot groups of people with focal length wider than 35mm but its nice to be able to zoom out a bit wider if you have to suddenly go from shooting a group of three to a group of ten people. With a sometimes boisterous crowd there is often no room to physical move back and use a longer lens, especially if every time you back up a guest jumps into your frame with a cell phone camera. A wide zoom handles this very nicely and without too much distortion as long as you remember not to put larger people on the edge of frame where they blow up.

Photo by John Bentham, DPA Instructor New York

The photo above of the wedding tent, is a good example of shooting hand held using a fast lens. This image photographed by John Bentham in Pensacola, Florida was shot at f2.8 at .6 seconds at 800 ISO, about the limit you can shoot hand held, and at about the limit for ISO before you start getting digital noise. The f2.8 lens used enabled the photographer to shoot without a tripod. At slow speeds like this you still need to be mindful of camera shake but with a little practice you’d be surprised how steady you can hold a camera.

For longer shots I use a 70-200mm Zoom specifically mounted on a smaller digital sensor. This extends the zoom range of the lens once you apply the X-Factor. To work out the X-Factor you simply multiply the focal length of your lens by the X-Factor for your camera. Panasonic Cameras have an X-Factor of two. Canon cameras an X-Factor of 1.6 and Nikon cameras have an X-Factor of 1.5. When using a 70-200mm lens, this equates to a working zoom range of 112–320mm. From the back of the church this focal length was long enough for me to get relatively close up shots without having to lug a 300 or 400mm lens around all night. Whenever possible use an OIS, IS or VR Lens (Optical Image Stabilization, Image Stabilization, Vibration Reduction).

Photo by John Bentham, DPA Instructor New York

For long lenses it’s best to shoot at a shutter speed of at least 1/60th, higher is even better but certainly no slower than a 30th of second. At a 1/30th there is little risk of camera shake if the camera is supported but the subject movement can still be quite blurry, even if the subject is seated. You are better shooting at 1/60th second and bumping up the ISO a stop.

The photo above shot by John Bentham captures the little flower girl through the arms of her dancing parents, a fun loose whimsical shot. Again shot at f2.8 at 1/6th of a second but with added flash to brighten the image and stop the action. By slowing down the shutter speed this has bled in the ambient background light and prevented the background from appearing pitch black as is often the case with interior party photos. John has used a little NIK Viveza 2 Software to bring out some detail on the girl (added structure and contrast), and toned down the exposure on the dancers, a result of them being much closer to the flash.


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