Practice shoots are fun!
After awhile, the couple relaxes and is willing to be a bit creative.  Thanks to Sara and André.

 

     I’m going to start off with a bit of an apology:  This is my first official photography blog article.  I can be a bit wordy when I write, and although I’m going to try to ruthlessly edit and revise this and future articles, all that needs to be said may take awhile.  You, the reader, may be someone who’s getting married and searching for a photographer, a friend helping someone plan a wedding, or you may be another photographer who’s just starting out doing weddings.  I’ve taken wedding photos for over 30 years, done workshops for camera clubs and mentored other photographers in the past; but the main purpose for writing is to help others make good and informed decisions in their photography, no matter where they live or who actually uses the camera.
Weddings take a lot of planning – not just for the couple getting married, but also for the photographer.  There are always things to check for (and could go wrong!), such as the weather, working equipment or the “rules” for the venue.
    However, there are many reasons why a “practice run” is valuable, and why you should consider an engagement shoot before the wedding:
1.    Many people getting married are not used to having their photos taken.
2.    Confidence in the photographer and quality of images.
3.    Experiment with locations, angles, time of day or styles.
4.    Less busy or stressful.
5.    It’s fun!  You also have some more great photos to share.

So here we go in more detail:

1.     Many people getting married are not used to having their photos taken.

    For some of you, this may be the first time you had professional photos taken, and you might be worried about how you may look.
Think of it this way:  When you look in your mirror, what you see is not what others see – your hair is parted on the other side, what you think is a distracting mole isn’t, or others see freckles as part of your fun side.  Everyone is beautiful!
My job as a photographer is to show that beauty, and sometimes the only way to do that is to show how good you look in photos.  I know that leads to Point #2 and #4 (Confidence and Busy-ness), but sometimes just getting out and trying some new things allows you to just kick back and be YOU!  If any professional photos you had taken in the past were rushed or poorly done, then this is a way to undo any worries and do things that you really like.  Yes, the first few photos will be the worst – that’s what practice is all about; and before you know it, you’ll be laughing or goofing around and not even realizing how easy it really is.
Now I hate to admit it, but I have taken photos of weddings where we haven’t done a practice beforehand and the stiffness in those first few photos really shows.  Sometimes that stiffness continues on well past those initial photos!  Often the thought is about the cost – photography can be an expensive part of a wedding, it’s true.  The extra time, travel and materials do have a cost for both parties if you plan to include an extra hour or two of shooting (plus more post-processing time for the photographer).  However, imagine how stiff wedding photos could appear if there were no practice at all.  Remember, this is about building confidence for those being photographed, but perhaps it’s equally important for a photographer who hasn’t done many weddings, and that leads to the next point…

2.    Confidence in the photographer and quality of images.

    You’re paying for good results, and you expect them.  To look at images from a website (even this one!) is one thing, but to see your own photos is quite another.  I often have comments like, “That was more fun than I expected,” or “Wow!  I didn’t know I looked that good!”  Your photos should turn out better than you expected.  Equally important is how your photos shouldn’t look…

    For example, I remember taking photos of a bride who said she always seemed to have a double chin in photos.  The way to get around her concerns was to shoot from a different angle (from the side or above, in this case, to stretch out the neck a bit).  A telephoto lens helps from a distance because it compresses the angle of view, and even if an image is shot from a higher angle, it looks less so because of the distance from the subject.  Once she saw herself in a few photos (with no double-chin), she let down her guard and was more comfortable with other poses – and of course, she looked great in those as well.

Shooting from above
Shooting from above can help to reduce wrinkles or a "double chin."  I'll use myself and my wife Laurie as an example, and please don't mind the hair (or lack thereof) -- it was windy!

 

    It’s vital to have a good working relationship.  In many cases, the planning meetings with the couple and photographer is enough to ensure great photos for the wedding day; and through that process you’ll know already that you’ve chosen the right photographer for the job.  A good practice shoot confirms that confidence, and a couple is more relaxed on the special day.

    Finally, the practice shoot can save time on the “big day.”  Poses or locations that work can be repeated; and sometimes more importantly, things that don’t work will not be done again.  Locations or time restraints can often lead to last-minute changes, but often a similar pose, lighting or location can be used somewhere else.

3.    Experiment with locations, angles, time of day or styles.

    You may be familiar with locations to shoot in Regina and area, and I admit there are some great places that consistently work well (e.g. Wascana Centre or Government House).  However, there are also other places that are less well known, but can also work well.  A location simply provides a backdrop, and the emphasis should always be on the couple, yet sometimes the background is necessary to show the environment.

 

Image shot with a "Normal" focal length lens
This image was shot with a "normal" focal length lens, which is good for showing the environment as well as the subjects.

    

Telephoto lens image
A telephoto lens can make the subjects stand out, condense the perspective ("squish" the distance) and help to blur the background.  Thanks to Amanda and Mike.
Special portrait lenses
Sometimes special portrait lenses (in this case, the Nikon 105mm f2.0 Defocus-Control lens) are used for the ultimate control of background blur (especially if that background is too distracting).  Thanks to Melissa and Mike.


    So what about “style”?  Do you want a “classical” feel?  If so, then choose a location with a bit of opulence, like the Sask. Legislative Building, Government House or older U of R buildings along College Ave.

A classic style - the Sask Legislative Building
A classic style - the Sask Legislative Building.  Thanks to Camille and Justin.


    Are you looking for a country or “outdoorsy” look?  Any wooded or prairie location will work great, but again, the emphasis should be on the couple.  Time of day or weather can add emotion to a shot; and even if the weather’s bad, there are still fun ways to get amazing photos:

Rainy day
Bad weather can turn into great photos!  Thanks to Megan and Dieter.
Sunsets
A wonderful memory can be made at any time of day.  Thanks to Reesha and Evan.


      

    Is the style you’re looking for “edgy” or more modern?  Regina’s Warehouse District and downtown areas have a few locations that might work for you:

Edgy Look 1
A bit of graffiti and evening light contribute to the "big city" feel.  (The motorcycle wasn't moving, so they didn't need helmets.)  Thanks to Tara and Wes

 

Edgy2
This photo was taken at the same location as the one above (beside Krazy Kiley's), but black-and-white gives a different feel.  Again, a telephoto lens and blurred background help to eliminate distractions.  Thanks to Melanie and David.

 

Edgy3
Colourful graffiti and a cool car can add to a modern feel.  Thanks to Jen and Cam.

 

4.    A Practice Shoot is less busy or stressful

The engagement or practice shoot is usually more relaxed than a wedding.  It should be, as it’s easier to work around time commitments (e.g. the reception begins in only 40 minutes at the other side of town), the weather (e.g. it’s raining, so we’ll try again on Sunday) or other annoyances (e.g. the photographer has the flu).  All the above examples have actually happened to me during weddings, but of course there is no turning back then.

A backup plan is always a good idea, and that applies to a practice shoot as well.  If possible, plan an alternate date in case there are any changes, and don’t forget to be prepared for “emergencies” such as duct tape (to hang an extra flash on a tree branch), towels (to sit on if the grass or a bench is wet), or mosquito repellent (a given) – those little annoyances might be bigger if they happen on the wedding day, but are more tolerable at the practice.  Therefore, the time and efforts of a fun, effortless shoot really pay off in terms of quality images and building a good working relationship with everyone.

 

5.    Finally, the Practice Shoot can be fun!  You also have some more great photos to share.

    An Engagement or Practice shoot usually lasts a couple of hours, which is about double the time required for a typical family or couple shoot.  Therefore, you’ll have the opportunity to try out different clothing styles (depending where you are, of course), poses, locations, etc.  You’ll therefore have a good variety and a better understanding of how the actual wedding photos will be like.  For the budget-conscious (which you should be!), you’ll already feel as though you’re getting your money’s worth, and hopefully more.

    I sometime admit that it’s a good thing that I’m a better photographer than business person!  I do this job for the fun and pleasure it gives me as well as others, and if both parties are happy and interested in being creative by trying something new, then the process is always exciting!  Every couple and wedding are different.

    So, have some fun!  Add some props if you wish (a football, guitar or fishing pole – whatever you like to do together).  Take some corny photos – ham it up and don’t worry too much about how silly you might look.  Your photos should show off your personalities and great looks that you always have, and they’ll be part of the legacy you’ll want to treasure forever.

Just having fun 1
Thanks to Carey and Ron.

 

Just having fun 2
Thanks to Sena and Shaun.

 

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