Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How Many Shots to Take.

Taking more pictures than your competition down the street doesn't make you a better photographer. It cheapens your work.
I remember, at one time in my career, trying to figure out how many shots were actually possible at a wedding. I kept increasing the number.
I never did arrive at a final answer, so one day I went in the other direction - what's the minimum number of shots that can be taken at a wedding?
Ah, good question! Karsh, I had read, would spend the day with his portrait subject, but would only take two shots. I don't think he shot weddings, but it got me to thinking.
The answer for a wedding shoot, I found out, was one. It was my last wedding. I told the groom, the one who booked it, who wouldn't take no for an answer when I told him that I no longer shot weddings, that, fine, I'd go, but one was the most number of pictures I would take. The other option was zero. If I couldn't find a good and proper shot, I would leave without taking any pictures at all. I told him that because I didn't want him to be disappointed.
"Also," I said, "I want you to book a professional photographer to back me up and take all the shots I missed."
"I thought that was what I was DOING," he whimpered. "I thought I WAS booking a professional photographer." There was a wee bit of exasperation in his voice, but not much.
I decided to push my luck. "And you have to promise to tell the professional photographer, before you book him or her, that I'll be there only for a short time and to not be bothered by it as we were not in competition for your money or duplication of shots."
He agreed.
When I arrived at the wedding, the first thing I noticed was a stretch limo slipping in some January ice, slowly moving sideways toward a sheer 15 foot cliff. A dozen people were standing around watching. I stopped, jumped out, grabbed my handy half-gallon orange juice jug full of dry sand, ran over to the limo, poured some sand beside both downhill wheels, and escaped. The limo stopped sliding two feet short of the cliff. The driver was sweating profusely in the cold weather. I spoke with him for a minute until he calmed down and then gently helped him find out who was in charge. Then I poured a trail of sand as he inched the limo back up toward the road. All safe, I looked up toward the place where the wedding was taking place. All the guests were either plastered against the windows or outside cheering. It was a good start.
Five minutes gone.
I carried my camera case inside, and the young professional photographer who had been hired to shoot the wedding turned and gasped.
"Wh-wh-wh," he said.
I introduced myself.
"I know who you are," he said. "But, but, but..."
I could tell he hadn't been told, as per my agreement with the groom.
"Let me help you," I offered. He was now shaking too much to get a clear shot of the bride's family.
"They w-want a picture cutting the cake," he stammered. "What should I do?"
"Great idea, cutting the cake" I offered. "Glad you thought of it. Can I help you with that?"
He began to calm down. I suggested "artistic" shots of the rings on a napkin and other such things. He calmed down to the point that I thought I could leave things with him, and I went off to look for my shot.
I got the shot.
Back home, I developed the film, printed an 11x14, b/w from a color neg (a half-used roll of color was already in the camera), worked on it with a bit of yellow dye in three areas, wrote a two paragraph essay, matted it, framed it, and hung it in my gallery.
"Your picture is ready," I told the groom on the phone.
The couple came over, and while they stood in front of it, I handed them a sheet of paper with the words that went with it. "Here," I said, "this goes with it."
And I left.
A few minutes later I went back to check on them. The bride was crying, quietly, but I could tell. The groom was holding her. I went after a box of tissue, thinking, "this is either very good or very bad." In the picture I hadn't shown either of their faces. Her dress didn't show. There was the back of her veil and part of his cheek. There was a window high up from inside the restaurant next door, a lamp, and some wood flooring.
I handed him the box of tissue.
"It's good," he said, and handed me a credit card.
I breathed a little sigh of relief.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but we haven't discussed money. I don't know how much to charge."
"Does it matter?" he asked, tilting his head toward his bride. She still hadn't spoken a word, and never did.
I calculated later that I'd made more profit (not gross) on that wedding than almost any other of the 1300 I'd shot. I was almost sorry, almost, that I had retired from weddings.
I still had so much to learn.

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