Kick Ass Wedding Photography Workshop » French Pyrenees 11-13 Oct 2016

Last week I taught my first ever wedding photography workshop! It was exciting and terrifying and also terrifying.

It was 3 full days spent in the French Pyrenees with talks, shoots and lots of French wine. The venue was an old mill house called La Materette run by an English couple who are the nicest people ever and also the most insane cooks – I want to go back there just for Nick’s samosas.

There were 9 students, plus me, Rachel and Steve (our real couple who modelled for us) and Claire the stylist, who I used to work with in publishing and who in an amazing wedding planner and stylist.

Rachel, Claire and I spent months chatting and plotting the styled shoot, which was a Midsummer Night’s Dream theme. We shared stress, euphoria and lots of gifs over Facebook messenger, and in the end to see our collective brains come together on the last night with the styled shoot was nothing short of magical – I peeked a look at the shoot setup while I was doing one to ones and it was tough not to cry it was so beautiful.

The weekend before the workshop, Rachel, Steve and I headed down to the venue to prep and scout locations for the photoshoots. I’d done the same back in March and had a good idea of where to do everything, but we came across some even more beautiful spots this time around, so everything changed!
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Here are a few shots of the venue – an old mill house in the valley of the Pyrenees, with a pool, a weir, a river, many acres of woodland, plus a dog called Nina and a chatty cat called Lily:

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And on Monday afternoon, the students arrived! We had 6 girls and 3 boys, and everyone got on so well right from the start.

One of my students, Tash (below in the red checked blanket) is also a bride whose wedding I’m shooting next year!

We did a quick posing session with Emma and Rich, who were also students (plus Emma was making a video of the workshop, which I can’t wait to see!). Instead of a slideshow presentation, I made little notebooks for everyone with crib notes and photos to illustrate the points. They went down well!

Next we drove up into the French Pyrenees (our ears kept popping as the views got better!) for a mini photoshoot. The reason I chose the French Pyrenees as a location for the workshop was so that the students could get photos for their portfolio with a mountainous backdrop, so they could book destination weddings from it. Destination weddings are the holy grail for a lot of wedding photographers – we all love to travel and shoot in exciting new places, but often when we travel we don’t have a couple to shoot as well. So we brought Rachel and Steve, our real couple (whose powder paint wedding I shot two years ago) to model for us in the mountains!
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Matt spotted a cow…

mountain photoshoot

Matt and the cow in a twerking competition…

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I love this photo below because Matt’s lens hood perfectly mimics the tourist sign in the background.

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We jumped back in the cars and headed down the hill to Lac du Bethmale, a mirror lake surrounded by trees – they were turning autumnal, so the colours were insane. When I visited in March they were covered in snow!

Everyone had 2 minutes each to pose and shoot before we rejoined as a group to take more photos around the rest of the lake.

I spotted this cool tree as we were walking around, so decided to set up an impromptu off-camera flash lesson. Rich has a vape so he produced some awesome smoke for us. What you can’t see here is Tash holding my flash and Rich puffing on the vape hiding behind the trees knee deep in used tissues. Yuck!

This little spot was incredible – the angle you’re looking at the lake completely transforms the colour of the water.

Meanwhile, stylist Claire foraged for flowers for our next shoot.

Back at the house, we had another shoot planned. The original idea had been to use Lac du Bethmale (the mirror lake above) as a “standing on water” shoot, but when we revisited, it was obvious the earth under the water was too sinky and also we noticed the lake was protected so that plan was out the window. Luckily the venue has its own river! Here are Nick and Fran the venue owners and Nina the adorable dog and workshop mascot:

The purpose of the shoot was to create a moody, low-light, glowing water shot – we did the shoot around 5pm so it wasn’t dark, but a bit of clever editing makes it look like it was.

Rachel made the crown herself and enjoyed it so much she has now set up an Etsy shop called Rebel Rebel Stitches

That evening we practised dance floor photos with Clare being our awesome dancing wedding guest.

We then hit the pool with our newfound flash skills to get that all-important bride and groom jumping in the pool shot. Students Charlie and Matt very bravely stepped up to be our bride and groom…

They jumped in several times before secretly deciding to dive bomb us and drench our cameras!

Damp but happy, we settled in with a few bottles of wine and a game of Cards Against Humanity. We finished at 2am, at which point I had to bake a cake for the shoot the next day!

The next day was one to one sessions and a big styled shoot – I’ll give you a sneak peek here, but as it’s being featured on Whimsical Wonderland Weddings (yippee!) I’m going to wait til it’s published before blogging it here. Watch this space…

midsummer nights dream wedding

 

And then it rained! All my students wanted to learn how I do rain photos, and we got the most perfect opportunity to shoot a real bride and groom all dressed up in the lovely rain 🙂


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The shoot ended with a massive BBQ banquet using the styled shoot props as table decorations – the room was turned around in about 2 minutes by Claire while everyone changed into their fancy outfits, then we enjoyed a big fancy dinner as guests and not photographers, which was wonderful. I cut the shoot cake (wedding style) and we all tucked in – the cake itself is a little surprise for you to see on Whimsical in a few weeks! You will love it!

kick-ass-banquet

There will be another Kick Ass Workshop next year – register your interest here:

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I love being a wedding photographer. I work my own hours, have no commute and get to party with new friends every weekend. But what’s it really like? What do I get up to day to day? How do I stay stress-free? What systems do I use to ensure nothing can go wrong?How do I make sure I stay happy?

Here’s my life as a wedding photographer laid bare…

Most days I’m at home in my pyjamas. My colleagues are my two cats Loki and Kirby who do a great job of telling me when lunchtime is. I eat cereal for lunch and drink many cups of tea. I tend to get dressed when Thomas messages me to say he’s on his way home.

My desk! And Kirby

My desk! And Kirby

 

The most boring part of the week is the day before a wedding when I make sure all my batteries are charged and do my most hated task – formatting memory cards. I have 30 memory cards and most are 64gb, which stores around 2500 photos, but I burn through those babies like wildfire, so every week I find myself having to format cards. I hate doing this partly because it’s scary deleting photos and partly because I go through every single image against the ones on my screen to check they’re all there and it takes ages! I also print out all the info I need for the wedding, such as group photos, timings, phone numbers and addresses.

memory cards

I then pack my bag (I own every camera bag going, but since moving to Fuji I’ve found the fjallraven Kanken bag to be the winner. It’s a normal backpack but you can buy an insert to protect all your camera gear, and I can even fit an Amazon tripod in there. (I realised only recently that I only use a tripod as a more steady light stand so don’t need a bells and whistles tripod – the one I use is £13 and weighs basically nothing!)

Photo by Holly Rose Stones

Photo by Holly Rose Stones

I pack my bag the night before – here’s a rundown of the kit I take to every wedding, which is all so small and light and makes life SO much easier:

  • 2x Fuji XPro2 cameras
  • 18mm f2 lens (I use this 90% of the day – it’s tiny and light so I can be super sneaky!)
  • 23mm 1.4 lens
  • 56mm 1.2 lens (perfect for portraits)
  • 2x Nissin i40 flashguns (also tiny)
  • 2x Cactus triggers (so I can trigger the flash off the camera during the first dance or rain photos)
  • Amazon tripod
  • Think Tank pouch I wear on a belt to carry lenses/snacks (which I always forget – being sugar-free almost vegan makes it hard to find portable snacks!)/phone/list of group photos and timings
  • Spider holster belt to hang my cameras from – no straps for me! 
  • I also have a Think Tank memory card wallet hanging off the belt where I store all my used and unused memory cards – used go face in, unused face out!
My baby

My baby

The morning of the wedding I have my usual bowl of overnight oats (yum), then I leave with an hour to spare in case of traffic and I always tell myself my start time is an hour earlier than it is, just in case. Only one time have I ever actually been “on time”, and that was because Brighton was gridlocked with the London to Brighton Beetle thing (ironically the bridal car was their own vintage Beetle, totally by chance!) So yes I’m always super early! It stresses me out to think of being late, and since I started leaving so early the wedding nightmares have stopped.

I usually wear a maxi or midi dress with sandals or flip flops in summer and trousers, top and Etnies skate shoes in winter (they’re sooo comfy).

This is a typical "dress hanging" photo for me! I like people and action and real stuff

This is a typical “dress hanging” photo for me! I like people and action and real stuff

By this time I’m usually starving and have probably forgotten to bring any food. I’ve just bought Huel, so I reckon that’ll be good for this point in the day!

By the end of the day I’m dead on my feet but super exhilarated (the dancing is the best bit, the most fun photos!) – I either drive home or stay in an Airbnb if it’s late. For 2017 I’ve taken the option off my pricing brochure to have anything other than all day and evening coverage, because I love it so much and love to tell the whole story. So I’ll pretty much always be staying over somewhere!

Here I am being licked by wedding guests

Here I am being licked by wedding guests

When I get home I pop the memory cards in a safe and export them to two hard drives the next morning (I’m usually too tired to do it the night before and I know I’ll make a mistake). I shoot RAW to one card and JPEG to the second card in each camera. The JPEG card is 128gb so I can fit loads of weddings on one – an extra backup! The Fuji XPro2 is so damn awesome that the JPEGs are just as good as the RAWs and edit pretty much the same, so if it did all go wrong with the RAW files, my backup option is just as excellent. Why not just shoot JPEG all the time? I’m scared! I know RAW, I trust it, I have presets for it. Maybe one day, but for now I’m going to stick with what I’m comfortable with. I upload the JPEGs to Dropbox so they’re also on the cloud.

I save all photos into a RAW folder within a folder named with the number it is in the queue, the wedding date and the couple’s names. The file names are named after my cats!

There is so much that can go wrong with files, so I do what I can to make sure nothing gets lost.

My filing system

My filing system

Over the next few days I pick out a selection for a blog post/preview using Photomechanic and Lightroom. I don’t blog all weddings, but either way my couples get a preview. I’ll be honest, I just choose my personal favourites for this preview, but my couples can rest assured that there are plenty of pretty, calm, non-gurning photos too! It’s just that I like the silly, gurning ones, so they go on the blog 😉 These are the photos that attract my future couples – and I love having couples who love fun photos! This is something I talk about in depth at the Kick Ass Workshop, getting your ideal clients.

I love silly fun photos so much. These photos are what make a wedding day!

I love silly fun photos so much. These photos are what make a wedding day!

I upload the chosen and edited photos to my blog/facebook/Zenfolio where my couples can download them, I then send an email to the couple to let them know, then sit on the edge of my chair for their reply (even though I have confidence in what I do and am always super happy with the work I produce, there’s always The Fear). I then pop a few pics on Instagram – I’ve been doing 1 or 2 a day since they changed the algorithm. This is all part of my marketing – my kinda couples tend to use Instagram – photo-loving people! It’s also so my couples can easily share their photos.

I totally intend to cull all the images in the first few days after the wedding (by cull I mean choose the ones to keep) but sometimes I just choose the preview pics as it’s loads quicker and I can get the preview out faster. I use Photomechanic to cull, which is super fast, although I take like 6,000 photos, so not so fast. It takes a couple of hours to cull a whole wedding if I’m totally head-down on it, but I never am, so it takes a couple of days of stop-starting. I think once I did it in one go. Once. I try not to feel bad about it though, as long as it gets done before four weeks is up I’m cool.

I usually cull down to about 800 images, which means I throw out any blinkers, blurries (unless they’re “artsy”), and any that are basically duplicates. I take so many photos because I “shoot the moment” as they say. I really go for it. I want to capture an awesome photo, not just an ok one. I want the head back, mouth open, tears of laughter photo that takes time and patience to capture, not the smile-at-the-beginning-of-a-funny-story-another-guest-is-telling-photo-and-then-miss-the-big-laugh-cos-I-walked-away photo, which is easy to do. I don’t mind if I’m not shooting 100% of the time and that people think I’m slacking off (I don’t think they do think that, it’s just my paranoia!). I’m watching, listening, waiting. Then shooting like crazy when the moment happens! So I have to go through a lot of similar photos picking out the absolute best ones. I never throw away an image just because I’ve reached a quota – all the ones I deem worthy of inclusion go in. This is more work for me (or Rachel more precisely) but it’s worth it. Another topic I talk about at the workshop – getting the fun photos!

I probably took a thousand photos to nail this cracker

I probably took a hundred photos to nail this corker

Over the next few weeks I spend my days culling weddings and exporting the Lightroom (like Photoshop but better) catalogs to send to Rachel my editor (her existence means I can have a life and sit in the garden and swim in the sea!). I highly recommend outsourcing anything you don’t enjoy or aren’t good at, from admin to blogging to editing to setting up light stands at a wedding. You’ll be so much happier!

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My Zenfolio couples galleries

I used to send weddings on USBs in a wooden box but I had to be honest with myself and stop doing the things I wasn’t enjoying. I partly stopped doing USBs because they’ll soon become obsolete, plus a lot of my couples don’t have USB holes, but mainly because it took up aaaaaall my time. I’d spend entire days just wrapping up boxes and trudging to the Post Office. I do make sure my couples get something tangible though 😉

In between culling and checking edits I chat to my virtual colleagues on Facebook – these are 3 fellow wedding photographers who are all based on the outskirts of London, so not close enough to work together in person. We do meet up every few weeks though, like a school trip. Most recently we all went to Milan on a little street photography excursion! It’s usually hanging out for lunch at one of our houses though, not always Milan!

Here we are in Milan being silly! Who took the photo you ask? Nicola, then photoshopped herself in! Can you tell which one she is? Photo by Lemonade Pictures

Here we are in Milan being silly? Who took the photo you ask? Nicola, then photoshopped herself in! Can you tell which one she is?

I also sometimes take a rare day off to hang out with a bigger gang of wedding photographers; this summer I went to a picnic in Kent and this week to the beach in my hometown of Broadstairs. We went swimming in the sea, it was wonderful and much needed.

Here we are being silly. Photo by Julian Nicholas

Here we are being silly. Photo by Julian Nicholas

I also do Borrow My Doggy, where I literally borrow a dog. I walk Dorothy and Winston the sausages once a week and Pav the wolfhound every now and then. I love it – it gets me out the house!

sausages borrow my doggy

On Sundays, if I’m not shooting a wedding, I tend to lounge about in the garden – all good intentions of Doing Stuff goes out the window. Sometimes I’ll visit my family in Surrey/Sussex, but mostly I plough through books in the garden. I love a good crime thriller and books about psychology. I’m reading The Psychopath Test at the moment, it’s terrifying to think they’re everywhere. I think it’s important not to feel guilty about having time off and not doing Stuff. Not doing anything at all is rejuvenating.

If I have a whole weekend off I usually get straight onto Easyjet to see where I can go, as I love travelling! Last weekend was Isle of Man, the next one I’m hoping is my home country of Lithuania – I’ve never actually been there before!

A year ago I decided to block out a weekend every month to have off (unless I got a killer enquiry!) I don’t regret it at all and it’s helping me stay sane this summer. Time off is underrated and most wedding photographers don’t have enough – or any!

We ate fish and chips on top of a big hill

We ate fish and chips on top of a big hill

Most days I sit here with a cat on my lap being as annoying as he can be, answering emails, culling and checking photos, writing blogs, planning my workshop, constantly re-designing my pricing booklet, doing instagram, doing banking and tax things, procrastinating on Facebook, doing the supermarket shop (although I’ve recently decided to buy all food possible from the farm shop), chasing the cats around the garden, going to the chiropractor (she’s a wonder worker) and eating Shredded Wheat.

So there you have it, how to be a happy wedding photographer!

To learn more about loving your job as a wedding photographer, join me in France this October for my Kick Ass Workshop!

Zoe and Paul London Wedding at The Peasant-81The dancing is one of my favourite parts of a wedding day, as everyone lets their hair down and I can get some really kick-ass shots. And lately several photographers have asked me how I got these shots.

So for any wedding photographers who would like to know how I get my dancefloor photos, here are some tips!

Camera settings (it depends on how dark the room is so play around with this):

♥ First of all I have my camera on manual focus so I don’t waste time trying to focus (for the love of god don’t forget to change it back before your next wedding)

♥ Focus on a point in the distance that is roughly how far you will be from your subject in most photos

♥ My shutter is usually set to around 1/6th of a second (if you want more ambient light or if it’s very dark, go slower)

♥ My aperture is around f11

♥ My ISO is low, but play around with this if it’s too dark/bright

♥ Pop your flash on manual, dial it to around 1/32 (again, try different intensities if it’s too dark/bright)

♥ Stick the flash on your camera and point it forwards so you’re blasting your subject in the face and momentarily blinding them

♥ Zoom the flash as far as it will go (I use around 180-200mm)

Shooting tips

♥ Use a wide-angle lens – anything from 24-35mm will work. A 50mm lens won’t work. I use 24mm and get in reaaaaaal close

♥ Get in close. Closer!

♥ Study the dancefloor all the time and be ready to pounce when something happens

♥ Listen to the song – if you know it has certain moves or rocking choruses then be ready to shoot people making those moves

♥ Watch people’s habits. If a person dancing has a habit of pointing their hands out or flicking their hair, don’t worry if you missed it, chances are they’ll do it again so keep an eye on them

♥ Shoot loads – jump in for the shot and shoot several frames.

♥ Don’t look through the viewfinder – know what your focal length covers and just point and click – don’t waste a single second composing!

♥ Shoot from above, below and head height

♥ If anything happens like a smashed glass, don’t help clean up, take photos of the reaction!

♥ Take a peek at your shots every so often to make sure you haven’t knocked the focus ring

♥ Be in the thick of it instead of standing on the outside looking in. And dance like a mad person

♥ Warp perspective with your wide-angle lens – so if someone has their arm outstretched, shoot from their hand

♥ If you want movement from the lights (streaks etc) move the camera across the lights the instant you take the shot Shoot-flip! Shoot-flip! The slower the shutter the more light streaks you’ll have

♥ Look for weird things that look out of place, like a fancy dress prop or someone yawning

♥ When choosing which photos to include in your gallery, look carefully at the background – you’ll spot some hilarious things!

And here are some photos I’ve taken on the dancefloor!

  • Emma B - ‘Flash queen of the universe!’ 😉ReplyCancel

    • Anna - Woohoo! Awesome nickname 🙂 Although could be misunderstood by non-photographers 😉ReplyCancel

So I “popped over” to the south of France this week to do a recce for October’s Kick Ass wedding photography workshop. And it’s even better in real life than it looked online! The house has a heated swimming pool, a river for wild swimming, a hot tub in the woods and loads of spots to take awesome photos. I met Nina and Lily, who I’ve decided will be our workshop animal models! I also found out summer goes on way into October down there so it should be lovely and warm for us. It’s all getting very excited now, and the spots are filling up fast! Roll on October!

 

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