Wedding Photographer

I’ve been a professional photographer for over 3 years now. By professional, I mean, the kind who will charge you for services because of the quality and time and effort put into it.

Most often, I’m asked why I charge so much for just holding a camera and shooting. Of course, there are plenty of jokes artists post that talk about why we charge. You wouldn’t expect a chef to cook for free, a mason to build for free, or driver to drive you anywhere for free.

Why then are artists expected to do things for free? For the love of it? 

Photography is an expensive business. Not to mention the amount of effort that goes into each shoot.

Every wedding I shoot, I run into at least two people with cameras almost as ‘fancy’ as mine if not more. They have several lenses and tell me that they too are ‘photographers’ and ask me why I’m carrying so little equipment.

I have to hold myself back from sarcastic responses that might get me thrown out of the wedding. What comes to mind is something along the lines of “I’m a professional and I do not need more than two decent lenses to capture this event. Not to mention the fact that I don’t have the liberty of stepping out when wanted to put away a lens or change it. And of course, since this is my full time job and I don’t have a job as a techie to be blow money on unnecessary equipment…”

So what does really go into a wedding shoot, for instance?

1. The equipment – Yes, photography is still expensive. You do get lower end cameras for a month’s salary but the quality equipment that helps you have better control over what you shoot still has a hefty price tag. 

Lights, lenses, speedlites, camera bodies and whatever else you can think of. And of course, maintaining all that equipment. 

You need to run, you need to get up, close and personal. You either juggle with two cameras – one with a telephoto lens and the other a fixed or a wide lens, or you choose a lens that offers you enough of a wide range and a zoom. Personally, I prefer shooting with one camera and a lens with a decent enough range. 

2. Research – Yep, there is a fair amount of research that goes into each wedding. It could be about the culture of the wedding, so you have an idea of what you expect and when to duck. And about the couple themselves. Knowing the personality of the couple always helps with better pictures. So you could sit down for a long chat with the bridal couple about their expectations from the wedding photographer, or if you want to be the snoopy kind, take a look at their social profiles. If you have common friends, have a chat with them. 

I prefer doing it the direct way. Have a talk on the phone, meet, get a sense of them as individuals and as couples. 

3. Paperwork – Any good business generates tons of paperwork. In this case, it would be wedding contracts, stipulating conditions for every little thing, making sure both parties understand what they are getting into. 

A wedding dossier, where you have your little notes about what the bride (and yes, groom) want on the day. Generally, a wedding enquiry comes anywhere from four to 26 weeks early. Details tend to get a little blurry in that time period. So you make notes about what you talked about, and refresh yourself before the shoot.

4. Shoot Time – Wedding photographers should get combat pay. Weddings, particularly in India, run all around the clock. They begin at unearthly hours and move on till late evenings. Other than the bride and groom, the photographers are the only constants at this wedding. The priest gets a break as well. The family take their breaks for food and entertainment. 

This takes a toll on your energy, thereby your photographs. Which is why most photographers work in teams. Of course, this also means man hours, which translates to money. 

5. After The Wedding – If you are an intelligent photographer, you shoot carefully, so there is minimal culling to be done.

Yet, any 3-4 hour wedding means at least 400 photographs. From which you do the first rush of selection – removing the ones with photobombs, bad lighting, blurring. Then you select the ones to be cleaned and edited. That’s about 3 to 4 hours.

Then you sit down again to edit the selected photographs. You crop, remove blemishes, brighten, lighten, do whatever the client has requested. This takes anywhere between 4 to 6 hours easily. Then you take a break and come back to it with a fresh perspective, making further changes.

You save the photos according to the various sizes promised to the client, make CDs/DVDs of them and go across town to deliver the photos. Or if you are lucky, put it in the mailbag. And then of course, the uploading of the images to clients who want to see them instantly.

Then you begin to design the album or the coffee table book, according to what the client wishes. If you are lucky and your design juices are flowing, this is perhaps a 4-hour job. 

Of course, the client has changes. Add another couple of hours. 

Print, pack and done. 

Roughly, a photographer spends about 24 hours (one whole day, or 3 working days of 8 hours each), excluding the shoot time on planning and executing the wedding. Bigger weddings take more time.

So when a photographer charges you 50 grand, it means they would be spending that much of time on your day, taking every effort to make it special.

Of course, I left out a lot of little things here. But this gives you the general picture. A photographer who charges less might or might not really invest this much of time and energy. The word ‘professional’ means this amount of time.

So next time you get a huge bill, ask why the bill is so high and perhaps you’ll know a little better about the sweat that went into the art.

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A Photographic Retrospective of 2011 – Part 3

It seems silly that November & December need a huge, different post. But November & December were special. The busiest months so far and I can barely pick one, two or even three photographs as my favorite.

Hope you enjoy this selection.

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Here’s looking to a much more successful new year. Happy 2012!

Marriages

About 10 people I know have gotten married in the past 6 months. I have 5 ‘wedding clothes’ in my wardrobe now. And as more people enter this minefield, I hear  more stories… and more questions…

1. Do you change your surname after your wedding?
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard this question. In the 80s or perhaps earlier, it was accepted that the girl would change her surname. But now, it is a debate… Every time a friend asks what I think about it, I merely shrug. I wouldn’t change my name. But that is what these girls said as well… and now they wonder how it would be considered…

My mother didn’t change her name but years after her marriage, she had to do it because people just assumed that her name was followed by my dad’s name. Rather than deal with the hassle of getting the name on the cheque changed everytime or the legal documents or whatever else, she now goes by both names.

My sister on the other hand, changed her name. I don’t know if she ever did it legally as well but all her email IDs and cards read her name followed by her husband’s name.

Is it really a loss of identity? Or could be considered a changing of identity? In today’s world, should it even be called a changing of identity or merely an addition to the roles you already play?

I hate the thought of changing my name or even my address. I cannot even remember how many places my name and address would have to be changed. Plus, considering my profession, that would be splitting my identity. Oh and not to mention the legal hassles!!!

2. Own place?
I thought this wouldn’t really be an issue anymore… but apparently it still is. Parents are more accepting of this, but only if the house is overcrowded. Indian families hang onto children and everyone else like leeches sometimes. I can see a clear line between those who get their own pad and those who don’t (and are even okay with it).

I just wonder – wouldn’t you want the independence and the fun of having your own place? Yes, it involves cranky maids and waking up at 6 AM to get the milk perhaps but it also involves decorating it in any crazy way you want, having friends over at all crazy hours and without having to explain their craziness to your parents or worse, in-laws;  just that space to breathe…

***

Okay marriage is a minefield and I do not even want to think of all the issues that are involved in it… least till I’m forced to enter that land.

But what about relationships? A new relationship… how much do you let yourself be immersed in it? Can you ignore friends and your life? Would you sit hour after hour with your boyfriend and his friends because you want to spend time with him, when you can’t really follow the conversation and though you love to talk, you can’t talk much because it is stuff you don’t connect with?

How many compromises would you make for a relationship? It is a juggling act, as I’ve been learning… between you, the tug-of-war between what you want, you and him, you and friends and friends and him…

Song of the day: Paint the town red: The Hotcakes

Life No Longer Makes Sense

I worked during the day for the first time since I began work. More than than perhaps… I woke up at 7.00 AM for the first time since I left college.

The streets were still a little empty and the harsh summer sun hadn’t begun to boil the air. It felt good being back on the bike after such a long time. And it all added to this slight sense of unreality about the entire thing. I’m living in a slight sense of surrealness combined with paranoia. Or valid fear, depending on how you look at it.

By afternoon, there was the euphoria combined with the sense of unreality. Time moved fast and slow. I just do not get a grip on things anymore.

And that is perhaps also how I missed my best friend’s wedding.

I knew I would not be able to make it for her wedding but I knew there was a reception that I could attend but between the various shitty things that i’ve been doing or avoiding, I completely forgot about it. I hadn’t got the invite so I forgot about when it was either, and had no clue about where it was. And this is the sweetest of my friends 😥

And I thought of it today when she called really upset that I did not turn up. And it was only then I realised that i had not got the invite with the address. In this age of e-address, she wanted me to see the pretty invitation card they had designed. And I figured she would be too busy with her wedding preparations to actually check her emails or attend to calls so I never bothered to do anything more than send a message asking when. I figured she’d reply when she’d the time and forgot about it absolutely.

And I feel absolutely miserable to think about it now 😦 The precious day of her life and I was not there because I could not get off work. It would be too fussy to ask for more leaves to go… and I was absorbed in something I cannot even remember about that I forgot to follow it up. How do I ever make up for these moments that will never come back?

It kills me to even think of it!!

And today I receive two more invites in my inbox and I’m wondering about them. I know I shall probably not attend those events… but it just reminds me of the one I missed and I just hate it.

Life is just… gone weird on me.

Song of the day: I don’t want to do this anymore

Married

In the past 15 days, 3 people I know got married. It felt a little surreal and I’ve not gotten used to the idea of all these people being ‘married’.

But I was going through the photos of Facebook and see the broad smiles on their faces. And that makes me forget all the smart comments I had. They are happy. Maybe they are fools or in an illusion but illusions are way better than reality right? They were distinctly different ceremonies… but the charm, the vibrancy of an Indian wedding can never be captured elsewhere.

I guess this is where life begins on a different path. Before the spate of weddings is over you’ll be getting invites for baby showers, naming ceremonies, first birthdays… buying a house… more kids and such things.

Whatever be it, I feel strangely at peace with it all (now how much do you want to bet somebody I least expect will tell me they are getting hitched and the confusion starts again).

Song of the day: Mehendi Hai Rachne Wali – Zubeida (one of my favorite movies that never really ran)

The Dream Wedding

When I walked into the hotel room, I simply knew that I had never ever lived in such a glorious room ever. Me and my two friends grinned like idiots at each other and started to explore every single inch. It was sheer luxury and I have lived in a few opulent ones in my life.

That was the theme of the wedding – beautifully luxurious.

And perhaps this wasn’t the way I had imagined my best friend getting married – if I had ever gotten around to imagine him getting married at all – but it strangely fit. It was a dream wedding.

I didn’t step out of the hotel for two whole days (having skipped one little day to see Mumbai – read about it here) and I never realised that time could fly so fast and every minute be so beautiful. There was a stage for performers, a waterfall, names being reflected on the ceiling, over 1000 people, music, lots of food and drink, a little moon with a garden theme where the couple stood to invite guests, dancing, singing and more booze.

I met new, fascinating people and simply floated along the dream.

The wedding itself was even more gorgeous… with a royal theme, performers dancing for a loud, Indian royal song around the altar, the bride in her palanquinn and the groom on the horse… it perhaps struck me the most for the first time when I had to dance in the baraat. I had never danced in anybody’s baraaat… i was either too shy or not bothered. And then I heard the trumpets and it hit me – my best friend was now a married man. I still don’t see him that way… I’ve seen them together and they are absolutely together and not the whole ‘married’ bit, which is a little too corny. But amidst all the songs, the fight for the shoes and music – he was married. He was a ‘grown up’. Lol.

I realised I can never really say all that I felt or did here… it is too long and too boring for other people. But for the first time since a long time I liked everyone I met, I had fun with everyone I met and I really miss everyone, including the gorgeous city of Mumbai.

One little funny thing though… being a part of the groom’s entourage means running around doing some tasks. So we had to get the dhoti ironed, with about 5 minutes to spare for the ritual. We raced to get it done and couldn’t really wait for the elevator which does tend to take its own sweet time even in a 5-star hotel. And we had to race back and I thought the elevator opened. Of course it did open and there was the hotel staff who said something. My friend was a lot ahead… guys with their nice, flat shoes… but I thought someone called out to me, so I turned. Without stopping. So when I turned back, my head, face, knees met the glass door.

I bounced to the floor wondering what hit me (never really understood what that term meant before). My head throbbed and the camera in my hand was switched on accidentally. And the camera had a start up tone of little birds chirping. Yup. Go ahead laugh. My friend who had already raced one floor up could hear the thud. Oh well… I lived. With a bump on my head, black and blue knees and a slightly sore jaw.

The knee made itself felt only much much later when I was back home, exhausted from being up for 24 hours straight. Didn’t realise I was up so long… there was so much to do, dance and drink… but then I saw my bed, dropped by bags and crawled into it in my dirty travel clothes. Apparently, my voice hasn’t recovered yet and still sounds asleep – which some say is sexy and some say is kiddish.

My head still reels with the memories, the laughter, the conversation, the late night walks which didn’t feel like late night walks and this one guy I met.

Yup… have a crush again. Sigh. I hate feeling like this about someone I met once, probably will never meet again and I’ve no idea what he thought of me either. I build castles and have it crash. Ugh. Falling in love is such a bitch even if it does happen. Crushes are so over after the age of 20, particularly if the only tingles you get is in your head.

Anyway, Salaam Bombay

Song of the Day: Complicated – Avril

Weddings

I just got a wedding invite from a friend. There are several weddings happening over the next few months… And I’ve noticed the collection of wedding invites pile up. I don’t know what to do with those cards. I feel a little rude throwing them away… it is special for a friend after all but some aren’t precious enough for me to keep.

And I notice that online invites are gaining popularity. Not the email invite… Elaborate portals where everything from the photos to the venue to whatever else is posted, along with RSVP options though that is such a rare thing in Indian weddings.

Indian weddings are extravagant at any cost. There is never a fixed number of people… RSVP is just catching on and doesn’t always work. I would use the word ‘chaos’ or ‘bustling’ depending on my mood. But it is charming… the mix of people, the food, the warmth for whoever turns up at your doorstep and the willingness to feed them all. That is perhaps the only time when Indian hospitality still comes alive. I remember my cousins and their friends laugh about times they’ve eaten at weddings of people they didn’t even know. That probably wouldn’t happen at a wedding in the West where they have to pay per plate. Well, even here we pay per plate at the bigger dos but the common man… they feed everyone.

And gifts… I wish registering caught on in India. With all the developments, it still hasn’t. Every time a friend gets hitched, I ask them if they have registered and they always say no. It isn’t possible apparently… some might even see it as an insult.

Which is why our generation does everything double fold – there are special invites for their friends, which is more casual and fun, and sometimes via email or like this portal only. There are hard copy invites which can be quite elaborate for their parents’ or family friends and the ‘older’ people. Some people even have two events… for the friends – with booze and dancing and the frills; and for the traditional crowd with a standing reception and all that.

I can’t pick the best one I’ve attended so far. I have attended more engagement ceremonies than weddings so far… and the one that touched me most was an old school friend’s deal. Maybe because I knew her. Maybe because I never thought she would be so excited and jittery and in love. She sparkled. She was a bride. And despite getting two hours of sleep and the length ceremony, I could see her sparkle and I could only smile. And that is perhaps the magic of  a wedding… If it isn’t, I’ve several to attend this year to figure out what it is that makes people want to dress up and sit through hours to have that one plate of food. Apart from the chance for unofficial reunions.