Shooting wedding with primes only

Started Aug 7, 2011 | Discussions thread
Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 11,793
Re: Thanks for the replies


My life experience puts me in both camps you mention. My first experience with weddings was actually assisting my dad (I was just a kid), who used a graflex right up until he retired. When I started doing them on my own, I used medium format for the formals and details and 35mm (two original Canon F1 bodies... one with high speed BW, the other with 400 ASA color film) for candids. We didn't have the internet back in those days, and wedding photojournalism was a relatively unknown thing at the time, but in a way that's what I doing with the 35mm. I worked for a newspaper for a few years and just naturally wanted to carry over that aspect of it in my wedding work, too. I had three basic primes for the 645, and three for the 35mm. Typically, the 50 1.4 stayed on the color F1, while the body equipped with BW film alternated between wide angle and my favorite lens, the Canon 100 2.8 FD (the full metal version... fantastic lens). Naturally, EVERYTHING was manual... focus, exposure, film advance.

(By the way, I remember when my dad stopped doing wedding and my dad's partner took over that part. His method of photographing ceremonies and receptions was entirely by rote. For the former, he set a Hassy with a 100mm lens on a tripod in the very back of the church, in the middle, and just took shot after shot, never varying the angle, perspective, or anything. Boring, boring, boring... not to mention tough to even make out detail about what was going on! For the receptions, he staged the basic stuff -- cake cutting, bouqet and garter toss, and toast -- during the first ten minutes, and then took off. Every shot of every wedding looked exactly the same. It was pure assembly line kind of stuff.)

I didn't wade into digital... I leaped. When the D1 arrived, it brought with it (with some limitations, of course) everything I liked about my old setup and everything I didn't have with it, too. FIrst, I got terrific image quality (albeit with under 3MP), a rock solid body, and access to a professional SYSTEM. But to add to that the flexibility of color and BW and multiple ISO speeds all within body was just crazy. Plus auto focus. Plus "auto advance". Plus high capacity storage (compared to film loading). Plus flexible white balance. Plus instant (or sort of instant, in the case of the first D1!) LCD preview. Plus great zoom lenses!

What would you do if suddenly had nearly all of your limitations removed? You'd probably do as I did and stretch into completely new areas. That's what I did, along with others. And that's why quality photographers today are producing such DIFFERENT work than they did back when they shot medium format on 160 Vericolor with just a few primes.

If I were shooting weddings today with the old film equipment I used yesteryear, I'd have to shoot more back to the style in which I did during those days. And yes, a lot of people today may take it for granted, especially if they never shot film at all. But then again, i sometimes wonder if my dad thought that I took it for granted, shooting with modern (for the time) 645 and 35mm bodies with quick advance film and electronic flash, compared to his old sheet plate-filmed graflex and (yes) flash BULBS. (And his albums were BEAUTIFUL, too.) It'd be a RARE fellow these days who could pull that off!

AlecThigpen wrote:

Ah, the youth of the crowd is interesting, and the naive nature of some of the questions somewhat revealing.

Every professional of note prior to the 1990s shot mainly medium format with primes, many with a single Rolleiflex, achieving exceptional results throughout an entire wedding and reception. As the Hasselblads became the staple for nearly all location commercial and wedding work, they were nearly all shot with primes. 50, 60, 80, 120 macro, and 150 were the most common, although my typical lenses were the 40, 60, 80 and 150. I shot the entire events on 100 or 160 ISO film, using ambient where I wanted, mixed, or just flash, sometimes more than one flash using an assistant and slaved triggers. Planning for the event schedule and locations is key, knowing the equipment so well, you don't have to fumble with a lens or film back change, or think about your flash lighting power levels, because they are burned in on your brain based on distance and f-stop.

The mindset of the new 35mm program mode autofocus digitally only trained photographers is amusing. Sometime, go out and practice this stuff using the math calculations for flash guide numbers and distance, reciprocity calculations, quick EV relationships for f-stops to shutter speed, manual focus, f-stop, shooting primes with various lens changes, and you may find a whole different world to explore, and keep your mind sharp as well.

 Michael Thomas Mitchell's gear list:Michael Thomas Mitchell's gear list
Canon EOS-1D Mark II Canon EOS 70D Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM
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