William Ames Wedding PhotographyWilliam Ames Wedding Photography
A portly wedding planner named Sandy Malone, Twitter @SandyMalone_ has angered a lot of photographers with her advice about not feeding photographers.
Photography, especially wedding photography, is an athletic endeavor. I say this as a trained martial artist and avid hiker.
Instead of simply asserting myself, as Ms. Malone does, though, I'll use this as a teachable moment. I'll tell you what it's like, then you can decide for yourself.
My Typical Start to a Wedding Day
My typical wedding day starts the night before, packing gear and marking off checklists, then lugging a few hundred pounds of equipment to my car.
The day of, I again go over my checklist, then head to the venue, usually a hairdresser or somewhere the bride is getting ready. To photograph these early events, I have two camera bodies and at least one speedlite around my neck, with a bag of accessories and another bag of contingencies in tow. Total weight around my neck is about 30 pounds, with another 15 or so that I carry from place to place. During this time, I'm not just standing around. I'm constantly moving, and when I'm not moving--and this is key--I'm doing something like a crunch.
Why Photographers have Great Abs
William Ames in Beaver StadiumWilliam Ames in Beaver Stadium
Something that's not intuitive to most people is that it takes some core strength to take professional-grade pictures with a DSLR is that it requires crunches. That's right, crunches. Why? To stabilize the camera. At the moment I take a picture, the camera needs to be as steady as possible, because I want the images to be as good as they can be. This is usually in less-than-ideal lighting, but even in bright light, you can't just snap, or you'll get a lot of blurry photos.
When I compose a shot, I press lightly on the shutter button to focus, and I start to stabilize. I hold my breath and press the shutter while stabilizing my core, hence the crunch. I do this about 7,500-10,000 times during a wedding, no exaggeration.
I carry three cameras around my neck during a wedding ceremony. One is my main camera for wide angles and normal angles, one is for telephoto work so I don't intrude on the event, and one is a contingency should one of the others fail. My telephoto lens, by itself, weighs 52oz, or 3 1/4 pounds. My main camera is 32 ounces without a lens that weighs another 2 pounds. I have about 20 pounds of gear hanging off my neck during a ceremony, even more during a reception because of flash strobes and extra batteries and packs.
During a ceremony, I need to walk quietly and stealthily. This is where my martial arts training really comes in handy! To walk quietly, you need to roll your feet, which requires more muscles than stamping around. Try it. Walk quietly up a flight of steps, like I do in church balconies. Walk across a large room without making a sound...50-100 times, then feel the strain around your shins. I do this during the entire ceremony and anywhere I don't want to be a distraction.
Naturally, I run around a lot, too. I need to pop down on my knee to get a shot of the bride walking down the aisle, but then I also need to get a shot of her train...so I book to the back of the church as fast as I can--while also being quiet. I am constantly moving during a ceremony. Constantly.
Portraits are Hard Work
During a typical wedding, I've got--maybe--45 minutes to do six hours worth of portraits. I am literally running around, non-stop, that entire time...while doing the crunches I talk about earlier, and while carrying all my bags and gear, usually around 40-50 pounds.
Portraits aren't usually all in one place. either. I shoot a lot of Penn State weddings, since I'm based out of State College, an appropriately named college town. During a "Penn State" portrait session, I'll take portraits at about five locations spread around this large campus. There's no parking nearby any of those, either, so I end up lugging gear 25-50 yards for each location. To get that done in the time allotted, I need to run, and I do. Even at a single-venue wedding, it's hectic, and we need to do portraits away from the rest of the guests, which means lugging all my gear to a place far away. I take hundreds of shots during the portrait session, so there are hundreds more crunches. In the summer heat, it's a bitch, let me tell you. Pardon my French ;-) I can't even get a drink of water, most weddings, and I haven't eaten since I left my house that morning. I carry another 10 pounds of Gatorade around with me, adding to the weight.
I will admit to getting rather irritated at this point in the day if I haven't been offered food. First, it's in my signed agreement, but more important, it's just human decency. I can tell you lots of stories about bridal parties sitting around and eating catered lunches without offering me a thing.
Here's another thing that may not be intuitive. Like any athlete, I have to eat a light breakfast. You can't just gorge yourself in the morning and expect to be able to perform. You just can't. I typically have a single McDonald's sausage biscuit for breakfast the morning of a wedding, chased down with a shot of Five Hour Energy. That stuff is great, by the way. It's all the B vitamins! I go through three on a typical wedding day. The other reason for eating light, and I'm sorry for being direct here, is that I don't get any bathroom breaks. I'm literally working, non-stop, the entire day. I don't get or take breaks.
First DanceFirst Dance
So after shooting a frenzied portrait session, I am usually tasked with getting shots of the bridal party announcement, first dance and sometimes the cake cutting as soon as we walk in the door. I have about 5 minutes to get my off-camera strobes setup, and since nobody ever saves me a parking spot, I usually have to run in--with 50 pounds of light stands, batteries, grips, strobes and cameras--from 100 yards away, sometimes uphill or over rough terrain. As for that, please don't have the first dance and cake cutting when you first walk in. I don't know where that idea came from, but it doesn't work...for a number of reasons. For one thing, you're really taxing my ability to get those shots, since it usually requires off-camera lighting, and that's a tricky thing to setup. If you want amazing first-dance photos, let your photographer have some time during dinner to get the lighting just right.
So after all day of running around and working up a sweat, everybody else has had lunch and a cocktail hour. Not me. I'm still working off that sausage biscuit and Five Hour Energy. I'm hungry. I need calories to function for another five hours. I'm usually one of the last people to leave a venue, first to show, last to go. By the end of the night, I'm looking for food anywhere I can get it. After everything is over, my first stop on the way home or to my hotel is at a convenience store, where I grab 500 calories or so.
I explicitly state in my standard agreement that I need to get a guest meal, but I can't tell you how many times I've been denied. This isn't usually by the bride and groom, who are almost always generous and great to work with, it's the venues...and usually people with the title of "wedding coordinator" who think they're in charge of "the help". Let's get one thing straight. I am not "the help", and I don't answer to wedding coordinators or planners. I work with them, not for them. I answer to the bride, which is part of my agreement. I don't know why, but a lot of venues simply renege on the guest meal that my clients have paid for. One local establishment here actually has a "vendor meal" that is basically inedible. Seriously? You can't cook one more plate of real food? I'll pay for it again if you're that hard up for cash.
I don't mean to sound pretentious or arrogant here, but it's not that my clients or I can't afford another guest meal. So venues: Give me the meal my clients have paid for, and give me a place to eat it....which reminds me, please don't sit me at a table with your third cousins, either. That's really awkward, and even while eating, I still need to pay attention to what's going on, so I can jump up and get a shot that I sense coming...or to book across the hall because the DJ didn't check with me before cutting the cake. A good DJ will never do that, but sometimes it happens with amateurs or friends. I have to be ready for anything. I'll also note that I do need to be in the reception hall. Do not seat me in a hallway or ante-chamber, like I'm some piece of riff raff that has to eat table scraps. This usually happens in quaint venues like a Bed and Breakfast, where the lady of the house thinks that I should eat downstairs with the footmen and maids.
...but I digress!
The Bottom Line
I've been performing an athletic job for eight to ten hours or more, and I'm hungry, tired, dehydrated and my back is killing me by the time the reception gets going. I need calories to continue to function. Feed me. Get me water, or better yet, Gatorade. Your pictures will benefit.
As for Sandy Malone, I address her directly: You don't know a thing about what I do for a living. I could plan a wedding, and I have. You could never photograph one.
William Ames, State College PhotographerWilliam Ames, State College Photographer
William Ames has more than 20 years of experience in traditional and digital photography, digital imaging, photojournalism, wedding photography and more, with more than a million digital images in his portfolio.
His photos have appeared in magazines, books, billboards and numerous publications. He is the leading photographer of the Penn State Campus, with thousands of fine art prints displayed in homes and businesses across the nation.