Monday, July 16, 2012

extra! extra! bad wedding photography! read all about it!

As I like to do sometimes, I want to begin this post, not talking about the artistic nudes that I had the opportunity to shoot recently but an off topic experience that I had encountered recently. First of all, no worries, I will get to the nudes, calm yourselves. Second, this rant is actually photography related, so although off topic, it ties in nicely with the overall blog.

Scratch that whole paragraph. Having just too much to say about this weekend's events, I've decided to dedicate the entire post to the happenings that follow.

[The white line across the bottom of the photograph was added to protect the guilty.]

As you may know, I often try to post a new blog entry, every Sunday. Sure, sometimes I have other obligations that delay the process but it gets written one way or another. Some weeks it may arrive early, on a Friday or Saturday, while other times it can arrive late, on a Monday or even the following Sunday. Hey, better late than never, right?

Obviously, this post is being created on Monday. Why?

More after the jump...

This weekend, the wife and I had to attend a family wedding, quite a distance from home. My wife is well aware that I am no fan of weddings. Which is one of the reasons we were married far from home with no one attending but our priest, photographer and pilot. Yes, pilot, I'll share that story another time. This wedding, I knew would anger me just as most of the others I've attended over the years. How do I have such amazing insight? Simple. Every single wedding is exactly the same. Sure, each ethnicity may have their own little twist on traditions but in the end, the core of the wedding, more specifically, the reception, are sadly identical. The only variations are which is worse than the other.

As an attendee and hater of weddings, I often assign myself the duty of critiquing the event in its entirety. Analyzing everything, everyone from beginning to end. Before I publicly rip apart this past wedding, I want to share with you what makes me so damn pissed off about the blessed sacrament.

While driving for hours to our destination, laughing with my wife, we discussed the tragicness that we experienced every single time we put on a big smile and wished the best wishes to other new brides and grooms of times past and laughing, knowing this show would likely be no different.

Suck Number One - Food

It possible that in the many weddings I've attended, and it's been a whole hell of a lot, that I may have had only one or two really good meals. For the most part, the food, no matter how much it cost per plate, is typically well below average.

In recent years, the only wedding I can recall having remarkable food was that of our friends Megan and Jay. That wedding was one awesomely different event. The reception was at a church. No, not just any old church. This church had been converted into a home/photo studio. Insanely awesome. The owner is one amazing photographer and friend of ours, Dominic Episcopo. Be sure to check out his work [here]. On his site you can also see images of his home/church/studio. It's breathtaking. That man sure got in his 10,000 hours, and then some. I digress. The venue for Megan and Jay's wedding was far from traditional and the food to compliment. The dance floor was Dominic's enormous Cyc background and the food was no regular, take your pick, chicken, fish or beef. There were delicacies and small bites that made you slip and fall in your own puddle of drool. Ok, you get the point, that wedding really stood out in my head as one of few that were actually well above average. [Dominic didn't shoot that wedding. He was simply an awesome host.]

Back to reality of the 99.9% of weddings that don't live up to that standard. Where were we? Oh, yeah, food. There are typically a few options in this department. A sit down dinner where you get the option of beef, chicken or fish. The other option is the buffet.

From my experiences, buffets are typically never ever a good thing. When your table is called you have to head up to the stations like prisoners in a cafeteria, holding your plate while trying to figure out what it is being dried out by the Sternos burning below. At the beginning of the line you may see something that is hardly appealing but at a prison acceptable standard. To choose or not to choose. What if by the end of the line and a full plate you see something slightly better but had no idea was there? Dump the plate and start over? Choke down what was already served and hope you have room for more? Or, do as I do and just get a couple tiny portions of the first visibly acceptable rations and live the rest of the day without even knowing or caring what was at the other burnt pans.  Now, I do find one positive in the buffet styled wedding, choices. As the choices are usually less than delicious, the sit down dinner, deemed classier, offers much less to the attendee.

When attending a wedding that offers the sit down meal, you must sit and ponder the lesser of two or three evils. Which meal will bring you the least disappointment? Will the chicken be dangerously undercooked? Will the fish be dried out? Will the beef be overcooked? Therein lies the dilemma. Once you make that decision, you are bound to it for life. Ever so often, and you know this has happened to you or at people at your table, when your plate is delivered, you frown, wishing you would have chosen the other meat. Too late. Unless you get some fair trades around the table, you are stuck with that piece of steak wrapped in gristle. Yum.

Soups and salads are typically bland. You get your tiny portion of romaine with one crouton floating around there somewhere and they call it a Caesar salad. Soups with no doubt in my mind, typically come from a can. I know homemade food when I taste it.

I understand that they are cooking for masses of people but there has to be some sort of love put into this food. Not the soup kitchen efforts that I always experience.

Desert will be discussed in a bit.

Suck Number Two - Music

Does the sound of the Electric Slide or the Macarena make you want to jump up and busta' move or make you want to take your burnt steak and smack it across the DJs face? I'm sure the majority of you are voting for a steak lashing but for some miraculous reason, groups of people, including senior citizens flock to the dance floor and hitting every step of these pathetic songs. Why?! What has the world come to? I've been to Italian, Irish, Jewish, African American and even British weddings, just to name a few, and never has one missed playing those and a few other cliche wedding songs. It boggles my mind. Music has been made for thousands of years by millions of artists and yet every wedding has the same crap playlist.

Suck Number Three - Traditions

Is it really so shocking that when the bride and groom cut the cake that they may actually smash it in each other's face? No! It's been done to death and yet every bride and groom thinks they are doing something totally out of the ordinary. Even worse, those attending the wedding react as if this the most shocking sight they've ever seen. These days I can't even bring myself to watch the cutting of the cake. By that time, I'm so frustrated with the trite displays of so called traditions that I'm only counting down the minutes until I'm able to escape the reception.

Speeches are yet another part of weddings that should be banned. Trust me, I know. I've been the best man in three weddings, in consecutive years and I have throughly hated the fact that I would give a speech that I knew would be an absolute disaster. I've tried everything from staying sober to totally falling down drunk to searching the internet for something appropriate. Guess what? Nothing works. The only thing that is successful is the person making a fool of themselves holding that microphone.

I won't discuss every wedding tradition or I'd be writing for a week about my gripes. I do have one other that tends to bother me a bit. It's the announcement of the new bride and groom at the beginning of the reception. Typically you have a DJ trying to do his best to impersonate Michael Buffer (please hit that [link] and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about]. Even worse, you have the wedding party trying their best to be funny as they enter the room. Trust me, sunglasses, jumping, yelling and acting like a fool does not make the entrance funny. But yet, every wedding party thinks it will be the zenith of originality and every guest acts as if it is the greatest show on earth. I'm so confused.

Bringing Us To...

My brain is getting a little fried. I could nitpick for hours upon hours of what I think should be removed from all weddings on earth. You get the point. I'm not a fan. I'm not trying to be a negative person here. Quite the contrary. I find weddings, in their entirety, to be quite hilarious, all having these identical traits. This weekend wasn't so different.

Before I get into the real ass whipping. Let me state my favorite part of this wedding. Everything was held at the same hotel venue that the guests were staying. First of all, that minimizes any drinking and driving. Second of all, I can keep my butt in one location, just easier in general. The ceremony, cocktail hour and reception all at one venue. Awesome.

As we walked in to take our seats for the ceremony, I shift over to my stealth investigative mode, studying the people and the entire setup of the wedding. As a photographer, I then covertly study the wedding photographers and videographers. I targeted the main shooter. I immediately knew she wasn't producing cool work, just by the looks of her. Hey, I'm not being shallow here, trust me. There's a lot that can be said for someone by the shoes upon their feet or the clothes that they wear. This woman, and this is no joke, looked and dressed exactly like the nuns from my elementary school. It was a bit odd, the ugly stockings with a dress that went just below her knees. She wore a jacket that looked like it had the odor of moth balls and 1950, all over it. Her shoes were loafers. Think orthotics.

At close look, I could tell she was shooting a Canon 5d Mark I. A fine camera. Attached was a large flash bracket with a Omni diffused 580 EX II. The videographer was a younger man. Looked as if he was shooting with a consumer grade camcorder bought from Wal-Mart. A third shooter was shooting a small Nikon DSLR. I couldn't get in close enough to see the model but what angered me most was that he was shooting with the pop up flash. Folks, if you don't know a ton about professional photography, heed this warning: If you have a wedding shooter using a pop up flash, fire them immediately. Trust me. You will thank me, I promise.

I watched the nun's, I mean photographer's, every move. I like to envision what they are seeing. What is the composition that they are going for? Would I be making the same decisions? Look, I'm no wedding photographer but concepts and composition are the same across the board.

Seeing the videographer's amateur equipment made me ignore his moves immediately. Gear doesn't matter but you can tell when the wrong gear is chosen and the user doesn't know how to use the given gear. Just a photographer's insight of others.

I also paid little attention to the guy shooting with the pop up flash. I couldn't believe that was even happening. It was like watching a train wreck. I tried to ignore him as well.

My focus was fully on the main shooter now. I wanted to see her moves, her techniques. Maybe she was awesome. Who was I to judge her shoes? Anyway, this gave me something to do throughout the strangely familiar ceremony. I needed my own entertainment.

She seemed to know her way around the camera and the room for that matter. Lighting seemed to be her weakness. I watched as the photographer kept aiming the strobe head in various positions until finding the light she wanted, sometimes fiddling more with the camera than paying attention to the ceremony.

One of her biggest mistakes was during the reading of the vows. At this point she was right beside me. Without even looking I could hear her trying to change the batteries of the flash head. I know the sound well as I also have a Canon speedlite. I don't know if she swapped out bad batteries for other bad batteries but there was no power coming from that strobe. I saw the LCD reading information but her pilot light never lit. I could feel her stress. She began shooting with ambient only, which is just fine at higher ISO levels but I'm not so sure how well the 5d mark I performs in low light. It wasn't until towards the end of the ceremony that she was able to get that flash head popping again. I don't wish bad on anyone and I hope the reading of the vows came out OK. I'll probably never know.

[Note: by the end of the day, I noticed that the photographer used only one wide angle zoom throughout the entire wedding, another red flag.]

Following the cocktail hour, we entered the dining room. Soon after taking our seats I almost fell to the floor. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a ten by ten green screen! Not only could this be the worst photographic decision to make at a wedding but it was also in plain sight, right in the front of the dining room. This had disaster written all over it. A green screen!

Couples would get in front of the large green cloth, getting their photos taken and pasted on a chosen background in post processing. Look, green screen photography can be very cool but it is an art form in and of itself. I don't know. I'm not sure how to even approach what I saw on that day. Please, somebody play the Macarena so that I can slap someone with a piece of burnt meat!

The enthusiastic, Michael Buffer'esque, DJ was promoting the green screen as if it were the coolest thing on earth. I was appalled, not only that this was actually happening but for the fact that something like this represents photographers as hacks. Someone shooting green screen better know what they are doing or the end result will be horrific. This was no exception. A sad day for photography indeed.

As much as I thought it was a bad idea, the wife and I decided to get our photo taken. I just wanted to see how bad this was actually going to turn out. We stood in front of the large green cloth and motioned to the gentleman at the table, working on a PC laptop, the other files that he had already made. I couldn't get a good look but I'm sure he wasn't working with Lightroom or Photoshop or any Adobe software for that matter. He then came up and posed us like we were getting bad school portraits.  Tilting my head in an amateur way, as if he just felt that this positioning was appropriate. The only thing missing was the little black comb the school photographer gives out after fixing hair. He must have missed Peter Hurley's Headshot Intensive. The wife and I opted to ignore his direction as you can see in the image above. We knew this was no shot that would be hung upon any walls, in fact we did this out of pure amusement, to see what the hell was actually going to be produced. The "photographer" then raised his consumer level DSLR, along with kit lens and the pop up flash engaged (a super big faux pas with green screening and all pro photography for that matter), took aim, obviously in automatic exposure mode (trust me, I noticed) and fired away. Nothing happened. He looked utterly confused. I don't think he knew that the light on the front, blinking, meant that the camera was in timer mode. I didn't have the heart to tell him. He kept hitting the shutter until the timer expired and the shot fired on its own. He thought he triggered the camera.

I walked away, not having a care in the world about the image to follow. I was curious as to what the background would be. A beach sunset? A cityscape? A pasture? Who knew?

Later in the evening I obtained a print. Jeez, I feel bad knocking this work but it is a lesson that should be learned. I don't shoot weddings so I would never try to shoot a wedding. I don't shoot green screen nor do I have to desire to do so. Guess what? You won't see me trying to shoot green screen. I may be harsh but I think that it is a dose of medicine that needs to be given.

So I got my hands on the print. As you can see the chosen background is some tie dye floral something or other. Fact of the matter is, it is not the chosen background that bothers me so much but the heavy Gaussian Blur that they have decided to add to the photo. Yes, my friends, that is not an out of focus image, that is purposely added blur for a softening effect that was just not done properly, nor should it really be done at all these days. Selective focus is stretching it, tilt-shift is fine but just plopping a bunch of Gaussian blur across an entire image is something that went out of style with parachute pants.

Am I being rough? Again, yes, but it is necessary. It is not a fine line that separates art from inexperience or lack of knowledge. I don't think this was somebody's artistic interpretation of a scene, rather, an automated process of poor image making decisions.

You've noticed and I mentioned that I crossed out the company name at the bottom of the photo posted. I didn't want to publicly trash any company trying to make a living. I support that 110%. I just can't support what was produced or why. I also thought to myself, maybe it was a bad day for that guy. Who knows.

I decided to do some further investigation. I looked up the company online and discovered a few things. First of all, they are a full package company, meaning, for hire they will supply a videographer, photographer and entertainment DJ. The concept is fine but as you can see, simply doesn't work. This type of package deal is usually for those trying to save a buck. Bottom line is: you get what you pay for. Period. What does one have to do with the other? DJs and photographers as one company? I don't get it. It's as logical as getting a root canal and an oil change under one roof. Think about it.

I further investigated to search through the website a bit and not to my surprise, found more bad work. Seems this all-in-one company has an affinity for blurring images for the sake of blurring. The green screen is something they also like to promote heavily. Another trick that they like to use is selective coloring. If you are not familiar with this technique, think of a bridal portrait where the bride and entire image is black and white and only the flowers have color. This, also is outdated. If I'm not mistaken this went out of style around the same time The New Kids On The Block did. Just sayin'.

I wouldn't be bashing so hard if this were a man (or woman) with their camera, trying to make beautiful photographs, even if they were bad. That would at least show me that the person has a passion for what they are doing. This company, in my opinion, offering various services, seems to only be in it for the money, offered at a discounted rate with this month's coupon. No love or passion about the artistic medium.

I know I was going to share my artistic nude series but that will wait as I felt the need to rant about this topic today.

Until next time...