8 Essential accessories for wedding photographers

Let me start by making a bit of a confession:
I'm still a wee boy at heart!
There - I said it! To be fair, though - this really won't come as a surprise to anyone who actually knows me, it's hardly 'Official Secrets Act' stuff here. Like most wee boys, I love toys - don't sit there shaking your head, you know you do too. As photographers, professional and amateurs, we can't resist a new toy - whether it's the latest gazillion-pixel wonder camera, must-have gadget or even a simple phone app - we want it! Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that - the complete opposite in fact; if we can find something which can help make our work or hobby easier/ better etc. then I'm all for it. Like most of us I have spent a shed load of cash on toys, as well as having a go at making my own - all in the name of improving my work or making it a bit easier for me. However, I often get emails and see so many posts on web forums asking what sort of cameras and lenses someone needs to be a wedding photographer (usually because they've started taking a few bookings on-the-side and suddenly realise there's a bit of pressure heading their way - but I digress). There are a thousand blogs which will happily give you this information, but I haven't seen many which will give you advice on which 'toys' to take with you to to make your job easier. There are some accessories which I won't bother including, such as cleaning kit, rechargeable batteries, plenty of memory cards, external flash, back-up cameras and lenses, tripod etc. because, in my opinion, if you need me to tell you that you need these - you are nowhere close to being ready to undertake a wedding. Similarly, I won't be explaining the differences between using soft-boxes, umbrellas or how and when you should use one over the other for exactly the same reason. What I have compiled is a list of my personal 'must-have' accessories which go everywhere with me on a job - not just at weddings. So, here we go:

1 - LIGHT METER



In these days of digital cameras, it's not uncommon for photographers to rely on the preview screen to help them adjust their settings (I'm not talking about the happy-snappers who leave their camera on 'Auto-Everything'). However, when you are trying to balance ambient light (natural and artificial) with flash many, like myself, still prefer to use a handheld meter to give an accurate reading and, ultimately, remove any guesswork. A light meter, taking an incident reading, will not be fooled by a pale-skinned bride in a white dress (resulting in an under-exposed shot with a grey dress) or the dark shadows of an indoor location (resulting in an over-exposed shot with a glowing white dress and no detail) As well as saving time at a shoot, the amount of time this will save you in post-production can be incredible. I have used a Sekonic (http://www.sekonic.com) L358 for years now but there are a huge variety available from other manufacturers and range anywhere from £30 to over £800, so there should be one to suit everyones needs and budget - there's even a free iPhone app which will let you take an ambient reading, if not a flash one! https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/pocket-light-meter/id381698089

 If you've never used one before, there are some great Youtube videos which will show you how - and the reason I'm not doing one is simple; Sekonic already have some great 'How-to's' on their website, so if you can't beat 'em... - http://www.sekonic.com/whatisyourspecialty/photographer/home.aspx )

Balancing the ambient light outside with with the light levels indoors was made so much easier by taking a reading before we entered the building and another once we were in position inside. 



2 - WIRELESS TRIGGERS



These wonderful wee boxes have revolutionised photography over the last few years! Wireless triggers allow us to take our speedlites off the top of our cameras without the need for those bloody cables that we used to use. They also ensure that we can use them anywhere without having to worry about a guests camera phone flash triggering them when they're on 'Slave' mode. Like light meters, there are plenty of companies who make them including Pocket Wizard and, my personal choice, Phottix (http://www.phottix.com/en/). I switched to the Strato II's in early-mid 2012 and absolutely LOVE them! Being a bit of a control-freak, I prefer to shoot on Manual-everything (yes, I know there are thousands of hugely successful photographers who use Auto settings and get great results. This isn't about Manual vs Auto - if it works for you, then that's all that matters isn't it?) and the Strato II's do everything I need them to. They have 4 channels, 4 groups and a range of up to 150 metres - set them in position, adjust your speedlite and walk away (I'm working on a full review on these which will go live very shortly). With the ability to move your lights around at will, you can break away from the harsh blast of light from a camera-mounted flash and allows you to create some beautiful play between light and shadow - something your average wedding guest won't be able to do, for those of you who still rant about guests with cameras. If you still shoot with your flash stuck to your camera all day and worry that the guests shots will look like yours (which, let's be honest, they might do if they're standing next to you and you both shoot with your flash in the same place), you can buy a cheap ebay set of triggers for less than £30 so there's no bloody excuse for not giving them a try. Oh, and for any brides-to-be who may decide to read this - when you are chatting with potential photographers, ask them if they'll be using off-camera-flash for your bridal portraits and what difference this might make to their shots ;) 

A single speedlite placed high on a stand at a 45 degree angle to the couple helps to create a first-dance shot which stands out from the crowd



3 - SUN TRACKING APP

Okay, this one is one of my biggest secrets: Sun apps!
I have used a couple of different iPhone and iPad apps which show the suns movement throughout the day, but my favourite is Rick Sammon's Photo Sundial app (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/rick-sammons-photo-sundial/id689328812?mt=8). 
For those who have never used these sort of apps, they show you where the sun will be at a particular time of the day at your chosen venue, so you can plan your shots to maximise the natural light - instead of just shooting at the same setting that every other photographer shoots at the venue. I don't care what anyone tries to tell you, at any venue your bride chooses for her big day, there is absolutely no way you are getting the same natural light at a given location at the same time every day throughout the year. So, you shot there in May and your next wedding there is November? Guess what? You ain't getting the same shots - fact! It's the job of a professional wedding photographer to be prepared and to know exactly where he/she is going to get the best shots of a bride on her big day. The main reasons I prefer Rick's app is because I can change the date and it'll show me the way the light will be on any day of the year at any location in the World (okay, I haven't tried every single location on the planet, but it's worked for every one I have tried across Europe) and it does this on an overlay map, so I can sit down with my brides and plan where we're going to use. I recently met with a bride who was considering hiring me for her wedding in 2015 - two years away at the time of writing - her main concern was that the venue is a remote castle where I've never shot before and, understandably, she wanted to know that I would deliver results. As I showed her the app and explained how it would help me plan where to shoot, she was very impressed as she watched it change the view to show the extra hours of sunlight she'll get in June instead of the current shorter days of October. So, there we were, planning her shots and bouncing ideas off each other nearly 20 months before her ceremony! Closer to the date, the app gives me a very accurate 5-day weather forecast too - just in case the great Scottish summer takes a turn for the worst. 

The red line shows sunrise, blue for sunset and the yellow line indicates the suns location at a given time, so you can set it for the exact time you'll be shooting.


This bride and groom knew that we were going to get some lovely colours in the sky during the wedding breakfast and, thankfully, were only too happy to leave their guests behind (waiting patiently between courses) and follow me across the beach. I've had a LOT of enquiries from photographers asking how I photoshopped this shot - with the exception of a wee boost of contrast in Lightroom, this is how it was shot. We knew the time when we should start getting colour in the sky and in which direction the sun was going to set, so I was watching for it and grabbed them as soon as I saw it coming. As we got within a few feet of where I wanted them, I took an incident reading with the meter pointing at where my single, bare speedlite was (just outside of the frame, zoomed to 85mm to prevent any 'spill' onto the sand). I set the camera to underexpose the ambient light by one stop, and took a test reading of the flash. This showed that I needed to drop the power by 1/3 stop. Once this was done I took two frames - one with them apart looking at me and the shot you see here. Within 60 seconds of arriving they were heading back to their guests, thanks to the first 3 accessories on my list!



4 -  REFLECTOR


NEVER underestimate the power of this very simple piece of kit! Having the ability to bounce a little - or a lot - of light into the right spot is one of the key differences between an average snapper and a great photographer. I often find that when shooting bridal portraits, a burst of flash can be too much for some shots and need something much more subtle or I need something to lift the shadows in a particular area of a face or dress. It's at these times that I reach for one of my reflectors.
I keep a variety of different sizes to cope with my particular needs at any given time and prefer the 5-in-1 type. These give me the option to add a nice golden glow to pale skin, specular highlights using the silver side, a neutral 'lift' with white, diffuse a harsh light source or even 'subtract' light when I want to actually enhance the shadows. Ranging from about £20 to a couple of hundred pounds, there are reflectors - like every other accessory here - to suit every budget (in fact, you can make your own for a few pence using tin foil, white polystyrene board, white paper, a mirror or even the underlay used for laminated flooring). Next time you reach for another light to add to your set-up, stop for a minute and try to add some reflected light and see if that does the job.

Window-light bounced into the brides face results in a beautifully diffused light falling on her face.




5 - SPIRIT LEVEL


This simple wee device costs a couple of pounds, slides onto the hotshoe mount of your camera and ensures that your tripod-mounted shots are perfectly level - no more levelling things off in Lightroom/ Photoshop or Aperture. What more do I really need to say about it?




6 - MEMORY CARD HOLDER




It never ceases to amaze me just how many photographers keep their memory cards in those tiny wee plastic cases they came in, with loads of them rolling around together in their bag. I'm sorry, but this just doesn't work for me! In the heat of a wedding or busy shoot I want to know that a) my cards are where I need them to be b) organised tidily and c) which ones have already been used and which ones haven't.  For me, the ThinkTank Photo (http://www.thinktankphoto.com) Pixel Pocket Rocket does the job perfectly.It allows me to hold up to 10 CF cards (with others available for SD and other formats, as well as AA batteries and camera batteries) with the case attached to by Skin Set belt pack (http://ksgphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/thinktank-photo-skin-set-v20.html ) When I put a used card inside I turn it to face away from me - if I can see the front of the card, it's available. As I usually shoot with two camera bodies I keep the top two slots empty and fill those first, working my way down to the bottom of the card - simple and efficient. Like all ThinkTank products, the PPR has space to store some business cards so you're never caught without one or two.



7 - MULTI-TOOL





I've lost count the number of times that my multi-tools have been called into use at work as well as travelling to and from jobs. Everything from cutting loose threads, temporary repairs on cars, 'adjusting' window locks at venues to help me to get the right position for a shot, filing sharp edges off equipment, bending wires on kilt-pins and veils to screwing things back together after they fall apart and even helping to cut a car seatbelt to help get a passenger out of a wreck have been tackled. When I served in the armed forces, I bought a basic Leatherman which is still with me - it's a handy size with a couple of basic tools and has served me well for over 20 years. For the last few years, though, my main one has been a Leatherman Charge. This has pretty much every tool you could ask for including interchangable screwdriver and hex bits as well as scissors, two files, pliers and loads more. Whilst it's a bit bulkier than many multi-tools, the frequency with which it is used means that the benefits of carrying it with me far outweigh any negatives. I recently took delivery of a Gerber Suspension multi-tool, which sits mid-way between my two Leatherman's in terms of tools and, at around £20 is a lot more affordable than the Charge.




Time will tell whether this works out but, again, it shows there are ones out there to suit most budgets. One thing to watch out for, though, is the fact that, in the UK it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade longer than 3" or lock blade in public without good reason, such as work etc. Stay legal (https://www.gov.uk/find-out-if-i-can-buy-or-carry-a-knife)



8 - GORILLA TAPE


Whether you need to prevent people tripping over cables, hold a light stand together, hold a grooms jacket together when a seam comes apart (yes, really) or you just can't get the brides' Mother to stop talking (please - only in EXTREME circumstances!) - this stuff is fantastic! Duct tape, gaffer tape etc. they all work and have a multitude of uses but , in my experience, nothing beats Gorilla Tape when it comes to holding things down/together/closed. You may not use it all that often, but I promise you that when you do you'll be glad you had it with you. Like the Charge multi-tool, it takes up a wee bit of room but it's well worth it.



So, there you have them - 8 accessories which I have with me at every wedding or shoot. I've, hopefully, shown that there are options for all budgets so there should be nothing to stop you adding them to your kit list. Please feel free to let me know how you get on with them or if there are any essentials in your bag which you think I should add to mine.

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