Unless the bride and groom are planning a special event during the evening or after the reception such as a firework dispaly etc., the First Dance is usually the last element of the wedding day that we photograph.
We feel this is a good point at which to stop taking photographs as it allows the bridal party and guests time to enjoy the evening celebrations without the worry of being ‘caught on camera’ enjoying themselves.
Also, a wedding day is a long and tiring day for a photographer and by now you will have probably been on your feet for the best part of 12 hours and the cameras around your neck will feel like lead weights. I guarantee by now you will be ready to pack up your equipment.
However, even though by now you will be quite tired you have to give the First Dance as much attention as any other part of the day. For many couples the First Dance will form an important part of the day – your couple may have even spent a great deal of time putting together a First Dance routine to perform on their wedding day and as such they will be expecting that the photographs you take do justice to their efforts.
I normally check with the couple at our pre-wedding meeting if they have prepared a ‘special’ First Dance and if they have I try and get a feel from them for the type of routine they intend to perform.
Bear in mind that you will more often than not be shooting the First Dance in low lighting conditions – low lighting is my personal nightmare – I don’t mind dealing with low light scenarios when I have plenty of time to provide a solution but at a wedding when everything has to be done at break neck speed and it has to be creative and of the highest quality I have to say it worries me.
Ok let’s say you have 3 minutes to get your shots – the lighting conditions are at best poor – the fastest shutter speed you can achieve is well below that for which you can handhold the camera and even if you could handhold the camera it is so dark that your auto focus is having problems identifying and focusing on the subject and as a consequence when you press the shutter your camera either it doesn’t fire or there is a massive delay before it finally locks onto its target and deems that it is now ready to record your image by which time of course the shot you wanted to capture is long gone and you end up taking the back of the bride’s head.
You will need to find the best solution for your situation with the capacity of your equipment but a few things to consider are:-
Try using your manual focus – it’s sometimes better to get a slightly out of focus shot than no shot at all
Try cranking up your ISO – most modern cameras now have incredible ISO capabilities – although my D3 can achieve an ISO rating of 25,600 I rarely go above 1,600 as even with the incredible picture quality of Nikon you can start to see evidence of unwanted noise.
You could use a tripod so that you can achieve slower shutter speeds but I find this too restricting – I like to move around the floor with my couple as they perform the First Dance.
You could also try using a video light – I always carry a video light with me. The down side of a video light is that comes with a fairly hefty battery pack which will probable provide just enough extra weight to finish you off completely – still it is only for 3or 4 minutes or so and it will provide you with enough light for your subjects as well as help you with your auto focus issues.
If however, your couple are planning a fast first dance then even the above suggestions may not provide you with a solution.
By the way if you find a great area to shot your First Dance don’t be afraid to ask your couple if you could ‘mock up’ the dance – when the images are in the album no one will actually know if the music was playing.
With the First Dance in the camera, all of your images have been captured – pat yourself on the back, it may have been a long and tiring day but you can say your goodbyes safe in the knowledge that you have put together a set of photographs that the couple, their family and friends will love and treasure for generations to come.
In many respects with the shooting finished the easy part of the job has been completed – now the real work begins – processing the images and creating an album/photobook. From beginning to end I normally expect to spend 40 to 60 hours on a wedding – todate we have probably clocked up about 10 to 15 hours.